I have been in the localization industry now for over 18 years. Starting as a Localization Engineer and working my way down the ladder (no jokes around snakes please) to sales. In the early days engineers and translators rarely worked closely together, my knowledge of professional translation was limited to sending out text and putting it back in the right place once it was translated.The frustration of working with translators was infuriating, they would put double spaces into sentences, use curly quotes instead of straight quotes, put bullet points in lower case and even put English words in brackets after a translated term.
Naturally I would correct their “mistakes” using global search and replace and editing manually their translations. I can only apologize now for any manuals or software that still contain my “corrections” to this day.
Fortunately for me, and localized software quality in general, I was lucky enough to work with a team of professional translators directly on a large project. Their dedication to quality and terminology was inspiring. They would agonize over whether a term was correct, had a sentence conveyed the right meaning, often going back and changing a term in multiple sections because they finally decided on the right interpretation.
One translator described larger documents as, “similar to reading a book.” In a book, if a character has not been described, you give it a voice and an image in your head which changes as you get more information. In translation as he worked through a document, he started identifying the tone of voice of the original writer. In many cases re-editing the early passages to match his new appreciation of the writer.
When it came to marketing many of the professional translators would refuse to work with translation tools that limited them to a sentence at a time. They would argue that you needed more flexibility to be creative, that terms should change, and even suggest better concepts for their locale than the original marketing.
I am fortunate in SimulTrans to still work with translators that I have known and trusted for many years. It is still gratifying when a client says:
“I don’t know how your translator was able to do it, it was perfect”.
The rise in machine translation is well documented, engines reaching near human quality, getting better all the time. These engines were nearly all built on the back of the corpus created by professional translators. Their attention to detail and labor is what has allowed Machine Translation to advance so rapidly. The ability of the professional translator to recreate style and tone, fluency, accuracy and grammatically correct text, has allowed engines to be trained for different content types.
In future when multilingual communication is simultaneous and invisible, it should be noted that, it was not just the techies who made this possible, it was also the multitude of professional translators who worked diligently that helped create the basis for the technology.
I hope this day is still some time off in the future, I am happy to still be chastised, rebuked and lectured by translation services professionals with a love of their own language and the industry we share.