Category Archives: Discussions

Email correspondence on the subject of translation.

Changing text to culturally match the target audience

The below correspondence concerns my translation of a large book on positive thinking written by a Czech for the Czech market. It became a best seller and the client wanted it translated into English so that he could reach a broader audience (and make more money). But both my proofreader and myself felt the overall tone and substance of the text was far short of a best-seller for the English speaking market. I made a few points below.

In translation, I find that a lot of clients are proud about what they wrote and expect it to sound as good if carefully translated and reflected in the target language. They may know some rudimentary knowledge of the target language, pick up a dictionary, compare their creation against the translation and scream bloody murder when it does not look exactly the same. Certain text should be subject to modification when considering the cultural nuances of the target market. This can be a difficult matter to explain to the customer.


I never translated a book like this before, but my assumption is that the primary goal is to sell as many as possible, and make it more popular. Which is why I thought I’d mention a certain tone which may make it less enjoyable reading for English speakers. I will also ask the proofreader for his opinion.

Here are some examples:

  • there are frequent references to people drinking beer, such as watching the news while drinking beer. I know Czechs are the highest consumers of beer in the world, and I have contributed significantly to this statistic, but after repeatedly referring to it, it seems a bit odd in English;
  • there are numerous references to envy and badmouthing others as a negative emotional quality, and these are often used as examples, but I feel that this too may be more akin to Czech culture. The author seems to almost get angry when writing about it, such as in reaction to having been subjected to such character types frequently, and it seems a bit out of place, because I do not believe English speakers are like this (at least to this abundance) or that it is so prominent there;
  • and overall, there seems a slightly heavy hand of arrogance. Someone once told me that Czech managers have recently started to belittle their employees in an almost shameless way, because they had come to the conclusion that this is the only way to put Czechs into their place. Knock them off their haughty pedastal and bring them down to earth, and under control. Perhaps Czechs think so highly of themselves that this sort of shock therapy works, but I think it could be a bit on the offensive end for English speakers and hurt book sales (ie- the arrogant tone could wake Czechs to their senses and increase book sales there, but my guess is it could have an opposite effect in the English speaking countries).

These are just my suggestions and opinions, but I admit it would probably take a lot of work to shift the tone. A lot of retranslations, but if you would like me try to shift things in any way, or think up other examples, it would be better to know this before I start proofing it after myself.


[Below is some correspondence between myself and my proofreader on this subject:]

Hi Marty, today I found the psychological energy to continue with my last proofread, but after reading some of your criticisms, a lot of what I’m proofreading now (after my first draft translation) sounds rather dumb. After delivering everything to him, including the first round of comments, perhaps I could offer your service of polishing it more. What do you say? Not sure he will agree, because it seems to me he is convinced the format is good enough, since the book is selling successfully in various countries, but perhaps we could suggest it anyway.

To be honest – I think the book needs to be reworked – not rewritten – but there are a lot of superfluous statements and paragraphs that could either be omitted or require explanation. I am not sure a direct translation will find success on the English market. In the Czech Rep.; Hungary and Slovakia, he is relevant. In the UK, North America, Germany wherever else he wants to market it, he’s one of a million authors trying to sell their product. I can see from his writing he is self assured – but surely he wants to sell a quality product? I’ll be in the UK next week, back on Friday, so I’ll try to get a look at your changes while there, but in the mean time, good luck with the psychological energy. 

[and later..]

I’ve attached & pasted notes on the file. If you have any further questions feel just email me. 

Notes: Before my comments – I just thought I’d give you a suggestion on proofreading. I understand it is very hard to write something and edit it yourself. However, I can see many “typical Czech” mistakes as I read. I don’t read these in your emails/correspondence. I would suggest taking a day off (at least from the book) & read some English – the New York Times, Top Gear Magazine, whatever. But “think in English” when you read the book – you’ll spot lots of little “Czechisms” that, while not incorrect, don’t flow well. Over use of the present perfect, verbs & prepositions in the wrong places or back to front, unusual word order. I’ll pick them up as I proofread the final of course, but I can see a lot of it already. 

Anyway – rather than add more Track Changes to your work, I’ve just jotted down notes as I read over the piece. It’s a very aggressive work – though I gather that’s how he wants it. Hopefully he finds his audience! 

I see you have kept the ??? I think it looks like a publishing error – whatever meaning it is intended to convey is lost on me. 

Title: I suggest the direct translation: “The Secret of Inner Speech” for a working title – Secret Whispers sounds like a scary movie. The CD title – “Positive thinking is not for everyone” seems more apt, in my opinion. I just typed “How to Gain Control Over Your Life and Attain Success” into Google, there are dozens of results for “How to gain control of your life” – There may not be much Czech authored literature about this, but the English market is filled with “how to attain success…” books. p5. Generally called “Acknowledgements” 

Introduction: While Ivo may be a celebrated businessman here – overseas (I assume) he will be unknown. I suggest he write a new foreword for the translation – and that may also be a nice way to address interest in the “life in a post communist country”. I’d also remove references to the CDs – I assume they are not available in English?

p13. “no girl would like me” – no girls would talk to me – girls didn’t like me “a sorry sod as myself” – sounds very British. I think “a weirdo like me” would probably fit. 

p14. “And if there is, why are not people living their lives accordingly?” Suggest you either use contraction “aren’t” or …why are people not living… This page mentions “two people who changed my life completely” – but only one is evident. Chapter one is very long. And while I understand the author is making a point about perseverance, it is a gruelling story that he may want to consider shortening or breaking up over the book? 

p27. – Perhaps you should offer to translate the opening of the website for him as well 😉  

p28. Using Jan Hus is fine (perhaps draw a comparison with Martin Luther, as he is more famous throughout the world) I think either separating by comma, or () would be fine. Many people don’t read footnotes or find them too “academic” – if this is to be simple, keep it all in the body of the text. “Why was Jan Hus, the catholic reformer who gave rise to the Hussite movement in the 14th Century, burned at the stake?” Thomas Becket & Janosika aren’t mentioned – perhaps leave it that way? “Masaryk, the first president and eventual creator of the Republic of Czechoslovakia” 

p31. I’d take out any specifics – the comparison is with “Fairy Tales & Sitcoms”. Thus mentioning Poland & Mengele does not work on the same level. Perhaps – “History is filled with injustices and victory for those who have not earned it.” The last sentence is awful – cut it! 

p54. “But they are almost always scolded when they start to preoccupy themselves with it.” – I don’t know if this is even true in the modern Czech Republic? I teach many children and have large extended families that encourage kids to examine wildlife and biology etc. But it is well understood that many parents yell at their children and I think the reference to media is well written. 

p63. “Catholic church clearly proved that they work” – yes, but numbers have been astronomically declining throughout the 20th century. Reference to a “Mantra” or a sports coach encouraging his team to “get out there and win!” might have more appeal and relevance? 

p108. Soccer (Football) is the most popular sport in the UK and most of Europe. In Australia we call Rugby “Football”, and have 4 different codes. Change it to Football & most English speakers will accept the reference. 

p138. “Forget about willpower” – this entire paragraph is a contradiction. “concentrate & focus” is exactly that – willpower. – Church references; yeah – I don’t see the relevance to his core point. But as I just said, this entire point doesn’t make sense. The reference to him being an atheist may affect sales in the US. He is not writing a critique of religion – so why piss a large market share off? 

p170. – Popped into my head to finish off with a smiley face. Just a suggestion. – Not in a published book! This is a new phenomenon of 10 years that is scorned by most journalists, parents and teachers around the world. 

Thanks for the tips and I will forward to the customer.

Concerning my English, I realise that the Czech can influence me, but its hard not to let it. He himself admits that his Czech linguistic skills are rather weak. I do read lots of English stuff regularly. Anyway, it was a hard first proofread, hopefully the second one will go smoother, and you will be able to smooth out the remainder to make the book pleasantly readable.

Yes, he insisted on keeping the ??? there because he is using it to make the reader stop and think on the topic, instead of just blasting through the book. He prefers to keep it, and seems rather rigid so far concerning any basic changes to the book. Will keep trying. Would like it to become popular so that it could hopefully lead to some future work for me/us.

Automating many tasks in large translation project management

Just occurred to me that perhaps I could help you set up your system better. I design databases, both online and offline, and I cannot imagine running an agency fumbling around with hundreds of Excel files.

Just for a brief overview:

  • translator applies through my online application form, details get entered into a central database;
  • occasionally I download the database and update my offline version, so that I can manipulate with it offline and faster;
  • lets say I am approached with a project in five language combinations. I run a query in the database for those five languages, and I get a full list of all translators who can do those combinations. I’ll sort it according to their price. Based on the client, I will copy paste their details into an Excel sheet, choosing translators within a certain price range. I’ll run through the Excel sheet and erase those I’ve had problems with in the past. Once I’m happy with the selection I’ll copy paste those details into another program, which sends an email to the translators individually, addressing them by their names. This is good for very large projects. I might send these emails from my server at 450 an hour. This entire procedure might take half an hour to set up;
  • my online system also has a means to test translators, whereby each translator uploads their sample, and certain translators are designated as assessors, who through the online system read the samples and give it a grade. I can have many assessors for a certain language combination. I can then download the ratings and paste it into Excel file or whatever, and analyse it. Before I made this the time required to save files attached to an email somewhere on my computer and forward it to an assessor was ridiculous. At every step of my business I’ve automated my work in a concise way, saving me tons of time.

Anyway, there are many procedures, and I’m actually working on setting this up as an offer to other agencies, because I do enjoy the programming and database setup etc.

I also have a separate system to manage projects, where translators upload/download files, email notifications get sent automatically as soon as a file is uploaded (ie- a translator has completed the translation and uploaded it), project managers can log in and communicate with proofreaders and translators etc. (without knowing their contact details), all running smoothly while I do absolutely minimum work.

Anyway, thought that perhaps you might be interested in some of my systems.

The difference between proofreading and editing

As the name indicates it, there is quite a difference between both process

Editing requires a very thorough check of the target text against the original source document to ensure that nothing was missing, that the translation is accurate and does not differ from the original text. Editing normally may involve some rewriting and adjustments to fix stylistic and other problems as well.

Proofreading is normally a much faster process and in most cases it shouldn’t be necessary to go back to the source language. Basically involves minor checks and adjustments. 

We always do a through QA process before sending out a translation to our clients 

Wow, those must be rich clients. If I were to edit something, as you described it, I think I’d want practically the same price as a full translation. The way I usually do it is if a proofreader understands the source language they can refer to it when something seems odd. Otherwise I like to believe I’ve chosen quality enough translators to be able to trust them. Rather than hire a second person to comb through everything so meticulously. This sounds like some sort of ISO bureaucracy that only bloats the end price significantly. After the proofreader I like to have a vetting stage, which is to make sure that nothing is missing and that the formatting is correct. Much cheaper than the proofread.

Anyway, I understand ISO requirements and corporate thinking, and I’m flexible.

Explaining the quality control process and other matters to a customer

Thank you for your email and informative website.

Our need for African translators is quite rare except for Amharic and Afrikaans. We get projects for those languages perhaps once or twice a year. However, we shall probably need to offer more African languages to a large US government client in 2010.

Please first tell me where you are. You have an LA address and a Czech email. Please also provide a phone number. We do not work with vendors whom we cannot contact by phone, if needed.

The LA address is for SEO purposes only. My main email address is kenax [AT], but I also own kenax [AT] and many other domains. 

I tend to move around a lot but I am constantly on highspeed internet wherever I am. Therefore my mobile telephone number can change from time to time. Right now I am in Bulgaria. I prefer communication by email but by phone is also possible. 

Without reading your website thoroughly, I would like to know how you screen your translators for quality and what QA process you use on all your projects.

It’s a rather complex process, but in short, I look at CVs and stuff like that, choose at least three people who seem good, and use them to assess translation samples. I put the assessments in an Excel grid, analyse them, find translators who were consistently assessed as very good quality, and then ask them to assess the translation samples. In the end I may have 6 or more assessors, and this develops over time. I cross reference the assessments and this way I can see who is a good assessor and who is biased, or not good. The above is more for when I enter a new language combination. The more quality opinions I get the better. I do not trust simple CVs or references and the sort. These can be easily fabricated. 

I see that you require TMs, which is excellent. Is Transit the only one you use?

I prefer Transit because my translators do not have to buy anything, and hence I am not limiting myself to fewer or more expensive translators. In the process of activating Trados at the moment. I also have Wordfast, but I have extensive experience with Transit and believe it is the most powerful tool. 

Also, what currency do you use? I noticed Euros on your site. Do you work in US cents as well?

I have bank accounts on several continents and can accept payment by PayPal, Moneybookers and other means. Payment in different currencies is definitely not a problem. 

Okay, nice talkin to ya!

Translation can be a pretty stressful profession

Remember how we had that discussion once? How about this case for my recent French to English job?

unfortunately for me I have just been diagnosed Left Ventricle Hypertrophy which requires angioplasty. To make things worse on that same day I caught Klepseilla Pneumoniae. This is relative rare nowadays particularly for healthy people and healthy living. I was hospitalized for a week, my poor digestive system was crammed with antibiotics which were no good, so finally I insisted on analysis and antibiogram. I am now beginning to recover but taken all in all I would be no good to you till after end of January.

That’s pretty crazy. You have to wonder what they get so stressed out about. Worst case the project craps out and they move on to the next one. Maybe that’s my bohemian side talking though <grin>

well, the big saying in the industry is that the job always has to be completed yesterday. And if you don’t complete it on schedule, you lose a customer. And since most translators are freelancers, every customer counts. So it can be stress, but generally I’d say I have little, although in the past, when I was starting, it was almost always stress. When you work for someone they could never impose so much stress on you, otherwise they’d go to jail. We sit around waiting for work, crossing our fingers, counting our pennies, and then when work does come in we bust our arses to make it happen. It’s stress when we don’t have work, and stress when we do. But after 15 years I think I finally got a handle on it. Takes a while. That is one reason I always try to find beautiful translation workstations as I travel around the world.

translation CV campaign