“I go to the store and bought eggs.” Here lies an example of one of the biggest challenges faced by translators on a daily basis- source texts with poor grammar. Should you correct the mistake? Should you let it go and just put it in your translator’s notes? Should you throw the document in the trash and take a nice vacation away from all this stress? Not to worry, below are some tips and advice on how to approach this situation in a professional and effective manner.
It is important to note that most of the source texts that a professional translator will receive are not written by skilled professionals nor proofread. Therefore, translators must be prepared to regularly face these issues while translating. Before a translator approaches a source document in the first place, they should determine the preferences of the client. Some clients may ask that you do not correct any grammatical errors; others may leave it to your discretion. Either way, if they have an opinion on the matter, you should adhere to their desires. In the situation where it would be left up to you, do what you feel is best to capture the original meaning of the source text. Sometimes it can be helpful to refer to previous errors in the text in order to determine if there is consistency in the type of errors being made.
When source texts possess poor grammar but one call tell what the author means, one can either correct the mistake on the spot or create a list of the language errors present in the text and supply it to the client. Many translators advise against translating bad writing because it usually produces a literal, word-for-word translation which will be ineffective for the target audience. However, in situations where you are translating a written statement, you should be as literal and precise as possible in order to prevent your own interpretation fusing into the original communication.
All in all, a translator should always attempt to produce an accurate target document that meets the needs of the client and the target audience. The approach that you take in regards to grammatical errors depends on their needs and the context of the document.
How do you approach a source text with poor grammar? What tips and advice do you have that can help translators with this issue? Comment below!
I translate letters from defendants’ relatives and friends to judges, from Spanish into English, all the time. This is one scenario in which poor grammar and spelling are the norm, due to the very low education levels of the individuals writing these letters. Needless to say, most of these letters are extremely challenging to translate, because how they’re written plays a fundamental role in making judges aware of who is writing to them, so my register, naturally goes way down when I’m doing this. If a name is mis-spelled, I “sic.” it, and when a phrase is ambiguous, I provide the closest possible translation and include a foot-note to indicate or elaborate, but for the most part, it boils down to trying to express the same ideas in the way a native English-speaker with an education level similar to the writer would have written the same letter.
Once I got a request titled by a firm’s manager to the “Embassy of the Republic of Belgium in Belgrade”. The person who requested the visa had never learnt that Belgium was a Kingdom, not a Republic 🙁