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What to Do When All Else Fails

As we’ve talked about in previous posts, while it is possible to drag out the old typewriter and our trusty Simon & Schuster’s and put a translation down on legal paper, we live in the twenty-first century and these days we have: a) a computer, b) a fairly high-speed internet connection, and c) one or more computer translation programs (not essential, but very valuable): a CAT tool like Trados, for example.
Furthermore, we keep our trusty dictionaries on hand (that is, in our computer bookmarks and favorites) a bilingual one, a monolingual one in the source language to check definitions, a monolingual one in our native language to make sure the term we chose is correct, and finally some specialized dictionaries for the particular text:  medical, technical, legal, etc. For the most specific texts, we can check a glossary, bilingual if possible. Maybe the client has sent a “memory” or glossary which may serve as reference or simply tell how the client prefers certain terms are translated.
Ok, now we are ready. What steps do we take?
The first thing to do is read the text. A lot of translation professors recommended reading the entire text before starting the translation. While useful, this is not always easy when we’ve got a tight deadline (as we almost always do…). But it is useful to skim the first few paragraphs to see what we are dealing with, be it a technical manual for some machine, a lease or a love letter… We don’t translate each word by itself, which means that going over the original will let us see what the general topic is and help us keep the proper vocabulary (and style) in mind.
But then halfway through the project comes the big conundrum: what to do with a “problem” word or phrase, something we can’t find in a dictionary, in the glossaries… We’ve mentioned “Googling” words before, and while it’s not a definitive resource, it can help us find out if the word at least exists, is used somewhere, the phrase is correct, etc.
Finally, it is ideal if we can consult a specialist in the field or expert on the topic we are translating (a doctor, engineer, computer tech, etc.), but this is usually a luxury due to the difficulty in getting in touch with the person you need while facing time constraints.
My advice, and what I’ve learned from my personal experience, is to consult a colleague: a different perspective can’t hurt and teamwork can be an excellent idea. Another translator can “help us think,” give us an option we hadn’t thought of or corroborate something we hadn’t been able to verify any other way.
If we also have the good fortune to have a colleague who is a native speaker of the source language in our corner, then this is an added bonus. But this is only if we’re lucky enough to have them. 😉

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