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You’ve had your copy translated by a professional translator so it should be perfect, right? No need to have it proofread? That’s certainly what many buyers of translation services think. However, even copy written in English by native language copywriters carries a risk of minor errors. Lucy Kellaway, Financial Times columnist and author, explains the problem in a BBC article on the subject of typos:
“Writing is a sophisticated job and our brains focus on the structure, the sentences and the phrases, leaving the close-up work to be done on autopilot. Afterwards we are programmed to read only what we think we have written, not what we actually have.”
According to the Latin saying, ‘Errare humanum est’ (to err is human), and even the greatest writers in the world make mistakes. One famous example of many slipped through on page 503 in the first print run of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, where a ‘missing’ Crouch speaks to Dumbledore. Yet, as Crouch was missing at the time, it was clearly inappropriate that he should speak. The error was spotted by a nine-year-old girl, prompting publisher Bloomsbury, with its tail between its legs, to issue the following statement:
“Bloomsbury prides itself on its high editorial standard. We are very upset that this error went unnoticed until after printing.”
One million copies went out. This single incident perfectly demonstrates that even the best writers can make mistakes.
Translators are also writers; and human (superhuman even). They always proofread their own work as a first level of quality, to the best of their professional abilities, to ensure that any errors get corrected.
Even so, if you have copy for publication – whether translated or native – your reputation rests on this minor risk of error being factored in. It could save your brand’s face.
Proofreading is the final step that guarantees your copy is well presented and entirely error free. Correcting spelling mistakes, syntax and grammatical errors is part of the process, but it goes considerably further than that.
It is important that the proofreader is different to the original translator. Writers and translators can be blind to their own errors, and machines are incapable of carrying out the task adequately. So a proofreader must be as skilled at translation as the original translator, whilst being able to apply additional specialist skills.
Proofreading translated text involves comparing it with the original. By doing so, a fresh pair of eyes and a new mind can detect any errors, inconsistencies, or ambiguities missed by the translator. As well as eliminating errors, the proofreader ensures that the translated document conveys precisely the same meaning as the original.
Additional checks carried out by the proofreader include ensuring that:
Having your translation proofread will add cost if carried out separately by a professional proofreader. You might be tempted to save money by avoiding the step altogether and going with the original translation, but even small mistakes matter. Can you really guarantee that gaffs such as that made by the Swedish company Electrolux, which promoted its vacuum cleaner in the US market with the tag line “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”, won’t happen to you? They can detract from your brand image, make you appear less professional, and ultimately hurt your bottom line, so is it really worth the risk? Only you can decide, but just remember the saying, “Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’p’orth of tar.”
Some people feel that proofreading is something that can be carried out by software, and that human proofreaders are no longer necessary. That viewpoint is, at best, optimistic.
Most word processing applications include tools for checking grammar and spelling which, whilst useful, cannot be relied on. Spell checkers in any language are just the first stage in proofing a document, but depending on them is potentially dangerous. They will detect typos such as ‘amd’ (suggesting corrections such as ‘mad’, ‘am’, or ‘and’) and flag spelling mistakes such as ‘accomodate’ (for ‘accommodate’, one of the most misspelt words in the English language). But they will entirely miss major bloopers such as ‘their’ when ‘there’ is correct. The internet is full of examples, and we all have our favourites: one of mine is a public document that included the name of a senior manager called Brian Walton, which appeared as ‘Brain Wilting’. Fortunately, it didn’t quite result in the author being fired – but it came close.
Grammar checkers also have their faults, as they tend to be pedantic and are frequently wrong. Often they fail to detect huge grammatical errors such as ‘It is no wondering that poor marketing’s are bad for brand’ yet flag perfectly good grammar as incorrect.
There are several sophisticated proofreading software applications, some web-based and some that run on a computer. They are considerably more advanced than the spell and grammar check functions built into Microsoft Office, but are still subject to similar errors. Whilst they will pick up contextual errors such as ‘whether vein’ and suggest the correct version (in this case ‘weather vane’), they still have a high error rate.
As semantic technology develops further these types of application will improve considerably, but it is unlikely that a machine will ever come close to the skills of a professional proofreader; and certainly not before the advent of true artificial intelligence.
It isn’t always necessary to have all of your translations proofread. You can often save expense by restricting proofreading to only the documents that will be published externally.
However, unless your requirements are unusual, skipping proofreading is generally not worth the risk. It might pay to avoid spoiling the ship just for a ha’p’orth of tar!