What is Involved in the Process of Language Translation?

You’re probably already fairly familiar with the definition of what translation is: the process of transferring written text from one language into another. But do you know exactly what this process involves? Below, we give an insight into the mind of a professional translator and the methodical approach that is applied in their day-to-day work.

What are the five main stages of the language translation process?

Stage 1: Analyse & Research

The first thing translators will do when they receive a source text is analyse the content. They may skim-read it to ensure it is a subject matter that they feel comfortable with. A good translator will never take on a project that they feel lies outside of their expertise, unless they have the time and commitment to take on additional research to bring them up to speed with the subject matter. For example, a literary translator would not claim to know the ins and outs of a legal contract, and vice versa. The more familiar a translator is with the topic, the better the quality of translation they can provide in terms of accurate terminology and understanding of any technical processes involved.

Once they are confident they can tackle the content, they will evaluate the size and complexity of the project to get an idea of how long it will take them. A translator’s time is their bread and butter, and they have to be able to schedule it in around their existing jobs without spending significantly more or less time than it merits.

They will likely also run it through a CAT tool at this stage, such as translation memory software, as this will break up the source text into individual segments (usually on a sentence level) and provide them with a word count and repetition analysis so they have a clear indication of whether any time/cost savings can be achieved.

Researching any key terminology, the tone, message and purpose of the text is also part of this analysing step, although research is often a continuous part of the process and will constantly be ongoing in the background. It is a good idea to have an understanding of the author’s intent, as this will influence the approach the translator takes. For example, is it a sensitive topic that needs a measured and careful tone? Or is it marketing material that should grab the reader’s attention with calls to action? Any reference material the client can provide to the translator for additional context will be put to good use here.

Stage 2: Draft Translation

Analysis complete, the translator will then begin translating and sketch out a draft, either with or without the help of CAT tools, breaking down each section into more manageable chunks. A delicate balance must be struck, however, as splitting the source text into chunks that are too small can cause the translator to lose sight of the bigger picture and result in a disjointed and stilted-sounding translation, but too big and the translator may struggle to fully process the phrase in their short-term memory. Ultimately, each segment needs to fit together in an overall flowing piece without any gaps or unnecessary repetitions.

Stage 3: Review

Once the draft has been drawn up, the translator will go through it with a fine-tooth comb to ensure no information has been missed. The best way to do this is to compare the translation segment by segment against the original source text to make sure all data, facts and figures appear correctly and no critical information has been missed. The main goal is to ensure the accuracy of the translation and remedy any typos and potential misinterpretations of the source text.

Stage 4: Relax!

The simplest but possibly the most important part of the whole process: take a break. The translator will have been focusing on their work pretty intensely for probably a number of hours, and there is only so long you can stare at a sentence before it starts to look like gibberish no matter what language you speak. At this point the translator will give themselves a rest from working on the text. If timelines allow, ideally they will be able to leave the translation overnight and come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes in the morning, but if that’s not possible then they will occupy their mind with doing something else for at least an hour or two before moving on to the fifth and final step.

Stage 5: Refine

Once their mind has been cleared, the translator will come back to the text to make one final round of revision. It’s amazing how different a text can look once you’ve left it to stew on the page and come back to it. The focus here will be on reading through the translated text to ensure the words flow logically and in a coherent manner. The source text can be put aside at this stage as the translator has already checked against this for accuracy earlier in the process. Now they can concentrate on refining their translated wording by identifying and improving any areas that sound slightly inelegant or unnatural to a native speaker. They will tweak any idioms, grammar and sentence structure to suit the target audience and polish the text to a standard where anyone reading it could be fooled into thinking it is an original piece written in their native language, as opposed to a translation of another text.

The end result:

A polished piece of content that flows naturally in the translated language while remaining faithful to the source text!

And if your content is for publication or legal purposes and you want to have that added security that working with a translation agency rather than a freelancer directly offers, then you can be safe in the knowledge that not only has your translation gone through these rigorous steps by a skilled translator, but it will be additionally revised by a second native linguist to make sure absolutely no mistakes slip through the net. Plus, a further quality assurance check will be undertaken by the project manager in-house before any translation is signed off for delivery, ensuring only consistently high-quality work reaches your hands. Not only that, but you will receive exemplary customer service right from the outset: your dedicated project manager will coordinate the process from start to finish, selecting the right translator for your job, handling any queries on your behalf and ensuring they comply with any specific terminology, style or brand guidelines you may have. This is all part of the all-inclusive rates an agency can offer.

About the author

Sinead Livesey graduated with a First Class Honours degree in French, Spanish and Linguistics from the University of York in 2013. She joined Planet Languages shortly after and is now a senior member of the project management team. Across her multiple client accounts, she coordinates translation, proofreading and typesetting projects, as well as providing in-house expertise in her native and studied languages. Outside of work she enjoys distance running and cycling and completed the 2019 London Marathon to raise funds for the Wessex Cancer Trust.