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How do I work on my quality?

Every translator needs to keep working on the quality, otherwise we will quickly lose our clients. They want us to be reliable, because their business depends on our quality and promptness. So I have been striving for better quality from the very beginning of my freelance career.

There are two dimensions in this process: the first is working on your quality "here and now" to make sure you send the best possible translation to your client; the second is working on improving your writing style, your spelling/grammar and other skills that you need in order to progress in your freelance career.

Here are some ideas that have helped me and may be helpful to you:

  1. Keep a list of mistakes that you often make. Thus, next time when you need to type this difficult word, it will be right there before your eyes! That will definitely save you time that you normally spend on looking for the same word in a dictionary or typing it wrong and then correcting it.
  2. Do a thorough research on the topic. I understand that ideally each translator should have a fairly narrow specialization and only work within his or her specific area of expertise. But there is a whole variety of texts that have a mixture of topics. For example, I am working on a project now that is a mixture of such topics as music, life of celebrities, marketing and social media. Now, I have experience in translating texts on music and marketing and have been studying social media and actively using it, but I don't quite care about celebrities. So I made a research to find out what each of those people mentioned in the text does, what they are famous (or notorious) for etc. Thanks to Google where almost anything can be found, I learned that besides Paris Hilton (I know that name) there's also Perez Hilton (I didn't know anything about that person). Before I found that out, I was sure there was a misspelling in the text ;-)
  3. Always run the spelling and grammar checker. Even if it seems to you that everything is ok with the text, there's always a chance that something escaped your attention. Besides, sometimes Word does automatic corrections and then doesn't highlight them, but they are not always right. Speaking about checking grammar: Microsoft Office is an American product. They did their best with the grammar checker, but I wouldn't rely on it to check grammar in languages other than English. It often suggests hilarious variants in Russian just because our grammar is a bit more tricky and it's not really a good idea to rely on a machine to check it. I'd recommend using some good books and online resources on grammar and punctuation instead. Here are some resources for translators into Russian: "Орфография и пунктуация: справочник" (this is an online source), "Переводим служебные знаки (Н.Г. Шахова)", "Справочник по правописанию и стилистике (Розенталь Д.Э.)".
  4. Don't forget to check all numbers, measurements etc. $ 5,000 in English and 5,000 долларов in Russian mean two absolutely different things ;-) It's best to convert the measurements in the text into a system used in your country. For example, if the text says that the distance between Paris and Rome is 950 miles it won't mean much for a Russian whereas 1433 km would make a huge difference in the understanding of the same fact. There are some exceptions to the rule though, so be careful to not "overdo" this conversion work ;-)
  5. Follow closely the instructions of your client. I've had cases when the client didn't need certain parts of text translated. It can be names of organizations, places, or just parts of text that are not important for your client. Sometimes the instructions may seem weird, especially if the text translates pretty well into the target language. I'd suggest discussing it with your client because you don't know the reason why they want those names left without translation.
  6. Make glossaries. Thus, you'll build a solid terminology base that'll be a tremendous help for your future work. There are a lot of ways of making them. I prefer ProZ.com glossaries. 
  7. Consult your colleagues. Sometimes you search for the term for hours and can't find anything that would suit your context. The good thing is that nowadays translators don't have to work in isolation! So use this advantage and ask your colleagues for help. You can use services like proz.com KudoZ or similar services on other translation websites, or just contact the colleagues you know who specialise in the topic of your text and ask them. Doing some brain storming often helps =)
  8. If possible, ask someone else to read through your translation.
  9. Leave your text for a while and go for a walk or take a nap. After a break, your brain will be clearer and you will be able to see things you missed and solve the issues that seemed unsolvable before.
  10. Some other helpful resources:
  • John Barre (@johnbarre on Twitter) suggested using Corpus Linguistics for help in terminology and syntax. I haven't tried it yet, but I'll certainly look into it! Right now I'm giving the Wikipedia link to it because there's a pool of links there to useful sites all related to Corpus Linguistics.
  • Wikipedia is a great help! 
  • Online dictionaries (I mostly use Multitran.ru, or proz.com terminology search).
  • Some translator blogs can help you with quite a few technical issues that can also influence your quality. Two of my favourite blogs are "The Translation Business" and "Translation and L10n for dummies".
Hope this article is useful for you! I invite you to share your favourite resources that help you improve your translation quality!

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