Should Nonnative Speakers Provide Proofreading and Editing Service?

proofreading and editing

Words are nothing. The work quality is everything.

When it comes to the proofreading and editing service and a bilingual staff member of a company (especially a non-linguist and a nonnative speaker of a target language) says that she/he is qualified to revise a translation made by professional translators, it doesn’t mean that she/he really is qualified.

Here is a story about a well-meaning but over-confident nonnative speaker of Russian, a person in a position of corporate authority, who turned a professional translation of a corporate presentation into a piece of bad Russian:

    A few years ago, a translation company asked me to translate a 25-slide presentation of a leading European bank. The presentation was in English and it was necessary to translate it into Russian.

    I readily accepted that assignment because I had worked as a translator on the staff of a central bank for many years and knew banking terminology and business well enough. In addition, as a native speaker of Russian, I could produce a stylistically authentic translation.

    The presentation turned out to be a demanding text. It was brimmed over with descriptions of banking products and services that did not exist on the Russian financial market at that time.

    I had to do a lot of research and consulted professional bankers, my former colleagues from the central bank.

    I did my best to produce an accurate and faithful translation and was satisfied with the job done.

    The translation company sent my translation for proofreading to the other linguist. (It is a standard practice to ensure quality: one linguist translates, the other does proofreading and editing.) Shortly thereafter, a project manager of the translation company emailed me saying, “I’ve just got the comments from our proofreader that the translation was excellent! Thank you for this great service.”

    How surprised I was to receive my translation back 7(!) months later after it had been revised by someone at that bank’s office in France. The nature of corrections suggested that the editor was obviously neither a linguist, nor a native speaker of Russian.

    Since the translation company expected some feedback on my part, I prepared a detailed analysis of all changes introduced to my translation and sent it to the project manager along with the translated presentation, in which I inserted comments and explanations regarding changes made by the editor.

    In my feedback, I said that the changes introduced by the bilingual staff member of the bank actually did more harm than good to the bank’s presentation.

    I stressed that since the stakes were high (the presentation was addressed specifically to wealthy prospective clients from Russia and former Soviet republics), it was important to use a qualified native speaker, so as not to doom the marketing effort to failure.

    To ensure objectivity, the translation company sent both my original translation and the "revised" presentation to a neutral competent third party for evaluation. The third party confirmed the good quality of the translation and the unprofessional nature of corrections.

The bottom line is that when nonnative speakers (and non-linguists) step in to revise the final version of the translation, they often overestimate their linguistic skills and thus can ruin the translation performed by experienced professional translators.

If you want your translation revised, proofreading and editing should be done by a native speaker.

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