English-German Translations, UK

Editing and proofreading translations

We all think we know what proofreading isErika Baker, author of this article on proofreading translations

For first-class quality control, when someone writes an article, a proofreader goes through the document. Proofreaders make sure the text is free from typing errors and grammatical mistakes. They should also check that there are no loose ends and that everything is logical. Surely, proofreading translations should be just as simple: someone translates an article, another translator reads it and checks it for the same possible mistakes.

However, proofreading translations is a great deal more complicated than reading through a final translation.

Proofreading translations requires additional skills

Proofreading translations professionally, the kind of proofreading we charge our clients for, requires a specialist proofreader. They need to be a linguist with the same language combinations as the original translator and, where possible, the same specialist subjects. The proofreading then takes the form of a sentence by sentence comparison of the original text with the translation.

It takes a qualified colleague to understand the nuances of the original text and to judge whether the translator has represented those nuances correctly in the translation. Only a qualified colleague can spot “false friends”. False friends are words that look as if they refer to the same thing or concept in both languages. In reality, however, they are different. An example for this is that English and German both have the word “sensible” (“sensibel” in German). In English, it means “making sense”, “being rational”. However, in German, it means “being sensitive”. If a text describes someone as “sensible” and the proofreader only sees the translation, they could easily conclude that describing that person as “sensitive” is correct. After all, the sentence is grammatically correct, and there is no typing error.

With technical texts it’s often even more difficult. Should a “ground anchor” for holding down a pavilion or a marquee be translated as “peg” or “anchor”? Dictionaries will list both options, specialist dictionaries even more. Only a translator specialising in the same sector will be able to judge whether the translator has opted for the most appropriate technical term.

Choosing the correct proofreader

It’s best if the proofreader has the same mother tongue as the language of the translated text. Very few translators are fully qualified to work into their foreign language. Most make tiny stylistic mistakes or grammatical errors that only a native speaker would be able to avoid.

Everyone can check a text for grammar and typing errors. But only a suitably qualified translator can proofread at the high professional level clients demand.


This article was written by Erika Baker, freelance English-German translator.

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