Last week, we celebrated International Translation Day. To add a little more to the discussion, I’d like to address some questions and concerns I sometimes hear from psychologists and academics when they’re thinking of working with translators.
For context, I work from English to Spanish, but I think these issues apply to any language combination and probably to other professional areas too.
Asking a bilingual colleague
“What would a translator do for me? I can ask my colleague; she knows English and Spanish.”
Translation requires skills that go beyond just knowing languages. When we, as translators, take on a text, we do it differently than someone who knows languages, even if that person specializes in psychology (I was a psychologist before becoming a translator, so trust me on this!).
Without expertise in the specific skills of translation, an amateur (your bilingual psychologist colleague or cousin who knows some Spanish)
And to clarify that “translator” doesn’t mean a bilingual researcher or colleague, the ITC guidelines for tests, the ISPOR’s principles of good practice for patient-reported outcomes, and the CCSG’s guidelines for cross-cultural surveys, among others, mention “professional translators”.
Using automatic translation
“Why not use Google Translate and just check it afterward?”
Google Translator Logo
While this technology is progressing really fast, it still produces literal translations, and it doesn’t cope well with false friends, ambiguities, and technical terms.
Editing this kind of output is in fact a specialized field within translation called “post-editing”, and the results will depend not only on the translator but also on the translation technology used. Using a free and general tool like Google Translate will only add difficulties to an already challenging task.
Here are some more pitfalls of automatic translation:
Fearing the technical aspect won’t be right
“I’m not confident that a translator will 'get' my specialized psychology text. I’d rather leave it to one of my colleagues.”
For every specialist discipline or subdiscipline, you can be sure there’s a translator who specializes in it, whether it’s medicine, finance, wine, agriculture, fashion, and everything and anything in between.
It’s natural to think that someone outside of your field will struggle to understand your specific area. Nonetheless, I’m sure there are translators specialized in your field or a similar one. And, of course, if your topic is psychology, I’m an example of a translator who specializes in this field and who is also a psychologist.
Remember: Translating is about much more than knowing the right terms. Even if your translator is not an expert on a very niche topic, with good research and communication skills, you’ll work together to produce an excellent translation.
And if you’re still unsure, you can involve your bilingual expert as a reviewer of the technical content by putting them in touch with the translator.
Ignoring the negative consequences
“So what’s the big deal? What could possibly go wrong?”
It depends. It depends on what you need and how important it is for you. Ask yourself: How important is it for me to have my article published? How much do I care about delays in my clinical study? Below are some examples of what could happen if you decide not to use translators (in this case, translators specialized in psychology and healthcare):
o You need to review the text again and again.
o Possible loss of relevance because of delays.
o You get behind schedule.
o Higher costs when you finally have to hire a professional translator or reviewer.
o Your work won’t conform to the established guidelines in the field.
o Your methodology seems less reliable in your peer’s eyes.
o The process becomes lengthy and costly if items don’t work as expected.
Translators have the appropriate cultural and linguistic skills to convey your message. We also have the experience to ask you the right questions to clarify ambiguities and problematic areas, and the specialized resources to figure them out. We help you avoid delays and rounds of reviews that will offset any costs that you could be “saving” when you rely exclusively on bilingual colleagues or automatic translation. As the CCSG puts it: “Translation costs will make up a very small part of a survey budget and cannot reasonably be looked at as a place to cut costs.”
And if you’re looking for a reliable English to Spanish translator specialized in psychology, including clinical research, neuropsychology, disability, and test adaptations, don’t hesitate to contact me!
Karol Tapia de Moya is a psychologist and English to Spanish translator. She specializes in the fields of psychology, healthcare and medicine, and education. In this blog, she writes about everything she knows or has learned that could be useful or of interest to you!