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An editor should be a translator’s best friend

An editor should be a translator’s best friend

December 3, 2021 By Jennifer Case Resources

As Daniel Hahn pointed out, an editor is like a beta reader. Having an editor look over your translation is like testing your translation out on your target reader. Maybe a term you chose affected your beta reader in a way you didn’t expect, or maybe they feel that the term in the source text had a different connotation than the term you chose in the target text. Translation doesn’t just involve two different sets of grammar and vocabulary; it also involves two different cultures in which no two people have the same exact experience or perspective. This can lead to a complicated relationship. But instead of viewing editing as a process where one person corrects the other, translators and editors should view the editing process as a collaborative effort where they create cultural understanding together.

A good, healthy friendship is a very important relationship to have in your life; editors and translators model this relationship — or least they should. The kind of friendship where each person gives and takes, has an equal amount of power, and joins forces with the other for a long time. Perhaps I feel this way because my best friend (who has a Bachelor of Arts in English and has professional editing experience) edits my writing, and the editing experiences I have with her are some of the best. We respect each other as people and professionals, and just because we like each other, doesn’t mean we hold back: critique is constructive and backed up with fact and logic. 

Feedback should operate in a give-and-take; translators and editors share the burden of producing high-quality content, and this success is sweeter when they play nice and put in an equal amount of effort. Like friends do, translators and editors support each other when one errs and teach each other things they learned in their experiences or research for that particular project. I frequently pair up with one of my colleagues to edit her work because we both share interesting information and discuss differences of opinion respectfully. Sometimes one of us (politely) wonders how the other came up with a term or phrase, which is when the other person shares the link to an article or dictionary entry. And when we don’t agree on something that is more a style or personal preference, we can agree to disagree. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, judging from others’ experiences and some of my own, the relationship between an editor and translator can be more contentious than we would like. Striving for a friendly relationship will enhance our work and enable us to produce an effective translation.

When an editor comments on a translator’s work, it should happen on equal footing — like how friends ask each other for advice. There cannot always be balance due to the decision-makers choosing whether or not they heed the advice. So, an agency or direct client may have the final say or they may leave the final decision up to their translator/editor. However, mutual respect generates more room for discussion — healthier discussion. Having a “my word is law” attitude is not conducive to friendship or the translator–editor relationship. If the translator and editor (and project manager/direct client) have built up a good relationship and have some sort of rapport, then the editing process is much easier, less stressful, and more fruitful. 

A good friendship lasts a long time, and this is also true for reliable professional relationships like those between translators and editors. I think many of us know that professional and personal relationships share many similarities when it comes to how much effort you put into them and how you approach establishing them. 

Taking the time to develop a good rapport with the editor (or translator depending on your typical role), and the project manager (if you’re working with an agency) is essential to succeeding long-term in editing translations. We word nerds can be a contentious lot, but it is an undeniable fact that when choosing between people of similar skill levels to work with we would choose someone who is easy to work with over someone who is rigid and intractable. I know that when I see people going all out online or in messaging apps, being obstinate over one word or one phrase, I tend to steer clear of them. I try to find more flexible people first when looking for a work partner. Passion is good; fanaticism is scary. Style guides and client specifications can help guide us through disagreements, but knowing from the start that both of us are approaching the project with a similar mindset and temperament can help facilitate the project’s progress and ensure a more relaxed work experience. 

Unfortunately, the editing process at language service providers (LSPs) or agencies doesn’t usually follow this utopian collaborative process I’ve been describing: the translator turns their work in, an editor goes through it, and then, in many but not all agencies, the project manager will come back to the translator to let them review and/or accept and reject the changes. Often, neither the translator nor the editor see the final result. That isn’t to say working for direct clients is all rainbows and sunshine; we all have our quirks and preferences that can lead to differences of opinion. And honestly, I’m not truly describing a utopia but reality for many translators and editors out there. I’m writing this because it is not reality for everyone and that is something we should all strive to change. So, cultivate your translator–editor relationship as if you were cultivating a friendship, only this relationship regularly involves money. 

Header photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash. 

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