The impact of poorly written source text on translation

The impact of poorly written source text on translation

Have you ever tried to translate a source text that has been poorly written that you wanted to bang your head on the wall because it was driving you crazy when you were trying to produce a good enough translation from it and felt like you were going to end up in a mental institution because by the end of it you were so emotionally unstable? You aren’t alone!

Joking aside, the question I ask myself when I encounter such a text is how an earth did this person get to write it? Clumsily written chunks of text with no attention to grammar and syntax, that go on and on… Words or expressions used in a way that leaves you completely baffled as to their meaning… Sentences, so oddly written that warrant a complete re-write…

As a translator, I am very familiar with these sentiments which highlight the importance of properly written source text by expert writers. When the original text is so badly written, this makes the translator’s job so much harder. Poorly written source text can come from any field but from my personal experience, I often encounter them more in the business and legal fields. This could be a surprise to some as one would think that accuracy and clarity should be paramount in these domains!

I wish I could always just get jobs where the original text is carefully crafted by an expert writer, using well structured, uncomplicated sentences and unambiguous words. I know I don’t live in a dreamland and although I get to translate some clearly and concisely written texts, I get a fair share of the dreadful stuff too. Maybe it was some recent experience that was driving me crazy that led me to write this. I don’t know but if there are any writers reading this, please have mercy on us and don’t make our job even more complicated by writing incomprehensible texts in the first place!

Don’t forget, a well written text:

  • Usually consists of clearly structured, uncomplicated sentences that aren’t too long
  • Doesn’t contain redundant or unnecessarily repeated words
  • Doesn’t leave too much room for ambiguity
  • Is not too difficult to understand
  • Doesn’t contain grammatical or other linguistic errors

About the author:

My name is Ali Yildirim. I originally studied Classical Archaeology at the University of Istanbul, before coming to the UK in 2001 and working as an archaeologist for 2 years.

I have worked in the language services industry in various roles including as a teacher of Turkish, interpreter and bilingual teaching assistant before setting out as a freelance Turkish translator in 2005. I obtained a diploma in translation in 2012 and became a member of the Institute of Chartered Linguists in the same year and obtained a Chartered Translator status in 2019. I am also a qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting and ISO 17100:2015 Qualified Translator.

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