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Translation Purpose

As translators, we are often wondering just how good our translations really are. How do you measure the quality of a translation? Given that most translators do not deliberately aim to translate material absolutely literally, it can be hard to find a w measure of just how good it is. We all know what a bad translation is. In fact, all you have to do is to insert a paragraph of French or German into Google Translate or some other automatic translator and see what the outcome is. Assuming that the original text had been written by a native French or German speaker, it’s highly likely that the translated quality would be far from perfect.

But that’s not the point. Every professional translator, whether they are German English translators or not know the limitations of automatic / machine translation. But what is their translation really like?

It has been suggested that one way of measuring the quality of a translation is to assess just how usable it is by the end user. Does the translation serve what it was intended to do, whether it was a translation of a medical article, a literary work or a marriage certificate?

One would expect that the standards of use depend entirely on what is being translated, and in particular, how long will the translated item be useful for. This is relevant for translations of social media scripts that may have very short lifetimes. Twitter feeds, for example, unless they are translated at gunshot speed, maybe soon buried by an avalanche of more Tweets. One just wouldn’t expect the translated Tweets to be of very high ‘quality’ because of the speed they have to be translated, but they may be still very ‘usable.’ In fact, the higher quality Tweets may be just the opposite, quite unusable because they have missed the thread of the feed.

The translation of a set of instructions for the use of a medical device is a different kettle of fish. Take a German-made device, for instance, which is being distributed and sold all around the world. Its use cannot be explained in German but must depend on a German translator to convert the instructions into all the languages where the device is to be used.  Here, it is absolutely essential that accuracy is kept in mind. A small slip up in translation could cost lives. Its usefulness or usability is whether the device can be used safely and responsibly using the translation provided.