From Liudmila Tomanek @Russian Translation World Ltd

For me 2020 represents an important milestone as it marks 20 years since I left my career in finance to embark onto what has become my true passion as well as life-long journey on the road to perfection. I dedicated myself to linguistics and foreign languages.

Following 5 years of intensive learning allowed me to fulfil my dream of becoming a translator.

The learning continued and 10 years on I found myself wearing a graduation gown to receive my bachelor’s degree with honours in modern languages from Nottingham Trent University. Thus, my linguistic portfolio was boosted with three more source languages: French, Spanish and Italian.

Professional development follows the translator’s path like a golden thread through the whole life and 5 years later I became a full-time postgraduate student at the London Metropolitan University. A year later I received MA Translation with distinction and the prize for the best translation on the course.

Now I am a proud member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists and a chartered translator with over 15 years of working experience.

These 20 years reflect an exciting journey of striving for excellence. They also have provided countless opportunities to learn and perfect my skills — with every assignment, every job and from every client I have learnt something new. This knowledge is massively important and supplements the invaluable theoretical basis received in the classroom.

For some time now, I have frequently been approached by my junior colleagues with requests to share some of my knowledge and experience. However, as I always put the confidentiality of my clients first, I felt reluctant to do it.

This festive season, however, whilst enjoying a wealth of traditional culinary delights from so many cultures that were so generously prepared by the multi-cultural community of my friends (not to mention my own humble contribution), I had to deal with another complicated professional issue to help my client.

The problem was serious enough for me to realise — it is my professional duty to transmit some of my practical knowledge to the community of translators, not the least to ensure that high standards of our profession are maintained across the sector and the number of ambiguities and grey areas is reduced to a minimum.

So, my resolution for 2020 is to share some of my 20 years of experience with those who need it.

The advice below is based on my professional journey and categorised by the type of potential problems translators or their clients could encounter. It does not include any specifics that could lead to individual cases as confidentiality of my clients is paramount to me.

1.  Always look beyond translation.

Sometimes I hear from other translators: “Do not forget, we are only translators, we are not experts in law, finance or engineering. We should not pretend to be more than we are. Just stick to being a translator”.

I would beg to disagree with my colleagues who hold to this view.

Yes, we are “just” translators and we have neither sufficient expertise nor authority to offer professional advice on the above or, in fact, any other fields of specialisations.

However, it is our professional duty to be sufficient experts not only to ensure we fully understand all the nuances of the semantics, pragmatics and stylistics within the source text as well as the implications of the translation for every stakeholder (including the text producer, the client and the target audience) — but also to guide our clients to ensure they make informed choices, even if it means losing them.

For example, if the client requests a document to be translated for a specific purpose and we know that this purpose does not require a translation — it is our ethical duty to inform the client rather than presenting them with a translated document that will later prove to be useless to them. If, however, after receiving the information the client still decides to proceed with the order, at least we will have the confidence of knowing that the client is aware of the consequences.

If we see an error in the source text, it is our professional duty to inform the client and discuss the options. In my experience, on one occasion an error in the original led to a situation where the client had to come back to the authorities that issued the initial document and to re-apply afresh. I had to re-schedule the translation slot but was happy to do so as disregarding the error would have had grave consequences for my client.

For my corporate clients a source text error could result in financial loss and potentially have legal implications. Informing the client on the source text error is not easy as some source text producers become very defensive and could become antagonistic towards the “bearer of bad news”.

Nevertheless, it is better to lose the client than your professional honour and long-standing reputation.

Translation is a complex process that requires a holistic approach drawing on every skill, knowledge and expertise we can offer as multi-skilled, multi-cultured and multi-lingual professionals.

2. Transliteration, transliteration, transliteration…

If translation includes transliteration of names or surnames, we must always agree the choice of the spelling with the client.

From my experience, issuing authorities even at the highest level are not always consistent and the same name can acquire a remarkable range of spellings when converted from one language to another. Consistency in spelling will ensure the success of the application if the client submits a range of supportive documents.

For corporate clients inconsistent transliteration of surnames, at the very least, leads to the confusion amongst the target readership. The consequences for legal and financial documents are catastrophic.

Similarly, transliteration of geographical locations should always be verified against contemporary up-to-date official sources. Old and out-dated spellings could potentially void the document and are only relevant in the context of translating a novel set in the past.

Conversely, transliteration of established names and personalities should correspond to the period to which they belong. Thus, Charles the First in Russian transliteration historically has been known as Карл I (transliterated back as “Karl”), which reflects the Germanic influence on the Russian language of that period. While the transliteration of Prince Charles into Russian follows the rules of phonetics and appears across the variety of reputable sources as Чарльз (“Charl’z”).

Incorrect or inadequate transliteration could lead to significant shifts in meaning and at times have catastrophic consequences.

3.   Localization: to domesticate or not to domesticate

If we are translating a brand or the name of a product, we should always ensure we consult with the client. In doing so, we must give them a choice and explain the consequences. If necessary, we should advise our client to consult an expert in marketing based within the respective target country.

4.   There are sources… and there are sources

Credibility of our translation rests on the credibility of the sources we use. While Wikipedia can be handy, it may not necessarily give the correct answer or the answer may not be best suited to a particular case. If context is king then credibility of the sources is his crown.

5.   Justify your choices

At times hear from translators with many years of experience: “This is the correct term because I always use it and it works”. Or: “I know it from experience”. I wonder if they ever realise how unprofessional those statements sound. Experience should not be used as a substitute for the up-to-date knowledge and continuous professional development. Languages are not static. Even Latin and Ancient Greek encounter changes — though they do not have living native speakers. Every language changes in time. It is happening as I am writing this sentence and as you are reading it.

Therefore, every choice by a translator, be it style, terminology or syntactic change, should be justified and supported by the most recent up-to-date reputable sources. Scholars and practitioners work continuously on aligning the rules that are imprinted into serious grammar books with contemporary use of the language.

If we want our professional word to count for something, it has to be infallible — or at the very least to aim to be so. Academia and industries work hard to provide us with solid evidence to support our choices. We must employ this evidence to ensure high quality of our professional output.

6.   Read, read and read again

Proofreading is paramount in translation. Even a minor punctuation error reduces the authority of the translated text. We cannot claim professional expertise if we do not check our syntax, spelling, and punctuation.

7.   Last but not least

My final word of advice echoes that of many professionals and is enshrined in the professional code of conduct of many regulatory bodies for our industry: we should only take on an assignment if we are confident we can do a top-class job of it.

I implore my junior colleagues to remember: there is more professionalism and dignity in rejecting the task we cannot do well than in accepting a translation out of fear to appear incompetent.


Happy 2020! Happy Translating! Many Happy Returns of the Clients!

Liudmila Tomanek

@Russian Translation World Ltd

©2020 Liudmila Tomanek

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *