Translation Process

Have you ever wondered how a translator does what she does? I don’t mean the part about learning a second language and perhaps spending years abroad, or years working in a first career gaining subject-matter expertise. No, I’m talking about what happens between your “go” (purchase order and payment) and my “here you go” (translation delivered).

I say on my website that I will create a target-language (English) text that:

  • conveys the meaning of the BCS (Bosnian, Croatian, or Serbian) source text;
  • reads coherently in English;
  • uses correct English grammar, spelling, and punctuation; and
  • conforms to buyer-specified style and formatting requirements.

Here’s how* I do it:

a. Preparation: Read source documents and client-provided background materials (see a related post, The Importance of Project Specifications), flag problem terms/passages in source documents.
b. Research: Term and concept research, request clarification from client if necessary.
c. Translate draft #1, followed by another round of questions/research.
d. Revise translation for draft #2.
e. Line-by-line comparison of translation with the source document for accuracy, completeness, and format alignment; then make corrections, resulting in translation draft #3.
f. Take a break.
g. Clean up translation (if using a CAT tool or tracking changes); read the clean translation for content, sense, and coherence; do a spell check and a grammar check; and make corrections, resulting in translation draft #4.
h. Take a break (preferably involving a good night’s sleep).
i. One more read and finalize document without reference to the source text, resulting in translation draft #5 (final); tidy up notes, if any.

The above process represents my ideal work flow, but sometimes a project deadline is too short. Instead of doing a detailed read up front, I might have to launch right in and do the research as I go along. Sometimes there’s no time to sleep on the pentultimate draft. An option for short deadlines is to bring in a second translator for steps e, g, or i, or a subject-matter expert (even monolingual) for steps g or i.

*Although this process is my own, it generally conforms to processes outlined in other publications, including the ASTM Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation (F 2575 – 06) and the ATA publication “Translation: Buying a Non-Commodity.”



  1. Pingback: Translation Workflow | dba Plan B
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