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Translation tips from the ITI ‘Style Matters’ translation workshop, Perth

Last weekend I attended a translation workshop organised by ITI Scotland and led by Ros Schwartz and Chris Durban. This was a great opportunity to get top writing tips from some of the best in the business, and the event was very well attended (despite the considerable distance for those of us travelling from southern England!).

The event was particularly useful for translators working on creative texts, such as marketing copy, but most of the tips provided can be universally applied to other specialist fields.

Here are my take-aways from the event:

Top tips:

  • Remember that as a translator you’re also a professional writer
  • Trust your instincts
  • Imagine yourself as an actor, giving the text a voice
  • If you’re struggling, look at each paragraph in turn and break them down to establish what each is talking about
  • Careful of ‘translationease‘ such as the phrase ‘in terms of’ – look for ways to re-word this
  • When editing, remember to keep the text snappy by pruning superfluous words (particularly applies to Latinate languages)
  • Always take a break before the final read-through of your translation
  • Try printing out the text in a different font for your proofread, to create distance and objectivity
  • Try reading your translation aloud, paying attention to rhythm
  • Invest in a style guide
  • Four eyes are better than two!

Book recommendations:

  • Stephen King ‘On Writing’
  • William Zinsser ‘On Writing Well’
  • Jack Lynch ‘Online Usage and Style Guide’
  • The Global English Style Guide: Writing Clear, Translatable Documentation for a Global Market (Perfect Paperback)

One thing that particularly struck me during the group activity was that as translators we have a reputation for getting obsessive and overzealous about what we perceive to be mistakes in a text, but which may simply be a newer term, or a term used by a particular industry. The way I see it, our role is to be linguists observing language and how it changes, not prescriptive grammatarians. Each industry tends to have its own dialect, and sometimes our role is also about speaking our clients’ language.

Happy writing!

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5 Responses and Counting...

  1. céline

    June 24, 2009

    I’ve been meaning to do a writing course for a long time. The only time I write these days is when I’m translating and I’m sure that writing my own stuff with the guidance of a tutor, instead of converting someone else’s thoughts into French, would help me improve my style and hence the services I offer my clients. I’m not sure it’ll be that easy to find a French writing course in the UK, though…

  2. Serena Dorey

    June 24, 2009

    Sounds like a really interesting workshop, Philippa. Thanks for sharing what you took away from the event. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it to the next ‘Style Matters’ workshop!

  3. Speakwrite

    June 24, 2009

    Great tips especially the one on editing. Must have been an interesting workshop. I also recommend seeking for grammar and writing support and excellent proofreading and editing services as they are key in any translation work.

  4. Suyash

    June 24, 2009

    Thank you for sharing very useful tips.

  5. Pedro

    June 24, 2009


    I just stumbled across your blog and it’s been a great read.

    As a Portuguese translator, I can’t stress enough the importance of “trimming the fat” and making sentences read through clearly, without the redudant wording that is unfortunately quite usual in Portuguese. You can probably tell that from this reply :)

    Thanks for sharing these tips!

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