Everyone whose job is remotely related to dealing with words knows that the way a text reads, can greatly affect its reception. The ease with which the audience are able to make meaning of a written text is referred to as readability. Should it be something that concerns you as a translator? Isn’t it your job to convey the meaning as well as the original style? Well, there are two ways to go about it.
Readability or fidelity?
This one never gets old. According to some, a translator can never interfere with the nature of the text. They should do as much as they can to preserve the original author’s style, register and rhythm. Others claim that if the overall readability of the text takes precedence over the fidelity to the original structuring. By that logic, if the original is poor-structured and confusing, a translator can (or even should) apply necessary changes, so that the translation feels less chunky and flows more naturally. If you happen to subscribe to the latter school of thought, this article will tell you what you can do, to improve the text’s readability.
Modifying the source
Being able to decide when you’re allowed to interfere with the original (and to what extent), seems to be the core of the translation and one of its biggest challenges at the same time. Naturally, it will be different, depending on the nature of the original text and its purpose.
Literary translations have their own rules, as here the specific register and style of the author plays more crucial role. That’s why literary translators seem to have less freedom to render the text, so as not to hijack the author’s work . With works of literature, the style can often be convoluted or choppy on purpose. A good translator should recognize the author’s intentions behind the writing style. In this case, clarity shouldn’t come at the expense of the unique rhythm of the source text.
With functional texts like websites, magazine articles or manuals, the general message seems more important than original style. That’s why a translator is allowed more creativity in making the text feel more native and read better.
Ways to improve readability
Generally speaking, longer sentences are more difficult to follow and understand. Sometimes, however, a long sentence is OK in source language, but in your target language splitting it into two would feel more natural. It all depends on the syntactic rules and sentence structure specific to a given language. When deciding whether to break sentences or paragraphs into smaller chunks, you should also take into account who the text is intended for. It is a good practice to stick to the golden rule: always think about your audience.
Active vs. passive voice
Using passive voice too much can also affect a text’s readability and clarity. For most people, it is much easier to make meaning of a sentence in active voice, especially if the text you’re translating is supposed to be light-hearted. Thanks to its use, the writing style becomes more concise and to the point. For more serious registers, passive voice is more appropriate, although it’s better to intertwine one with the other, if possible.
Throw in the connective words
Adding the words like “first of all” or “furthermore” improves the flow of the text and makes it easier to follow the train of thought. They serve as a guidance to the reader, especially if the document is riddled with argumentation.
Remember to proofread
No matter if you do it yourself, co-work with a professional proofreader or just ask a friend to do it for you, re-reading your writing is essential. Even if you rely on quality assurance features, bear in mind that spell-checkers can still overlook some mistakes. Read your work at least once after you have finished, or ask someone to do it for you. That’s why having an additional pair of eyes to check up on you is difficult to undervalue.
This one is somehow connected to the previous point. After you’ve finished writing, take time to review the punctuation. If it helps, you read your writing out loud, to see where you pause. Remember that well-placed commas effectively improve a text’s readability.
Ask for clarification
If you find yourself struggling while reading the source document you’re working on, high chances are you won’t do a very good job translating it either. To deliver a quality translation, you need to be sure you know what the author had in mind and with poorly-written source texts, this can be quite challenging. In such cases, don’t be afraid to ask your clients questions to resolve any doubts you might have.