Open Translation Tools

Translation Tips

First and most importantly, if you are thinking about volunteering to translate something you feel passionate about, enjoy yourself, don't forget why you are doing this. Translation is as much an art as it is a science, but there are some basic best practices that can help make translation easier and more rewarding.

Understand what is to be translated

  • If you do not understand the subject or a sentence, you cannot translate it well by yourself. It is best then to leave it to others, translate only trivial (non technical or domain specific) material, or work with someone that is an expert in the topic.
  • Understand the culture of the audience that you are trying to reach and think about the culture in the context of the original text.
  • Understand the style the audience is used to. Avoid word-by word or "literal" translations, which always read awkwardly.
  • Do you know the subject matter and understand its lingo? Ask if there is a glossary of terminology that is usually used by translators for this subject. If you do have a glossary, create your own to be consistent among your translations.
  • Understand and maintain the formal/informal style of the source text.
  • You must stay true to the original text, without reinterpreting it with your own ideas.
  • Make sure that you understand the technical limitations and requirements of the translation that you want to do.
  • It is always best to translate into your native language and extremely difficult to translate into a language that is not.
  • Try to understand how long it may take you to translate this project, and think if you want to commit to it. Calculate how much time it will take. A page of text might take from 1 to 3 hours for a beginner or volunteer (1 or less for an experienced translator).

Prepare yourself

  • Get the tools and resources that can make your translation more efficient and accurate: glossary, translation memory (TM), spell-checker, dictionaries, thesaurus, encyclopedias.
  • Read the instructions very carefully (if provided).  If there are no instructions, feel confident to ask the author of the source text questions.

While you do it...

  • After you write a few sentences, or a paragraph, read it to make sure it makes sense.
  • Don't over do it, there is no such thing as a perfect translation, but you do of course want to create a good translation
  • Use a spell-checker, track changes (this is a feature of some Word Processors and online tools) or any other tool that you have access to.

And don't forget to:

  • Ask permission to translate an original text if it is not published under a license which explicitly allows for derivative works.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for attribution/credit for your work.
  • Look at the license.
  • Think of the author(s) and how you should treat the text and use it in a polite way.