Years of preparation, mastering of foundations, perfecting skills, search for individual style…
The first trials, the admiration of family, support of friends and harsh fairness of mentors…
A test, here and now, with complete commitment and clear understanding that everything done will be scrupulously evaluated…
The agonizing wait of an appraisal…
…And finally, the evaluation, after which anything can happen, from performers’ ecstasy to despair, from celebrating the achievement to fighting for a review of the result, from friends’ congratulations to their mutual indignation against the judges.
This story is known to anyone who is familiar both with figure skating and translating. The performer puts a part of soul into each performance and each translation, each of them is assessed by other people, and every evaluation can be unexpected.
Anyone, even those who have never skated, will definitely notice if an athlete stumbles or falls. Anyone, even those who don’t know a single word in a foreign language, will notice an interpreter’s slip of the tongue or a translator’s misprint.
Any expert of figure skating can remember juicy scandals, accusations of judges and revisions of the competition results. Any participant of a translation forum will be able to give examples of experts’ and executors’ discord, spilled over into heated correspondence or verbal battles.
So, there are a lot of parallels in terms of the evaluation of performances by figure skaters and work completed by translators, but there is one important difference. That difference lies in the rules of evaluation.
In the figure skating world, the International Skating Union (ISU) makes the evaluation rules. In particular, Rule 353 contains a list of performance elements, for which points are awarded, and a list of violations, for which points are deducted. The evaluations remain individual (and not always predictable), but at least their parameters are clearly defined.
In the world of translation, everything is both simpler, and more difficult. It is simpler because translation is not a competition but work, in which there are no winners or losers, and there are often no judges. But as soon as we have an evaluator - a demanding client, an appointed expert or an effective translation consumer, the situation becomes a lot more complicated. First and foremost, prize-winning points, as a rule, are not awarded. The merits of the text are mainly to the author’s credit ("…As Aeschylus said so wonderfully…", and then the rest of the quote in clear Russian language), and the shortcomings are assumed to be a translator’s fault. ("Of course, it’s better to read it in the original.") Therefore, the evaluation almost always consists in the deduction of points from a conventional, ideal, hundred-per-cent translation. Sometimes the evaluation is abrupt, ‘The translation is inept, it should be done all over again," and sometimes it gets more sophisticated, "The balanced evaluation of the translation is 80.9 per cent, which is lower than 81.1 per cent minimum threshold, hence it requires improvement."
For convenience let us call all the evaluating persons ‘experts’ (some translators would surely put this word in quotes or find another way to express their skepticism), and classify them as ‘amateurs’ making evaluations as a matter of opinion, and ‘professionals’ whose main job is evaluating translations.
As a rule, amateur experts evaluate the result of a translator’s work as a whole, using such categories as ‘like/dislike’ or ‘acceptable/unacceptable’. It is obvious that a text can be liked or disliked by numerous parameters (a good example is the ambiguous approach to the use of the letter "Ё" in Russian). The acceptability of the text for further use does not depend solely on the translator, for instance, an advertising material may be appropriate in one country and totally unusable in another.
Professional experts use lists of types and categories to evaluate the error gravity. Serious translation customers and responsible translation companies tend to develop their own classifiers.
The existing industry documents (e.g. SAE J2450 standard or LISA QA Model) have not gained general recognition even in the countries of their origin, let alone Russia. ‘The Recommendations for Translator and Translation Customer’ produced by the Russian Union of Translators contains a lot of useful information but does touch upon the subject of expertise and evaluation.
Moreover, there is no independent organization in the translation industry (the ISU counterpart), which has enough authority and a balanced method of dispute resolution in the field of evaluation of translations.
Coming back to parallels with figure skating, in Russia translation judges judge by their own rules, and in the absence of general rules it is not easy to select judges. In view of the translation world’s scope and diversity, the task of overall standardization of the evaluation process gets rather awkward, which of course does not prevent us from making the first steps in that direction.
First and foremost, it is necessary to develop a full list of evaluation criteria (e.g., completeness, accuracy, etc.) and describe them in such a way, that any translation could be analyzed according to the general rules. Such a document, developed on the basis of practicing translators’ and interpreters’, as well as translation companies’ and professional translation consumers’ experience, will provide a common language for the participants in the market, which well certainly help resolve contentious issues in a civilized manner, and enhance the prestige of the profession.