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Technical Accuracy Checks of Translation

André Senécal, C. Tr., C. Wr.
(Language Update, Volume 5, Number 4, 2008, page 24)

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

Francis Bacon

Translation in the workplace is not immune to the changing needs of clients. In the past, clients would simply ask for their documents to be translated, pure and simple. But little by little, in their quest to tailor their services to meet client requirements for linguistic services, translation professionals have expanded their range of services to include other tasks such as technical accuracy checks of translations (TACTs). What exactly is a TACT? Who can provide these accuracy checks for clients? And according to what criteria? These are the issues discussed in this article.

Definition

On its Web site, the federal government’s Translation Bureau defines a technical accuracy check of translation, or TACT, as follows:

Exhaustive review of the scientific or technical accuracy of a translation in comparison with the original.

The purpose is to provide clients with confirmation that the specialized content of a translation corresponds fully to that of the original text. Most client requests for TACTs concern technical or scientific documents. However, a request could just as well concern the translation of a legal or corporate document containing specialized vocabulary. The primary focus of a TACT is therefore the technical aspect of a translation "of or relating to a particular subject or area of human activity." Obviously, the person conducting a TACT will also identify other shortcomings that might be contained in the document, if need be.

The accuracy of the concepts at issue and the shades of meaning in a specialized text require more than a simple linguistic opinion and might, in some cases, have far greater implications than those in the translation of a text of a more general nature. That explains why a TACT is defined as an "exhaustive review." In addition to linguistic knowledge, the auditor must also have recognized expertise in the specialized field of the translation under review.

Client motivation

In general, clients who request a TACT want something more than routine quality control or a linguistic opinion. They are looking, in particular, for an official opinion, endorsed by an organization, because they have to deal with a serious, problematic or sensitive situation related to the translation they submit for review. In order to produce a detailed, informed report for the client, the auditor must try to ascertain what motivated the client to request such a check in the first place. Of course, the auditor will have to exercise TACT and discretion in determining the client’s motivation, which could be of a sensitive nature. Clients should not be pushed too hard to disclose information. They may not want to reveal their reasons, deeming them to be outside the linguistic scope of their request.

Who can conduct a TACT?

Earlier we saw that a technical accuracy check of translation focuses mainly on the specialized content of a translation in comparison with that of the original text. The person conducting a TACT must therefore be very familiar with the specialized field concerned, including its terminology and phraseology. To begin with, expert translators are ideally suited to conduct such checks, especially if their specialized competencies were previously recognized when they were appointed to their positions. In fact, one of the main duties of an expert translator at the Translation Bureau is to "provide clients with professional advice on all issues related to the technical accuracy check (TACT) of their documents by conducting expert appraisals of their requests." Moreover, auditors must "have a sound knowledge of and be proficient in continually evolving specialized and leading-edge fields related to the clients’ operations and organizations in order to deliver documents that comply with specialists’ requirements (e.g., aerospace, epidemiology, agriculture, etc.) and correspond to the realities of the clients’ operations and organizational cultures (e.g., military, paralegal, etc.). This knowledge can also be used to provide clients and co-workers with expert advice."1 In light of these statements, expert translators are clearly the ideal resource persons for conducting technical accuracy checks of translation.

In the absence of an expert translator, a translator/language advisor or senior translator could be assigned to this sensitive task. Translators/language advisors are experienced revisers and quality control specialists, while senior translators have professional skills that allow them to submit their translations to clients without systematic quality control by a third party. Nonetheless, the professional concerned, or his or her immediate supervisor, must make sure that he or she can indeed carry out the client’s assignment, particularly regarding the area of specialization.

Finally, depending on the specialization involved, the best person to conduct a TACT may be a professional, working-level translator whose abilities are recognized by co-workers and supervisors, who is familiar with the field of specialization concerned, is able to work at an advanced level of autonomy and produces impeccable-quality translations.

Advanced linguistic and technical knowledge on the part of the auditors is not enough. They must also be accustomed to dealing with clients and know how best to communicate with them in order to obtain specific information on their assignments. This working experience with clients must also prepare the auditors to deal with all types of situations, and their interventions must reflect the utmost professional integrity and comply with their employer’s corporate image. Lastly, membership in a professional association of translators is certainly a significant asset in establishing client trust.

Conducting a technical accuracy check of translation

It is important to carefully review TACT requests submitted by clients. In the vast majority of cases, the auditor will realize that he or she needs additional information in order to fully understand the circumstances leading up to a request. The translation could be at the centre of a dispute, could raise issues in regard to aviation, food or public safety, or could prevent the fulfilment of contractual obligations, the proper execution of work or the implementation of a decision. When communicating with clients, auditors must seek clarifications and point out that a better overview of the situation will enable them to take all relevant aspects into account before they issue their opinions.

As for the technical accuracy of the submitted translation, the client could either have doubts about its merits or be almost certain that it is inadequate. Whatever the case, the client will want a definitive professional opinion that can be used as official documentary evidence to substantiate any future course of action. If a client is reticent after hearing the auditor’s arguments, the auditor should not push the matter. If they cannot obtain information, auditors should know that they will have to be additionally careful when submitting their findings and opinions.

The auditor must then get down to work and conduct a thorough quality control of the translation. The technical accuracy of the translation, as well as its terminology and phraseology, must be scrupulously compared to that of the original. In cases where a passage is technically accurate, but the wording is foreign to the particular field, it should be pointed out to the client. At this stage, the auditor uses standard proofreading marks2 and takes note of linguistic and typographical errors. Normally, the auditor would not be required to revise the translation per se, but it would be appropriate to do so if the translation concerned is relatively short, because the client will no doubt want to have a quality translation to compare with the translation submitted for the accuracy check.

The auditor then takes note of any technical shortcomings and tries to relate them to the contextual information. The auditor’s notes, of course, have to be based on fact and on obvious cause-and-effect relationships. Auditors must formulate their findings, but must not express any personal impressions or venture any interpretations, because it would be contrary to their assigned task and particularly to the rules of ethical conduct. Therefore, the TACT begins with a thorough review of the accuracy of the specialized content, followed by a thorough review of the accuracy of the linguistic content, with appropriate comments entered.

A client could have doubts about a translation that is in fact of good quality. In such cases, the auditor must thoroughly review the accuracy of the specialized content as well as do linguistic quality control. The auditor’s notes should indicate how the technical accuracy of the proposed translation complies with the field of specialization and to what extent the wording used is idiomatic. These arguments should persuade the client that the quality of the translation is good. The auditor can report a few inconsequential shortcomings, while pointing out that they do not compromise the technical accuracy of the document.

Drafting the TACT report

In the introduction, the auditor provides some information on the submitted translation (the topic, field of specialization, length and other relevant details). The auditor also outlines the assignment received from the client and, if need be, includes background information that may make it necessary to qualify the professional opinion that will be offered.

Auditors should devote the bulk of the report to their assessment of the accuracy of the translation’s specialized content, compared with that of the original. They should select a sufficient number of passages from their annotated version of the translation to show whether there is compliance or non-compliance with technical accuracy requirements. Auditors must also issue an opinion on the translation’s linguistic quality and its compliance with good writing standards, although this part of the report should be limited in length.

If the auditor has a sufficient amount of contextual information, he or she can formulate an opinion with the possible conclusion, for example, that flight safety or the performance of specialized work might have been compromised because of semantic errors or the use of non-standard terminology, or that a public health problem could have occurred as a result of mistranslation of pharmaceutical nomenclature. However, before stating such opinions, the auditor should exercise caution, make sure that the cause-and-effect relationships are unequivocal, and decide how to phrase the opinions. When in doubt, auditors should refrain from formulating an opinion and limit themselves to their findings.

Lastly, the report must be drafted in clear, concise, neutral language, and its findings should be based on facts. The client is given the report and, where appropriate, a revised translation, but not the annotated translation. Nevertheless, the auditor will keep the annotated translation on file for future reference. In highly litigious cases, the annotated translation could be used as evidence in court proceedings; so it is important to write the annotations clearly, in accordance with recognized standards.

Auditor’s responsibility

Translation professionals who conduct technical accuracy checks of translation bear a heavy responsibility. Their assessments are professional opinions. For clients, a TACT report and the opinion it contains constitute an official document that they can use if ever further action is required. Consequently, by signing the report, the auditor makes a commitment on behalf of the organization that he or she represents.

Therefore, auditors should submit their final reports to a senior manager. A second look is needed to obtain the organization’s endorsement and avoid any misunderstanding that may have repercussions on the business relationship with the client and the organization’s corporate image.

A highly specialized task

As discussed above, a technical accuracy check of translation is a highly specialized task requiring the intervention of an experienced professional who has the full confidence of his or her organization and works in accordance with the highest ethical standards of the translation profession.

Notes

  • Back to the note1 [TRANSLATION] Work description, TRA01202, Expert Translator, p. 6.
  • Back to the note2 It might be useful to consult The Canadian Style, in addition to other reference works, to find a list of proofreading symbols.