The Ethics of Translation

This is a guest posting from David Rainey at DAMMANN German-English Translations.

German Translators, Ethical Translations and Ethical Behaviour

In the course of their duties German translators come across a number of ethical translation issues they need to handle. As a result of this ethical behaviour, maintaining good ethical standards is necessary in order to keep to the best possible practice in translations.
There are some translating organisations, like the National Accreditation Authority for Interpreters and Translators (NAATI) in Australia, that ensure ethical standards are followed in the Australian translation environment. In fact, if NAATI believes that if one of its practitioners has not stuck to the required code that translator may lose the much sought after NAATI accreditation that allows translators in Australia to undertake translations for high profile organisations like government authorities such as the courts and the immigration service.
There are 3 bodies in the country that take part in developing ethical translation criteria in Australia and they include NAATI, the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) and for interpreters, the Australian Sign Language Interpreters’ Association (ASLIA). Also, when working with certain organisations German translators must follow the International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC)

General ethical translation principles for German translators and interpreters are as follows:

  • Respect the client’s right to confidentiality and privacy
  • Reveal any conflicts of interest that are perceived or real
  • Refuse work that the translator is not competent or accredited to undertake
  • Discuss the translation job openly with the client
  • Remain professionally detached from both the client and the translation
  • Don’t use any confidential information discovered in a translation project that could bring about personal gain

When a German translator has reached the standard to pass NAATI accreditation it is acknowledging that the individual when undertaking a translation can transfer effectively information in relation to government, legal or medical matters in a way that the recipients will understand.
Many clients in Australia will not hire German translators without NAATI accreditation. This is partly because the NAATI accreditation takes a good look at ethical translation issues and teaches translators to work appropriately in this area. When German translators sit the NAATI exam they need to be able to answer questions related to ethics.
During the test the participants are given a scenario as it would take place with a translator out on the field. In the questions participants are asked to point out the ethical principle. They have to be able to state which principle a certain statement is related to.
Getting accreditation from NAATI doesn’t mean a translator can’t turn down a translation on ethical grounds. For example, a Muslim translator may refuse to translate texts related to alcohol, porn, casinos, adultery or anything that appears offensive to any ethnic or religious group as well as their own.
When it comes to translating a story found in the news media, if the translator believes the story is an exaggeration, or even a blatant lie, he or she may refuse to translate on ethical grounds. Morals, religion and ethics all play a major role when it comes to a translator’s choices. The news media gains supporters through mistruths and exaggeration and not all translators are prepared to be a part of this sort of translation work even though a translator in the end provides a very good translation, whether it’s ethical or not.
One translator turned down a translation of a whale researcher’s article because the article contained a finely tuned argument that defended commercial whaling, even down to the scientific detail that backed up the view. Sometimes, of course, a savvy translator whether he or she believes in the article or not could be doing the anti-whaling community a favour by translating such an article as it brings attention to the sort of people who are involved in the pro-whaling community.
Another relatively common ethical reason for refusing a translation project is the pay that is offered is too little and the translator doesn’t want to set a precedent in the translation community. There are times when a translator may put up with lower pay if the recipient has limited means but urgently needs a translation for humanitarian reasons. There are even some sympathetic translators who will offer their services pro bono because a client’s future depends on a reliable translation.

Ethics of a German translator

A translator resembles the role of an interpreter who has to report precisely what is said, whether agreeing with it or not. A translator might have his or her own opinion on a subject but this should not affect accepting or rejecting a job. What is more important is that the client can expect to receive a reliable and authentic translation free from bias of the translator.

Author Bio:-
My interest in writing became important to me in 2001 after I gained an MA in Applied Linguistics and I started to move into writing as a means of securing an income.  I have since then specialised in writing blog posts and web pages for a variety of clients including those in the legal and translation niches. I have built up the ability as a highly skilled writer to communicate with a variety of audiences and in an array of styles and formats. Over the past few years, I have worked with executives, entrepreneurs, industry experts and many other professionals in writing and publishing, SEO web content, blogs, newspaper articles and more.
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Perceived Translation Quality Tells Only Little about the Actual Translation Quality

The grammatical correctness of a translation is undoubtedly important per se but its role in the buying, decision making and evaluating process is minor. The customer cares only about the perceived translation quality which is – at least partly – created in the buyer’s mind already before the actual transaction. Any buying process is more complex than we might think, and situations without any prior knowledge or attitudes are rare. Objectivity is not easy to achieve when you have to be an active subject.

Translator’s reputation is one important factor which tunes our opinions from the very beginning. In a buyer’s mind, the translator’s reputation can both build a trustworthy image and act as a guarantee or an insurance against flawed translation. Human mind tends to build causal relationships between different things. We think that a reputable translator is able to produce high-quality translations constantly because otherwise the reputation would be damaged. This kind of circular reasoning tells very little about the actual translation quality but it creates positive energy over the translator.

Professional translators can always build good reputations with their actions, but the situation is different with machine translators; they cannot speak for themselves. I would even argue that although a machine and a human being produce translations which reach the same quality level, we will probably think that the one made my human is better. A professional translator can utilize several kinds of secondary quality indicators which a machine translator cannot have.

The contradiction between the translator’s and client’s points of views leads to an absurd situation. When reading online discussions, it is clear that many translators are extremely concentrated on the grammatical issues. These translators are often very shocked when someone uses machine translation. However, the good enough translation quality combined with quick and easy access can result in perceived quality which is satisfactory enough. People know that machine translation is seldom flawless, but in certain cases it’s the best choice for them.

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Top Reasons For Translation Crowdsourcing

We reviewed dozens of articles and cases about translation crowdsourcing and collected in this article all the reasons why companies do crowdsourcing. Most of the benefits are related to issues that are present in any translation work. But there are other reasons as well.

Translation cost naturally plays an important role. Surprisingly, in many articles the cost has been regarded as a secondary or minor reason for crowdsourcing translation. This is somewhat difficult to understand. For example, Facebook has been translated to 70 languages with over 100 000 words each. With the price of e.g. USD 0,10 per word that would be about USD 7 million which is a significant cost saving. On the other hand, Adam Wooten of Globalization Group Inc. claims that crowdsourcing will cost the same if not more than traditional professional translation. He does not mention any sources, though. Perhaps a reason that cost savings are not mentioned as important is that it could be difficult to persuade users to translate for free if the reason would be increasing company profits. Not surprisingly, some professional translators object strongly translation crowdsourcing by for-profit companies.

Translation speed is generally regarded as one of the most important reasons for translation crowdsourcing. An enlightening example is translation of Facebook to French. 4000 Facebook users translated the whole site to French in 24 hours! That must be a world record in translation speed. That kind of translation speed seems to be something that just can’t be achieved with traditional organization of translation. And as we all know, time is money: when Facebook surpassed MySpace it happened exactly because of its international users. The day Facebook became bigger than MySpace, in US MySpace still had twice as much users as Facebook.

Translation crowdsourcing is often very scalable. One user base is able to translate to many languages. There is no overhead in finding and recruiting translators for different languages. For example, Facebook would have had a difficult task in mere finding skilled translators for 70 languages.

What about translation quality then? Some believe that the users do produce better quality than professional translators because they know the field much better. While some disagree, I think it’s safe to say that the quality by crowdsourcing is at least “sufficient” or better. That has been the way with Facebook and Twitter. Microsoft and Cisco name quality and speed for the main reasons of translation crowdsourcing.

Marketing benefit, that is engaging users, has been regarded as one of the most important reasons for crowdsourcing. According to Facebook, 300 000 users have taken part in its translation. Facebook has over 500 000 000 users so roughly 6 in 10 000 users have been engaged by the translation process. Whether that is little or much is relative. In my opinion, crowdsourcing has not been an effective way to engage users for Facebook. Especially when probably only small share of the 300 000 (that downloaded the Facebook translation application) has actually translated actively. The user engagement benefit is further diminished with large languages. Of French speaking Facebook users, only 2 in 10 000 have had some part in the translation.


Speed is the greatest benefit of translation crowdsourcing. About quality there are differing views but we can say for certain that at least Facebook and Twitter have achieved good quality. Some argue that quality is better with crowdsourcing than with traditional translation. About cost it is difficult to get reliable information. At least Facebook has saved money with translation crowdsourcing.

Translation crowdsourcing improves scalability. This is also related to translation speed. Obviously recruiting professional translators for dozens of languages is much slower and more difficult compared to translation crowdsourcing in which it is sufficient to communicate with one’s own user base.

User engagement is regarded as an important reason but, at least for Facebook, its effectiveness seems to be limited.

Do you find this list complete or is there some reasons which should be added to this list?


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