Quintin presented a paper at the 2015 NZSTI Conference which was held in Wellington last June. Here’s the transcript of his presentation.

Translating Aotearoa is the main blog site which the Translation Service uses to communicate with freelance translators. For this presentation I selected the topic of ‘revision’, covered in an e-learning module recently created for the site.


Revision is the second stage of the ISO:17100 and EN:15038 quality control process. These require that each translation is, as a minimum, revised after it has been translated. This involves comparing the original text meticulously against the translation.

Revision differs from other tasks such as translation, proofreading, editing or reviewing, and it requires a different set of skills from those of a translator.

So what is revision?

In this presentation I will discuss some of the key messages about revision that a translation agency would like its revisers to know. These include:

  • Don’t re-translate the text – respect the translator’s work
  • Don’t re-work the translation so that it reads how you would say it
  • Make sure you can explain your suggestions
  • Always be constructive
  • Correct errors of fact
  • Check for typographic or orthographic errors
  • Check for ill-considered omissions and additions
  • Check that the meaning is the same
  • Check that instructions have been followed and that the translation meets its purpose well

Two key considerations when revising

There are two chief considerations. The first is to respect the work of the translator; the translator has chosen a style of expression that they believe is appropriate and are comfortable with. As a reviser, it is not your role to rework the text so it reads the way you would say it. However, concerns about the style or register used by a translator are valid points to raise during revision. These comments should be constructive, respectful and explained.

The second consideration is identifying the actual meaning of a text, so that the reviser can check that this meaning is the same in the translation. The meaning is not found solely in the dictionary meaning of the words. The meaning of a text has many layers and dimensions, including the context, audience, intention, culture, connotations, word nuances and expectations, among many other things. Sometimes what is not said carries more meaning and significance than what is actually stated, and this omission may need to be signalled in the translation. It is the role of a translator to fully understand the meaning of the source text, and to interpret it and re-express it competently in the target language. It is the role of the reviser to check that the translator has done this well.

Skopos theory can help

Skopos theory is very helpful for professional translation because it focuses attention on the purpose of the translation. It assumes that translation is a purposeful activity and points out that the requirements of the client (the commissioner), the end-user (target audience) and the purpose (skopos) of the text must be held in mind whenever a decision over word choice is made.

Three Key Skills

As a student of translation, I wanted someone to tell me how set phrases should be translated and what rules to follow. The answer to this though was simply “it depends”. There is no policy or rule that you can apply universally as a formula for how to translate a given text. Instead, a translator needs to develop three key skills. Two of these are language skills, while the third is the skill of translation itself.

The first skill involves thoroughly understanding the culture and language of the source text so that all its nuances of meaning are fully understood. This is the basic background required of all translators.

The second skill is the ability to write well in the target language. This skill must be developed, and may require highly specialised abilities that are not easily obtained. For example, the skill and knowledge required to write a legal contract is very different from those required to write a medical report.

The third skill is the ability to interpret the meaning of the source language and shift this meaning and re-express it in the target language. This is the core skill of translation.

In summary, translators and revisers are master word-smiths who are skilled in crafting words, but are actually working on transferring meaning rather than words. Translation is about meaning – fully understanding the purpose and nuances of meaning, understanding the message, and then finding a way to convey this message to a different audience that speaks a different language.

Final words

A translator is a master linguist and wordsmith who uses these skills to transfer meaning. These same skills are also required of a reviser; however, a good reviser should respect the work of the translator and refrain from rephrasing a translation in their own style, focusing instead on ensuring that the meaning is well conveyed. In short, revision is a skill in itself; to produce a good quality translation, it takes both a good translator and a good reviser.