Although English is not my Native language, I do frequently translate Turkish texts to English. And translating to a foreign language has its own difficulties, since understanding a foreign language is one thing, expressing “into” it is another. One can understand a foreign language well, but may find it really difficult to express himself in that language. That is why most of the translators (including myself) prefer translating into their own Native language rather than the other way around. The same holds true for the outsourcers: They too prefer native language service providers for the target language.
But often, I encounter added difficulties, since I receive poorly written documents in my native language for which I am expected to provide an exceptionally good English translation. Borrowing a saying from the moving pictures, a good script does not guarantee an excellent movie. But not too infrequently, we are provided with a very bad script, and supposed to make a superb film out of it!
Currently, I am translating some contract documents from Turkish to English. The contract covers clinical trials of a certain drug used in the treatment of some psychiatric disturbances. Being a sponsored research project, it has a well-defined format, and I think a substantial budget. And the contract is supposedly drafted by some university staff. It is so poorly written that I almost lost confidence in my ability to understand my native language, let alone English as a foreign language. And since it is a contract, you have to be as accurate as possible in reflecting whatever involved in the original text. That is to say, you have almost no room for playing with the words, or suggesting alternative expressions. A though task indeed! I struggled for hours to translate certain paragraphs, and after completed and returned the job, I exchanged a couple of e-mails with the outsourcer who happens to be a native English (UK) speaker to clarify the issues for him.
Such poorly written source texts have some real payoff for the translator: They tend to erode our credibility in the eyes of readers of the target language. Having no idea as to the low narrative quality of original text, they tend to think that the poor quality results from the translator’s inadequacy. Because, they probably presume that the original text has a perfect quality, since it is written by someone who is the native speaker of the source language. But our experiences as translators evidence that such presumptions are not always true. Quite to the contrary, in many cases translated versions are more fluent, more smooth to read, and more easy to understand than the source text. For example, I had to rewrite many sentences in Turkish version before translating them to English to make the text more readable.
As I said, a good script does not guarantee a superb film. But we translators do sometimes produce much better translations than original texts. Because this is our art, and because this is what we are supposed to do, and we are paid for!