Polaron’s Guide to Ethical Translation: The Who, What and Why?

Did you know that in the same way that you can make certain choices and change certain practices to shop ethically for food, electronics, or clothing, you can also shop ethically for translations and language services?

It can be tempting to choose the cheapest or quickest language services solution out there. However, doing this comes with the risk of not only supporting an unethical practice but also presenting your target audience with information that is incorrect, inadequate or completely misleading.

Polaron is a strong advocate for and a follower of the ‘ethical translation’ approach. So, what does this mean?

Ethical translation can be divided into ‘The Who’, ‘The What’ and ‘The Why’.

The Who

The client, the community and the consumer

Ethical translation involves the understanding that you cannot do it all and cannot cater to everyone. However, with less done at a high quality, you can contribute positively in some way, even on a limited budget. You can maximise the impact of your multilingual resources by particularising your target audience(s) and prioritising the community and language groups that will benefit the most from the translated information. After all, we speak over 400 languages in Australia, it would be be impossible to translate everything for everyone.

Additionally, for language translation to be credible and fit for Australian audiences, professional and thus ethical, only local, NAATI-certified translators must be employed. It is also essential that the translators employed are paid respectfully and are provided with appropriate working conditions. Community leaders are often expected to translate public information without charge and are often left with no other choice, because of the lack of professionally translated texts that are released at the same time as English texts. While community leaders should not be expected to translate materials gratuitously, community consultation should be sought at every stage of the translation process. This ensures that your text remains contextually relevant, and that multilingual resources are made for diverse Australians, by diverse Australians.

It is very easy to seek language services and translation of material as a performative, ‘tick-box’ way of embracing diversity and inclusivity. However, what is often forgotten is that translation work impacts real people, and should not be considered in a vacuum of internal company policy or moral high ground. This involves adopting a more thorough and genuine approach towards translation and recognising it as a priority for the accessible sharing of information.

Example: An organisation running a survey for consultation with community groups has translated a statement to encourage community members to contribute their opinions. However, the survey itself has not been translated. This may demonstrate a surface-level or careless intention to engage in CALD voices and a mediocre use and execution of language services.

The What

The source text, the information and the translation

Now that you have a target audience, the next important consideration is the source text. A quality translation cannot be undertaken without a quality source text. In some cases, it may be that a translation is unnecessary when all that is needed is a review of the English source text to be more understandable and accessible to the target audience.

The source text must always be the foundation of the translated text, and it is unethical to distort the source text and stray away from its key messages. This includes ensuring that your agenda or a translator’s agenda does not interfere with the information and messaging in the final text.

Example: A community organisation that does not support drinking alcohol may interfere with the commissioned translation of English resources to their community language about harm minimisation of drug and alcohol consumption by disagreeing with the proposed translation during the client feedback stage.

This does not mean the translated product should reflect a word-for-word translation of the original text. A good translation is tailored to your target audience and considers factors like cultural norms and sensitivities, appropriate register, assumed knowledge and levels of understanding of the topic at hand, and relevant examples, imagery and context.

Example: In an educational campaign about healthy eating, the food examples used must reflect a more representative diet of the target culture when translated. While bread and butter may be a staple in Western culture, this food example can seem entirely foreign in other cultures and should be revised to suit the purpose of the text.

The Why

The aim, the alternatives and the applicability

Before a document is translated, it is vital to consider whether this document should even be translated in the first place. Are there other translations out there that can be used instead? Is the information actually relevant enough or important enough to be translated? Will the translated information benefit the target audience? Is the source text or the topic of information too complex to be translated? Even if translated, will the information be accessible to the target audience?

Example: A government department employs a language service provider to translate some existing online documents surrounding e-safety in various languages. However, it is found that in a few of the initial target communities, the community members have low computer literacy skills, meaning that not only would the information be largely irrelevant but also inaccessible or inconvenient to access online.

Translated documents must serve a purpose, and translated information should be worth the time and effort of you, the translator and the reader.

When engaging Polaron’s language services, you are not only assured a product that is refined, high-quality and reliable but one that has been made ethically, right here in Australia. The team at Polaron is passionate about bringing positive change to the communities we serve, and our services are founded upon ethical, empowering and experienced practices.

For more information about ethical translations and how we can help you better connect with your audience, contact our team of specialists by emailing us at translations@polaron.com.au.

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