08 June 2021

The four eyes principle… is it really necessary?

Translation is a profession. A profession for which you are trained at a college or university and in which you constantly improve by doing. But even the most qualified and experienced translator sometimes makes a mistake.

In the translation world, it is good practice to check the first version of a translation thoroughly. Even during their studies, translation students already learn that the best thing to do is to re-read their work after a break or a good night’s sleep, with a fresh pair of eyes. Want to bet that during the second reading there are still quite a few things to be adjusted? Bringing that one term or abbreviation in line with how it is used further on in the text. Phrasing that slightly clunky sentence a bit more fluently. And oops! There’s a typo that slipped through the automatic spelling and grammar checker.

This best practice of revision can come under pressure in the everyday reality of the translator: because the deadline calls – and the next assignment is already looming. Although most clients ask translators to check their own work, a more thorough revision round is often assigned to a second translator. This reviser compares the translation with the source text, assesses whether the content is correctly rendered in the target language and whether everything is linguistically and stylistically correct. The reviser also checks whether the translator has adhered to any guidelines and terminology preferences laid down by the client.

The international standard for translation services, the ISO 17100, stipulates an independent revision round by a second translator. A working method according to this standard is applied to translations that are seen by a large audience and which must be of a high quality. After all, a translation error on packaging or in a printed brochure is not so easy to rectify. It is therefore important to check a translation carefully before it is further processed by the client.

Our own experience with revision? Even before Translavic became ISO 17100-certified, the involvement of a translator plus a reviser was our standard practice. Good interaction between the two does indeed yield the best results, and professional translators usually deal well with feedback from peers. They learn from their colleagues’ comments and get a better feel for the dos and don’ts for each client and each type of text. Good revisers are able to give constructive criticism and point out useful reference materials to fellow translators.

As far as we are concerned, those four eyes are a necessity and not a luxury. At least, for most types of text. Sometimes a client asks for a translation that does not have to be perfect because it is only for internal use, rather than publication. In that case, one translator who checks his or her own work may be sufficient. A combination of machine translation and a subsequent edit by a human post-editor may also be a suitable option, depending on the type of text, size, language combination and quality level required.

Want to know more? Read further about revision and our other services.