Category Archives: Knowledge & Skills

How NOT to translate legal texts

As a translation agency, we accept requests for translation of legal documents on a daily basis and deal with text such as contracts, litigations, legislations, wills, various types of certificates, and many more.

Legal translation is a field most sensitive to error, the consequences of which may be far-reaching and in certain cases disastrous. Therefore, such texts must be approached with caution and commissioned to linguists with suitable background knowledge.

There are certain aspects of the legal translation process that pose a risk of error and below we discuss ways to avoid them and their consequential damage.

  • Literal translation of legal jargon specific to every language and developed over the centuries may result in serious deviations from the intention of the source Idiomatic phrases particular to legalese should first have their meaning established and be translated accordingly. The following are examples of phrases that would hardly ever benefit from literal translation into any language:

 in my custody (‘under my supervision’)

 witness my hand (‘in my presence’)

  • Synonymous words with minute differences in meaning used interchangeably, or opposite terms confused in often complex legal discourse, may cause ambiguity and disrupt further legal proceedings.

If there is an appeal, the appellant, logically, will be the party who has lost in the first instance, while the winner will be respondent. However, since either the plaintiff or defendant can win or lose at first instance, the translator should be careful not to confuse identities of appellant and respondent, even though their roles appear to be reversed.

In law, injury may relate to people’s body, but surprisingly, rights can suffer injury too. The physical sense may be distinguished from the moral by adding the adjective personal or bodily.

Harm and damage are close synonyms. Both are uncountable and examples of use are as follows: ‘His rights suffered damage’. ‘Her goods suffered damage’. Damages in plural, however, has an entirely different meaning, synonymous to ‘compensation’.

  • Translators must beware miscomprehension or misalignment of the relationships between words and phrases in lengthy, complex sentences and intricate syntax, so characteristic to legal discourse, such as the following passage:

The Licensor acknowledges and agrees that the Licensor may, at any time, be privy to confidential information including but not limited to (a) the production, development and/or exploitation of the Programme and/or any ancillary matters; (b) the general and/or business affairs of the Group; (c) participants and/or contributors to the Programme; and/or (d) this Agreement, and the Licensor agrees that the Licensor will not, by any means whatsoever, communicate or divulge to any person (including a company) or make use of or permit any other person to make use of any confidential information, (save for by its professional advisers or as ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction) by any means at any time.

Even if reordering of phrases or of parts of sentences is required to maintain different stylistic conventions of the target language, one must ensure the relation between particular items is retained in the translation, for a single slip can redirect liability or at least result in confusion and deem a legal document void.

  • Certain source language expressions may not have precise equivalents in the target language, as in the case of the terms tipper and tippee in the following example:

Insiders (‘tipper’) may be liable for communicating or tipping material, non-public information to a third party (‘tippee’).

In many languages, direct equivalents of the terms with acceptable usage in a similar context will not exist and an attempt to coin a corresponding term might result in an awkward word, inappropriate in the high register of a legal language. Therefore, these terms would need to be paraphrased as, for instance, ‘person disclosing confidential information’ and ‘person receiving confidential information’ respectively.

  • Difficulties may arise due to differences in legal systems in the countries of the source and the target languages. These can be explained by means of translator’s note.
  • Missing Notary Public certification, which is required for certain purposes. The translation will not serve its function if not accompanied by a separate notarial document with original signature.

The above are several of the most common pitfalls we come across while translating legal documents. It is of utmost importance that legal translators are familiar with and approach with sensitivity both source and target legal jargons, which are often characterized by dissimilar usages in terminology and various styles of writing, necessitating appropriate adjustments by the translator. The ability to see through the source text and to aptly interpret its wording and possible ambiguities is another desired quality of a linguist undertaking a legal translation, the absence of which may give rise to altered information and consequently different from the intended function of the text produced.

Eastern Europe – Polish and Slavonic languages a speciality

Are you hoping to expand your business into new markets?

For anyone considering business expansion, Central and Eastern Europe constitute an exciting market.  Important developments are taking place in commerce, science and medicine, spurred on by strengthening ties within the European Economic Area. Many of the countries of Eastern Europe became members of the European Union in two waves, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia in 2004, followed by Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, and lastly by Croatia in 2013, with some of the later countries finally achieving full migration rights in 2014.  Other countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia) are at varying stages of the negotiation process, whilst Armenia, Georgia and Moldova have all expressed interest. As Europe gradually emerges from the effects of the recent recession, economic activity across the region is steadily picking up. All this means a growing customer base and new opportunities for trade.

Slavic languages map

Slavic languages map

How can we help?

Linguamax is proud to have a particularly strong pool of language specialists for Eastern European languages. Our Management Team includes native speakers of Polish, with many years of experience in successfully arranging and overseeing diverse and demanding language projects, and our highly qualified Eastern European translators include legal, medical, technical and financial experts, who of course translate into their mother tongue.

Some of our most recent projects include:

Translation into Russian and Czech of product specifications

Translation of medical reports from Polish to English

Translation of clinical trial questionnaires into Hungarian, Bulgarian and Czech, with proofreading

Translation of insurance documents from Russian to English

Translation into Bosnian of legal communications

Translation of financial documents from Serbian to English


Which languages are spoken in the area?

Slavic or Slavonic languages

Predominant amongst the languages of Eastern Europe are those belong to the Slavic or Slavonic group. They show strong similarities, but each language has its own marked characteristics.

The Slavic or Slavonic languages can be divided up into broad families:

South Slavic: including Serbo-Croatian, Slovene and Bulgarian-Macedonian

West Slavic: including Czech, Slovak and Polish

East Slavic: including Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian

These Slavic languages also share some common attributes with the neighbouring Baltic languages comprising Lithuanian and Latvian.

Since the break-up of the former Soviet Union, and subsequently Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, individual Slavic dialects have become identified as the official languages of the newly formed states, whilst some countries have more than one official language. As a consequence translations may need to be specifically adapted for the target audience in particular countries. Our native translators can ensure that you are genuinely speaking the language of your client or customer.

Geographically, the Eastern European area is also shared with other non-Slavic languages such as Romanian, Estonian, Hungarian and German. In the neighbouring Caucasus, Turkic languages are spoken in Azerbaijan and Armenia, whilst the distinctive language of Georgia is of unknown origin.


A further complication is the use of different scripts. Cyrillic script is used to write all East Slav languages plus Bulgarian, Macedonian and Serbian. However other languages such as Polish and Czech use Latin script together with special diacritic signs to represent particular sounds.

Just to confuse matters, Cyrillic script is also used by several non-Slavic languages: Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik, as well as Mongolian, so it may not always be easy to identify the language of a document if the source is not specified!


What are the particular challenges of translation between Slavonic languages and English?


As a translator between Polish and English, I was asked about the translation challenges posed by the differences between the two languages.

The main difference is grammar, which is significantly more complex in Polish, with different suffixes added to words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.) in sentences, depending on a particular case, tense, person or gender. And unlike just a couple of mostly regular suffixes in English (-ed for verbs in past tense or -s for nouns in plural), the suffixes in Polish are numerous and different for each 7 noun cases, 3 verb tenses, 6 persons and 3 genders. This may be troublesome for a non-native translator of Polish and will require a great attention to detail.

Polish is also more sensitive when it comes to the use of language and style. Written Polish seems to be more formal comparing to English and when translating one must avoid repetitions, ensure proper collocations and carefully adapt the language to a given register.

English vocabulary is of a larger volume, there is a greater specificity of words, which in the absence of equivalents in Polish must be paraphrased. This often expands the volume of translated text and may pose a problem when the space is an important factor (e.g. subtitling).

A Day in the life of a Project Manager

The great thing about working as a Project Manager for a small translation agency is that one never knows at the start of the day quite what challenges the day will bring! So much of our work relates to analysing the client’s varied and specific requirements for each particular task and selecting the most appropriate person to meet those requirements.

As I open the morning batch of e-mails, in pops a message from a regular client, a legal firm dealing with transport claims. The attached pdf file reveals the rough handwriting of a Russian lorry driver’s report. A quick phone call to our favoured Russian translator who is best able to deal with semi-legible scrawls, rouses him from his bed (he’s a man of nocturnal habits!) and after examining the text he asks if an improved source text can be obtained, as some words cannot be made out at all! After we’ve done a little work on enhancing the contrast, he promises to give it his best attention for delivery the following day. This eye-witness account may prove crucial to the case, and we know our translator will give an accurate rendering of the driver’s words. We are lucky this time that the reports are not in Kazakh or Tajik, which also use the Cyrillic alphabet, and so are not easily distinguished by the uninitiated!

The phone rings. A young woman needs a certified translation of her German birth certificate. The source document and the certified translation need to be presented to the American Embassy in London in just two days’ time. We arrange for the document to be translated, certified, and sent by Special Delivery in order to reach her in time.

In the meantime, a 6000 word financial report has been delivered by our Danish translator. This is part of a batch of jobs for translation into several languages, due back to the client by the end of the day. It will need careful checking to ensure that all facts and figures match the source text. We will go through it systematically, line by line, checking each figure, as well as doing a spelling and grammar check. We are expecting the Portuguese, French, German and Norwegian texts to come in during the course of the day, and each will be checked with the same meticulous attention to detail. If independent proofreading is required, we will liaise between the proof reader and the original translator over differing forms of words, but ultimately the original translator will have the final say on the wording which is adopted.

Another regular client contacts us with some updates to a product manual. The new text needs to be translated into 5 languages, Russian, Polish, Czech, Greek and Turkish, and it is best if it is done by translators who have worked on the text before. In fact they need to be users of Trados and have the relevant Translation Memory to match the new text to the old. Translators are contacted, deadlines established and Purchase Orders raised in double-quick time, so that within an hour we are able to report to the client that the project is underway.

An English translation of a Polish medical report is needed as part of a job application. It includes both numerous medical abbreviations and some semi-legible handwritten text. We have a strong pool of reliable Polish medical translators to call upon, but because they are often very busy, we may have to contact several people before finding someone who is available. After several e-mails and phone calls, a satisfactory deadline is achieved for the client.

Each of our translators has their own special strengths. An English translation of a Portuguese text comes in from one of our oldest translators. He is a real wordsmith, the master of the apposite phrase. He produces reliable and trusted translations of complex legal texts. Unfortunately his eyesight sometimes fails him when faced by arrays of figures, so we prefer to use him for continuous text, giving jobs which are dominated by figures to a younger translator with good formatting skills.

It’s 2.30 pm, and a client in Canada has started work for the day. He wants a Chinese translation of a medical text proofread for start of business tomorrow. The job will involve some four hours’ work. Working across different time-zones creates particular problems.  It’s a conundrum: most Chinese native speakers are based in China, where it is already 10 pm! We try our UK-based contacts, but they are all very busy and would need more time. As the clock ticks by, tension mounts. Can we find an appropriately qualified and available translator in the time we have? Fortunately one of our contacts in China is working late and picks up our message. With a medical degree and extensive medical translation experience he is ideal for the job. Grace works overtime to get the project in place.

A request for interpreters for a multilingual conference requires careful negotiation on times, prices and general requirements. Will interpreting be consecutive or ad hoc? Is there likely to be any equipment available? Additionally, access to the venue and travel arrangements need to be established. A full day’s session may require more than one interpreter per language to allow for breaks and ensure efficiency. To confirm the bookings, signed terms of agreement need to be acquired from each interpreter.

Out of the blue, and coming up to closing time, a request for a Mongolian translator comes in. This is not a language for which we experience frequent demand, but we willingly turn our minds to the task of finding a UK-based Mongolian speaker. Whilst it is generally preferable that translators should work into their own mother tongue, the difficulty with less common languages is that they are seldom studied by English native speakers, so translators are likely to be non-native speakers. Extra special attention has then to be paid to the quality of the English translation, and if necessary individual phrases are double-checked to ensure accuracy.

Before we shut down the computer for the evening, we make sure all outstanding projects have been safely delivered, any queries from the clients have been answered, and all Purchase Orders have been sent out to translators for the next round of jobs. What will tomorrow bring?

Written by: Sarah Wright


Words, Words, Words

Word: “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing”.  Oxford Online Dictionary

Picking up passing scraps of conversation, or tuning in to radio or TV programmes, we are all aware that language is constantly evolving, never more so than in the last few decades. The pace of change everywhere has been fuelled by rapid technological progress, cultural shifts and wide dissemination via the internet and mass media. New things and novel ideas require fresh means of expression. It’s a two way process. Words lose popularity and drop from common parlance within the lifetime of the original speakers (Rather! I say!). Broadcasts from the 1950s on “the wireless” and Pathé “newsreels” already sound pompous and stultified to modern ears. Yet that same period in America spawned a host of new words for new concepts (fast food, junk mail, DJ, weirdo, sexism) which caught on rapidly around the world and still seem quite new today.

With the current popularity of period drama, we may even be struck by how odd our modern expressions would have seemed back then. Anachronisms – such as the use of “learning curve”, “fan club” and “defining moment” in the UK TV series Downton Abbey – provide fun for gaffe spotters. Getting the language of the period right is perhaps even more important for creating atmosphere than costume and setting – a misused phrase can stand out like a pylon in an ageless rural scene. But because words and meaning have changed significantly over time, programme producers are aware that to stick too closely to the language of more distant periods can make it alienating and impenetrable to a modern audience. The past can indeed seem like a foreign country.

The diverse origins of the English language have resulted in a peculiarly rich linguistic culture. Other languages may perhaps boast greater purity, or more actual dictionary words, partly depending on how variants, compounds and inflections are counted, but contributions from the linguistic heritage of Anglo Saxon, Latin and Norman French have melded with more recent influences to create a varied lexicon replete with multiple layers of meaning. Strangely, grammar, the actual structure of language, is much less subject to external influence, and changes very slowly, but one of the peculiar strengths of English is its vast ability to absorb new vocabulary.

Al dente, sushi, latte, macho, siesta, doppelganger, zeitgeist, déjà vu… we assimilate new words from a variety of sources and influences, but not many neologisms now come into English from other languages, the massive trend being in the other direction.

Words which evolve from a shared localised culture, whether popular or highbrow, can be opaque to outsiders – references to British youth subcultures (hoodie, chav) or to literary sources (Catch-22, Orwellian, scrooge) can be equally mystifying.

However the most noticeable aspect of language development in recent years is the rapid globalization of new words for new concepts in science, technology, the media and popular culture, and here the predominant influence is transatlantic – from US to British English. By extension, the worldwide source for most modern neologisms is the American-English-dominated internet, and to some, the plethora of new words can seem like an invasion. Official bodies in many countries (Russia, Sweden, France and Spain) attempt to prescribe accepted terminology, often amidst fears about the corruption of the official language.

With hundreds or even thousands of new words emerging each year, the ever changing panorama creates a particular challenge for translators looking for meaning. In Britain, non-prescriptive dictionaries record common usage rather than official acceptance. New words may arise as compounds (earworm, senior moment), new phrasal words (laid-back, chill-out) or blends of words (staycation, brunch, metrosexual).  Abbreviated words (detox, decaf, sat-nav) or words formed from acronyms (yuppie, ASBO) have become increasingly common, as have text messaging abbreviations (LOL, BTW), whilst large numbers of old words have gained new meanings (surf, tweet, hack, sad, cool) or have been altered by the addition of prefixes or suffixes, sometimes borrowed from other languages (uncool, über-modern, fashionista).  New terms move from slang status to more general acceptance, disseminated by the media. Other terms come and go, arising from transitory political or cultural events (eurogeddon, eurosceptic).  The Oxford Online Dictionary may even be ahead of most of us, having already raised definitions for such new compounds as omnishambles, buzzworthy and hackerspace. Who knows how many of these will survive? Such words have to prove their longevity before they can get in to the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary, but even here the notional ten year rule is disappearing: despite its relative novelty, “tweet” has been accepted for inclusion this year!

The problem for translators is that not all languages may adapt so readily. Many languages, such as Turkish, Hungarian and German, have similar ways of dealing with new concepts, by building up a descriptive compound word from component parts, allowing almost infinite variety. However, preferred terms for common objects may take a while to emerge, the concept itself may not be familiar to the target audience, popular names may differ from officially minted terminology, and the step from popular use to official recognition may take even longer.  In Spain, the term “email” is widely encountered but “correo electrónico” is officially preferred. Some words like “avatar” (Sanskrit in origin) have been directly adopted into other languages. Hungarian and Russian have their own, home coined words for the World Wide Web (“világháló” and “всемирная паутина”) but in Germany, “das Internet” is more widely used than the home produced version “das Weltnetz”. Other terms like LOL (“laugh-out-loud”) are subtly transformed by local speakers, so “jajaja” in Spanish, becomes 555 (hahaha) in Korean! Curiously, “geek” in Spanish becomes “friki” which also has an Anglo-Saxon origin, whilst Germans use an English word “Handy” for mobile phone, a term not recognised by English speakers!

Popular slang may be of limited concern to professional translators, but new terminology is also constantly being introduced in science, medicine, business, marketing and politics, yet until very well established may not be recorded in printed bilingual dictionaries and is unlikely to be found in automated translation systems. It is up to translators themselves to be part of the ongoing process of defining and explaining new words and concepts, whilst keeping a close eye on developments!


Written by: Sarah Wright


“How do I look?” – The perils of poor translation

Some years ago we had a giggle at a restaurant in St Malo which was proudly listing “tepid fowl gizzards salad” as a star attraction. This was before the days of “Google Translate”, but highlighted the inherent dangers of word-for-word translation. A “Salade tièdede gésiers de volaille” may appeal to the French palate, but the English version, although technically accurate, conveys a most unpleasant image – quite foul, in fact!

We have all had a laugh at similar gaffes in restaurants and hotels abroad, and no doubt overseas visitors to Britain come across mistakes which they think are equally funny, if they can find anything which has been translated into their language! At the local level, though, the stakes are not high (or should that be “the steaks are not high”?), with errors causing amusement rather than serious financial consequences. In a global business context, however, bad translation can prove both embarrassing and expensive.

The “global village” is now a reality, and the burgeoning use of the internet means that suppliers and customers include not only the larger multi-nationals but also smaller companies and individuals. With a substantial amount of new custom coming from on-line searches, it is fairly standard for larger companies to offer websites in at least two languages, one of which is English. Small and medium-sized businesses may be looking to expand their activities abroad, but companies are sometimes tempted to cut costs on infrastructural elements such as website design or translation. Yet poor presentation and inadequate translation of websites and promotional material can actually do more harm than good, by projecting an image of incompetence and lack of professionalism. In business, confidence is a key issue, and prospective customers need to feel reassured that they will be able to work on the basis of mutual understanding.

So, what sort of first impression are you making? A random scan of company web-sites reveals a range of levels of sophistication in translation into English. Where an automated translation system has been used it is usually immediately obvious. Sentences do not flow, word order is odd, the wrong verb tenses appear, prepositions are used incorrectly and terminology is misleading. Similar errors occur when a translation has been done by a non-native speaker of the target language.  Sometimes a hastily added and poorly translated section may let down an otherwise good presentation.

Awareness of the most common pitfalls and a thorough proofreading of the text before it goes live on the website can help to ensure that the damage is limited.

Has the text been fully translated?

Even the most cursory check will detect when headings or descriptions have been left in a mixture of languages, yet this is quite common on internet web pages, probably because an automated system has been unable to translate particular words or phrases!

The company produces verschleissfeste shaped parts and coatings.

Are there obvious spelling mistakes?

Final copy for the website or brochure may be produced by a typist unfamiliar with the language of the translation. A simple spell-checking exercise in the target language will help to weed out obvious typos and spelling mistakes.

The new bright offices represent the group and give us oportunities to extend. 

Our highly spezialized team will work out with pleasure the perfect solution for your application

We are a new player in a new market, so only a few specalists in the market know us so far.

However, an automated spell checker will not pick up on words which are in the dictionary but are not appropriate in the context:

XGmbH is a medium-sized company: costumer focused, flexible, fast and reliable. 

producing high precision products to the national and international marker

specialized in the micro perforation of pre-coated stealing and aluminium strips.

Check your grammar!

Sentence structure and word order

Sometimes the right words may be used, but in an order which appears clumsy in English:

An important role plays here also the selection of reliable sources and manufacturers of the raw materials.

Are the tenses of the verbs correct in English?

Many websites exhibit straight translation of grammatical structures which may be correct in German, French or Spanish but not in English. A very common example is the use of a Present Tense with “since” where the Present Perfect or Present Perfect Continuous is required in English, with “for”:

Since more than twenty years M S GmbH exports all kinds of declassified steel products

Correct version: For more than twenty years M S GmbH has been exporting….

When a translation has not been provided by a native speaker, it is easy for incorrect forms of verbs to be introduced:

All drug rights are transmissed to this company.

Make sure prepositions are used correctly

Prepositions are fiddly little words which are difficult to get right in translation, and often reflect a different usage in the source language. A widespread common mistake in translation from German is “Welcome at…” rather than “to”:

Welcome at F L GmbH! We appreciate your visit on our website

(“to” is required in both cases)

Our harbour facility enjoys an excellent reputation at ship-owners and our customers

(“with” is needed here)

Is the right vocabulary being used?

Sometimes terms used can be odd but more or less understood:

antibiotics both for small and hobby animals and utilizable animals.

In other instances the wrong vocabulary can be totally baffling.

It is a product specially developed to grief over all bilayer systems


Check for hidden meanings

Businesses marketing abroad need to be aware of the slang implications of brand names, logos, slogans and catch-phrases – more than a few high profile publicity campaigns have been brought down by products being inappropriately named in the target language. An IKEA workbench called FARTFULL raised a few laughs but was not a great commercial success. Sometimes such shades of meaning are unavoidable – perfectly innocent words can have “rude” or negative overtones in other contexts – but it is as well to be aware before others have fun at the company’s expense! Marketing a car in Spain with the name NOVA (“it doesn’t go”) may not be the best strategy!

Beware of “False friends”

“We always pretend to provide you the best quality in all materials”

Sometimes a word which seems the same in another language and which may share a common origin can have evolved to mean something very different. This slogan in English on a Spanish company website actually conveys the opposite message to the one intended, due to the straight conversion of the Spanish verb “pretender”, meaning “aim” or “try”. In English the word “pretend” has subtly altered in meaning over the years and suggests here that the company is passing off shoddy goods as quality!

By the same token, in Spanish:

Un abogado is not an avocado, but a lawyer

En absoluto means absolutely NOT

Un compromiso is a commitment, not a compromise!

Una carpeta is a file, not a carpet

Raro means strange in Spain, although it can mean rare in South America

Actual means current

Corriente means common

Asistir a means to attend (a class or function)

Atender means to help or assist

Recordar means to remember/remind, not record

Un preservativo is a contraceptive

embarazada  means pregnant, not necessarily embarrassed!

molestar means to bother, not to molest!.

The possibilities for misunderstanding are endless!

In the worst examples, web pages combine faulty grammar, spelling errors and un-translated words, to produce something which no one will bother to read. Employing a professional translator to do the job can not only save a great deal of embarrassment, but also makes economic sense by ensuring that the message reaches the target audience, is properly understood, inspires confidence and enhances the image of the company. Make sure you look good!

Written by: Sarah Wright




Things to look out for when proofreading

A good proofreader looks out for a huge range of things when reviewing a document. Some proofreaders read copy through, often several times, trying to spot everything at once; others also take several read-throughs, but each time they focus on a different element. Some proofreaders only ever review their copy electronically; whereas some will be comfortable reviewing only hard copy; and others are happy to do both. It doesn’t really matter how you choose to work, as long as you reach the same end result. You need to find out what works for you and stick to it: a tried a tested routine helps the mind focus on the job in hand.

The following list is not exhaustive by any means, but highlights some of the things that a proofreader will review across the whole document to ensure consistency in the final copy. One thing to remember: proofreading is not just about the text. Everything must go through the same rigorous examination: text, tables, charts and graphics alike.

Templates, style, formats and page layout

  • Quickly scan each page of the original document to check that all the information is included in the new document:
    • Check all logos, stamps, titles, headers, footers, graphics, tables, charts, appendices, etc. etc.
    • If you do a quick basic scan of these items at the start of your first read through, you can contact the author or production person to track down any missing items early on.
  • Designers and printers will often use a template to ensure consistency of the published material for a given company, brand, or department for example. A proofreader needs to confirm that the correct template has been used and that the styles and formats within the template have been applied correctly.
  • If your document will be printed in book form, check that all the elements of the page layout are correct for each page.
    • Check for widows/orphans (odd small pieces of text that appear at the top or bottom of a page and need to be tidied up).
  • Think about the fonts, font styles, font sizes, colours, or other effects (bold/italics/underline etc.) that are applied to the different headings or body text: are they consistent; has anything been styled incorrectly?
  • Headings need to be looked at particularly carefully. There is usually more than one level of heading in a document and often each level is formatted/styled differently to make it stand out. Make sure that the levels are clear and the correct style is applied to each.
    • Look at the capitalisation of headings: CAPITALS, Small Capitals, Initial Capitals, Standard sentence case, or Are they Written in a Different Format Entirely, are they consistent at each level?
    • Do headings have end punctuation or not?
    • Don’t allow a heading to sit on its own at the bottom of the page, force it onto the next page to keep it with the relevant text.
  • In addition to headings, pay particular attention to the starts of paragraphs and sections; they are notorious accident black spots.
  • Scan the document for footnote symbols or numbers and their corresponding explanations. Ensure that an appropriate footnote is contained in the document for every footnote symbol or number within it. Likewise if a footnote is provided make sure it has a corresponding footnote symbol or number somewhere in the text. Ensure the footnote symbols or numbers are placed consistently within the text: i.e. is the symbol/number placed immediately after the specific word it relates to or at the end of the sentence or the end of the paragraph? Before or after the punctuation? Are the footnotes placed at the bottom of the relevant page, are they compiled at the end of a section or chapter, or should all footnotes appear at the end of the document? Ensure that the footnote symbols or numbering is consistent across the text, tables, charts and graphics.
  • The same recommendations apply to any other references, bookmarks or comments within the document. For example, if there is a textual reference ‘See below’, ‘See Risk Management section’ or ‘See chapter 5’ – check that the appropriate reference is included where specified. When a document is revised several times, often by different people, it is very easy for references in text to change, be renamed, or move and you may find that what was once referenced in Chapter 5, now in fact appears in Chapter 6 or has been deleted entirely, for example.

Words and numbers

  • Proofreaders are often provided with a company’s in-house Style Guide to refer to as they read a document. Such a document explains the preferred templates, styles and formats to be used. It covers things like capitalisation, how to style numbers and headings, whether foreign words should be set apart by the use of italics or single quote marks, which spellings or formats to adopt, in-house jargon, abbreviations and acronyms etc. etc. If you don’t have a Style Guide, it pays to write one for yourself as you go through a document. It helps you remember what stylistic or formatting decisions you have made and ensures that you remain consistent throughout.
    • For example, if the document contains words that can be written in different ways, adopt the author’s primary format and find and replace all other versions. Make a note of the words or phrases in your Style Guide as you come across them: on-line or online, web site or website, twentieth century or 20th Century etc.
  • I was once given the tip of reading a document backwards the first time you proofread it. Because you are reading the words out of context, you’re more likely to spot typos and other anomalies. When we read ‘normally’ it’s very easy for our clever eyes and brain to read what we expect to see and to gloss over what is actually written on the page. That’s why we can quite easily read and understand whole paragraphs of text with no vowels or an sms text message where words are abbreviated or otherwise gr8ly transformed, for example.
  • It is quite easy to delete words, sentences or paragraphs accidentally, so everything must be checked word by word, for sense as well as spelling. Pay particular attention to the start and end of each page. Make sure the text flows from the end of the page to the top of the next and that nothing has been deleted in the production process.
  • Similarly, it is very easy to duplicate information. It’s surprising how often a sentence or paragraph of text appears in a document twice. It’s very easy to copy and paste instead of cutting and pasting a section of text, so always look for duplication too.
  • Spelling and grammar should be checked throughout a document obviously, but a proofreader shouldn’t rely on an electronic spell checker alone. A spell checker wouldn’t pick up a typo such as ‘form’ instead of ‘from’ for example, or the inconsistent use of he/she/it/one throughout the text.
    • Always run specific searches for specialist or important terms. This is crucial if your eye is so used to reading the term that it might just miss a blatant error and vital if a misspelt word will not be picked up by your spell checker and could be embarrassing if published.
      For example, I’ve seen the title of a magazine for Professional Plumbers (which was published every month under the same brand name), spelt ‘Plumers’ – no-one spotted such a glaring mistake and it was published on the front cover. I’ve also seen ‘public finance’ spelt without an ‘l’ many a time and spell checker won’t highlight that one.
  • If your copy has already been edited, you shouldn’t need to check facts at this point, but always point something out if you think it is wrong or misleading.
  • If a URL is mentioned, check that it is correct and that any hyperlinks work.
  • Pay particular attention to titles – of books or films, people, committees etc – check they are correct and consistent throughout.
  • It is always good practice to write out a phrase or company name in full the first time it is used in your document and to follow it with the abbreviation or acronym in brackets that will be used in the rest of the document, for example: London interbank offered rate (LIBOR). Try not to swamp your document in acronyms or it will be very hard to read.
  • Pay attention to the numbering styles in your document. If sections or chapters are used, is the numbering consistent, has paragraph 4.31 been deleted or repeated? If headings include numbers as well as text, ensure that any punctuation is consistent following the number and the text:

1. Risk Management.

2 – Project Management

3: Business Management

4                    Business Development

5)         Business Opportunities

  • Decide how to write numbers in text: one standard that is frequently used is to write out numbers zero to nine in text but to use Arabic numbers for 10 and above.
  • Adopt a standard format for symbols or units of measurement (percentages, kilometres and currencies etc.). Are they written out in full on every reference or on the first reference only when the standard symbol or abbreviation is inserted in brackets afterwards? Is the symbol or abbreviation so widely understood that it isn’t necessary to write it out in full at all? Is a space required between the figure and the unit or text? For example: 3%, 3 %, or 3 per cent, 5.5km, 5.5 km, or 5.5 kilometres, 202 JPY, JPY 202, ¥202, 202¥, 202 Japanese yen etc.
    • If ever you want to keep a space between two things (a number and a percentage sign or currency symbol, for example: 3 % or JPY 202), but you want to make sure that the two items always stay together and don’t get split up if they move onto different lines of text, insert the ‘nonbreaking space’ symbol in Word.

Tables, charts and graphics

  • It is quite easy to delete a table, chart or graphic accidentally, or to forget to insert it in the first place. Check any textual references to a table, chart or graphic to make sure the corresponding item actually exists. Likewise, if references are generally inserted in the text (i.e. ‘See table 3’), but you can’t find a table 3, highlight the inconsistency.
  • Similarly, it is very easy to duplicate information. It’s surprising how often a chart or table appears in a document twice unnecessarily.
  • Don’t forget that authors and production people are fallible. You can easily find entirely the wrong table, graphic or chart uploaded into a document – your job is to spot when something doesn’t belong. With this in mind, always confirm that the actual table, chart or graphic provided corresponds with the title it is given.
  • Review the format of any tables, charts or graphics, paying particular attention to titles, subtitles, numbering, sources, references and footnotes.
  • Make the number of decimal points used in tables and charts consistent. But make sure you confirm the correct figures with the author if the decimal points are missing rather than simply adding a zero or two for consistency. If figures are in millions or billions, you need to be accurate!
  • Remove unnecessary repetition: if your table header row states that figures are in £s or %, you don’t need to repeat the £ or % sign next to every figure in that column.

Punctuation among other things

  • Punctuation needs to be checked throughout your document:
    • Are bulleted lists punctuated, if so, how and is it consistent?
    • If a phrase begins with a bracket (, {, or [, is there an equivalent closing bracket and vice versa?
    • Does the author have a habit of entering more than one space between words or sentences?
    • Check that your dashes are consistent:
      • hyphen/minus sign (-)
      • en-dash (–) is roughly the width of an n (a little longer than a hyphen). It is used for periods of time instead of ‘to’.
        The years 2001–2003
        Or it can be used instead of a hyphen when combining open compounds.
        The German–France border
      • em-dash (—) is the width of an m. Em dashes are used sparingly in formal writing. In informal writing, em dashes often replace commas, semicolons, colons, and parentheses to indicate added emphasis, an interruption, or an abrupt change of thought.
        The head teacher—Mrs Bellows—is not known for her patience.
    • Does the author generally, but not always, insert a space before a colon or before and after an en-dash for example? Make it consistent.
  • Check that line spacing is consistent throughout the document.
  • Check odd little things like smart quotes or superscript characters like m2. Make sure the formatting hasn’t been lost or changed. Find out if there is a preference for single or double smart quotes (the ones that hug the text like ‘sixes and nines’) or straight quote marks (‘straight up and down no matter where they are placed’)? Smart quotes can be reproduced incorrectly when published electronically. Use ‘find and replace’ to be sure you find all the examples, including apostrophes.
  • Apply the appropriate alignment to the text across the document – some writers prefer all text to be left aligned, others prefer text to be justified left and right. Many don’t notice when the alignment changes from one paragraph to the next, but a good proofreader will.
  • Ensure parallel structure in bulleted or numbered lists. If bullets are introduced by the preceding sentence, make sure that each bullet is grammatically correct and starts with the correct verb form, tense or noun format. It is incorrect to:
    • Lead into a bulleted list like that,
    • Changing to a different format in the next bullet,
    • Revert to the correct format,
    • The format must be consistent, and
    • You must make sure the bullet symbols are the same at each level.

The final document

  • When your document is close to final, ensure that all page numbers flow consecutively.
  • Check the table of contents if there is one. Ensure that it has been updated to reflect any amendments made to the order of the contents, the spelling, capitalization or punctuation of the section headings listed, and above all, always check that each section heading does indeed appear on the actual page number given.
  • If your document has an Index, it is unlikely that you would be required to check that every entry listed appears on the correct page. Standard practice is generally to check a small percentage of the items listed.
  • Always recheck your cover page – just one last time.

 Written by: Jacqui Hewitt 


What makes an effective proofreader?

Someone once said that I could spot a bold full stop at 10 paces. That kind of attention to detail is what you need to be an effective proofreader.

Many people think that reading a text through and checking it for spelling, grammatical and typographical errors is all it takes to be a proofreader. But if that were the case, it would imply that any electronic spelling and grammar checker could do the job of a proofreader flawlessly. defines proofreading as follows:

‘to read (printers’ proofs, copy, etc.) in order to detect and mark errors to be corrected.’

Sounds simple doesn’t it?

First let’s deal with the ‘detect’ part of that definition. A good proofreader should comb not one, but two documents: The job of a proofreader is to verify that the original document (text, tables, charts and graphics) matches the new ‘proof’ or ‘copy’ (usually laid out by designers or printers prior to publication) exactly. In brief, the proofreader must check that nothing has been omitted, nothing has been added, nothing repeated or changed, and that the formats and styles applied to the text, tables and graphics are consistent throughout the copy prior to publishing. And yes, they need to check the spelling and grammar too.

Returning to the definition above, a proofreader must also mark up the revised copy to show a designer or printer what needs to be amended before publication. This involves learning all sorts of strange marks and signs. First, the relevant code, symbol, or squiggle is written in the margin close to the text to be corrected, and then the text itself is highlighted or marked in some way to show what has to be done, where. To the uninitiated, the signs may look unintelligible, but a trained eye will know exactly what is meant by every little mark. Below is a link with some examples of British Standard Institution proof correction marks. The wonderful thing about proof marks is the sheer lack of words required to make a point clear: this makes those little squiggly marks truly international.

British Standard Proof Correction Marks

In the past, publishing meant in hard copy, print form. Proofreading, therefore, was an essential part of the process and the use of proofreading symbols ensured that everyone involved in the publishing process understood what changes needed to be made to copy before publication. Now, however, copy can be published in any number of electronic formats or hard copy print form, or both. A proofreader is much more likely to work electronically now than on hard copy and instead of marking up hard copy proofs with proof correction marks, they will simply make changes themselves directly in the electronic document they are reviewing. Microsoft Word’s ‘Track changes’ tool effortlessly records all the changes made by a proofreader and allows either the author or someone in a production role, to review, accept or reject those changes, all of which greatly speeds up what can be a time-consuming process.

Proofreading certainly isn’t just a quick read through. If it is, you’re doing it all wrong. An effective proofreader has an exceptional eye for detail, is meticulous in their work, and must have oodles of patience. They must either understand how to mark up texts using standard proofreading marks or be an expert in electronic systems in order to perfect a document themselves. Do you think you’ve got what it takes? Did you spot the bold full stop?!

Written by: Jacqui Hewitt 



The Art of Editing

Many people think that if you can write, you can edit: but the two skills aren’t necessarily interchangeable. When you have written something (whether an essay, a business letter, or a book), you may simply be too close to it to be able to edit it effectively. Often you know what you have written so well, because you have worked on it intensely for so long, that when you read it one last time in an attempt to edit it, you don’t actually read it word for word. Your mind, clever thing that it is, sees what you think you have written and simply doesn’t notice the glaring typo, repetition or spelling mistake. You skip things, you miss things. I’d always recommend a second pair of eyes on any text, to see what you cannot.

Many people think that editing is simply a matter of checking the spelling and grammar in a document; but it is much more than that. A good editor will get your whole document in shape. They will look at the tone and style of the piece to ensure they remain consistent throughout the document. This is especially important when more than one writer has contributed to the text. The editor should ensure that the piece remains fluent and that the reader can’t spot where one writer changes to the next – unless you’re meant to.

Your computer spell checker won’t pick up when a word has been used incorrectly or when the wrong word has been inserted courtesy of a simple typo: “form” and “from” are frequently mistyped and won’t show up via a spell check. How many times are “affect” and “effect” used incorrectly or “there” and “their”, “your” and “you’re”, “it’s” and “its” to name but a few? Are you sure you know when to use “anticipate” or “expect”, “can”, “may” or “might”, “compare to” or “compare with”, “compose”, “comprise” or “constitute”, or “continually” versus “continuously” – your editor will help you get it right.

An editor will review the text for factual errors (where possible) and for consistency of terms or figures. For example, if you refer to an organisation, a place or a Prime Minister’s name, the editor will check that the term or the spelling is correct throughout the document. You’d be surprised how often the spelling changes throughout a text. If the text refers to a name or organisation that the editor cannot verify, the editor will at least flag up any different spellings that they find in the document, so that you can confirm the correct spelling yourself. Likewise if you use an acronym at the start of the text and then revert to the full name or use a different acronym halfway through, an editor is there to pick this up for you. You might also be surprised how frequently a figure quoted at the start of a document changes later in the document; your editor will question which figure is correct.

A style guide is always useful. If you haven’t provided the editor with one in advance, they will create their own style guide as they review your text. This means that they will ensure the same term or spelling of a word is used throughout the text. This may seem obvious, but a writer will frequently change from writing “on-going” to “ongoing” or from “E-mail” to “email” to “e-mail” without even noticing. Your editor will also look at number formats and whether you write numbers in full or in figures, whether to change from one to the other at a certain point (a frequent standard is to spell out numbers zero to nine, but use figures for number 10 and above). The format used for dates can often vary throughout the text, but your editor will make sure such things end up being consistent: 10 Jan. 2013, or 10th January 2013, January 10, 2013?

It is also the job of the editor to make text as clear and concise as they can. Editors will often cut out redundant words and repetition. A couple of my pet hates are: “From 2013 onwards…” and “Going forward we will see…”. “Onwards” and “Going forward” don’t add anything to the sense and if you need to shorten your text, they can go.

An editor will look carefully at sentence and paragraph length. Text needs to be kept light if it is to be understood and easy to read. A paragraph that is the length of an A4 page isn’t going to endear the writer to the reader and it will need to be broken down into sensible chunks. Likewise, sentence length should be varied to improve readability. Different length sentences can be used to change the pace of the text considerably. Long, wordy sentences often are difficult to understand and sometimes need to be rewritten to convey the meaning better. Sudden, short sentences can be used for effect. It works.

Sometimes editors have to condense a document to meet a specific publishing requirement. The text may be written very well, but if it is 200 words over the limit, the editor has to cut those 200 words or cleverly rewrite the text to shorten it without changing the meaning or losing anything important. It can be very tricky.

So what is the mark of an exceptional editor? A truly exceptional editor doesn’t leave a mark. After reviewing and revising a document innumerable times, the reader shouldn’t even be aware of the editor’s presence. The writer’s voice alone should shine out. That’s skill.

Oxford Dictionary: Definition of edit

verb (edits, editing, edited) [with object]: prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.

noun: a change or correction made as a result of editing.

Written by: Jacqui Hewitt



Medical and Pharmaceutical translation

Medical and Pharmaceutical translation is a highly specialised discipline and should only be carried out by translators with appropriate qualifications and sufficient experience. Ideally translators should have a medical or scientific background. Companies in the Life Sciences industry are facing increasing challenges to provide products that are in compliance with country regulations and product labelling standards. It is imperative that translators have a full understanding of the ever-developing medical terms and concepts in both the source and target language and that they are able to convey them in an accurate and completely comprehensible way to the reader, be it medical professional or patient. There is zero margin for error or misinterpretation when human health or life is at stake! And of course they can have serious medical and legal consequences.

Some of the main medical/pharmaceutical documents that are often sent for translation are Summaries of Product Characteristics (SPCs or SmPCs), Patient Information Leaflets (PILs), CTAs (Clinical Trial Applications) and patient discharge forms, as well as their related documentation. When dealing with such texts it is important for the translator to pay particular attention to the target audience. For example, a translator should be careful not to use complex medical jargon in a leaflet that is designed to encourage patients to join a clinical trial. Of course, the register of the source text should give an indication as to the level of language necessary for the translation, but translators should be wary of literal or calque translations, depending on the reader. A French to English medical translator may come across the condition ‘hypertension artérielle’ which could logically (and correctly) be translated as ‘arterial hypertension.’ This may well be appropriate for a document aimed at a medical professional, but it is more likely that the common English expression ‘high blood pressure’ should be used for those texts aimed at patients and non-medical professionals. Essentially, the key terminology should be precise, e.g. ‘study’ or ‘research’ should not be translated as ‘treatment’ and ‘replacement dose’ is certainly not the same as ‘additional dose’, and suitable for the target audience.

One of the areas in which the field of medical translation often overspills is that of law. Understandably, the law surrounding medical devices and medicinal products is extremely strict and any new drug, medicinal product or device must be rigorously tested before it can enter the market. This inevitably results in a vast amount of documentation and paperwork, such as, Clinical Trial Protocols and Agreements, forms detailing the Competent Authority’s authorization and the relevant ethic’s committee’s decision, not to mention any amendments or updates that occur during the process for which approval must be granted. Of course, if a manufacturer wishes to market its product in a country other than where it is based, it will require the use of a translator who is experienced not only in medical/pharmaceutical translation, but also one who has an in-depth and specialist legal knowledge. Such documents must also display the highest level of accuracy: the consequences of mistakes could be fatal and the responsibility put on the translator is great.

One of the most important bodies linked to medical and pharmaceutical translation is the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the organisation responsible for the scientific evaluation of medicines for use in the EU. It publishes templates and glossaries relating to standard wording that must be used in certain documentation, such as the aforementioned SPC’s and PIL’s, as well as with the reporting of Adverse Events (AE’s) or side effects. Any translator dealing with such texts must be fully acquainted with the EMA’s publications and keep up to date with their regular updates.

One of the main difficulties within the medical translation field is that documentation is constantly being changed and updated as new information comes to light from laboratory studies, clinical trials etc… New dosages are created and different pharmaceutical forms are produced, and whilst the authorities in the source language country are amending and updating their source texts, authorities in the target language countries are busy making linguistic changes to the translated documents, which then require checking or updating by an experienced translator. The process is long and often frustrating but it is a small price to pay to ensure the consumer’s health and safety.

Interpreting – what exactly is it and how is it done? Part 3

Never change a winning team!

Consecutive or simultaneous – the job of the interpreter is, obviously, to convey what is said in one language into another language, as accurately as possible, without in any way acting as an “editor” or a “filter”. That is, if the speaker is rather upset, angry, agitated – whichever – and uses strong language and the odd equally strong swear-word, it is not up to the interpreter to “modify” this in any way, but to use the same sort of language a native of the interpreter’s country would have used under the same circumstances as those of the speaker. It is, after all, the speaker – and not the interpreter – who is swearing!

But a good interpreter may well help a bad speaker: very early on in my career I was very impressed by – and learned a lot from – a female colleague. The speaker spoke in a flat, monotonous voice with no variation of pitch, no life, no pauses – just a steady, boring drone, likely to send the entire audience to sleep in no time at all. My colleague lifted that speech from Level 1 to at least Level 8 by emphasising words the speaker probably intended to emphasise – but didn’t. Where he said, for example, in a flat drone: “This is something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against”, my colleague rendered a “This something we cannot accept in any way and must fight against!” – with an audible exclamation mark at the end.

In discussions there are, of course, no documents, other than possibly the document being discussed. And over 40 years’ experience has taught me that Thomas Nielsen’s Laws do very much apply. Thomas Nielsen was the head of the DanishTUC in the 70s, and possibly 80s, and he formulated his two Laws as follows:

No. 1: “Someone having something to say, giving a positive contribution to a discussion, needs about 8 to 10 minutes to say it. Someone having nothing to say or contribute, but wants their name in the Minutes of the meeting, needs at least 15 minutes, and someone who does not even know what the discussion is about needs about 25 minutes”.

No. 2: “The duration of a meeting is directly dependent on the ratio between the participants’ lung volume and brain volume: the larger the former, the longer the meeting will last.”

If you organise multilingual meetings on a regular basis, and you have found interpreters you, i.e. all the delegates/listeners, are happy with – stick to that team! No matter where in the world the meetings might be held. Time and time again companies or organisers feel it is too expensive to fly the same team of interpreters all over the place – and hire some locally because it costs less. Only to discover that the local interpreters – who are probably as excellent as any – are unfamiliar with that specific terminology, the delegates’ way of expressing themselves, and not having interpreted at the previous meetings of that group, do not know the whole background of what they are talking about. The result is that some delegates get very little or no benefit from the meeting – calling it a “waste of time”.

By using the same team of interpreters for all your meetings, the interpreters and delegates get to know each other – both becoming familiar with each others’ way of speaking, the specific terminology and subjects, to the benefit of both parties.

Guest blogger: Tore Fauske