Challenging the translation industry

Tytti Suojanen, Tiina Tuominen and Kaisa Koskinen wrote a textbook on user-centered translation.

Tytti Suojanen, Tiina Tuominen and Kaisa Koskinen wrote a textbook on user-centered translation.

Finnish researchers challenge the translation industry with a new user-centered approach.

“From the translator’s perspective, the translation industry currently emphasises volume and overlooks the readability and high standard of translated texts. We are offering a new way to counter this trend: we may be living in a world of industrial processes, but we can still keep in mind the reader who eventually uses the translation,” says Kaisa Koskinen, professor of translation studies.

The researchers developed the user-centered model of translation in response to the translation industry. Kaisa Koskinen, Tytti Suojanen and Tiina Tuominen present the model in User-Centered Translation, a new textbook published by Routledge.

“We have worked as a team to invent and develop the model we propose – it is not a direct copy of anything. We have been picking and choosing, brainstorming and innovating, and offer the field of translation something that has never been offered before. We hope that our book will find readers and users,” Koskinen says.

Koskinen, who has earned her doctorate at the University of Tampere, works at the University of Eastern Finland. Suojanen and Tuominen work at the University of Tampere.

Finns mostly read translated texts

The number of everyday texts that have been translated from other languages is rapidly increasing. Kaisa Koskinen estimates that even up to 70-80 percent of the texts read by Finns are translations, but in most cases the name of the translator remains a mystery.

We come across lists of shampoo ingredients, digital television user manuals and foreign news in newspapers without knowing that they have been translated into Finnish from other languages.
Translation has become an industry in which speed and efficiency are emphasised at the expense of quality.

Tiina Tuominen, who analysed audiovisual translations for her doctoral dissertation, says that the subtitles of Finnish television programmes are increasingly done in haste by large multinational companies.
Are translations currently bad?

“I wouldn’t like to say that they are outright bad. There are several issues at play, but the problems with subtitles are quite obvious,” Tuominen says.

According to Tuominen, a completed audio-visual translation can be awkward especially when the translators are unable to time the subtitles themselves. The television viewer does not necessarily notice that there is a problem.

“However, there are risks, and bad subtitles can be seen regularly.”

Tytti Suojanen says that more than just being unsatisfied with the translation is at stake. User manuals can make a difference between living and dying. In those cases, the question is not of good versus bad translation but of getting the correct message across. This is why translators must think about the readers and the situations where the texts will actually be used.

The new model involves users

According to the user-centered translation model, the translation need should be outlined first. Ideally, the translator works together with the client to define what the translation is meant for and what the intended audience is. The work should then be assessed and tested iteratively throughout the translation process.

Users are involved right from the start as they are given the opportunity to take a look at, comment and test the text. The text is then revised on the basis of their feedback. Feedback is also gathered about the finished product and this knowledge is used to improve the usability of future translations.

The user-centered model of working improves communication as it is based on a continuous dialogue between the client, the translator and the users.

“This makes the translator’s job easier. If you know who is going to use the text, it is much easier to make decisions about the translation, instead of translating the texts for some vague user-group,” Suojanen says.

The User-Centered Translation textbook is based on a Finnish book published in 2012, which the authors have edited and extended for the English version.

“Publishing internationally is not necessarily easier or harder than publishing in Finland. In small fields such as translation studies it may actually be easier to find an international publisher than a Finnish one. Finnish publishers tend to think that the audience is too small. The international audience is bigger.”

The book is intended for students, instructors and practising translators.

Text: Heikki Laurinolli
Photograph: Jonne Renvall
Translation: Laura Tohka