While many bilingual individuals may find it easy to intuitively categorize translations as either good or bad, defining them objectively is more difficult than you’d think. In truth, the definition of a “good” translation can vary depending on the style of the source text, the target audience, and even the translator. In other words, different approaches and writing styles may lead to equally successful translations.
Despite the subjectivity of language, certain basic features are widely accepted as characteristic of good writing and can therefore be applied when thinking about translation.
Here are just a few:
Accuracy. An accurate translation is one that successfully conveys the meaning of the text without omitting, altering, or adding information. This requires in-depth understanding of the source material and often involves terminology research.
Clarity: Clarity is about good communication. The translator should convey the source text’s message in the most concise and clearest way possible. The goal is to produce a translation that is easy to read and understand.
Tone: Tone is the general character or attitude of the text. Is the writing serious or humorous? Formal or informal? While the nuances of tone can sometimes be difficult to capture, they’re often intrinsic to the source text’s meaning, especially in editorials or advertising material, and should not be overlooked by the translator.
Naturalness: The natural flow of a translation is one of the most important markers of its success. A well-translated text reads smoothly and cohesively and sounds as if it were originally written in the target language. When this isn’t the case—when the reader’s mind is distracted by the language because “it sounds like a translation”—the text is often described as “translationese.”
Accessibility: When translating a text, the translator should always consider the target audience. Is it aimed at a professional or the general population? Is the client hoping to reach a specific country, culture, or age group? In some cases, texts need to be creatively adapted to remain accessible to the target audience.