Ecoglyphe traductions

Proofreading Translations: The Devil Is in the Details

This blog post is the English version of a French blog post of mine and it was translated by my Master students in translation at University of Lorraine in Nancy. The students who worked on this project are not native English speakers and this translation was a challenge that they brilliantly tackled.
Many thanks to Laurence Darbelet, Mary Dib, Chloé Gillet and Katsiaryna Siniapkina. I wish you good luck in the translation business.

I recently taught translation proofreading from English into French at university. I was able to share my experience as a translator and a proofreader with the students and to show them where they should focus (i.e. almost everywhere). In the following article, I will be talking about the importance of proofreading your work and why the proofreading made by an external reviewer may be beneficial.

One missing comma… And you will become a cannibal…

Saint Nicholas Rescuing Children From a Salting Tub

Everyone knows this sentence and all parents have said it a hundred times (and repeated it a thousand times, it’s déjà vu): ‘Let’s eat, children!’ For sure, but if at speaking we don’t hear the comma (especially when we just remove a pizza from the oven), just imagine what it can give if we omit the comma in the written transcription: ‘Let’s eat children!’ But to have the Saint Nicholas butcher cut up children and put them in a salting tub, there is only one step… That the reviewer can quickly take if he is not meticulous.

This example is a good illustration of the attention that the reviewer has to pay to his text. But when it comes to the translation proofreading, besides grammar, orthography and syntax of the text to correct, we have to check everything that concerns the translation itself, that is, terminology, the way the text is translated, omissions, additions, but also localization of numbers.

Why proofread or being proofread?

To avoid leaving misprints and because we are never safe from making mistakes, especially at the end of the day or on weekends, or when we feel the weariness on a very long project. I never deliver a translation without proofreading it, if possible after a good night’s sleep, because there are always small careless mistakes. The client expects to have few errors (the serious translation agency which knows very well the job) or no error (the client who doesn’t know very well our job). The serious agencies will proofread internally, or better, hire a specialized translator to proofread the translations they received by their translators. Not all of them have these scruples and some of them prefer skipping this step, and sometimes blame the translator for all of his mistakes. Hence, it is crucial to proofread, at least to avoid problems. When we work for a direct client, being proofread by a colleague allows us to avoid certain mistakes and especially omissions due to the tiredness. Of course, it increases the final price for the client, but if he is conscious about the value added to a flawless communication, he won’t complain about paying.


As a specialist of technical and scientific translations and former research fellow, the clients who contact me for a translation or a proofreading do it for my linguistic and scientific expertise. Over the years, I built up some methods that allow me to proofread texts related to my speciality fields with a certain assertiveness. However, when it comes to orthography and grammar, I use software, which, even if they don’t track all the errors, they indicate some of them and help me find others. For the rest, I proofread the source and the target text meticulously and I doubt everything, especially when my little internal voice whispers to me that there is something wrong. With experience, I know and I feel if the translator I am proofreading knows the subject well, what he is talking about and what kinds of errors I will expect. I verify on the document given by the client and if needed, I check the web, included competitors, to make sure that the terminology is the one used in the field. When I proofread a text, I start with a quick reading of the target text to get a sense of the work to be performed. Then I use my professional spellchecker. Antidote of Druide is for me the one which works best. It fits in quite a few software, included SDL Trados Studio, my computer-assisted translation software and in MS Outlook, my messaging service. And ‘cerise sur le gâteau’, Antidote, in its extended version, also correct English, which avoids me to miss a big blunder in my English emails, that is 95% of my communication with my customer base. Because for a translator, speaking English badly while we translate English to French doesn’t work very well. By the way, this present article will also pass to the above-mentioned proofreader, because I don’t have human proofreader for this blog. I also check the typography and the localization of figures, numbers, common abbreviations and specific to end clients, acronyms and the field jargon. In the second reading, I check terminology and translation errors (nonsense, misinterpretation, over-translation, under-translation, omissions, etc. This is where my little inner voice, guided by my experience give me a serious hand.

Then, I dive into the meaning in a more general way. And I finish with a quick proofreading – diagonally – so that my eyes can detect these small errors that had managed to escape before.

Sometimes, I find errors – rather technical errors – in the source texts. So, I notify the client who is generally happy to notice my ability to pay attention to details. I must confess that these types of things are rather uncommon.

Getting Closer to Perfection Through Proofreading

As we have already seen, proofreading a translation is carried out in multiple steps. The first proofreading is limited to grammar, orthography, and syntax. However, proofreading a translation is also a synonym for paying attention to the way in which the translation has been carried out. We should check terminology, language level for the target audience of the translation, as well as everything that may be considered as a translation error. As we are seeing, proofreading is not simply a question of orthography and grammar. Proofreading is much more than that. It requires precision and meticulousness. We shouldn’t be able to say that the final text is a translation and its link must be natural and loyal to the original. A work of art in a way…

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