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Proofeading in a foreign language

by: Garry Pierrepont (15 September 2011)

Is proofreading a foreign language possible if you don't know the language?

Well, no, not really, but I have been asked in the past – on more than one occasion – to check a document written in a foreign language (mainly Dutch, but also everything from Arabic to Korean).

Although, of course, I couldn't read the words to make sense of them, there were certain methods I used to spot errors. I did have the benefit of having the English version too. Ultimately, all you can really do is query things that appear to be wrong, by using the techniques discussed below.

Look for patterns

All languages have patterns, and if something looks odd, then it may be worth querying. Many other languages use more accents and diacritics than English and it is useful to try and spot where these are used and figure out where they should (or should not) be used in text. Obviously, without actually knowing the language, you cannot be certain, but patterns do emerge. For example, you quickly realise that Spanish starts a question with an inverted question mark, thus: ¿. So, if you suddenly see a sentence in Spanish starting with ?, you know it's wrong.

Look for repetition

Just as in English, many words are repeated, so (rather like the patterns) you can see whether the repeated words and right or look wrong. For example, if you see maître (French for master) many times and then see it as maítre, you'll know something is wrong.

Check the layout

This is pretty much the same in any language whenever you are proofreading. Fonts, headers, alignment, lines, boxes, shading should all follow the same rules within the document, whatever the language.

Anything missing (or extra)?

Four paragraphs in the English version, but only three in the Mandarin version? It doesn't look right, it doesn't feel right – it probably isn't right!

It may not be proofreading as we know it, but with so many pieces of text being translated these days, you may be asked to check a Bulgarian document against the English.

Don’t shy away!

Views: 3470

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