The Differing Roles of the Translator and the Editor

In every good translation there are at least two key steps involved in producing a high-quality finished product: translation and editing. Generally, these two steps are always completed by two different linguists in order to ensure that the translation is seen by two different experts (or more if it is proofread). When a translation is edited by a second linguist, the consistency and accuracy of the original translation is improved, assuring the client that any possible mistakes made by the translator have been corrected by the editor. Most linguists involved in the translation industry often work as both translators and editors. However, while the two jobs are similar, they must be approached differently and the linguist must take on a slightly different mindset while completing each task.

The translator is the first linguist to work with the source text. Their main goal is to accurately render the text from the original language into the target language. The job is very technical and the translator must be able to perfectly understand the source text and understand the context well enough to produce a translation that accurately renders the same meaning as the source, is written in the same style and uses proper vocabulary with regard to the type of text (promotional, literary, legal). The translator’s job is also the most tedious, as they must research vocabulary and industry and culturally-specific terms. Also, since the translation is the part of the process that takes the most time, the translator must also be very focused on efficiency and productivity in order to not delay the process and to ensure that the linguist(s) who will be reviewing the translated work receive it in a timely manner.

The editor is the second person to work with the source text and is the first person to review the target content. The focus of the editor is to improve the overall quality of the translation. Particularly, they must pay attention to accuracy and word choice, consistent use of vocabulary and style, and grammar and punctuation. Also, sometimes large texts may be split between more than one translator. It is then the job the editor to review the entire translation to ensure consistent use of style and terminology.  Additionally, it is the editor’s job to ensure the translation reads as if it were originally written by the author in the target language. This task is later polished by a proofreader. However, the editor should be wary of over-imposing their own style and over-correcting. The editor’s job is not to add their own stylistic touch, but to improve the quality and ensure that the client’s expectations are met. It is also very important that the editor be wary of not harming the translation. Therefore they must research each term they are unsure of and never, ever guess (the translator can greatly aid in this process by leaving notes for the editor regarding word choice and especially difficult phrases or vocabulary).

In a best-case scenario, the translator and the editor would work as simultaneously as possible and be in close contact. However, this isn’t always so easy to do in such a globalized industry, thus it is often role of the translation agency to ensure communication between linguists collaborating on a project.