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My English level is average. I can write fluently and my vocabulary is not too limited.

With the thought in mind that the end result must be perfect, is it better for me to write my long text (100 pages) in English and then get copyedited by a native English speaker, or write in French (my native language) and then get translated by a professional?

I'm concerned about the quality of translations. Long texts (such as reports, offers, books, etc.) that have been translated into French from English are usually done very poorly.

I'm also concerned by my inability to use English correctly, especially with expressions and with typical ways of constructing sentences in particular contexts.

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+1 Great question. I'm on the same boat, but with Spanish. – ggambett Jan 29 '11 at 12:14
@Dori: did you just copyedited me ? ;) – Pierre 303 Jan 29 '11 at 14:00
Looks like copyediting works fine. Hire @Dori :) – John Smithers Jan 29 '11 at 17:37
Out of my budget :) – Pierre 303 Jan 29 '11 at 18:07
@Pierre - I figured either I'd succeed and you'd be okay with the result, or I'd blow it and demonstrate how copyeditors don't always understand what the original non-native speaker meant. Either way: win! Mostly, though, "unability" and "corretly" were bugging me. – Dori Jan 30 '11 at 1:32
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Translation really is an art.

I recommend writing in the language where you have the largest vocabulary and where you feel most comfortable. In your case, that would be French. Then a translator can take your words, figure out how to say the same thing in English, and make readers feel exactly the way French readers react to the original.

If you wrote in English, though, you might use a word that has a different meaning in that particular context, or use a word you think exists that doesn't, and so on. And then the editor would have to guess at what you actually wanted to say—which isn't playing to anyone's strengths.

My advice: write in your strongest language, and then let translators do their magic.

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And then read the result, checking if it does say what you wanted to say. As you said, translations are often done quite poorly (translators are paid pretty badly), so it's good to check. Which may mean having to put appropriate stipulations into the (eventual) contract with a publisher. – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 29 '11 at 13:58
@jae: good point, for my important business letter, my native English speaking assistant send me her copy-edited version, and sometimes (maybe 1 time on 10) I have to fix some glitches that change the meaning of something. – Pierre 303 Jan 29 '11 at 14:02

My experience with this is two-fold:

  • I did translation work for some time. I come from a family of professional translators (my aunt still being in the business).
  • Working for a company routinely ordering translations from third parties and reading the translated documents.

The first concern is financial: translating stuff is way more expensive then editing and the better the translation, the more expensive it may be.

The results may also be quite variable. I had experiences with translations from companies with great reputations that ended up absolutely horrendous. If you're unlucky the end result of a translation may be the same thing you would have produced yourself sans the benefit of copyediting from a native english speaker (and you ending up paying a ridiculous fee).

Writing it yourself also has the added benefit of beefing up your experience with a foreign language which never hurts.

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I think another aspect here is what you're writing, especially if it's non-fiction. Sometimes the subject matter itself has a "native language".

For example I would never even start writing technical, IT-related stuff in my native German language. Most of the time the original English terms are far more common than their translated counterparts which often feel clunky and forced.

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Yeah, I'm afraid I'm with Dori on this one, as much as it pains me.

I tried my own hand at translating something into French a while back. Sent it too a publisher-friend. His reply was kind, but direct: "If you had been a professional translator, I'd have said thanks, but no thanks." And that was for something that I was particularly proud of...

I know exactly what you mean about translation quality though. I've seen some things translated where the translator completely missed the point of the original. So proof-reading the text afterwards is absolutely essential. Of course, you then have to discuss to work out if the translator has misunderstood your text, or if you've misunderstood their translation.

And I don't need to explain to you all about the edge cases where there isn't any direct translation and they have to 'make it up'...

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