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Thread: Correcting non-native English

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  1. #1
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Correcting non-native English

    Hi,
    I've written a historic novel in Dutch and at some point (in a year or more) would like to get an English version made. There are two routes I can take:
    1) Pay a Dutch to English translator to do it all. This would be easiest, but there aren't many available as very few works get translated from Dutch to English, so I'm worried about finding one I can work well with, who has affinity with the genre and who produces a quality result.
    2) Translate it myself and pay an English speaking editor to 'upgrade' the prose. While my English is good and I could probably write English non-fiction with few readers noticing that I'm not a native English speaker, I've found that writing prose is a very different beast. While my prose would be gramatically correct it would feel somewhat stilted, be rather limited in vocabulary and use idioms that seem a little off.

    So my questions are about option 2:
    * Does anyone know if this is something other foreign authors have done?
    * Do you think this would produce a satisfying result or should I just forget about it and go with option 1 even if I don't find a great translator?
    * Would I easily find a good editor willing to take on this job or does this seem like a shitty job than an editor would only take on because they can't find a regular gig?
    * Is there a specific kind of editor I should be looking for? This isn't content editing and it isn't exactly line editing either; is there a name for an editor who touches up prose?
    * What kind of a rate would I be looking at?

    Tia!
    Last edited by krommenaas; 10-22-2018 at 02:16 PM.

  2. #2
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    I think you'll struggle to find a reputable editor to take this job on. Editors don't change prose, they highlight problems and suggest changes but leave it to the author to make those changes. It sounds to me like you're looking for a writing partner on this project. Someone who will take your book and rewrite it. And that's fraught with problems, because they'll rightly expect a share of the proceeds when it's published.

  3. #3
    Snarkenfaugister Friendly Frog's Avatar
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    I'd say you first would have to worry about finishing the book in Dutch. There's no point in translating a book that isn't finished.

    It would surprise me greatly if you wouldn't be able to find a decent Dutch-English translator but it might cost you a decent sum.

    I'm not a fan of the option two. The translator would still need your Dutch version to upgrade your own English version to be sure that both books say the same thing. They'd have a lot more work and will need more time than a straightforward translation. I don't think it will save you anything.

    I don't think it is something a lot of authors have done on their own. As far as I can tell (aumateurishly), either they write in English from the start, or they let the publisher deal with possible translations.
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  4. #4
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Old Hack: no, I'm definitely not looking for a writing partner The book is finished, and will already be edited in Dutch, we're only talking about a method of translation here. What I describe is not very different from copy editing I think.

    Friendly Frog: the book IS finished ("I've written ..."). A good literary translator has to be a native English speaker, and how many native English speakers learn Dutch and become translators? Very few. They exist, but the number is small, which is logical as very few Dutch novels get translated to English.

  5. #5
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krommenaas View Post
    Old Hack: no, I'm definitely not looking for a writing partner The book is finished, and will already be edited in Dutch, we're only talking about a method of translation here. What I describe is not very different from copy editing I think.
    I've worked as an editor for years. What you're asking for is a lot different to copy editing. That's why translators translate and editors edit. The two skills are very different.

    Please don't expect an editor to resolve your translation issues. It's really not what editors do.

  6. #6
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin Lucian Hodoboc's Avatar
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    You could probably find a few good translators who charge by source word count on freelancing websites, such as Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    I've worked as an editor for years. What you're asking for is a lot different to copy editing. That's why translators translate and editors edit. The two skills are very different.

    Please don't expect an editor to resolve your translation issues. It's really not what editors do.
    Then what do editors do?

  7. #7
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    I think the second option sounds like your best bet, partly because you seem reluctant to go with the first option. It does seem more likely that you could find an editor to help develop your manuscript, who you also work well with, than a translator. I do think you would be able to find a good editor who would help you out with this, you'll just need to make sure you check them out thoroughly. It's an unusual project, so they would probably want to look at your manuscript, then quote you a rate. Since it's not quite copy-editing and not as intensive as developmental editing, I would expect the price to be somewhere between these two, and that will depend on the editor you approach and what their usual rates are like. You would need to be very clear about how much of a change you'd be expecting. Would it just be picking up inconsistencies, idioms, tackling phrases or words that don't quite translate, clumsy phrasing etc. or would it be more of an overhaul? You'd need to clearly communicate exactly what kind of work you want them to do.

    Hope this helps!
    Looking for an editor?

    www.anouchkaharris.com

  8. #8
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Anouchka: The novel would already have been edited and published in Dutch, so it would be purely a matter of improving the prose of a poor (but not inaccurate!) translation.

  9. #9
    Knox Butte Chase's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by krommenaas View Post
    Anouchka: The novel would already have been edited and published in Dutch, so it would be purely a matter of improving the prose of a poor (but not inaccurate!) translation.
    I'm currently editing short-short stories translated to English from Arabic. It's going ever so slowly because not all spelling and punctuation are even close to correct. When it comes to grammar in turns of phrases, I can suggest a better way, but as has been said, ghostwriting isn't my job, and I don't want to step outside the bounds of editor.

    This is turning into a two-phase job of copyediting plus proofreading revisions. Fees nearly double.

  10. #10
    practical experience, FTW goddessofgliese's Avatar
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    I do think line-editing service includes improving the prose of your work.

  11. #11
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by goddessofgliese View Post
    I do think line-editing service includes improving the prose of your work.
    It can. But remember that good editors do not make changes to your work: they highlight problems they see, and suggest ways to resolve those problems, but it's always the writer's job to implement the changes--or to ignore their editor's suggestions.

  12. #12
    What? Thomas Vail's Avatar
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    Option 2 is looking for a co-writer, and that's not going to be very different than looking for a translator as in Option 1. Anyone interested in doing the job is going to need the original Dutch manuscript for reference, and have a lot of interaction with you as well.

    You are exactly right that this is 'a different sort of beast.' The job you're asking someone to do is not just 'do a proofread and make a little correction here and there.' Idioms, turns of phrase, subtle meaning, the difference in English taught in the Netherlands vs colloquial use, consistency throughout the manuscript... Unless you are near native-level fluent and there are actually only a couple bobs and bits that need addressing, what you are asking for it a LOT of fairly involved work.

    I've had the opportunity to do similar sort of work in the past with native Japanese speakers wanting to present in English, and it's never as easy as you first think it is. Somewhere I still have a picture of sports team poster with the words 'No Rivals!' on it, because my explanation that 'the word you want is 'Unrivaled'' didn't 'feel right to them.'*

    *Because 'un-' means 'not' and so that really means they're not rivals with other teams.
    Last edited by Thomas Vail; 10-23-2018 at 11:55 PM.

  13. #13
    figuring it all out
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    I'm going to go with others here, and say that I think a translator--a good translator--is your best bet. There's no way an editor can help you find the mot juste for any given Dutch word or phrase unless that editor is fluent in both Dutch and English . . . at which point, they're serving as both an editor and a translator.

    Also, I'd be very surprised if you can't find good translator. (An affordable good translator is a whole other ball game, but that goes for good editors too.)

    If you can't find a translator who can do a better job than you, then in order to make things run smoothly, I'd suggest refining your expectations. You can definitely find an editor who will let you know when idioms are incorrect and, in some cases, suggest alternatives. Same for specific words or phrases that sound awkward, so long as there aren't a ton of them. (If every sentence sounds stilted, we get to the point where it's well beyond the scope of their job--what you're looking for is rewriting.)

    If you decide you want to go the route of translating the work yourself and then hiring an editor, I'd suggest starting with a small sample project (paid, of course) so you can see what the editor will and will not do. A chapter, perhaps. As a freelance editor, I've definitely made suggestions to improve cadence and flow (plenty of them!)--but keeping the author's voice is always paramount when suggesting any revisions. Here it sounds like what you want changed is your voice--at least, your voice in English--and that's where I see the potential problem.

    Also, Thomas Vail raises an excellent point. It's one I've encountered in my work with non-native English speakers as well. How can you know whether the editor's doing a good job if you aren't fluent in the language? Maybe they're suggesting something that sounds awful to you, but they swear it sounds right to a native speaker. But are they right? How do you know? Reputation and testimonials from their native-speaker clients help . . . but wouldn't it be easier to trust someone who actually knows the Dutch phrase you're trying to translate so they can give you the best words to capture its subtleties?
    Last edited by starsknight; 10-24-2018 at 01:55 AM.

  14. #14
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks all! I definitely prefer to go with a translator, even more so after reading your comments I'll just hope I find one.

  15. #15
    Be blunt: I appreciate it kevinwaynewilliams's Avatar
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    A good translator really is a co-writer. It requires the ability to read the source, understand the point of each sentence (including the tone) and produce an English sentence that has the same meaning and sets the same stage. You're right that few novels go from Dutch to English, but the other direction is quite common. Look at Guido Golüke's translation of "True Grit", for example, and his Dutch reflects an effort to portray the original dialect that Charles Portis used. It's very different from Hannek van Soest's translation of "Gone Girl", for example, because even though the level of sentence complexity and vocabulary level is equivalent, the tone of the original is different.

    Anyway, I presume your project is self-published. If it's not, let your publisher deal with translation, or, failing that, get your agent to try to sell the translation rights to an American publisher

    If it is self-published and you have no agent, then when you are done, I'd be happy to take a look at the book and see if I thought there was money to be made from working with you on an English version. I can't claim to have published translations before, but I can read Dutch quite well, like to think that I write English quite well, and this is something that I've been considering doing with some Dutch novels that I enjoyed that have never been translated. We'd have to work terms, but anyone that takes on a project like this with money coming at the back end instead of the front is going to take a very healthy percentage of that back end because there's an enormous risk of all the work being done and no profit being made. I'd be no different.
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  16. #16
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
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    Thanks for your considered reply. It'll be a while, because I've decided to write the first draft of volume 2 of the series before publishing volume 1 (so there will be less time between them), but when volume 1 is out I'll be in touch.

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