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When to Vote and When NOT to Vote

I've searched on "voting", and I've seen several other posts that express about this same sentiment, but I just need to add my two cents.

This evening, I was asked to translate the sentence, "Sag mal, spinnst du?" Given the larger context of the full article, as a native English speaker playing the role of the speaker in the article, I'd have expressed that sentiment as "What?! Are you crazy?!"

Much to my surprise and dismay, my translation was ranked very low. Then I was curious to see what the best translation actually was. I was shocked to see that not only was the best translation completely wrong, the first five translations were so poor, I initially thought I was witnessing a software glitch or database mishap and I was actually being shown translations for some other sentence. The winner? Well, I don't remember exactly, but it was on the order of "Say you are painting about spinning?" Oh my God!

Keep in mind that this sentence had been translated 54 (no, really! 54!) times, and "Say you are painting about spinning?" is considered the best effort? And it had 4 green votes for God's sake (and no yellow or red)! Well I ended up going through all the translations submitted to date and I discovered several things...

1) MOST of the submissions were on the order of "Say you are painting about spinning." which probably means they were machine translations from Google or some place. 2) There were actually 10 or so translations, buried in the noise, that got it right. 3) Almost none of the submissions had been voted on.

So I would recommend the following:

1) If you are confident that you have a valid, accurate translation that captures as much of the literal meaning and flavor of the original without sounding awkward or unnatural in English, then please, please take the time to vote on the other submissions. Otherwise, we're going to be turning out "translated" web content, all of which will begin with the words "Say you are painting about spinning."

2) If you are NOT confident about the quality of your translation (and I'll admit I am often not confident about the quality of my own), then DO NOT vote. In this circumstance, you're likely not qualified to offer a valid opinion on the other translations, so don't muddy the waters. This is what I do. If I think my translation is crap, or I suspect I've missed some critical cultural reference or bit of slang or idiom, I will not vote. I will however look through the other translations to see if I can figure out what I've missed.

3) Perhaps allow submitters to rank their own submissions. It seems like it would be useful for the selection software to know how confident the original submitter was in the quality of his own work. One might argue that the idea is useless, because everyone will naturally vote themselves high. I disagree. I know I'd be more than happy, even relieved, to express my doubts about my own efforts.

4) In the current system, when voting on a translation, users have the option of suggesting changes to an existing translation. When doing so, they also have the option to discuss the changes. I would like to see an optional "discussion" input box for when I submit my version of a translation. In this, I would occasionally like to explain why I have translated something in a particular way. Face it, straight literal translations are seldom useful. The translator's goal is to produce a translation that sounds natural in the target language while retaining as much of the flavor and nuance of the original as possible. To make that happen, it is sometimes necessary to change tense, substitute idioms, use a specific word for a specific effect, and so on. I don't know if I'd use an "explanation" box often, but there are certainly times when I would like to explain why I've used the particular words I've used.


October 2, 2012



Well said, but I bet your insight will go right over most people's heads...


I'm afraid you're probably right, but I hope not. I think this site is a pretty clever idea. I would like to see it work. But I've been pretty unimpressed with the quality of some of the "best" translations I've seen, even for material that's been translated many, many times. I don't think it has to stay that way, but, to fix it, people are going to have to start voting (or NOT voting, as the case may be).

[deactivated user]

    You raise some valid points. I particularly like the idea of adding comments to translations: these are often not trivial, so it may need some explanation.

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