Jaime Fatás-Cabeza, MMA, USCCI, CHI

Signed by Pamela Wright, M.A., M.Ed.

Improving Cross-Cultural and Linguistic Services in Healthcare Settings

Developing Theoretical and Practical Competence in Translation¹ and Interpreting Revision

This article offers analysis, tips, and references for interpreters, translators and cross-cultural communicators interested in developing theoretical and practical competence in translation revision.

Interpreters and translators are constantly considering what the right target language equivalent is for a given term and in a given situation. What is the best corresponding term for “comfort care” or “due process of law” in a given context? And for “wheeziness,” “pleading,” “insight,” “serendipitous,” or “bully”? How do I proceed when the receiver answers, “I don’t understand,” or a participant orders, “do not interpret this”? 

We reflexively do our best to find a suitable course of action, but questions abound – should I interpret literally and exclusively what I see/hear? Do I conserve form and register or do I engage in adaptation? Do I offer an explanation? Do I refuse to obey? Self-awareness and reflection are the first steps to quality control, but the combination of theoretical preparation and professional experience are the sure path to reliable resolution of the demanding questions posed by translation.

Theory and Practice Are Important for Translation Competence and Revision

The theoretical study of translation is necessary to understand the inter-relational complexities inherent to the transfer of content between languages. Analysis and scientific methodology allow the formulation of models and proposals to establish reliable translation procedures and develop a good technique. However, for translators and interpreters in service-oriented industries such as healthcare, legal, and social services, where access depends on establishing a rapport and providing functional, “usable” translation and interpretation access, professional experience of the real world, a dialogic disposition, strategic and interpersonal competence are as important as theory, and indispensable for the provision of quality services. Thus, the combination of theory and practical experience provides a solid basis for the development of expertise and skill required for justified revision of translation and interpreting work.

Models for Translation Competence (TC) Assessment

There are different models for the assessment of translation competence (TC), based on different paradigms, set by different authors and schools of thought. Modern and contemporary theories explore the decisions made by the translator and the responses they elicit in the audience to determine the best strategies and techniques for transferring original content.²

Juliane House in her functional-pragmatic model of translation criticism prioritizes the preservation of “meaning” across languages. For her,

Translations are conceived as texts that are doubly constrained: by their originals and by the recipient’s communicative conditions. This is the basis of the “equivalent relation”[…] Equivalence is the fundamental criterion of translation quality. (House, 2001)

Translation can then be defined as the replacement of a text in the source language by a semantically and pragmatically equivalent text in the target language and an adequate translation is a pragmatically semantically equivalent one. (House, 2017)

Translation Revision Competence: Models and Requirements

When engaging in translation revision competence, models of quality assessment are useful because they provide a reliable template for systematic comparison. There is a considerable canon of research related to translation competence (TC). However, interest in translation revision competence (TRC) as a research field is recent and has produced a limited number of models.³ Below I offer some general considerations of a practical nature.


The European Quality Standard for Translation Service Providers defines revision4 (TR) as the revision of a translation by someone other than the translator. The standard defines review as, “examining a translation for its suitability for the agreed purpose, and respect for the conventions of the domain to which it belongs and recommending corrective measures.”5

TR has been an established sub-discipline in translation studies (TS) since the 1990s.6 Mossop proposes the following definition of revision:

Revising is that function of professional translators in which they identify features of the draft translation that fall short of what is acceptable and make appropriate corrections and improvements. (2007, 109)7

Conceptual interferences with other disciplines such as critical thinking and writing studies convey a halo of fuzziness surrounding the concept of revision.”8 There is no “consensus about its object of study and therefore about its terminology.”9 For instance, “competence,” “proficiency,” and “skills,” are terms that are often mixed up.10


Competence encompasses knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The reviewer must be skilled in the analysis and operation of different equivalence frameworks that encompass semantic, pragmatic, and textual aspects in the source and target languages. These will likely include the analysis of linguistic units (conventional, intuitive, and interpretative elements), response-based (behavioral) elements, and discourse analysis (contextual, situational, and cultural factors), including the translation’s purpose, function, and role (descriptive, operative, emotive, etc.) within a given situation, system, or community, which may require cultural and sociopolitical analysis.

It is best to avoid making unnecessary changes and readily provide convincing, technical justifications for changes made. If necessary, make a reasonable effort to establish direct communication with the author of the translation or interpretation, or with clients to consult and discuss relevant topics, and show willingness to improve interpersonal relationships.

The Role of the Brief

When submitting text for translation, clients should provide a brief that outlines the purpose and audience of the document. Reviewers must pay close attention to this information, which together with the features of the text will determine the best strategic approach to translation (overt v. covert, literal v. conceptual/sense-based, conservation v. adaptation, etc.). With all of this in mind, the following is a general protocol for translation revision applicable to almost any situation:

Before you start, review the brief and carefully assess the situation or function to be performed. Think about what could be the best possible strategy. When facing a problematic topic or term, think about the possible equivalents in the target language, including those that closely conserve both formal and conceptual elements (these will be the best options for terms belonging to “frozen” or static registers in situations where there are precise and established equivalents, such as in legal or religious settings). Then, after considering your ethical (codes and canons), procedural (requirements specific to the setting, employer, or client), and practical (time, availability of resources and people, pragmatics) obligations, decide what is the best translation strategy: conservation (render the element in a verbatim manner conserving form and content), adaptation (make changes as required by the specific circumstances of that situation, including the possibility of changing register, paraphrasing, explicitation—when there are manifest cultural and/or literacy differences or deficiencies, or  disabilities), or consultation or disclosure protocols.11 Then proceed with translation/interpreting.

Experienced professional translators and interpreters streamline and internalize these processes, and often perform this analysis on the spot – but, when facing difficult terms or situations, slow down and engage in evaluation and consultation in order to get the best possible result. Engaging in metacognitive activity (awareness of your own thought processes and the ability to control them) is also very helpful for self-monitoring and minimizing circumstances that may be conducive to error.

Technology and Revision

Technology plays an ever more important role in production, research, revision, and qualitycontrol for translators and interpreters alike. It is indispensable for research and localization. Translation-applied technology is coming of age very quickly, propelled by massive computer power, big data, machine learning methods, and access to linguistic and translation corpora, among other developments. Automatic translators and computer assisted translation tools (CATs)  are now commonplace. Properly used, these technologies can greatly increase speed and consistency, improve quality and generate more income, as well as reduce repetitious manual tasks that can lead to debilitating conditions. Today, these tools are indispensable to remain competitive. However, they have shortcomings. They are unsuitable for literary or colloquial texts rich in connotative, figurative, non-standard usage and culturally-bound items (which may require adaptation). They should not be used to replace translators but to assist them.

Revision does not receive as much attention in interpreting as it does in translation due to the fleeting and fragmented nature of speech and the limited possibilities for correction available to interpreters. However, self-awareness, self-listening/watching, constructive feedback and support from-and-to team partners and clients, and watching other interpreters can be very useful for performance improvement. Audio and video recording are particularly useful for interpreters. Careful observation of key performance aspects (accent, speed, clarity, diction, rhythm, choice of vocabulary/sign, volume or amplitude of gestures, facial expression, body posture, accuracy, etc.), together with critical analysis and the incorporation of results into one’s own professional routines—through study and sustained practice—make a world of difference.

In summary, professional translation revision, like translation and interpretation, is a multifaceted and demanding editorial procedure and is indispensable in the quest for quality. Due to its demands, it requires the application of considerable practical and theoretical knowledge to the assessment of issues and situations so they can be addressed efficiently. Reviewers are quality control experts that strive to guarantee the highest degree of equivalence in translation, while considering situational and strategic factors.

Important Concepts and Considerations Expanded

A clear understanding and operationalization of core concepts is fundamental to set priorities for revision and quality control, and to avoid turning translation into a different task.

Equivalence is the accurate reproduction of an original text into the target language in a linguistic form that preserves meaning and that its speakers and users will recognize as legitimate and natural. Text and context are inseparable but necessarily modified by translation (agency). Related concepts are faithfulness, transparency, (in)visibility.12 These concepts are related to agency, objective and subjective assessment, and the relationship between aesthetics and power.

Directionality, or orientation, is usually understood as bidirectional: “backwards,” toward the original text/author, and “forwards,” toward the receiver/audience.

Linkage/relationship is multi-pronged, not only to the author, the original, and the recipient, but to ethical behavior, the client, and the profession.

Genre, field, tenor, and mode constitute the standard framework for analysis of written, spoken, or signed discourse because they account for its sociolinguistic realization. They include temporal, geographical, social, and discourse aspects such as the subject matter, the participants’ interaction, social role and attitude, involvement and emotional state, nature of the channel (signed, written or spoken, face-to-face, or remote) that should be carefully assessed to establish equivalency.

Overt translation is equivalent to the original at the level of genre, register, and language/text. It does not prioritize major adaptation to meet the needs of the target language and culture. Covert translation has as its primary target to produce an equivalent version of the original by implementing the necessary transformations and cultural adaptations to meet the needs of the target audience, adapting the original text if necessary.

Important operational concepts to consider before starting the process of revision are: role, function, and purpose. This is equally applicable to the work of the reviewer (metacognition) and to the product generated by it. Strategic competency is the ability to use communicative, cognitive, and metacognitive strategies to plan and compensate when engaged in communication.

Ethical considerations are a priority in assessment and require complex situational understanding. First, it is crucial to understand the double limitation of translation, which requires attention to both the original author/text/language and the target audience/translation/language.13 Then, the interpretation and application of ethical principles must be carefully calibrated to the variable demands of different settings and functions. For example, the adversarial nature of legal proceedings may require a different approach than the beneficent nature of healthcare services. Commitment to excellence and high professional and quality standards are essential.


¹ I am using the term “translation” in a general sense that includes interpreting because it is the established term. The term “translation” also describes a spatial phenomenon, the process and result of moving something from one place to another; “interpretation” describes a mental process, an explanation. I wish that “Interpreting” or “Interpretation” were the established name for this field for its semantic accuracy, precedence in time, and widespread use among both literate and non-literate societies.

² For recent models for TC see House’s and Pym’s works cited in the References. Pym’s Exploring Translation Theories offers a compact analysis of the core contemporary paradigms of Western translation theory, very useful for self-study. I am not aware of a similar work for non-Western theory.

³ Consult the References section for House’s and Robert’s models for TC and TRC and Pym’s model of TC in the digital age, including translation revision.

4 Revising and review are terms used as well in the literature.

5 http://qualitystandard.bs.en-15038.com/ Accessed March 26, 2019

6 Robert (2016), p. 1

7 As cited in Robert, p. 4

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Pym, A. (2013). “Translation Skill-Sets in a Machine-Translation Age.” p. 499. Meta 58 (3): 487–503.

11 Consult the References section for House’s and Robert’s models for TC and TRC and Pym’s model of TC in the digital age, including translation revision.

12 Venuti, L. (2017). The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. Routledge.

13 Pym (2013), p. 492

Desarrollo de la pericia teórica y práctica para la revisión de traducciones¹ e interpretaciones

Este artículo ofrece análisis, consejos y referencias para intérpretes, traductores y comunicadores interculturales interesados en desarrollar sus conocimientos teóricos y prácticos para la revisión de traducciones e interpretaciones.

Los intérpretes y traductores están constantemente considerando cuál es el equivalente correcto en la lengua de llegada para un término dado en una situación dada. ¿Cuál es el término correspondiente más adecuado para “atención paliativa” o “tutela judicial efectiva” en un contexto determinado? ¿Y para “sibilancia”, “alegato”, “perspicacia”, “serendipia” o “matón”? ¿Cómo proceder cuando el receptor responde “No entiendo” o cuando un participante ordena “No traduzca/interprete esto”?

Reflexivamente, hacemos todo lo posible para encontrar una manera de proceder adecuada, pero abundan las dudas: ¿Debo interpretar literal y exclusivamente lo que veo/escucho? ¿Conservo la forma y el registro o los adapto? ¿Ofrezco una explicación? ¿Me niego a obedecer? La autoconciencia y la reflexión son los primeros pasos para el control de calidad, pero la combinación de la preparación teórica y la experiencia profesional son el camino seguro hacia una resolución fiable de las exigentes cuestiones planteadas por la traducción.

Tanto la teoría como la práctica son importantes para la pericia en la traducción y en la revisión

El estudio teórico de la traducción es necesario para entender las complejidades relacionales inherentes a la transferencia de contenidos entre lenguas. El análisis y el método científico permiten la formulación de modelos y propuestas para establecer procedimientos de traducción fiables y desarrollar una buena técnica. Sin embargo, para los traductores e intérpretes de las industrias que proveen servicios —médicos, legales y sociales, por ejemplo—en que el acceso depende del establecimiento de una relación y de la provisión de un acceso funcional y “aprovechable” a los servicios de traducción e interpretación, la experiencia profesional del mundo real. Pero no basta. Por ejemplo, hay traductores e intérpretes que proveen servicios –médicos, legales, etc.- en que el acceso depende del establecimiento de una relación y de la provisión de un acceso funcional y “aprovechable” a los servicios de traducción e interpretación. En tales casos, que son frecuentes, la experiencia profesional del mundo real, una disposición dialógica y la aptitud estratégica e interpersonal son tan importantes como la teoría, e indispensables para la pre