I'm advising a translation project, translating some short stories from a foreign language to English. What I'm advising about isn't the translations themselves -- but seeing the translated stories, I'm concerned that some of them have been translated poorly.

It's hard for me to put my finger on any one thing, and it's hard for me to tell whether the various things bugging me are just differences of taste, or an "actual" indication of poor translation. (I'm a native speaker in both languages, but have done little-to-no-work with translations.)

What are good criteria to judge or check a translation by? How do I know whether a translation is "good quality"?

  • I would find a test reader who is native in target language and at least fluent in source language. Let him read the translation first, and original second. If he can read the original without saying "Oh, boy!" at least once, the translation should be good.
    – Alexander
    Oct 20, 2017 at 18:30
  • Same question on Literature SE: literature.stackexchange.com/q/8565/17 Nov 11, 2021 at 19:54

1 Answer 1


Ask someone native to the target language to read the translation without telling them it's a translation. See if they can notice anything that doesn't make sense, grammar mistake, or just plain strange.

While translation should strive to preserve the meaning of the original source, sometimes the translator is unable find appropriate translation, especially if there's a cultural difference. In this case, dropping the problem phrase or changing the meaning entirely is acceptable (or better, translator notes).

For example, a manga may have a pun/play on word that only makes sense in Japanese, and not when translated literally. I've seen some English manga translated from Japanese with entirely different word play, with a translator note at the end explaining the original play)

So, in short:

  1. Accurate
  2. Natural

Which one will be prioritized depends on what is being translated. In your case, natural-ness should be the priority.

  • 1
    Is it wrong that I can't help thinking "All your base are belong to us"? Oct 20, 2017 at 9:44
  • 2
    This approach can detect consistency of the translation, but not the accuracy of it.
    – Alexander
    Oct 20, 2017 at 18:29

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