Charlie Bavington

French to English Freelance Translator - I.T. specialist

Bringing a pragmatic eye to meeting your needs

… But I won’t do that

June 12th, 2012 | Categories: currency conversion, translation issues

Now, I know everyone is entitled to decide what they will and won’t do, professionally as elsewhere, but I was, I admit, somewhat taken aback by some of the comments on a recent poll on a well-known website on the subject of converting currency amounts.

Yep, never let it be said I don’t fearlessly tackle the big issues of the day head on.

The question was phrased in the second person (“do you…?”) and initially the answers were in the “no, I don’t, actually” vein, usually backed up with a brief reason, which was usually fairly sound.

But as it went on, the discussion took an increasingly dogmatic and negative tone, as if the very idea were some kind of heresy.

Now, I’m not well-versed in translation theory, but over the course of my Dip Trans studies back in the previous century, I did pick up the notion that, should there be no specific client instructions to the contrary or an obvious objective in mind that makes it counter-productive to do so, the translated text should aim to give the target language reader the same information (not more and not less) and provoke the same reaction (within reason) as the source text.
(In actual fact, that means that for me personally, that is my guideline 19 times out of 20.)

Hence, in essence, I would (and did, and still do) argue that if the intended reader is likely to have an understanding of (the value of) the figures involved without conversion, don’t bother to convert. If they won’t or might not, then you could ADD (but not usually replace) a rounded conversion in brackets, which for an ephemeral document probably won’t need any further comment, but might require “as at” + the date, or something similar, for a document that might be read many years hence when exchange rates might well have shifted considerably.

In terms of euros and US dollars, it is probably not needed that often – I certainly don’t bother to convert euros into any other currency for any of my current client work, which is mainly business related; I expect the target readers to have a notion of what €10,000 equates to for them if they are outside the eurozone. This evidently applies to many other people too.

But I was surprised that so many contributors to the discussion seemed unable to conceive of any situation where anyone might ever want to even contemplate considering the possibility of currency conversion.

For instance if I was translating a previously domestic-use only document for, say, a UK reader, from say, Columbia or the Ivory Coast (or anywhere that uses a “minor” currency), then I suspect I would consider an added conversion (either checking with client first or notifying afterwards – it’s easily removed if not needed). The Columbians and Ivorians no doubt know how much 10,000 Columbian pesos or CFA francs are worth – how many of us can say the same? If I read that something costs 10,000 quid, I know what that means. I have no idea for most of the world’s currencies whether 10,000 of them would get me a Big Mac (or some other intestine-menacing local equivalent), a dining room table or a family saloon. So why not facilitate understanding, which is, after all, the name of the game?

But while there are clearly situations when any interference at all would be a mistake (contract terms, perhaps), there are others when not doing so would be equally wrong. It seems some members of our soi-disant profession would not think of changing prices into local currency for a local version of an e-commerce website or sales brochure, for instance, since they apparently refuse to countenance entertaining the idea under any circumstances whatsoever.

Each to their own, I suppose, but I find absolute rejection of the idea somewhat curious.

  1. JaneD
    June 14th, 2012 at 19:06
    Quote | #1

    Interesting post, Charlie.

    I had missed the original thread, of which I’m glad as it sounds like it subsided into the usual rather dogmatic “discussion”.

    I would say without doubt that whether you translate the currency (in your example) does depend on the individual document and target audience.

    I recently had an example of this in a document originally written in Swedish and translated into English for a very general audience. My only query to the client was which currency they wanted me to convert into; there’s no point using Swedish Krona for anyone who isn’t in Scandinavia as the numbers are meaninglessly large!

    • Charlie
      June 14th, 2012 at 19:22
      Quote | #2

      Good point – you reminded me that I was recently a bit lost watching “The Bridge” – 6 business people were asked to contribute 10m (I think) krona to save a life, and I remember thinking that was presumably a fair old wedge, but how much in sterling? I wondered whether the subtitles should have somehow reflected the value of 10m krone, even though obviously the dialogue would not.

  2. JaneD
    June 15th, 2012 at 14:54
    Quote | #3

    Yes, it is quite a lot! – just so you know the Swedish krona is one of these “divide by 10 to get euros/GBP” currencies – although having seen bits of The Bridge, I wonder whether they were talking in SEK or DKK at the time. I live near Denmark and have to go shopping there with a little piece of paper to do the conversion, because DKK are some odd number to the euro!

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