Why is it challenging?
First and foremost, translation has become an open business. Almost any bilingual can claim to be a translator, and sometimes it’s hard to prove otherwise because translation is a talent.
Also, it is hard to trust translation agencies on this kind of assessment, because they eventually want to get the job (it’s a business after all). Their opinion can be right, but it comes down to their integrity, and that’s not something you can easily assess.
Finally, For English to Arabic, there’s no clear reference for translation and writing quality, especially when it comes to details.
You'll definitely need professional review to be sure, but there are a few tips that you can do yourself to get an idea about the quality of the translation. Mainly, mechanical errors are a big sign and say a lot about the translator. We summed up some of the most common mistakes that you can easily check yourself:
1. Formatting: Of course, that doesn’t mean font type, size, or color (as long as they are consistent and not extremely odd), but since Arabic is a right-to-left language, the translator should not only flush or align the text right, but should use the “right-to-left” option is his or her text editor.
2. Spacing: Here’s an easy tip: If a translator repeatedly or inconsistently places a space between the conjunction و (=and) and the next word, there’s more possibility that the translation is not experienced and that you should get a review. The same if the translator is using multiple blank lines instead of page breaks, ending lines awkwardly… etc.
3. Punctuation: There’s no full consensus on punctuation rules in Arabic, so there’s no “right and wrong” when it comes to little details. Generally, though, punctuation is close to English, and you can count on that to some degree. One thing you can easily check for is spaces around punctuation marks: If you see a space before commas, periods, or closing parentheses, then there’s an issue in translation quality.
Here’s another punctuation tip that can tell you about the quality of the translator: In case there’s a serial comma in the English text (A, B, …, and Z), a professional translator will not translate it literally. So you should instead find repeated و (=and) between the words with no commas in the target text, normally. A translator who copies the serial comma style is not well accustomed to Arabic writing style.
4. Grammar and spelling: Although this one is hard for a foreigner to evaluate, if the translation is to MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), you can simply check it in a word processor. Normally, there might be a few red lines especially with complex words. But if they are too many, then there’s a problem.
Another grammar tip: Hamza in Arabic (ء) is sometimes placed on/under some alif (ا) letters, so it’s (ا), (أ) or (إ). It's difficult to find out whether it’s placed correctly, but if you don’t find it at all and find a red line under some words that have (ا) in them, then it’s likely that the translator ignored it completely, and that affects text quality and says a lot about the translator.
Bonus tip: Text length. Arabic is a compact language. If you use Times New Roman for both source and target texts at the same font size, then it’s normal to find that the Arabic text is somewhere between or around 55%-75% the size of the source text (using word count or number of lines). It’s not normal if it’s far from that range. A too large Arabic text means the translator is not writing efficiently, translating literally, or maybe adding to the translation. A too short one means that he or she is possibly bypassing some paragraphs or sentences.
Just remember that the range differs by context and can’t be specific.
Obviously, a non-Arabic speaker won’t be able to evaluate the writing and translation quality. However, even if the translation is good, repeated mechanical errors give you the picture that the translator is amateur, careless, or not professional, so you know that you need a professional review.
You can know more about how Echo-Alpha addresses quality assessment here.
Do you have other signs that can help a non-Arabic speaker identify good translation? Share in the comments!