Quality translations are essential for effective communication and are also a sign of respect to our different ethnic communities. It is important for public sector agencies to provide accurate translations in their communication materials such as websites, brochures, signs and banners. These include Chinese, Malay and Tamil translations.
2 At last year’s Committee of Supply debate, I announced that we would form a Review Panel on Government Tamil Translation, headed by Mr Palaniappan, to look at ways to improve Tamil translation in government communications. This was also because we noticed that there were translation mistakes made by various government agencies. During my speech in Parliament, I said:
“We are committed to doing better and getting our translations correct.”
“சரியான மொழிபெயர்ப்பே நமது கடப்பாடு!”
3 The Panel has completed its review in late 2016 and has recommended several useful measures to improve public sector Tamil translation standards.
4 Based on discussions with Tamil language experts and community stakeholders, the Panel observed that many of the Tamil translation errors are due to mistranslations which did not get picked up during the preparation process, as well as incompatible font types used by some of the printers, which result in the original Tamil fonts appearing as gibberish.
5 To address these gaps, the Panel’s recommendations will cover 3 key areas:
Allow me to briefly explain each one.
6 On vetting, we will require all government agencies to adopt a more rigorous process to vet and check their translated materials before these are made public. The vetting can either be done in-house if the agency has sufficient capabilities amongst its staff, or it can be outsourced to an external party. We let each agency decide which option to adopt, as long as they put in place a proper vetting process.
7 This may sound like a simple step to take, but it is an important part of the quality control process. To be frank, many of the past mistakes made could have been avoided if there was a proper vetting process in place. I remember one agency translated “Thank you” into “Thandri” instead of “Nandri”. Mr Pala and other Panel members told me that there is no such word as “Thandri” in Tamil. The mistake was an obvious one which would have been picked up and corrected if the agency had vetted the material beforehand.
8 To help agencies who do not have in-house capabilities to do such vetting for Tamil translations, the Review Panel has provided a list of experienced vendors whom agencies could hire for vetting services. This list will be reviewed and updated regularly. It will complement the Translation Procurement Framework to assist government agencies who need to engage external vendors for their translation and vetting work.
9 Next, addressing the problem of gibberish text. I understand that this problem is caused by software incompatibility at the printing stage, as some printers do not have the right versions of Tamil software which are compatible with the text provided by the agencies. One source of incompatibility comes from the different Operating Systems, Apple versus Microsoft. Most printers use software which are Apple-compatible, while the agencies would usually prepare their text using Microsoft applications.
10 The panel has recommended that government agencies must ensure that the publishing companies they engage have the necessary software to handle the Tamil text correctly during the printing process. This should be included as one of the requirements in their contracts with the printers. To assist the government agencies and publishing companies with this requirement, the NTC and Tamil Resource Panel will organise training sessions to bring them up to speed on this issue and to clarify any questions they may have.
11 Last but not least, it is important for government agencies to enlarge the pool of Tamil-literate officers who could play an effective role in the translation and vetting process. To strengthen these capabilities in the public sector, the Panel suggested forming a Learning Community to promote opportunities for Tamil-literate public officers to learn and share best practices with one another. NTC will organise training workshops, we encourage agencies to send their officers for these workshops to upgrade their language and translation skills. Agencies and their appointed vendors could also refer to the Government Terms Translated Database, which has been made available at www.gov.sg since August 2015. In addition, the Tamil Resource Panel has been working with the Tamil Language Council to publish a glossary of commonly-used Tamil terms this year. This glossary will be a useful reference.
12 While the above recommendations will help to raise Tamil translation standards in the public sector, I think Mr Pala and his Panel members will agree with me that these are not “silver bullets” that can address all translation-related issues overnight. It remains a work in progress. We need to continue to work closely with all government agencies, our language experts and community partners (including the media and schools) to build capabilities and further raise our translation standards in Singapore. Agencies must take ownership to ensure the accuracy of their translations, as this is a key part of getting their communications right.
13 Let me end with a Tamil phrase:
“We will work with government agencies & partners to improve standards in Tamil translations.”
“தமிழ் மொழிபெயர்ப்பின் தரத்தை உயர்த்துவோம்.
அதற்காக, அரசாங்க அமைப்புகளோடும் பங்காளிகளோடும் இணைந்து பணியாற்றுவோம்”
14 Nandri. Thank you.