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How skilled do you think translators are?
Thread poster: Wendy Cummings

Wendy Cummings  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Member (2006)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jun 20, 2005

Hello to all. As part of some research I am doing (some of you may already have seen my various other posts ;o) ), I wondered what your reaction is to this:

"To do his job, the translator must have a native or near native level of proficiency in both the original language and the target language, the ability to understand all that a text says, and all that it implies, excellent writing and editing skills in a number of styles, excellent knowledge of the source and target cultures, knowledge of the original author and the target audience for the translation, as well as excellent research, investigative and business skills"
( Epstein www.translationdirectory.com/article321.htm )

Could I ask 2 questions:

1) Do you think you have those skills?
2) Do you think that is true of the average translator (full time, who has had some degree of success)?

Many thanks
Wendy

[Edited at 2005-06-20 17:01]


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Jalapeno
Local time: 00:46
English to German
Just an initial thought... Jun 20, 2005

... too get the ball rolling.

Business skills are obviously not vital to the process of translation, they only come into play when you're a freelance translator.

Other than that, I more or less agree with the statement, although I would not put everything quite that extreme. For example. knowledge of the original author will only be important in literary texts, not in specialised translations.


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Hilary Davies Shelby
United States
Local time: 17:46
German to English
Sadly not that many have these (necessary) skills Jun 20, 2005

1. Yes - and if I didn't think I was capable of doing all that for a particular text, or if I didn't have all that information about a particular text, I wouldn't take it on.

2. Sadly, I believe that translators with all these skills are the exception rather than the rule. I see many people posting on these boards who should not, in my opinion, be calling themselves "translators". Very often I see people posting who have some knowledge of another language and think that that makes them a translator. Unfortunately, some of these people are quite successful in conning people who have no way of checking their language skills into believing that as well.

Does that sound disillusioned? I recently checked five test translations for an agency I regularly work for. Not one of the five "professional translators" who submitted completed tests had bothered to spell-check their work...


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:46
Spanish to English
+ ...
answers Jun 20, 2005

"To do his job, the translator must have:

A) a native or near native level of proficiency in both the original language and the target language, B) the ability to understand all that a text says, and all that it implies, C) excellent writing and editing skills in a number of styles, D) excellent knowledge of the source and target cultures, E) knowledge of the original author and the target audience for the translation, as well as F) excellent research, investigative and business skills"
( Epstein www.translationdirectory.com/article321.htm )

Could I ask 2 questions:

1) Do you think you have those skills?
2) Do you think that is true of the average translator (full time, who has had some degree of success)?

In answer to Q1: for A) and B) and D), definitely yes, as a native of one language (with access to it though the WWW (radio, news, etc) and to other media (film, books, etc)) and many years living in the other language culture; F), yes too (I am exhaustive and don't give up until I get an answer; C) that's more difficult, as one of the most difficult things is assessing to what degree one might be influenced by the source culture. In regard to point E) above, this kind of information is rarely provided to translators, although usually one knows from the text type what the target audience probably is.

In answer to Q2: only years of experience will bring most translators to the level you describe, others will end up being culled out/find alternative employment if they find they are not very successful (in theory), or simply just live off the low-end of the market (second/third-rate translations for rock bottom rates).

[/quote]Hilary Davies wrote:

... I believe that translators with all these skills are the exception rather than the rule. I see many people posting on these boards who should not, in my opinion, be calling themselves "translators"......I recently checked five test translations for an agency I regularly work for. Not one of the five "professional translators" who submitted completed tests had bothered to spell-check their work ...[/quote]

I agree with Hilary, I edit a lot of translations ES-EN and I have rarely come across one that meets my standard (for example, I DO spellcheck, many don't bother; I DO investigate and if I am doubtful about something I contact the client, many translators don't bother either researching or commenting ambiguities/problems; I DON'T invent words and terms, some translators do; I print and read my English, the evidence is that many translators don't.....)


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Elvira Stoianov  Identity Verified
Luxembourg
Local time: 00:46
German to Romanian
+ ...
:( Jun 20, 2005

Hilary Davies wrote:

Does that sound disillusioned? I recently checked five test translations for an agency I regularly work for. Not one of the five "professional translators" who submitted completed tests had bothered to spell-check their work...


I thought this only applied to my language pair, which is not so common, but I also wonder about the quality of test translations I am being submitted, where it is obvious people don't master neither the source language (resulting in gross mistakes), nor the target language (sadly, with incredibly poor translations).


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Parrot  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 00:46
Member (2002)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Comments Jun 20, 2005

Wendy Leech wrote:

"To do his job, the translator must have a native or near native level of proficiency in both the original language and the target language, the ability to understand all that a text says, and all that it implies, excellent writing and editing skills in a number of styles, excellent knowledge of the source and target cultures, knowledge of the original author and the target audience for the translation, as well as excellent research, investigative and business skills"
( Epstein www.translationdirectory.com/article321.htm )


Different people will understand this differently. For example:

1) Do you think you have those skills?


The longer I am in the business, the more I see I didn't have them when I thought I did, the more I probably come closer to having them, and the more I doubt that I'm succeeding. You see, this is a business where the only way to go is up (or out).

Seriously speaking, this is quite relative. Other people talk about A, B and C language levels, or native/maternal, active and passive. Native/maternal is not an easily mutable category (any changes must have taken place at a very early age), but active (B) and passive (C) languages are dynamic and interchangeable, depend on external factors, and can "compete" with each other for the upper hand, displacing (changing places with) each other at times. In some cases, the regression of one language may be involved, while in others, the improvement of one to the comparative detriment of the other simply occurs.

In the case of persons who only work into their mother language, an A - C relationship can be satisfactory and has been known to yield exemplary results (C or passive being taken as reading competence that does not necessarily extend to writing and speaking).

2) Do you think that is true of the average translator (full time, who has had some degree of success)?


I'd look at "some degree of success" as qualifying (in the sense that a translator's income tax declarations can vouch for his years/volume of experience, as EU competitions admit), but would tend to regard this as a dynamic process. I.e., the "average translator", full time with some degree of success, is highly variable. Success, as well, may be defined in terms of the output per se, or simply business.

Hope it helps.

[Edited at 2005-06-20 23:25]


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Tsu Dho Nimh
Local time: 16:46
English
I've seldom seen one THAT good Jun 21, 2005

That's the ideal, but it's rare.

If I had to compromise, I'd take a translator with better target language skills, and use a good source-language editor to make sure the source was as good as possible.


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Charlie Bavington  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:46
French to English
Common sense and suchlike matters Jun 21, 2005

Wendy Leech wrote:

the ability to understand all that a text says,

Could I ask 2 questions:

1) Do you think you have those skills?
2) Do you think that is true of the average translator (full time, who has had some degree of success)?

Many thanks
Wendy

[Edited at 2005-06-20 17:01]


I would re-phrase the snippet I've left - personally, I don't always understand everything I read in English, so I don't feel it is mandatory to understand the French (in my case) the first time around. If the above applied to all translators all the time, there would be no need for sites such as this one. I would say "the ability to understand the majority of what a text says, and the willingness to accept that one's understanding is never going to be 100%, 100% of the time, and the humility to find out when in doubt" - something like that.

I'm also not sure that the "skills list" as given is complete. You also need, IMHO, some kind of sense of what's important in a text and what's not and hence, when it comes to time management and deadlines, which parts of a text deserve more attention and research than others. And I have an increasing feeling that the better translators are undoubtedly those with some level of actual practical experience of working for a living in their specialist fields, rather than those who treat the whole thing as some kind of linguistic academic exercise.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:46
German to English
+ ...
Sadly not that many have these (necessary) skills Jun 21, 2005

I agree with Hilary: competent translators are very much the exception.

Marc


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 23:46
Flemish to English
+ ...
Let him who is without sin cast the first stone Jun 21, 2005

Who is perfect? Who can guarantee that (s)he will never make a mistake in translation in his/her entire life.
Look how professional "I" am and look how unprofessional person X,Y,Z is a tone which comes back time and again in some postings.
I have been reading that (undertone) ever since translator venues appeared on the web.
However, Proz.com was conceived as a venue for translators, interpreters and their clients to discuss professional issues in a peaceful and thus professional manner.(See: Misson Statement and About>Words of Peace).
That said, "armed with dictionaries we, linguists, attack specialised texts".
Which is why years ago an agency asked to supply the data of the engineer, who helped me translate a construction specification. I translated the text, he corrected terminology and gave advise on which terms (taken from glossaries) were correct and which were wrong.
Instead of being a product of "I",the super translator, medical, technical and other specialised types of translation should be teamwork.
Indeed, the standards which Wendy refers to can only be attained by practise.


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xxxMarc P  Identity Verified
Local time: 00:46
German to English
+ ...
How skilled do you think translators are? Jun 21, 2005

Williamson wrote:

Who is perfect? Who can guarantee that (s)he will never make a mistake in translation in his/her entire life.


The indisputable fact that we all make mistakes is a poor reason not to promote excellence.

Marc


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Orla Ryan  Identity Verified
Ireland
Local time: 23:46
Personal record Jun 21, 2005

Let your track record speak for itself.

The way I see it, if you're good, you will always be busy. Point #2: a happy customer is a repeat customer.

I know that I am a much better translator now than I was a year ago. Next year, I should be even further along that learning curve. We never stop learning in this job. You can't beat good practical experience.

There is more to translation than owning a couple of dictionaries.

Orla


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Pablo Roufogalis
Colombia
Local time: 17:46
English to Spanish
Skills Jun 21, 2005

I believe that many excelent translators have a profound lack of business skills. In some cases even a strong disregard for them.

I also believe that in many if not most cases the translator care more about the quality of the work than the end customer.

Leaving aside mistakes, which everyone makes specially when tired, most translators can do an excellent job when dealing with their expertise areas. But many are forced to take whatever is available and most often mediocre works comes out of that.

To be a good translator you need training, experience and an inquisitive, perfectionistic mind, one that prompts you to search and think until you are satisfied with having the right meaning and the right words.

But for sanity's sake, you also need to be humble. ALL translations are perfectible.

Ample time and good rates are the best environment for almost-perfect translations.


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Hilary Davies Shelby
United States
Local time: 17:46
German to English
Know your limits Jun 21, 2005

MarcPrior wrote:

Williamson wrote:

Who is perfect? Who can guarantee that (s)he will never make a mistake in translation in his/her entire life.


The indisputable fact that we all make mistakes is a poor reason not to promote excellence.

Marc


I think the point is not so much "look how great I am, I never make mistakes" - neither I nor anyone else would ever post anything on KudoZ if we thought we knew it all! I think it's quite the reverse - a good translator is one who knows his or her own limitations, who doesn't overestimate his or her skills and capabilities, and who is not afraid to ask for as much help or detail as he or she needs to do the job well. Something I have definitely learned the hard way is the ability to say "actually, I think someone else could probably do that job better than I could."


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Rosa Garcia
Local time: 08:46
English to Spanish
Hello to everyone! Jun 25, 2005

HI Marc

My name is Rosa and I'am a complete beginner in this exciting world of translation. I have no professional experience at all however is my lifetime dream to become a professional translator someday.

I have read all your quotes regarding this matter, and agree with Marc and Hilary. I really believe that to be an excellent translator you need to have a deep knowledge of both languages cultures and not just the language skills. Translating is much more than just converting a text from one language into another.

I am a native Spanish language speaker (from Spain). I have lived in London (Uk) for 4 years and I am currently residing in Australia. I would love some advice from any of you, who have years of experience, as I have no idea about how to start or what basic skills do I need. Thank you all so much for your help, and have a great day!

Rosa


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