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Translating from one's native language - feedback needed
Thread poster: Kelly Efird
Kelly Efird
Local time: 23:20
English to Spanish
+ ...
Aug 11, 2014

What happens if you translate from your native language into another language you're fluent in? Is it against the law?

I started learning Spanish when I was about eight years old. I have been translating newspaper articles from English to Spanish, on my own, for a few years now. I do check with natives on how to word certain things, and I make sure to document it so I can have it to use in the future.

Most university Spanish courses that I have taken, give assignments where you select an article in English and translate it into Spanish.

There is more material (written or otherwise) available in English than there is in Spanish, so why can't I translate some of it into Spanish?

Please note that I wouldn't consider translating from English into any other language.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:20
Russian to English
+ ...
You may be functionally bilingual, then. Aug 11, 2014

No, it is not against the law--there are no laws in translation, other then that it should be accurate and in the best style possible. It happens, especially with languages such as English, Spanish, or French, perhaps. (The more commonly used languages)

It is not that common in other languages, which take over twenty years to master, if you can even master them at all, if you start after a certain age. People usually translate into their dominant language, or languages.

[Edited at 2014-08-11 18:09 GMT]


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Mariano Saab
Argentina
Local time: 00:20
Member (2013)
Spanish to English
+ ...
It's legal in my country Aug 11, 2014

In my country (Argentina) we are authorized by law to translate from and into Spanish. We are certified and commissioned to do so. At least in the University where I graduated there was significant training on Spanish into English translation. I actually enjoy inverse translation way more than direct translation. It also helps you a lot to better your command of the foreign language. Most of my work is translation from Spanish into English so I'm happy I had proper training.

If you are in the US, you might want to ask the ATA whether or not it is permitted to translate into a foreign language you are fluent in. I hope it is.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:20
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
My 2 cents Aug 11, 2014

Kelly Efird wrote:
What happens if you translate from your native language into another language you're fluent in? Is it against the law?
No, it isn't.

I started learning Spanish when I was about eight years old. I have been translating newspaper articles from English to Spanish, on my own, for a few years now. I do check with natives on how to word certain things, and I make sure to document it so I can have it to use in the future.
Fair enough. I suppose you pay those native speakers? In whioch case you'll have to charge more.

Most university Spanish courses that I have taken, give assignments where you select an article in English and translate it into Spanish.
Absolutely. I did the same thing when I took my French "A" level at the age of 18. I later moved to France but didn't qualify as a translator FROM French until I'd lived there for 7 years. I would NEVER ask for payment for a translation INTO French, though I write my own correspondence all the time. Training is training; professional life is different.

There is more material (written or otherwise) available in English than there is in Spanish, so why can't I translate some of it into Spanish?
By the same token, there are more than a few Spanish-native translators out there, so why shouldn't you leave it to them to do? How much work do you need to keep you occupied for 8 hours a day?

What it boils down to is the choice the client has, and your position in the market. When a business recruits a full-time translator then they get one person - they have to make the best use of that person's time so s/he will get to translate in both directions. In the freelance market, the very best translator can be engaged for each job: the one that best matches the requirements. In EN>ES the best fit must surely be an ES native speaker. Not just any ES speaker, but the one with the appropriate specialisations, experience and skills.

If you needed to sue a company in the EU, would you go to a lawyer who specialised in divorce, or even one who specialised in suing people in your own state? Or would you go to the one who offered the best fit for your requirements?


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Paulinho Fonseca  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 00:20
Member (2011)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Fair enough Aug 11, 2014

If you have linguistic competence to do it so and it's always wise to ask a native to proofread it.

Some translators charge more than they do in their native language.




[Edited at 2014-08-11 18:36 GMT]


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Gerard de Noord  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 05:20
Member (2003)
German to Dutch
+ ...
Translating into a non-native language Aug 11, 2014

Kelly Efird wrote:

What happens if you translate from your native language into another language you're fluent in?



What happens when you're translating into a non-native language is that you make mistakes you're not even aware of.

That's the scariest part.

And you would be so much slower than someone who has no need to double-check everything before delivering the translation. You'd need to have a rare specialisation to compete with translators who don't have to work like you.

Take it from a "polyglot",
Gerard


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Kevin Fulton  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:20
German to English
Risky business Aug 12, 2014

Kelly Efird wrote:

What happens if you translate from your native language into another language you're fluent in? Is it against the law?
[snip]
I do check with natives on how to word certain things, and I make sure to document it so I can have it to use in the future.



No, it's not against the law (in the US) to translate into a non-native language. Lots of people do it successfully all the time. However, they generally live in the country where the target language is spoken, and translate documents for which they have demonstrable expertise.

I've been speaking and reading German for almost half a century. I've studied and lived in German-speaking countries for extended periods at various times in my life, and although native speakers consider me fluent, I wouldn't attempt much more than translations of simple business correspondence into German.

Checking with native speakers regarding wording of individual phrases isn't really a means to produce an adequate translation. Ideally you should have your entire document checked by an experienced translator into the target language, not your gardener or the lady who runs the local bodega, however kind and intelligent they may be. Translation is about much more than words. Technical and idiomatic accuracy, register and suitability for purpose are also important elements of a good translation.

Even poor translators can eke out a living on one-off translations, so it may not matter how good you are. Good translators, however, develop a customer base with recurring projects.

If you're as good as you think you are, I suggest joining the American Translators Association and taking one of their certification practice tests.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 11:20
Chinese to English
It's a convention that we translate into the language we know best Aug 12, 2014

There are exceptions, but it's a common rule to translate into your native language, even though most of us are capable of translating the other way as well.

Here are some comments I wrote about the subject a few years ago:

I think I can write a "perfect" translation into Chinese - i.e. a translation with no language errors which accurately reflects the meaning of the original. I've put perfect in scare quotes there because, of course, no translation is ever perfect. I'm using it here to mean "has no problems which can be unequivocally defined as errors".

Problems: I can't necessarily control perfectly for tone and register in the way that a native can; I can't innovate in Chinese in the way that a native can. It takes me much longer to achieve quality Chinese output than it does a Chinese native. And I cannot act as my own quality control in Chinese, in the way that I can in English. As such, my Chinese is always a subset of Chinese: that part of Chinese that I've learned and can check.


http://www.proz.com/forum/prozcom_suggestions/227485-should_“native_language”_claims_be_verified-page157.html


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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 05:20
Danish to English
+ ...
I do that most of the time Aug 12, 2014

If you believe you are competent to do so, then it's a free market. Of course, you will need to prove to your clients that you are as competent as you believe you are. If the translations you deliver are not acceptable to your clients, you will soon find out, either by angry responses from your clients or by the fact that the clients don't get back to you with more work.

I agree with Sheila that there must be loads of ES to EN translators, so the competition will be fierce, and then it would be advisable to do what you are best at, whatever that is.

For minority languages, like my own native tongue (Danish), the situation is slightly different: English is taught at school in Denmark from a very young age (from year 1 as of yesterday), whereas I am not aware of anywhere in the world (apart from the Faroe Islands and Greenland) where Danish is taught at all, except as some kind of novelty language. There are bound to be many more native Danes who have studied English for many years, have grown up hearing English (on TV), and gained a lot of experience in working in English than there are native English speakers who have a deep understanding of Danish.

Some native English speakers will, no doubt, be able to produce better English than I can, but I would question whether the majority of Dansih into English translators will ever gain the same 'instinctive' understanding of Danish that I have, which I believe to be the foundation for being able to translate out of my native language.


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Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Extensive proofreading will be needed Aug 12, 2014

If you translate into your second language, the client will have to have your entire translation proofread, always. It is expensive. So, If ain’t broken, why fix it? If there are zillions of ES > EN translators, why intrude in something they do the best?

If you translate into your native language / dominant language, most of the time no proofreading will be required (always wise to have one, but it is really the scale of it that makes difference).

The ultimate test is literature. I can read literary works in English, but I am getting about 80% of them. If I try to “produce” literature in English, it will be ridiculous (unpleasant to read, at best). If I write in Spanish, I will not win Noble Prize, sure, but it will be decent and, depending on the moment of “inspiration”, even attractive to read.

It is not just vocabulary and grammar (let’s not forget, language came first, grammar followed), it is the whole array of idiomatic expressions used in proper register and context. You need constant and intense (quality?) exposure to the language from fairly early age. I repeat: “constant”, “intense” and “quality”. If you played with kids using your second language, you will have excellent native accent. That does not mean you can write an article in that language on da capo aria structure in the Baroque opera repertoire or debate with the music director of the Royal Opera House about mezzo soprano's voice fach.

Now, if you are lawyer or engineer or medical doctor, you can translate either way. Most of the subject matter experts, who are also translators, do. Why? Because there is little, if any, “real life” language involved. The more technical the text, the less relevant the “nativeness” (I just made up the word in English) of the translator, and the more relevant the subject matter expertise.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 23:20
Russian to English
+ ...
Are you serious. Did you seriously think Aug 12, 2014

Mariano Saab wrote:

In my country (Argentina) we are authorized by law to translate from and into Spanish. We are certified and commissioned to do so. At least in the University where I graduated there was significant training on Spanish into English translation. I actually enjoy inverse translation way more than direct translation. It also helps you a lot to better your command of the foreign language. Most of my work is translation from Spanish into English so I'm happy I had proper training.

If you are in the US, you might want to ask the ATA whether or not it is permitted to translate into a foreign language you are fluent in. I hope it is.

that he asked whether this was allowed by the law? Really funny. I think it would have been most likely allowed even in the counties under totalitarian governments. Mao might have not allowed (he even burnt most of the better books), but I doubt even that, unless he banned translation altogether.

The poster was asking is this is a standard practice.

As to ATA--that it has American in its name, does not mean that they are any governmental authority on translation--they are just a private association like hundreds of others. They would have to close down, if they were trying to tell people into which language to translate, and into which not to. it might actually be illegal to talk about any "native languages" in reference to anything else than cultural research--in the US, especially anything work-related.

It is true, however, that you should translate into your best or dominant language, or languages only (in the case of bilingual or multilingual people).

[Edited at 2014-08-12 09:37 GMT]


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Sarah Lewis-Morgan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:20
Member (2014)
German to English
I'd recommend only translating into your mother tongue Aug 12, 2014

A couple of years ago, after I was persuaded to do so, I translated a set of machine manuals into German. I had every word checked over by a native speaker and I wouldn't have done it had I not had that help. Sometimes I translate things into German for friends, but in general I am only comfortable sticking to translating into English. I reckon I can get away with it if the text is not creative (ie a manual) but with anything else it sticks out a mile if the translator is not a native speaker. I have read translated books I want to hurl across the room because the oddities of the language tell me instantly that the translator was not a native English speaker. I have also seen complaints from non-native speakers of English that they can't get work translating into English although their English is perfect. The problem there is that a real native speaker knows it is far from perfect; only a native speaker is truly qualified to judge, no matter how highly educated the would-be translator is. I accept that there are some exceptions, such as the issue with languages like Danish, and Gitta Hovedskov's post proves that English is obviously taught to a very high standard in her country. But if I wanted a professional job done I would always ask a translator to translate into their own language, so why should I think I could do it the other way round?

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564354352  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 05:20
Danish to English
+ ...
Those little details Aug 12, 2014

Sarah Lewis-Morgan wrote:

I accept that there are some exceptions, such as the issue with languages like Danish, and Gitta Hovedskov's post...


You would only very rarely find a Danish person who would miswrite my first name, as Gitte is a very common name in Denmark, whereas Gitta is quite rare. ... It doesn't matter to me, I have old English friends who insist on spelling my name Gitta and I have given up correcting them. - My point is that it is essential, when translating, that you are instinctively aware of those little details, the little variations in the source language that you need to render correctly into the target language. And native speakers of the source language will often be better qualified for that...

As I have said before, native English speakers can, in many cases, produce better English texts than I can, but are they sure they get all the details from their Danish source texts right?


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Sarah Lewis-Morgan  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 05:20
Member (2014)
German to English
Very sorry Aug 12, 2014

Gitte Hovedskov, MCIL wrote:

Sarah Lewis-Morgan wrote:

I accept that there are some exceptions, such as the issue with languages like Danish, and Gitta Hovedskov's post...


You would only very rarely find a Danish person who would miswrite my first name, as Gitte is a very common name in Denmark, whereas Gitta is quite rare. ... It doesn't matter to me, I have old English friends who insist on spelling my name Gitta and I have given up correcting them.


My sincere apologies. In my defence, I am typing with one broken hand and one badly bruised one and it's lucky I was even close - I do use my voice recognition s/w when translating, but I just use a couple of fingers when it's not much text.


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Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 12:20
Japanese to English
+ ...
Wow Aug 12, 2014

Sarah Lewis-Morgan wrote:

Gitte Hovedskov, MCIL wrote:

Sarah Lewis-Morgan wrote:

I accept that there are some exceptions, such as the issue with languages like Danish, and Gitta Hovedskov's post...


You would only very rarely find a Danish person who would miswrite my first name, as Gitte is a very common name in Denmark, whereas Gitta is quite rare. ... It doesn't matter to me, I have old English friends who insist on spelling my name Gitta and I have given up correcting them.


My sincere apologies. In my defence, I am typing with one broken hand and one badly bruised one and it's lucky I was even close - I do use my voice recognition s/w when translating, but I just use a couple of fingers when it's not much text.


That may be the best excuse for a typo I've ever heard...and I've heard a lot of them.

Hope you recover, that sounds painful.


As for this topic, my view is simple: if a native speaker cannot tell that you are a non-native after reading your translations, then you have the green light to translate into that language. This is a higher standard than most people understand, but not unattainable; there are several people who post regularly here on ProZ who meet this criterion.

The funniest thing is that the majority of people who demonstrate high proficiency in non-native English writing here on the forums do not actually have English listed as a language they translate into. Food for thought.

[Edited at 2014-08-12 11:16 GMT]


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