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Translation exams - without a dictionary?!
Thread poster: Robert Parry

Robert Parry
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
Apr 6, 2016

I've been invited to sit a translation exam for a job at a small international organisation.

No problem since I have quite a lot of experience. BUT it's one of those where we're not allowed to use dictionaries.

Now, I've tried the UN exams a million times and have never passed it - I personally think it's because I'm not really very good at guessing the meaning of a word from the context.

Does anyone have any bright suggestions as to how to prepare for this exam? Other than doing lots and lots and lots of practice of translating things without a dictionary?

I am fairly experienced but I really do have a bit of a stumbling block when it comes to translating without a dictionary, I wouldn't say I go to pieces but I'm not that great at guessing - I guess correctly usually about 50% of the time and the rest of the time I get it wrong and therefore fail the examicon_frown.gif


 

Michael Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
those tests don't test real-world abilities Apr 7, 2016

hs9jlp wrote:

I've been invited to sit a translation exam for a job at a small international organisation.

No problem since I have quite a lot of experience. BUT it's one of those where we're not allowed to use dictionaries.

Now, I've tried the UN exams a million times and have never passed it - I personally think it's because I'm not really very good at guessing the meaning of a word from the context.

Does anyone have any bright suggestions as to how to prepare for this exam? Other than doing lots and lots and lots of practice of translating things without a dictionary?

I am fairly experienced but I really do have a bit of a stumbling block when it comes to translating without a dictionary, I wouldn't say I go to pieces but I'm not that great at guessing - I guess correctly usually about 50% of the time and the rest of the time I get it wrong and therefore fail the examicon_frown.gif


I think any exam where you are not allowed to work under your normal conditions is not really much of a test of your actual abilities.

I use a CAT tool, with multiple termbases, translation memories, non-translatables lists, auto-translation rules; I use a large variety of online paid dictionaries, a wealth of free terminology websites, a concordancing program, various specialised corpora, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, tlTerm (a terminology program, which contains my own dictionary that I have been compiling for over 10 years), etc. etc. etc. In short, I am basically The Bionic Translator ;-)

So of course I will fail any of those silly exams.

[Edited at 2016-04-07 13:00 GMT]


 

philgoddard
United States
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
I agree, it's silly. Apr 7, 2016

It's like not being allowed to use a calculator, or handwriting your answers - an artificial restriction harking back to pre-technology days.

When you say it's a small organisation, is it small enough to persuade them to let you use a dictionary? (The last time I owned a paper dictionary was about ten years ago, but there we go.)


 

Robert Parry
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Frustrated.... Apr 7, 2016

mmmmm I might try and persuade them to let me do it with a dictionary, but unfortunately I know that they are invite others and in my experience by the time they announce the exam/test/selection procedure they have already made up their minds whether or not it's with dictionary or not.

My problem is these this is that I am monumentally SHIT (pardon my French) at exams without a dictionary - I've "had a go" at the UN's exam probably about 4 or 5 times since +/- 2003 and clearly have failed each and every time. Really makes me wonder whether I'm cut out. Have sat exams with similar bodies - Council of Europe, FCO (when they still had an in-house translation department), also that place in Cheltenham we're not meant to name - every single time it's without a dictionary, I fail it. If it's with a dictionary, I get through at least the first round.

I just wish I was one of those people who was good at guessing the mention of random f*cking words that they fling in the tests "just because they can". But I'm not. To be honest with those particular body I'm almost in half a mind not to even show up for the test because I feel it's going to be a monumental waste of time....

Sorry for the ranticon_wink.gif


P.S. And yes, the exam is also to be done by handicon_wink.gif


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:28
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You have your solution, IMO Apr 7, 2016

hs9jlp wrote:
To be honest with those particular body I'm almost in half a mind not to even show up for the test because I feel it's going to be a monumental waste of time

Only in "almost in half a mind"? Surely that must be the perfect solution, mustn't it? Why continue to frustrate yourself and waste your time and energy when you're so sure of failure? That sounds totally daft to me.


 

neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 05:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Could be fun Apr 7, 2016

I'd probably have a bash at it just for a laugh if I wasn't gainfully employed. It does seem rather ridiculous though, as I doubt that they will prevent you using dictionaries or any other currently commonplace resources when it comes to actually working for them.

 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Serbian to English
+ ...
forget it Apr 7, 2016

this organisation is run by people who haven't got the first clue about how decent translating should be done;
those "translators" who consider that's beneath them to ever check anything are not those you want to be lumped with, and you can't expect anything good from an organisation who thinks that it's how translating should be done; apart from doing this test out of pure curiosity, it's a waste of time.
Reminds me of one agency that was looking for translators into "Swiss language" (I'm not joking)!

All the aids of the world (dictionaries, glossaries, database of previous translations..) won't help you much if you don't understand the ST and if, in the second step, don't know how to look for helpful information - giving a time-limit might be a good selection criteria, but not allowing any aids is pointless and counter-productive if their goal is to evaluate your real capacities.



[Edited at 2016-04-07 21:55 GMT]


 

DMITRY ARSENTEV
Russian Federation
Local time: 06:28
Spanish to Russian
+ ...
Why don't you learn words? Apr 7, 2016

Since 2003 you could have learnt all OED doing just 20 new words every day...

 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Looking at it the other way Apr 8, 2016

I wouldn't want to employ someone who is reliant on dictionaries because that'll make them really slow and time is money!

 

Inga Petkelyte  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 04:28
Lithuanian to Portuguese
+ ...
Funny Apr 8, 2016

Chris S wrote:

I wouldn't want to employ someone who is reliant on dictionaries because that'll make them really slow and time is money!


in another thread out here, it was mentioned that the largest purchaser os translation services in Europe decides your quality on the resources used: the more - the better! (:D)


 

Romina Navarro
Argentina
Local time: 00:28
English to Spanish
We are not walking dictionaries Apr 8, 2016

We are supposed to know a good part of the terminology (especially within your field of expertise) but not all of it. And there are moments in which we're simply blocked. We're humans!
Using online tools and dictionaries is not a waste of time, it is part of the research and part of our activity. The important thing is the final result; the way you manage your time is YOUR business.
This company's request is absurd and I would not take them seriously.


 

Robert Parry
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Member (2017)
French to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Pffff Apr 8, 2016

Well I'm obviously not disputing what you're all saying but in my experience a lot of the big civil service employers still recruit via exams without dictionary - the UN is the one I'm most familiar with but seemingly others do as well. I suppose ultimately in house jobs being very rare, they know they can organise an exam how they see fit and if people don't like it, tough.....

[Edited at 2016-04-08 17:19 GMT]


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 12:28
Japanese to English
+ ...
One point of view Apr 9, 2016

"I do not carry such information in my mind since it is readily available in books...The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think."

--Albert Einstein, when asked what the speed of sound was


As a native speaker of English for going on 35 years now, I still look up words in an English dictionary almost daily. Any writer who doesn't has likely been misusing terms for some time.

I find it hard to believe that any translator would forgo the use of a dictionary in a real-world situation. And that's really the only type of situation a professional should be concerned with.


 

Daryo
United Kingdom
Local time: 04:28
Serbian to English
+ ...
"I am not rich enough to buy cheaply" Apr 16, 2016

Chris S wrote:

I wouldn't want to employ someone who is reliant on dictionaries because that'll make them really slow and time is money!


I wouldn't want to have to even read translations made by people who never look in a dictionary, (or nowadays never bother checking anything on the Web), let alone to have to check their translations (been there, got the T-shirt)

BTW, à propos "that'll make them really slow and time is money!": anyone who needs important texts translated should be aware of the old saying: "I am not rich enough to buy cheaply" (Speedy Gonzales translations, in this case)

Agree totally with the A. Einstein quote!


 

Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 11:28
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Dictionaries Apr 17, 2016

If the text is non-technical or in field that I'm familiar with, I don't need a dictionary, which is different from saying that I don't use one. I do in fact switch frequently to an online dictionary or Wikipedia even when translating something that I'm reasonably sure about; it's not so much a necessity as a peace of mind and quality thing.

About 80% of the time, the choice I make after consulting a dictionary is the same one that I would have made without the dictionary. In the remaining 20% of cases I do find something that conveys the meaning of the source better, or simply sounds better without compromising accuracy, but rarely if ever would I be outright wrong without the aid of the dictionary unless it's a specialized term. Really, the way that I use a dictionary in translation is pretty much the same as how I use in when writing monolingual - making sure that the big word I'm thinking of using actually means what I think it means, and making sure that I do in fact know how to spell it correctly.

All that is to mean that I'm not saying it is a good idea - after all, we all know how our vocabularies are reduced to a shadow of their former selves when translating - but I won't particularly bat any eyelids at a translation exam without a dictionary. There are many difficult exams that bar the use of any reference materials.

I would also express that, if one tends to guess wrong the meaning of a word without a dictionary, one would also tend to guess wrong with a dictionary. Unless there is something especially problematic with the source text, guessing should never be part of translation, ever.

[Edited at 2016-04-17 05:01 GMT]


 
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