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Off topic: Bilingual, or Just Confused?
Thread poster: Moofi

Moofi  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Polish to English
+ ...
Feb 28, 2012

Hi all. I wasn't sure where to put this, so I reckon this is the safest place for it. I'm wondering how common are truly bilingual translators - those people who were born to parents of two nationalities and raised to speak both languages fully and completely, and *then* went on to become language professionals.

Why am I asking? Because I think I'm going mad. Over the years, I've often seen ads on proz.com that say something like this: "Polish to English text, 5,000 words, general subject. Only native speakers of the target language may apply." (For the record, I'm a native English speaker who works in Polish and other Slavic languages as a proofreader).

Why am I going mad? Because it seems contrary to me, that an agency would want to hire someone to translate an ST *not* in their mother tongue, in some sort of misguided effort to ensure TT accuracy. Do you see what I mean? I'm not sure if I've explained this clearly even to myself!

It's quite frustrating to click through the email, check the requirements, read through the whole ad and then get to a bombshell that may as well bluntly say - 'Must be English native who has learned Polish well enough to translate from it'. Well, maybe this could work in some languages more easily than in others, but certainly, anyone passingly familiar with Polish, Russian, Hungarian or Czech etc, would tell you it's a pretty tall order! I've been learning Polish for 11 years, and I would never dream of trying to *translate* from it!

So, am I mad, confused, unaware, or what? Are there thousands of bilingual translators out there answering these ads? Or are, as I suspect, the translating agencies mad (or madder than usual anywayicon_wink.gif?


 

Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 23:32
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
Tongue firmly in cheek? Feb 28, 2012

I thought your post was absolutely brilliant and hilarious. Then I realized you may not be joking.

Just in case my suspicion is correct, let me assure you: The practice you are referring to, i.e. hiring only native speakers of the TARGET language to translate, is quite standard. In some situations outsourcers prefer (or are forced) to hire native speakers of the SOURCE language, when they feel that a combination of a source-language translator and target-language editor/proofreader will be more effective (or cost-effective) in ensuring a high-quality translation.

I'm still left wondering if you were joking though!


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:32
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
My two cents Feb 28, 2012

Moofi wrote:
Because it seems contrary to me, that an agency would want to hire someone to translate an ST *not* in their mother tongue, in some sort of misguided effort to ensure TT accuracy.

Clearly, a translator should only translate into his/her mother tongue to ensure TT quality. Yo do not necessarily have to master a source language at a native level to be able to translate from it with a good quality. A very comprehensive knowledge of the source language and associated cultures is a must, but a native level is a very different thing.

Attention please! When I say native, I mean a person who was raised in that language and in a country where the language is spoken everywhere. Being born in a bilingual home does not guarantee you are bilingual, and in my opinion you are native only in the language of the country where you were raised.

Much too often, people (especially translators) are obsessed with claiming that they are bilingual or trilingual. To me, true bilinguism --which I would define as a situation in which your dreams while asleep regularly happen in two or more languages, or that you unadvertedly do your mental calculations in two or more languages-- is very rare indeed.

(BTW: Am I addressing the matter that concerns you or not?)


 

Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 20:32
Hebrew to English
Can't be serious? Feb 28, 2012

I've been learning Polish for 11 years, and I would never dream of trying to *translate* from it!


...but you'd translate into it? I'm finding it hard to reconcile that sentence.

It should also be noted that even true bilingualism does not a good translator make.

It's entirely feasible that someone who learned Polish as a second language could make a better translator than someone whose parents were Polish and English.

And to reiterate what has already been said, translation by native speakers of the target language is standard and generally accepted (though not universally) as preferred practice....with good reason....native speakers of the source language are rarely able to produce written output of the target language with the same ease or to the same standard as a native speaker of the target language.

(You can argue about those native speakers who can barely write their own language, but these aren't the people who tend to go into translation....)





[Edited at 2012-02-28 09:03 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 04:32
Chinese to English
I think you're confused... Feb 28, 2012

If you can't speak Polish well enough to translate out of it, how on earth could you work as a proofreader in the language? A proofreader has to have a detailed and exhaustive knowledge of the language, as well as an appreciation for its rhythms and idiosyncrasies. Do you mean "translation checker"? Even if you do, this still makes no sense. If you don't know Polish well enough to translate it into English, how can you tell whether a Polish text means exactly what the English says?

As Mikhail and Tomas say, the translation norm is that you translate into your native language. And yes, you have to learn your source language properly. Yes, it's hard. To be a good translator, you have to know your source language, in some ways, better than a native speaker - because you have to recognise a large range of different registers, genres, styles and technical vocabulary that most native speakers never think about.

My understanding of what it is to be a translator is that you have to be a professional reader and a professional writer. And what does professional mean? My go teacher asked a professional go player what the difference was between a professional and an amateur. He said, the difference is, a professional will always beat an amateur. As a professional reader, you can't guarantee that you will always understand a text perfectly. But you always understand it better than an amateur.


 

Sigrid Andersen  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Member (2011)
Danish to German
+ ...
Native speaker or not? Hard to tell... Feb 28, 2012

I think really totally billingual native-speakers are very rare. For example I am raised German-speaking, so I am native German. I have also lived in Denmark for almost 10 years, studied there, worked in very technical environments, with technical customer support and translations, i do dream and think in both German and Danish, but i would never consider myself as native Danish. However i feel I have such a big knowledge within the language (especially technics) that i do offer my services to translate INTO Danish sometimes, BUT...this only because I am working together with a native Danish proofreader, I ve been working together with for years. I would never offer to translate into Danish without a native proofreading check.

 

Tony M
France
Local time: 21:32
Member
French to English
+ ...
Native in target language is a MUST Feb 28, 2012

I am constantly being asked to proof-read (and if possible correct!) texts translated by supposedly 'professional translators' working into a target language in which they are not native speakers — and I have NEVER, in 16 years, found a single one who did not betray themselves in the first paragraph.

I have a pretty good command of my main working source language FR, but would never consider translating into it, other than for non-professional purposes. But I know that my level of comprehension is adequate for me to do my job, and living in France as I do, I am of course surrounded by native speakers and/or subject experts who can always help me with any problems of comprehension I might have.

A little while back, I was asked to assess some test translations by around 20 translators from [a European language] into EN; all claimed to be native EN speakers, yet 9 of the 20 clearly were not — as readily noticed within even this short test translation. I should say that I do not myself have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the source language, but even that was enough to spot the mistakes made by all parties, and also to see where the non-ENSs had stuck too closely to their own (source) language.


 

Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 22:32
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
Dreaming Feb 28, 2012

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Much too often, people (especially translators) are obsessed with claiming that they are bilingual or trilingual. To me, true bilinguism --which I would define as a situation in which your dreams while asleep regularly happen in two or more languages, or that you unadvertedly do your mental calculations in two or more languages-- is very rare indeed.



I dream mostly in Finnish, though I was raised in Germany and came to Finland age 27. But dreaming in a foreign language does not make you bilingual, dreaming means re-shuffling impressions from the last day. I also think in Finnish most of the time. Only for arithmetic calculations do I have to use German.

I would say normally two years of language studies within the country where the language is spoken, and using this language all the time will enable any translator to translate out of this language into his/her native language, of course only if the subject is familiar. If you have spend 11 years learning Polish and yet think yourself not fit in it you must have been speaking English all the time. I have heard of English speaking people living in Finland for decades and still not understanding Finnish.


 

Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:32
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Mental calculation Feb 28, 2012

Heinrich Pesch wrote:
Only for arithmetic calculations do I have to use German.

After 50 years in Spain... my mother still calculates in German. So I reckon that mental calculation in another language is a good sign of bilinguism.icon_smile.gif


 

Alison Sparks (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
French to English
+ ...
Moofi, you are joking right? Feb 28, 2012

Translations must be done from a source to a native language or mother tongue if you prefer.

After 11 years of working solely in French I know I'm not capable of translating from English to French unless it is specifically in an area with which I am totally familiar, and even then I wouldn't do it as a professional.

On the other hand interpreting and shifting from one language to the other feels quite natural. One can understand and explain verbally much more easily and, unless it's for a legal or very serious matter, conveying the information is the essential.

I dream in both languages - often switching from one to the other in the same dream. When with my family I speak Franglais since they speak French as well, although they're all native English speakers.

In fact, I'm having to brush up on my English, as over the years my vocabulary seems to have declined somewhat, so for the first time in years I've taken to watching the BBC News!

So effectively I'm bi-lingual only when speaking, and even then I'm not entirely sure.

A propos of mental calculation - wasn't that how they used to trap spies?


 

Catherine Bolton  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Italian to English
+ ...
You nearly had me there! Feb 28, 2012

Very good spoof, Moof!
Or perhaps you ARE confused. As my colleagues have pointed out, living abroad and dreaming in a foreign language may make one bilingual, but not a native speaker, if you get my drift.
I have lived in Italy for 30 years now, plus 6 years as a child, but would never translate into Italian. Why? My schooling was strictly in English. My parents sent me to an English-speaking school in Rome and then I graduated from both high school and university in the United States.
If your Polish is not good enough to serve you as a source language, I'm wondering why you work as a translator at all. But maybe that's part of the joke.
Catherine


 

Moofi  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Polish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Blimey! Feb 28, 2012

(sorry, double post, couldn't see a delete button)icon_biggrin.gif

[Edited at 2012-02-28 12:08 GMT]


 

Moofi  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:32
Polish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Blimey! Feb 28, 2012

Wow, I'm amazed by the response! Unfortunately, I seem to have confused many of you completely. Let me re-iterate my original post more clearly:

1) I am not a translator. I am an editor, proofreader, copy-writer, "translation checker" etc etc. I have been doing this for 14 years+.

2) After 11 years, my capability with Polish is such that I can easily read and identify the parts of a Polish ST that I need to, in order to verify problem spots in the TT. But, I would not presume to charge money for full translations, when there are infinitely more better-qualified people (translators) who can do that 1,000x better than I can.

3) I am not actually Moofi herself, I am her husband, a British-English native speaker.

4)I am being serious, I am not joking.

So, to (try to) clarify my original point:

Imagine I know nothing about translating or any of this stuff. If I wanted to hire someone to translate a Polish text into English, I would imagine that there are many more Poles who learned English *well enough to do so professionally*, than there are English people who learned Polish well enough to do so. This is because Polish is a difficult language for non-language people. All you lot here are 'language professionals' - words and languages are your bread and butter, so you will have a different opinion on this. But for Joe Bloggs, Captain Average and Sue Common, the idea of learning Polish and learning it well enough to be able to translate to and from it, is mind-boggling.

Therefore, I find it surprising that so many ads ask for - following this example - English natives to translate Polish texts. I have spent the vast majority of my 14 years in dealing with Slavic translations into English as a person hired after the translation was made, to come in and correct the English. It is how I make my living. It is how I support my Polish wife and two English-Polish kids in our Polish house in Poland.

Now, having said all that, am I right in thinking this is a bit nuts, this asking for English natives to translate Polish texts? I should note that Polish agencies don't do this, only British ones. (And therefore, are there really thousands of fruitfully employed bilinguals out there?)icon_biggrin.gificon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2012-02-28 12:10 GMT]


 

Gamze Ozfirat
Local time: 23:32
English to Turkish
+ ...
Bilingualism and translations Feb 28, 2012

Well, this is not my opinion, but what I've been told by a professor of linguistics when I told her that I started working as a translator at the age of 17:

- You are not made a translator, but you are born one.

- Not every person who speaks a foreign language (even when s/he is raised bilingual) can make translations.

- Most people have the language centre on the left side of their brains, some have it on the right. But 12% have two language centres on both sides. Those people are the born translators, using both sides of the brain to work in two languages.

Of course I may have misunderstood some part of the argumentation. But I hope this "biological aspect" adds some extra vigour to the topicicon_smile.gif


 

Jaroslaw Michalak  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 21:32
Member (2004)
English to Polish
Reality check Feb 28, 2012

Moofi wrote:
This is because Polish is a difficult language for non-language people.


That is so untrue... Even my five-year-old son speaks Polish quite well and so do all of his pals!icon_wink.gif


Now, having said all that, am I right in thinking this is a bit nuts, this asking for English natives to translate Polish texts? I should note that Polish agencies don't do this, only British ones. (And therefore, are there really thousands of fruitfully employed bilinguals out there?)icon_biggrin.gif


Seriously though, you are quite right. There are not nearly enough native Polish-English translators to meet the demand. That is why, even though the translations are supposed to be done into English by natives, most of them are done by Poles. What's worse, some of them are not even proofread by natives.

There is also the question of rates. The end clients do not understand that to get a good translation they have to pay twice as much as for English-Polish ones. They often settle for non-native, but cheaper alternative.

Of course, Polish agencies know this, British ones don't.

[Edited at 2012-02-28 13:16 GMT]


 
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