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Poll: Should translators have a grasp of English even if it's not one of their working languages?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
ProZ.com Staff
Local time: 18:14
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Apr 20, 2013

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Should translators have a grasp of English even if it's not one of their working languages?".

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Siegfried Armbruster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:14
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Why? Apr 20, 2013

Why should they?
You can live perfectly well by translating e.g. from German, Dutch and Danish into French? In my specialty (medical) it is more important to have a grasp of Latin or Greek.


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Philip Lees  Identity Verified
Greece
Local time: 04:14
Member (2008)
Greek to English
Everybody Apr 20, 2013

Everybody should have a grasp of English. Anybody who doesn't is at a severe disadvantage in the modern world.

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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:14
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
The rest of the world? Apr 20, 2013

I think that we anglophones sometimes forget about the world outside where people manage perfectly well without using English. Why should a Chinese translator working from an Asian SL into Mandarin or Cantonese need to have a grasp of English? Why should an Ethiopian translator working from Mandarin and Cantonese into Amharic need English? Or, to put it the other way round: as a British translator translating French into English, why do I need to have a grap of Mandarin, or of Arabic? I am sure my life would be enhanced by a knowledge of Madarin or Arabic, but it is not necessary for my translation work any more than a knowledge of English is necessary for those other translators.

I know there are some who would answer that the worlds of commerce and science etc. are so dominated by publications in English that, without a knowledge of English, a translator would lack a grounding in what is going on in the world. I think that is a truly Occido-centric position. How many British or American professors of engineering, medicine or physics tear their hair out each day through frustration at not knowing about the latest advances in their field in Vietnam, Japan, Nepal or Uzbekistan? Does trade between an Arabic or Swahili-speaking nation and China really need to involve English?

It is even possible that, within a decade or less, Mandarin will be more important than English in international trade and science.

Some lucky people manage to base their translation careers in the fields of literature and the arts. The irrelevance of English might apply even more to their work, whether they are working in European, Asian or African languages.


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Enrico Zoffoli  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:14
Member (2013)
German to Italian
+ ...
No... Apr 20, 2013

...but it would help

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Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:14
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Might as well ask that of any profession Apr 20, 2013

This is a really silly question as BD Finch said why should they, it has no relevance to their job.

I am surprised at the amount of people who answered yes, I think it is more a reflection of the "English-centric" view some people have than an actual meditated answer to the actual question, sure you can argue that knowing English is an advantage (just like knowing any language is an advantage) but I don't think translators "should have" a grasp of English if they are never going to use it in their work. Why should they?


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Angie Garbarino  Identity Verified
Local time: 03:14
Member (2003)
French to Italian
+ ...
Because nowadays English... Apr 20, 2013

B D Finch wrote:

Why should a Chinese translator working from an Asian SL into Mandarin or Cantonese need to have a grasp of English? Why should an Ethiopian translator working from Mandarin and Cantonese into Amharic need English?


Is the lingua franca of the world, very useful for communicating with clients.


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Alex Lago  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:14
Member (2009)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Maybe or maybe not Apr 20, 2013

Angie Garbarino wrote:

B D Finch wrote:

Why should a Chinese translator working from an Asian SL into Mandarin or Cantonese need to have a grasp of English? Why should an Ethiopian translator working from Mandarin and Cantonese into Amharic need English?


Is the lingua franca of the world, very useful for communicating with clients.



In the example BD Finch gave it is highly unlikely that an Asian SL will need to speak English in order to communicate with its Mandarin or Cantonese clients.

Sure English might be the lingua-franca but that doesn't mean all clients speak it or need to.


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Ty Kendall  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:14
Hebrew to English
The wording of the question is a bit too deontic.... Apr 20, 2013

Probably because of the way the word "should" seems to imbue the question with a kind of value judgement.

Perhaps it would have sounded better, albeit more verbose, to say "In your opinion, is knowledge of English necessary/useful for translators even if it is not one of their working languages?"

There is a case for having a basic standard of English, i.e. for communication with clients who potentially can hail from anywhere and with it being the lingua franca of the early 21st century, also chances are some clients won't speak your other languages, especially with the more "exotic" languages e.g. a German client may have a lot of Chinese-Turkish work but may not speak either and the pool of Chinese-Turkish translators are possibly more likely to have a smattering of English than German. What I'm trying to say is that it is always a good idea to have at least a working knowledge of the world's current lingua franca, whatever that may be.

The problem is trying to make that argument (especially as a native English speaker) without accusations of linguistic imperialism.


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mari pet  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:14
Member (2012)
Spanish to Slovak
+ ...
It definitely helps Apr 20, 2013

Siegfried Armbruster wrote:

Why should they?
You can live perfectly well by translating e.g. from German, Dutch and Danish into French? In my specialty (medical) it is more important to have a grasp of Latin or Greek.



For example: to be able to participate in this forum or similar. I learnt a lot in Proz and since English is my C language (6 years ago when I joined proz it wasn't even my working language) I have to admit, it is useful.


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Siegfried Armbruster  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:14
Member (2004)
English to German
+ ...
Was not an option Apr 20, 2013

mari pet wrote:
It definitely helps


"It definitely helps" has, as I understand it, a different meaning than "Should translators have ..."


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Wolfgang Vogt  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:14
English to German
+ ...
Knowing another language always helps. Apr 20, 2013

Knowing another language always helps and English might be the first choice for a new language to learn.
However, I don't think that it's absolutely necessary in certain scenarios like the Japanese>Chinese translator.
I guess it's more like travelling, you don't have to, but it helps in one way or another.


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Gianluca Marras  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:14
Member (2008)
English to Italian
Not necessary, but definitely useful Apr 20, 2013

Every translator who works with a language combination that does not involve English can work without it, but English is definitely useful, due to the role of this language in the entire world.

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Sarai Pahla (MD) MBChB
Germany
Local time: 03:14
Member (2012)
Japanese to English
+ ...
Really?! Apr 20, 2013

Surprising - unfortunately the fact that we predominantly use English to communicate in this forum does not help, but I don't see why English is required unless a person aims to work in that language.

Having said that, English is my native language - perhaps I take it for granted.


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Michael Wetzel  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 03:14
German to English
No Apr 20, 2013

While English is globally the most dominant lingua franca and while this is probably also the case within almost any definable region, this does not change the facts that most people in the world can't speak any English, that probably a vast majority of people in the world can't speak enough English to do business in it and certainly the vast majority of people in the world would (or ought to) prefer not to do business in English when given a choice.

Regarding "should", I interpreted it as "should instead of something else". Then the answer seems easy: There are certainly a lot of translators out there who could spend their limited amount of time doing something better than learning English.


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