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Working into a language in which you don't have native level ability
Thread poster: Janisa Antoniazzi

Janisa Antoniazzi  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 13:21
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Apr 9, 2010

I've just received the current issue of the newsletter tranfree - the free ezine for translators, and the main article is entitled "How To Kill Your Translation Business". The author, Alex Eames, presents 18 ways a freelance translator can kill his/her business. He claims that working into a language in which you don't have native level ability is one of these ways (see the complete statement below):

"16) Working into a language in which you don't have native level
ability.
----------------------------------------------------------------
Just because you can understand a language and translate out of it,
doesn't mean you can write at an acceptably good level in it. I can
always tell when English is written by a foreigner because the
articles are horribly abused or simply not used at all. (The definite
article THE, and the indefinite article A). If I tried to write
sentences in Polish or French, the readers would be laughing their
socks off before reaching the third line of text. Don't do that to
your clients. They might not be able to get the work checked until
they get laughed out of a meeting."

I'm not sure if I agree with that. I've met some very proficient translators who are able to write in English as well a native speaker of English even though they are not native speakers. I believe that this "native speaker" concept is very subjective. What about you? Do you agree with Alex's point of view? Please share your opinion.

Thanks.

Janisa


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Mikhail Kropotov  Identity Verified
Russian Federation
Local time: 19:21
Member (2005)
English to Russian
+ ...
His wording is precise and, IMHO, accurate Apr 9, 2010

'Having native level ability' and 'being a native speaker' are not the same thing. You can be a non-native speaker of a language and yet have native-level ability in it.

[Edited at 2010-04-09 13:28 GMT]


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Erik Freitag  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 18:21
Member (2006)
Dutch to German
+ ...
exactly Apr 9, 2010

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

'Having native level ability' and 'being a native speaker' are not the same thing. You can be a non-native speaker of a language and yet have native-level ability in it.


Exactly - causa finita.


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 18:21
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
Don´t do it! Apr 9, 2010

I agree with Alex Eames.

While I actually do defend colleagues who have native-level ability in a specialist subject, know the terminology and can translate it bettter than a native non-specialist.

There are such experts in legal language, some areas of medicine and probably plenty of others. I have proofread for a few of them. But the people who can do it are humble enough to check and double check, and then get a native expert to proofread their work.

Many others do NOT have the native ability, but overestimate their skills, and those are the people Mr. Eames is advising to do something else instead.

I have native-level ability in Danish, but I still do not translate into Danish. A lot of the natives are not good enough to do it professionally either! icon_biggrin.gif
Danes in general are no worse than any other nation - there are plenty of English speakers in the market whose talents leave a lot to be desired, and I am just not in a position to judge the others.

Have a nice weekend everyone!

icon_wink.gificon_wink.gificon_wink.gif

[Edited at 2010-04-09 13:26 GMT]


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Angela Dickson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:21
French to English
+ ...
No controversy Apr 9, 2010

Janisa Antoniazzi wrote:

The author, Alex Eames, presents 18 ways a freelance translator can kill his/her business. He claims that working into a language in which you don't have native level ability is one of these ways...

I'm not sure if I agree with that. I've met some very proficient translators who are able to write in English as well a native speaker of English even though they are not native speakers. I believe that this "native speaker" concept is very subjective. What about you? Do you agree with Alex's point of view? Please share your opinion.

Thanks.

Janisa


Do you really disagree with what he says? He mentions "native-level ability" which is exactly what you mention. He doesn't say that only native speakers of language X should translate into language X.

IMO what Alex says there is not very controversial.

I'm sure someone will jump in any say "well, there are plenty of native speakers of language Y who don't write language Y very well at all", and that is perfectly true, but irrelevant. Poor writers in a language, regardless of whether they are native speakers of that language, should not be translating into that language.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:21
Spanish to English
+ ...
Rule of thumb for us Apr 9, 2010

Within the first three words of a text a native English speaker can tell if a text has been written by a foreigner. Naturally the foreigner thinks s/he's done a fantastic job.

Bear in mind that translating is not like creative writing or posting here on Proz. When you translate, you are not expressing your own ideas but those of the writer, so the constraints are enormous.

In the world of professional translation the end client deserves, at the very least, to have the document translated by a native speaker of the relevant language. Having said that, standards do vary from country to country.

Even though I'm a native English speaker my biggest headache when translating is how to make my translation sound impressive. After a lot of tweaking, I eventually get it to sound natural.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 17:21
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Good definition Apr 9, 2010

I am a good example what Alex Eames is getting at. I was brought up bilingually ( Swedish mother, English father), so Swedish is by definition my mother tongue and my native language. But it ain't so.

It is said that the critical period for learning a language is between the ages of 5 and 15. Well, we left Sweden when I was 6, and all my education and working life have been in England. That included 10 years as a journalist, where an ability to write good English is paramount.

I therefore claim to have native level ability in English, and I translate (successfully) into my father tongue. When I write in Swedish, even I am aware that it sounds odd -- as odd as some of the English texts I have seen written by Swedes.

In short, Alex's definition is le mot juste, the sine qua non of translation.


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Bilbo Baggins
Catalan to English
+ ...
I agree with Eames Apr 9, 2010

Janisa Antoniazzi wrote:

I've met some very proficient translators who are able to write in English as well a native speaker of English even though they are not native speakers.



Since your native language isn't English, are you sure you are in a position to actually make such a judgement?

I agree with Alex Eames, as a rule of thumb it's a good one. I also admit exceptions: firstly being a native doesn't guarantee the quality of one's writing; secondly, there may well be the exceptional non-native who writes their second language very well.


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Martin Stranak  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 18:21
English to Czech
+ ...
Can confirm this one Apr 9, 2010

Mikhail Kropotov wrote:

'Having native level ability' and 'being a native speaker' are not the same thing. You can be a non-native speaker of a language and yet have native-level ability in it.

[Edited at 2010-04-09 13:28 GMT]


Not every native speaker of my language is actually fond of the exact grammar layout and proper use of the language either.


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Krzysztof Kajetanowicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 18:21
English to Polish
+ ...
yes but Apr 9, 2010

Tatty wrote:

In the world of professional translation the end client deserves, at the very least, to have the document translated by a native speaker of the relevant language. Having said that, standards do vary from country to country.



You've hit the nail on the head, except that we don't always get what we deserve. Good luck finding enough native speakers of English to work the Polish-to-English pair. It's a luxury that few can afford, especially when it comes to lengthy documents to be read by a few executives who could care less about a translation sounding impressive.

Published materials, of course, are a different story, though I wouldn't be surprised if there was a lot of material out there that hasn't even been proofread by a native speaker (and I'm not even talking about websites of lesser importance).


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 18:21
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Generalizing from your own example... Apr 9, 2010

Article author wrote:
If I tried to write sentences in Polish or French, the readers would be laughing their socks off before reaching the third line of text.



Well, that says volumes about his competence in these two languages (although I do commend his sincerity), but it doesn't have much to do with how other people can translate into their second or third languages. Obviously, not everyone commits grave errors when writing in a foreign tongue; what's more, some people can even write text in a foreign language with flawless grammar, without any striking contortions of syntax and even demonstrating the sort of natural flow and richness of expression not every native speaker can muster. The author would probably call this skill "native level ability" but I wouldn't quite agree with that. It just takes solid command of the language, which some people certainly have even if the language is not their mother tongue.

Anyway, I do agree that people shouldn't translate into languages they don't speak well enough... but what's good enough is somewhat subjective and varies depending on the type of text we are talking about. I would never expect a non-native to be as fluent and confident in their command of a language as a native who has good writing skills, but many non-natives are easily good enough for many jobs.


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FarkasAndras
Local time: 18:21
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Tatty logic Apr 9, 2010

Tatty wrote:

Within the first three words of a text a native English speaker can tell if a text has been written by a foreigner. Naturally the foreigner thinks s/he's done a fantastic job.

In the case of horrid translations, yes. Otherwise, no way. I don't doubt that most or all translations by non-natives can be spotted by a reader with a keen eye for this sort of thing, but it may take a good couple of paragraphs. And even then, if a translation is perfectly correct, but sounds vaguely foreign in some places, is that such a disaster? I'd much prefer it to a translation done by a native who didn't quite understand the source text properly.


Tatty wrote:

In the world of professional translation the end client deserves, at the very least, to have the document translated by a native speaker of the relevant language. Having said that, standards do vary from country to country.

No. The end client deserves the best possible translation possible in the given circumstances. Sometimes that's a translation done by a foreigner.


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Zoe Perry  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 17:21
Portuguese to English
+ ...
Professional ethics Apr 9, 2010

I agree very much with Eames, Peter and Bilbo. To me this is a matter of professional ethics. As it's been said, being a native speaker does not mean you're also a talented writer or translator. However, those that have a true native-level ability are very few and far between (add talent for translation at a professional level to that, and you'll wind up with even fewer). I personally feel that when someone is paying for a professional service, they should expect a certain level of quality.

I have to say I found it interesting that the original post came from a translator in Brazil. The acceptance of translation to English by non-native speakers here is unlike any other place I've seen and is something I'm quite curious about. There are laughable English translations all over Brazil to prove it. Kudoz is also full of texts broken down phrase by phrase because someone bit off more than they could chew. I'm not sure if it stems from availability of native speakers, costs, etc, but I've never seen anything quite like it. Of all the people offering their professional services as English translators, very few would actually qualify as having native-level ability (which, to me comes from much more than just studying English at school or passing a Cambridge exam).

I've lived in Brazil for nearly 3 years, and several people have approached me to translate texts into Portuguese, and I always decline. This surprises a lot of people, including my husband (who is Brazilian). Yes, I suppose I could drum up some more business that way, but I wouldn't feel right doing it, and in the end it probably wouldn't even be all that lucrative, as I know I'm much faster translating into English.


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Pablo Bouvier  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:21
German to Spanish
+ ...
Working into a language in which you don't have native level ability Apr 9, 2010

Janisa Antoniazzi wrote:

I've just received the current issue of the newsletter tranfree - the free ezine for translators, and the main article is entitled "How To Kill Your Translation Business". The author, Alex Eames, presents 18 ways a freelance translator can kill his/her business. He claims that working into a language in which you don't have native level ability is one of these ways (see the complete statement below):

"16) Working into a language in which you don't have native level
ability.
----------------------------------------------------------------
Just because you can understand a language and translate out of it,
doesn't mean you can write at an acceptably good level in it. I can
always tell when English is written by a foreigner because the
articles are horribly abused or simply not used at all. (The definite
article THE, and the indefinite article A). If I tried to write
sentences in Polish or French, the readers would be laughing their
socks off before reaching the third line of text. Don't do that to
your clients. They might not be able to get the work checked until
they get laughed out of a meeting."

I'm not sure if I agree with that. I've met some very proficient translators who are able to write in English as well a native speaker of English even though they are not native speakers. I believe that this "native speaker" concept is very subjective. What about you? Do you agree with Alex's point of view? Please share your opinion.

Thanks.

Janisa


I agree completely to what Alex has written. Even native speakers can commit real blunders when translating, if they are not trained enough.

[Editado a las 2010-04-09 17:37 GMT]


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xxxS P Willcock  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:21
German to English
+ ...
"native level" ability is almost a misnomer Apr 9, 2010

"native level" means a few steps above "fluent" and I'm sure we have all met people, here or there, in dark alleys or noisy pubs, who are not fluent in their own native language.

I think that Eames is describing an unrealisable ideal, and not an actual business practice. only today I was approached by an agency to proofread their English translations from one of my secondary languages, and when I quoted the very lowest price I could conceivably offer my time at, they responded that this was above the market average (to which the answer is, well, that's what creates averages, isn't it?).

in some countries - Brazil seems to be an example - the market is dominated by L2 translators to such an extent that native speakers of the target language can usually find far better things to do with their time and marketable skills, and it would be rare indeed that all of these L2 translators have native (or sometimes, even fluent) command of target.

he's being unrealistic, alas, for reasons that some of the previous answers have pointed out; they may not be good or convincing reasons, but they shape the reality of the market.


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