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Its not enough to speak 2 languages, one also needs to know how to translate. How to do this?
Thread poster: Salithealbo
Oct 12, 2012

If you don't want to take a special course for translation, besides knowing the use of grammar, cultural background and of course the meaning of the words(or sentence), how to learn to translate? I mean how would you describe/put it on your own words? What 5-15 very important things do you know now, that you did not know when you didn't call yourself a translator?
A lot of people speak 2 languages very well but that doesn't mean that they know how to translate, too. I have ran into this saying so many times on here and other forums, but I have not yet seen anything that explains how to learn that process.
What are some (5-20) of the most important/useful strategies that you can come up with from, let's say, a 10,000 word book you read, a whole year of class you took on translation, or your 2-6 years degree you have now for it?



[Edited at 2012-10-13 07:13 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:51
Russian to English
+ ...
I don't think I can ever come up with 20 things, or even 5, Oct 13, 2012

there is one essential thing, however, that can help you -- you have to convey the meaning of the phrase from A to B, not translate the words the words. The meaning has to be extracted from the source language and encoded into words and grammatical structures in the target language. Also, words only have meaning within the context. Translation of words taken out of context is useless. Another thing, if you want to become a specialized translator -- like medical, legal or some other type, you have to study those fields in both languages. It is not enough to know the words. I think these three things are all that really matters in translation. The rest is just practice.

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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
German to English
+ ...
More than mechanics Oct 13, 2012

This question is more complicated than it seems. Translating is not just a case of the mechanics, it does not consist of individual skills that any bilingual person can learn. A couple of ideas:

1. Be an excellent writer in your target language (which is normally your native language). You need to have an excellent gift with words, so that other people enjoy reading what you write, and tell you so, especially if you don't ask. Your writing should be clear and easy to follow.

2. Know what the author of your source text is talking about. You need to know the subject area and understand the text - including any tricky phraseology or jargon which is used and any complicated subject matter.

3. Know what YOU are talking about. You need to know the way people in your target language community communicate about the subject you are translating. If you translate a technical text, you need to be familiar with the way technical people express facts and ideas. The same applies in other subject areas (law, finance, government, media, novels etc.).

4. Love and hate the dictionary, glossary or terminology list at the same time. The dictionary is a valuable resource, but you must be your own expert, able to use the dictionary in a critical manner. You must know when to disagree with the dictionary, or when to decide that in your source text a particular word is used in a way that is not (yet) covered in the dictionary. In your work as a translator you will often be ahead of the dictionary, and sometimes the dictionary makers will eventually refer to your work to help them decide how to explain a term in future dictionaries.

Just four points, and none of them is an easy skill that you can put on a checklist and then tick when you have "done" it. But I think these four points are important.


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José Henrique Lamensdorf  Identity Verified
Brazil
Local time: 01:51
English to Portuguese
+ ...
The advocacy stance Oct 13, 2012

While I fully second Victor's four points, I'd like to add a snippet of what I wrote yesterday in a discussion elsewhere about the translator and reviewer roles.

Though it's not the specific issue here, I'll connect it later.

What I wrote (originally in Portuguese, translated here) was:
The review issue IMHO is, above all, the reviewer being more committed to the final translation consistency, readability, and flow, than with the proper interpretation of the source text, which is the translator's core assignment. It's an "advocacy" issue... the translator advocates for the original writer, defending content integrity; while the reviewer advocates for the translated text reader, defending clarity and readability. The goal is for both to reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.

When one same translator is expected to deliver final work, s/he must fulfill both translator and reviewer roles. It works like a couple having decided to have a peaceful divorce, and then hiring one same lawyer for both, just to formalize their agreement.

So this single-handed translation provider has to advocate for BOTH the original writer (Victor's #2) AND the translation reader (Victor's #1). If s/he fails on either one, the translation can't be good.

Of course, there is a natural sequence of events. Even in the divorce case, either one of the parties must have been the first to give up on that marriage, to cheat, to seek someone else, whatever. In translation, for obvious reasons, the writer's advocate will always be the first one to act, however the reader should never be left defenseless.


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 11:51
Chinese to English
Be a good editor Oct 13, 2012

I don't have time to give you 5-15, but I think that the most important point is editing.

You have to be a good writer in your target language - and to be a good writer, you have to be able to edit yourself.

Where translation differs from other writing is that you will write worse when you're translating, because of interference from the source text. So you have to be even better at editing. First you have to be a fierce dragon of an editor, to burn any traces of bad writing out of your target text. Second, you have to be a fine embroiderer of an editor, to be able to convey exactly the right meaning in your edited text.

Personally, I don't think that translation skills per se are a big part of our job. To put completely made-up figures on it: it's 45% being a good reader, 10% being a good translator, and 45% being a good writer. And that 10% is mostly language-specific, so we can't generalise easily.


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Texte Style
Local time: 04:51
French to English
Just like to add: Oct 13, 2012

you need patience to get to the bottom of what long-winded wafflers are on about,

you need curiosity to tease meaning out of convolution, humility to ask when you fail to understand, and perfectionism to put in plenty of slog to make sure that everything has been translated, and translated correctly, no typos lurking that will suddenly leave you with serious egg on your face,

you need a feel for flow so that you know when to jettison one word in favour of another,

you need the ability to reach out to your reader by using words that appeal to them.

(I often translate for development trusts and NGOs, and when I have managed to work "empowerment" (for which there is no word in French, but which literally litters similar texts that have been written directly in English) in to my text, I know I have done a good job.)


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:51
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
My title should summarise my main point Oct 13, 2012

Salithealbo wrote:
"A lot of people speak 2 languages very well but that doesn't mean that they know how to translate." -- I have ran into this saying so many times on here and other forums, but I have not yet seen anything that explains how to learn that process.

If you don't want to take a special course for translation, besides knowing ... grammar, ... [sociolinguistics] ... and of course [semantics], how to learn to translate?

What 5-15 very important things do you know now, that you did not know when you didn't call yourself a translator?


Making a list like that would be difficult. I can't really remember all the things I learnt when I studied translation. During the past few hours I had another look at some of the items I studied, and saw some fascinating books on google, but I must admit that much of it seems like mumbo jumbo to me. I'm quite certain I was a wizz at it while I was a student, and probably for the first 5 years of being a translator, but now its gibberish to me.

You're quite fortunate that you live in an era of Wikipedia, because you can get a general introduction to linguistics by just reading the Wikipedia and following the various links (start with Linguistics, and when you have a global overview, focus more specifically on pragmatics).

But getting back to the original question, I'd say that the main point of the "being bilingual doesn't make you a translator" statement is that anyone who is bilingual still has to study all the stuff that non-bilinguals have to study when becoming a translator. Being bilingual gives you a slight boost, and access to insights that others only learn by rote, but ultimately you have to realise that being bilingual is only a matter of *potential*.

The most dangerous thing to do as a bilingual person is to assume that you don't need to learn that which non-bilinguals have to learn. This means that you too will have to study grammar (again), and spelling, and syntax, and style, and all of those things. You have to study things like idiomatic expressions, cliches, jargon, figurative speech etc as if you are a non-bilingual. Because for a translator it is not enough to have just a general bilingualist knowledge of these things.

I think one can compare being bilingual with having a talent for something. Unless you develop that talent in the same way that others who don't have that talent develop it, you will eventually become less proficient than those who are untalented but studied hard at it.

So, unfortunately, you're going to have to study linguistics, and you're going to have to study your two languages closely, and you're going to have to learn a bit about the theory, and you're going to have to get training in the form of a mentorship or maintaining a strict roster of practice.

I studied translation at a bilingualist college (i.e. the course presupposed bilingualism in all students, and advanced topics were taught in both languages), and one thing I can remember is that very little time was spent on grammar and spelling (I'm not sure if that was always a good thing, though). Instead, quite a bit of time was spent on exercises that dealt with figurative speech, metaphors, fixed expressions, etc... things that were aimed at simply sharpening skills that students were assumed to already have.

You ask for a list of things... hmm... let's see...

1. Get a number of style/grammar/spelling guides in both your languages and read them. Really read them. Don't believe everything you read, for they will not all say the same things, but make sure that you become a relative expert at stylistic issues in both languages. If either of your languages have official spelling rules, know them by heart.

2. A translator has good general knowledge, so make a weekly hour-long visit to the local library and browse the various books of one topic per week, to help build your general knowledge.

3. If your languages are taught at school, try to get a hold of final exam papers (and answer sheets) for the past few years, and do the exams, to find out where your weaknesses lie. In my country of origin, these can be bought at student book stores (often used by school children to study for the exams).

4. From a business perspective, you really have to read a couple of books aimed specifically at translators. Off the top of my head I can think of Alex Eames' and Corinne McKay's books.

5. Start practising your translation skills. What makes a translator different is that he can translate "automatically". Someone who is not a translator can also translate a text, but it will take him very long to do it and he will be uncertain about various things in his text, but a translator has lots of experience and knows when to trust his instincts, because he has learnt through having seen the same thing in his texts hundreds of times.

For example, take a page out of a variety of media (e.g. newspaper, magazine, literary book, subject book, encyclopedia, etc) and translate it. Do this every week (or every day, if you can do it full-time). Getting practice with translation will help you become an automatic translator. Of course, if you can get comments from other people on your translations (even if they are not translators themselves), you'll learn a lot. Ultimately you'll learn the most if your translations are reviewed by other translators, though.

6. If you have access to books that have been translated, try translating a page out of the original book and then comparing critically with the published translation. You'll learn a lot.

7. If there are exercise books in your languages for people who learn those languages from scratch, try to get a hold of them and do the same exercises. Some of those exercises will teach you things about your own language that you may never have known, but as a translator it is your job to know them.

8. You have to know about translation ethics.

9. Learn to be precise.

What else?

==

I have always stated that I'm not in the "you must have a degree" camp. From what I write above it may seem like a contradiction, but let me state that studying at a formal establishment is far easier than studying a course that you yourself have designed. A formal, full-time study provides discipline, and that's why I say that it is an easy route.

I believe that you can become a translator without formal study, but only if you behave like a professional and study your languages continuously, and only if you have a mentor who regularly checks and comments on your translations. The reason why I have little faith in university education alone is the dismal translations that I have seen by translators who aced their degrees. Only if such an education is supplemented by lots of practice in the field, and with mentoring or having your translations proofread extensively can the education be useful to the prospective translator.



[Edited at 2012-10-13 19:16 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:51
Spanish to English
+ ...
Not much to add Oct 14, 2012

I think Victor, José, Texte Style and Phil... have more or less said it all. All I can add is "watch out for false friends" and typical non-native speaker errors. The devil is all too often in the detail.

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Suzan Hamer  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:51
English
+ ...
Yes. Oct 14, 2012

Phil Hand wrote:

You have to be a good writer in your target language - and to be a good writer, you have to be able to edit yourself.


Texte Style wrote:

you need a feel for flow so that you know when to jettison one word in favour of another,



As Neil said, Victor, José, Texte Style and Phil have pretty much said it all.

I particularly agree with, and stress, that you must be a good writer and editor in your own language, and aware of the nuances of words.

In Adam & Eve by Sena Jeter Naslund, a man is reading his translation of an ancient text to his friends:

"This day is the first birthday of my twins, a daughter and a son, and they are healthy as blushing apples growing on a green tree. My wife and I agree, of life, one can ask no more than this.

Overcome with emotion, Pierre's voice trembled. He swallowed. "I could have translated 'blushing' as 'red,' but because the children are so young and 'growing' is mentioned, I chose 'blushing' to imply process; they are not yet fully ripe and red. I suppose I could have said 'reddening,' but 'blushing' is more naturally associated with the cheek of a person, and it's more tender."

[Edited at 2012-10-14 14:51 GMT]


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Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:51
Member (2008)
Italian to English
You need to be a writer Oct 14, 2012

If you want to be a translator you not only have to be fluent in whatever language pair is your specialisation; you also need to have highly-developed writing skills, including an ability to write in different styles, ranging from the academic language used in research papers (and which has to be very up-to-date, since academics have a particular way of talking to one another) to the kind of upbeat commercial copy you find in magazines.

It therefore also goes without saying that your target language must be your mother tongue and that you must have complete command of it; you must never make vulgar mistakes (such as confusing "everyday" with "every day") and must never misplace an apostrophe - ever !

[Edited at 2012-10-14 10:01 GMT]


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:51
Russian to English
+ ...
Definitely look for any errors (the non-native error theory is something completely different) Oct 14, 2012

What I mean is don't use "It ain't good", in formal writing (unless you are translating a book), although it is a perfectly acceptable expression in some varieties of English. Your final production should be almost perfect (idiomatic, coherent, in the right register). It is always good to have another person read it, preferably a very experienced translator or editor. People often don't see their own mistakes -- this is something psychological. Also, it is much easier to edit your own texts after at least 24 hours have passed.






[Edited at 2012-10-14 12:44 GMT]


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 04:51
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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What Lilian means is tone and register Oct 14, 2012

LilianBoland wrote:
What I mean is don't use "It ain't good", in formal writing..., although it is a perfectly acceptable expression in some varieties of English.


I find that this is something that non-translators often slip up on. You have to learn to identify the tone (formality of the phrases) and register (formality of the words) and to reproduce those in the target text. One thing you'll certainly learn at translator college is to analyse a text before you translate it. Professional translators analyse often the source text on-the-fly, but while you're still learning, you have to analyse very deliberately.


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Salithealbo
TOPIC STARTER
The number doesn't matter; put 2 sentences on my notes; something I need to work on; and a question Oct 15, 2012

I guess I said at least five, meaning that I want more than just its definition and the very close parts that go with it. Sometimes even one sentence summarizes it better than what five would.

I did add a couple more sentences to my notes from this topic so far, and I also got your ideas.

What I need to do is, I need to work a little more on being a good writer. I am still wondering why there is a need for this though, because for example: if I can translate a book from one language into another, why do I also need to know how to write a book or an article? To me that's what learning to become a writer is.


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Victor Dewsbery  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 04:51
German to English
+ ...
Perhaps there is a misunderstanding here Oct 15, 2012

Salithealbo wrote:
if I can translate a book from one language into another, why do I also need to know how to write a book or an article?


Who are you translating for? How are they going to get the message? If your translation is badly written, or if the style is unnatural or boring, it will not be a successful translation.

Writing a whole book or article is a different proposition altogether. To do this, you must first gather and organise the facts and ideas and mould them into a coherent structure, and only then do you have to work on polishing your written style. If you can do all of these steps extremely well, this will certainly benefit your translation work. But the key thing for translation is that you must be able to write the text in an appropriate and attractive style which is easy to read.

Your comment quoted above sounds as if you want to just translate the words without worrying about the style, register, flow etc. of the language which you produce. I hope that I have misunderstood you and that you don't really mean it like that.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:51
Russian to English
+ ...
Of, you definitely have to be a good writer, and a good reader Oct 15, 2012

You have to understand the source text (with all the slightest nuances and possible interpretations of the text and literary techniques used). Then you have to find the right tone, words and techniques to recreate the text in the target language. Spelling, yes -- it is important too, but not really essential. I would make it the last point on the list. The most important things are: understanding the text with all its possible interpretations and being able to make a decision which interpretation you want to use for your translation, and then to beautifully phrase everything in the target language. You cannot really translate a text you don't understand. Translation cannot be achieved though the translation of phrases, words and separate segments. All of the components have to be part of the whole, just like in a symphony. I agree with Samuel. you have to read the source text first a few times, understand it, and only then proceed.














[Edited at 2012-10-15 13:46 GMT]


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