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Good command of the target language is more important than knowledge of source language?
Thread poster: jivi

jivi
United Kingdom
Aug 7, 2014

Hi everybody,

I've been asked to write an essay where I've got to try and answer this question:

How far would you agree that to be a successful translator, a good command of the target language (i.e. the language into which you are translating) is more important than knowledge of the source language?

I'm not a translator, and I'm looking for resources online to read about the topic. Could you tell me of any websites or articles online you know of?

I would be very grateful.

Thanks


 

Rachel Waddington  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:05
Member (2014)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Translators as writers Aug 7, 2014

Here is one, to start you off: http://www.iti.org.uk/news-media-industry-jobs/the-pillar-box/list-by-date/615-translators-as-writers

Rachel


 

LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:05
Russian to English
+ ...
Well, both are really important. Aug 7, 2014

I do not think I would agree with the quoted statement. What use is there in a perfectly written piece, if 30% of the information is inaccurate? It may initially delude the client with its absence of grammatical mistakes, typos and a wonderful style so they won't realize that many things are inaccurate, but sooner or later they will find out.

Both are really very important. If someone has a great style in their target language, they can consider studying journalism, or writing. To be a successful translator you need both--the target and the source.

[Edited at 2014-08-07 19:22 GMT]


 

Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Mexico
Local time: 20:05
German to English
Many skills Aug 7, 2014

6. Writing skills: This is extremely important. Translators are professional writers. For this, you need to know your own language perfectly: grammar, vocabulary, style. Reading voraciously helps, and so will writing practice such as blogging, student journalism, creative writing. Even the little things like spelling are important. Spelling is really important for translators; bad spelling can give a really bad impression to clients. For those of you who think you know it all, try the ultimate fiendish Oxford dictionaries spelling test.
12. Excellent knowledge of the foreign language: You need to be able to read widely and easily in your foreign language and understand not only what it says, but what it really means – not always the same thing! Lots of practice reading, watching TV and films, listening to radio in your foreign language(s) will help.
http://www.nationalnetworkfortranslation.ac.uk/what-are-skills-required

From "Getting it Right" - an ATA client education booklet available in print and online.

Professional translators work into their native language

If you want your catalog translated into German and Russian, the work will be done by a native German speaker and a native Russian speaker. Native English-speakers translate from foreign languages INTO English.

As a translation buyer, you may not be aware of this, but a translator who flouts this basic rule is likely to be ignorant of other important quality issues as well.

OK, there are exceptions. But not many. If your supplier claims to be one of them, ask to see something he or she has done. If it is factually accurate and reads well, and if the translator guarantees equivalent quality for your text – why not? Sometimes a translator with particular subject-matter expertise may agree to work into what is for him or her a foreign language. In this case, the translation must be carefully edited – and not just glanced through – by a language-sensitive native speaker before it goes to press.
Chris Durban, author of the Onion Skin

http://www.atanet.org/publications/getting_it_right.php


 

Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:05
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
False dichotomy Aug 7, 2014

An excellent knowledge of both is essential.

[Edited at 2014-08-07 21:18 GMT]


 

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 03:05
English to Polish
+ ...
LOLZ @ modern linguistics, en bref Aug 7, 2014

Pardon the facetious title, but modern linguistics really is pushing the limits.

— Presenting domestication as the only one valid method of translation. Which is nonsense.
— Making a metaphysical dogma and moral rule out of target-native translation. Which is nonsense because what matters is competence. And which is also very bad science.
— Ignoring — refusing to talk about — any benefits of source-native translation at the same time. Which is intellectually dishonest. And, obviously, bad science.
— Being very tolerant of insufficient proficiency in a translator's primary foreign language at the same time. Which is a double standard.
— Contributing to the contrfactual belief that native speakers are the pinnacle of proficiency in their languages. Yeah, right.
— Ignoring the fact that, unlike exotics, popular languages are taught to children throughout the world and immersion is easy to achieve. (English especially.)

Now, don't just go ahead and translate into a Slavic language after studying it for a couple of years as an adult. That ain't gonna work. But figuring out what the heck the source means really is the other side of the same coin.

Besides, expressing yourself competently in a foreign language is often easier than understanding a complicated source in the same language. Again, this is the same argument professional linguists use to support their claim that they are better than natural bilinguals or, in any case, bilinguals who aren't professional translators. Yeah, right.

Translation is about:
— competent understanding;
— competent expression;
and, more in detail:
— research;
— a sense of equivalence;
— a solid grasp of logic;
— general knowledge.

Some people have less talent, others have more, but there is no magic to it and certainly being a professional translator, or a native speaker, doesn't magically make you a good translator.

I wish someone made linguistics a respectable science or art.


 

Kirsten Bodart  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:05
Dutch to English
+ ...
If there were a like button Aug 7, 2014

I'd have pressed it!

 

Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 03:05
Italian to English
Sante parole Aug 7, 2014

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:

Some people have less talent, others have more, but there is no magic to it



Once upon a time, and perhaps even today, ordinary schooling enabled most people to work out by the age of 13 or 14 whether they had any talent for translation.

Others come to translation later on in their careers because they discover that their professional expertise can profitably be transferred from one language context to another and they have good knowledge of both.

In either case, the main thing is to be good (ie better than most of the competition) at what you are doing.


 

Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:05
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
I don't think anyone attacked you and yours, Łukasz Aug 7, 2014

Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz wrote:
modern linguistics really is pushing the limits.

— Presenting domestication as the only one valid method of translation. Which is nonsense.
— Making a metaphysical dogma and moral rule out of target-native translation. Which is nonsense because what matters is competence. And which is also very bad science.
— Ignoring — refusing to talk about — any benefits of source-native translation at the same time. Which is intellectually dishonest. And, obviously, bad science.
— Being very tolerant of insufficient proficiency in a translator's primary foreign language at the same time. Which is a double standard.
— Contributing to the contrfactual belief that native speakers are the pinnacle of proficiency in their languages. Yeah, right.
— Ignoring the fact that, unlike exotics, popular languages are taught to children throughout the world and immersion is easy to achieve. (English especially.)

Actually, I think you'll find this is a case of one student being asked to write one essay, and being asked to discuss the subject, not necessarily to agree with it wholeheartedly. The "native speaker" issue that clearly gets you so hot under the collar wasn't even mentioned, except by you.


 

Helen Hagon  Identity Verified
Local time: 02:05
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
The Translator as Writer Aug 7, 2014

You might find the book 'The Translator as Writer' edited by Bassnett and Bush quite useful: http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/The_Translator_as_Writer.html?id=7r0UPf8qeNwC.

I quoted it a few times in my own essays and particularly enjoyed the chapter by Anthea Bell, 'Walking the tightrope of illusion'.


 

Agnes Lenkey  Identity Verified
German to Spanish
+ ...
Mother tongue-issue not mentioned, but part of the answer Aug 7, 2014

Hi Sheila and all,

I think it was not only Lukasz, but also others who mentioned this aspect, for example LilianNekipelov – maybe indirectly, but it was there, and I think it may be part of the answer to the raised question.

How far would you agree that to be a successful translator, a good command of the target language (i.e. the language into which you are translating) is more important than knowledge of the source language?

I only know that some of the highly specialised source texts may be so difficult that, in order to achieve a professional translation/result, a good command of the target language is not at all more important than the knowledge of the source language. Both are equally important, I think, and since we can never have the exact same level of proficiency in two languages at the same time, translation skills come into the scene, very well described by Lukasz.


 

Georgia Morgan  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 02:05
Member (2011)
Portuguese to English
Debate? Aug 7, 2014

To me, sorry, it is obvious that while a native speaker is not necessarily a better translator than a non-native, the best translators will be the ones working INTO the language in which they are most proficient, their native language, if you like. one must, of course, understand the original text, but while many people will be able to do that, only a few will be able to render the translation into high quality, natural-sounding prose.

 

Merab Dekano  Identity Verified
Spain
Member (2014)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Yes. With very little exceptions Aug 7, 2014

Very good understanding of the source language and native command of the target one.

I started speaking Russian, but I gained native command of Spanish (Russian and Spanish speaking parents). I do not feel comfortable translating into Russian. However, from Russian into Spanish it works just natural.

You need to understand your source language very well, but your target language needs to be better, much better. There are very few truly bilingual people in this world. One language is almost always better than the other.

The ultimate dream of a translator is to make the translated text seem to be the genuine one, as if no translation has taken place whatsoever. Can you achieve this with impacable knowledge of the source language and so so knowledge of the target one? Wannabe translators can. Professional ones cannot.

And do not forget specialisation. A lawyer may pull off a decent translation of a legal text, but do very poorly in literaly one. I-translate-everything era is far gone. If I have worked for automotive industry for years and now I offer translation services in relation to spare parts terminology, that is where I am getting jobs.

[Edited at 2014-08-07 21:52 GMT]


 

Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 03:05
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
It depends on the purpose of the translation Aug 8, 2014

I agree absolutely with Łukasz.

Merab Dekano wrote:

The ultimate dream of a translator is to make the translated text seem to be the genuine one, as if no translation has taken place whatsoever.



Not always.

A lot of the work I do is so-called source-oriented.

I translate working documents from Danish into English, for the benefit of people who cannot read the Danish, and because they are working documents, the aim is NOT always to produce a text that looks as if it was originally written in English. I write for the people who will be reading the text, following the instructions, or possibly even relay translating into a third language.

Danish law is not the same as English, and the translation will not necessarily read as if it had been written by an English lawyer, even if the source was written in legal Danish.

Just as an example, the ways property can be divided after a divorce are different in Danish and English law, and here a knowledge of the source language terminology and legal issues is at least as important as knowledge of the target language. If the resulting translation sounds like a document originally written in English, it may not be an accurate translation.
Many Danish translators are trained to translate into English, because there are simply not enough English natives who can do the job. Of course they write grammatically correct, idiomatic English, and I have proofread a lot of it over they years. I have also translated a fair amount of law myself. But here understanding of the source text is critical, and whether it 'sounds native' in translation is far less important.

Divorce law is tricky, because it looks similar on the surface, and an elegant, native-sounding translation may be misleading, though not necessarily. It IS of course possible to use the correct terminology AND write native-standard English, and in the complex situations that some legal documents involve, a sufficient command of the target language IS important.

But the content and meaning of the text must take precedence over smooth, 'native-sounding' phrasing when you are dealing with a situation that does not normally occur in the target language.

I also translate medical records, and here again, accuracy must take precedence over whether the text sounds 'native'.
Danish source texts tend to use far more medical Latin than English, and while I take care to use the correct terminology, you would not necessarily get the impression from my translation that the original text was written by an English native speaker working in a hospital in any English-speaking country. That is not my first priority.

There may also be passages in very colloquial language, quoting how patients say they feel, for instance. I do not necessarily use entirely equivalent expressions. I have proofread translations by native speakers who write excellent English, but do not always understand the medical content -- and simply do not give an accurate translation of what the source says. I sometimes flag them for checking with the client, but often I simply know from living in the source country for so long that the source has been misunderstood.

Here the translation is not just dealing with division of goods and chattels. It refers to situations that affect the patient's health or even his/her life, or can skew research results.

In working documents, form does not take precendence over content. Understanding the source is half of translation, and unless it is correctly understood, in all its detail and complexity, an accurate translation is impossible. Points of style, unless they make the text unclear, are less important.

In a literary translation a free interpretation of the content may in fact convey the idea from one culture to another better than slavishly adhering to the literal details. Awkward language will break the train of thought and disrupt the meaning - it is a completely different art.

In many technical translations and working documents, however, an understanding of the source is no less important (though I hesitate to say more important) than writing the target well. The target should be as well written as possible, and a versatile command of the language is necessary. But the accuracy of the translation takes first priority, and how that is achieved for different purposes and in different genres and types of text, or for different target groups, will vary.

There is no simple, absolute rule that always applies in translation. The whole subject is too wide and diversified.


 

Orrin Cummins  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 10:05
Japanese to English
+ ...
... Aug 8, 2014

Christine Andersen wrote:

(a lot of good stuff)


Good post. I agree, it depends on the subject area and level of complexity. Language is too diverse to get hemmed into some kind of meaningful generalization.


 
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