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Translation competence: what's your list?
Thread poster: Mario Chavez (X)

Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:37
English to Spanish
+ ...
Dec 6, 2017

Hello, pragmatic and theory-minded colleagues:

The concept of translation competence (the skills that a person needs to acquire or develop to call himself a professional translator) has been on my mind in recent months. For once, I'm not after a theoretical model (got those already) but I want to ask you: If you were tasked with making a list of these skills that a person should possess at a minimum in order to be called a professional translator, what would you include in that list?

Good descriptions, not single-word lists, would be quite helpful to our conversation here. Thank you.


 

Ildiko Santana  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 18:37
Member (2002)
Hungarian to English
+ ...

MODERATOR
ISO17100 is a good start Dec 6, 2017

Hello Mario,
I think the below list is a good start, see ISO17100:

Linguist competences as defined by ISO17100:
a) Translation competence: the ability to translate content in accordance with:
a) compliance with specific domain and client terminology and/or any other reference material provided and ensuring terminological consistency during translation;
b) semantic accuracy of the target language content;
c) appropriate syntax, spelling, punctuation, diacritical marks, and other orthographical conventions of the target language;
d) lexical cohesion and phraseology;
e) compliance with any proprietary and/or client style guide (including domain, language register, and language variants);
f) locale and any applicable standards;
g) formatting;
h) target audience and purpose of the target language content, including the ability to address the problems of language content comprehension and language content production and the ability to render the target language content in accordance with project specifications.
b) Linguistic and textual competence in the source language and the target language: the ability to understand the source language, fluency in the target language, and general or specialized knowledge of text-type conventions. This linguistic and textual competence includes the ability to apply this knowledge when producing translation or other target language content.
c) Competence in research, information acquisition, and processing: the ability to efficiently acquire the additional linguistic and specialized knowledge necessary to understand the source language content and to produce the target language content. Research competence also requires experience in the use of research tools and the ability to develop suitable strategies for the efficient use of the information sources available.
d) Cultural competence: ability to make use of information on the behavioural standards, up-to-date terminology, value systems, and locale that characterize both source and target language cultures.
e) Technical competence: the knowledge, abilities, and skills required to perform the technical tasks in the translation process by employing technical resources including the tools and IT systems that support the whole translation process.
f) Domain competence: the ability to understand content produced in the source language and to reproduce it in the target language using the appropriate style and terminology.


 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 03:37
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Get a degree in anything but translation Dec 6, 2017

There, I said it.

 

Robin Levey
Chile
Local time: 22:37
Spanish to English
+ ...
Seconded Dec 6, 2017

Daniel Frisano wrote:
Get a degree in anything but translation
There, I said it.


Learning languages and translation skills is the easy part.

If you want to earn a decent living from translation you must specialise. If you want to specialise in medical translation, get qualies in medecine. If you want to specialise in IT translation, get qualies in computing. If you want to specialise in big bang translations, get qualies in astrophysics. And when you've won those qualies in your chosen specialisation, think very carefully before embarking on a career in translation. If your specialist qualies are good, you'll do better working as a medic, as a programmer, or as a big bang theorist.

RL


 

Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:37
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Back to point Dec 6, 2017

All I'm asking is what would your own list of translation skills be. I'm appealing to your experience as translators, not your beef or animosity towards universities offering translation degrees or your disdainful attitude towards academics.

Robin, may I suggest you read my profile before you offer advice intended for someone who might be considering translation as a career? Thank you.

Now, if you guys don't have or need a list of skills because you prefer to go with your professional intuition, that's fine.

Ildiko, thank you for that list. Which items are most relevant to you?


 

Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 03:37
Member (2016)
English to German
My personal view Dec 6, 2017

Robin Levey wrote:

Daniel Frisano wrote:
Get a degree in anything but translation
There, I said it.

...
If your specialist qualies are good, you'll do better working as a medic, as a programmer, or as a big bang theorist.

RL


I have to disagree here, at least my personal experience is different. I have an IT and business degree and a successful career as a software developer that lasted more than 25 years. Even so, I switched to full time freelance translator this year. Now I'm earning more than as a salaried developer (and my salary was not bad), I have much more freedom in my daily life and I'm no longer involved in projects that last months or years, a change that I like very much. My former employer would take me back any day (a fact that would make it easy for me to take some risks, of course), but I'm sure I'll never look back.

I agree with Daniel that a degree in anything but translation might be helpful, but one thing is even more helpful: experience in anything but translation. Translation is practical work, not theoretical work. Therefore practical experience is much more valuable than any degree.


 

Thomas T. Frost  Identity Verified
Member (2014)
Danish to English
+ ...
Having lived in countries where one's working languages are spoken Dec 6, 2017

Practical experience from actually living in countries where one's working languages are spoken has not been mentioned. Immersion.

It is difficult to quantify and measure, yet so important for the understanding of the languages and cultures one is dealing with.

You can learn all you want at a university, but it can never replace the experience acquired by living among natives. There are many little things about a country and a language you only discover on site.

One can sometimes observe the result of not having spent enough time abroad when an otherwise highly qualified translator doesn't understand a common idiom or term that any local would understand.


 

Daniel Frisano
Switzerland
Local time: 03:37
Member (2008)
English to Italian
+ ...
Excellent point Dec 7, 2017

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:

(...) but one thing is even more helpful: experience in anything but translation.



Excellent point there. I should have said "get a degree and/on some hands-on experience in anything but translation".

My answer to the original question ("what would you include in that list") is thus: knowing what you are translating about, either from theory or practice, and preferably both.


 

The Misha
Local time: 21:37
Russian to English
+ ...
May I suggest you dispense with that "professional" label Dec 7, 2017

Here's a quick example. In the (not so) good old times, and perhaps these days too, quite a few in the country of my birth spent, and are still spending, their professional lives translating vital statistics records into English or other languages other than their own for subsequent notarization, or as in-house translators at large industrial companies working with technical literature without the benefit of any engineering education or experience. Would you call those "professional translators"? Well, duh, they all went to language schools and had diplomas to prove it, and they didn't do what they did for free. Were most of them competent or good translators? Well, I am sure we all know the answer.

I say never mind what those ISO lists or other such bureaucratic paraphernalia say. Study your languages, long and hard, both source and target. Better yet, live them. I am also with those who say gimme experience or at least a degree (which is in no way a guarantee the holder is competent, of course, but better than nothing) with or in whatever it is you want to translate about. Let's also forget for a minute WHAT it is you are saying on your resume and concentrate on HOW it is being said. Or how about we dispense with that resume altogether? Write me an email instead discussing the matter at hand. A paragraph or two will be enough. It'll tell me everything I will ever need to know.

By that token, most folks on here and elsewhere who claim they have what it takes would really be better off keeping their mouths shut. But then again, this is a problem that is not limited to translation as an occupational field.


 

Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
KISS Dec 7, 2017

1. A good understanding of the source language and the subject matter

2. The ability to express yourself well in the target language

Does it have to be any more complicated?


 

Jean Dimitriadis  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:37
Member (2015)
English to French
+ ...
Daniel Giles / Jean Delisle Dec 7, 2017

Hello,

I'm copying part of a post I had added in another discussion, and I’ll quote two French authors/academics with whom I quite agree on this subject.

in his book “Traduction. La comprendre, l’apprendre.” (Understanding and learning translation), Daniel Giles offers some basic skills a translator should possess:

- Sufficient understanding of the source language in its written form
We’re talking about a passive knowledge. Not speaking, nor writing, nor understanding speech, just understanding written text. Of course, the cultural aspect is not independent from the language skill.
The required level varies depending on the text (and context).

- General extra-linguistic knowledge as well as specialized knowledge
Apart from a certain minimum general knowledge, one needs to acquire specialized knowledge to tackle specific fields. Some of this knowledge can be gained ad hoc, during the documentary research and when encountering specific translation problems. This requirement has its limits.

- Good writing skills in target language
The translator is a writer. Again, the required skill can vary a lot depending on the situation.

- Mastering of translation principles and approach (transfer competence)
Both as knowledge and as know-how. This is often neglected by outsiders. A perfect bilingual and a subject matter expert can both still produce many errors during the interlinguistic transfer if they are not acquainted with translation techniques and strategies. Before being a specialist in his chosen fields, a translator is a specialist in translation. This is his core specialty.

- Professional translation market skills, knowledge of the practical and commercial aspects of translation.
Not to be neglected.

For Jean Delisle, in his book “La traduction raisonnée” (Reasoned translation), translating is the linguistic handling at the junction of two languages. At one point, he states that (learning) translation involves acquiring:

A double compétence
1. The competence to understand the texts to translate
2. The competence to re-express their meaning (content and form)

Four skills
1. Dissociating source and target languages (and avoiding linguistic interference)
2. Applying translation processes (and conducting appropriately the interlinguistic transfer)
3. Integrating non-linguistic knowledge (cognitive complements) to linguistic statements
4. Mastering writing techniques (knowing the inside outs of the written language)

In three different levels
1. Knowledge of writing rules (knowledge of language’s coded uses, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, numbers, etc.)
2. Interpretation (knowledge of how to identify the appropriate meaning of words and statements within a given context)
3. Coherence (of the discourse and its logic)

Jean


 

Tom in London
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:37
Member (2008)
Italian to English
I agree ... Dec 7, 2017

Chris S wrote:

1. A good understanding of the source language and the subject matter

2. The ability to express yourself well in the target language

Does it have to be any more complicated?



I agree, but some people just like tables, lists, etc.


 

Olly Pekelharing  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 03:37
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
Agree Dec 7, 2017

Chris S wrote:

1. A good understanding of the source language and the subject matter

2. The ability to express yourself well in the target language



Indeed, and obviously you have to be able to find stuff online.

Olly


 

Mario Chavez (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 21:37
English to Spanish
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Giles, Delisle Dec 7, 2017

Thanks, Jean. I don't quite fully agree with Giles about the passive knowledge of the source language, since market realities often take us to be bidirectional in our translations. And I'm not talking about current market realities. Translation bidirectionality has existed since men and women started to translate.

I also appreciate your statement that you happen to agree with these two authors. That's putting your neck on the line, so to speak.

To others who say why it should be so complicated, two things are needed for translation competence, I say: thank you. I know how you think about the subject.

icon_smile.gif


 

Tina Vonhof
Canada
Local time: 19:37
Member (2006)
Dutch to English
+ ...
Agree with Chris + 1 Dec 7, 2017

Chris S wrote:

1. A good understanding of the source language and the subject matter

2. The ability to express yourself well in the target language

Does it have to be any more complicated?



I fully agree but I would like to add a few things that in my experience should come first to form the basis for the above: curiosity and a desire to learn new things.


 
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