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translation to your mother's tongue
Thread poster: Lolita123
Lolita123
English to French
May 19, 2005

Hi everybody!

I have a question that I really like to know your feedback on ?

What you think of pursuing a professional career in translation of 2 languages that you know very fluently however none of them are your mother's tongue? Do you think that you still could be successful? Are you yourself one of them or do you know anyone in this situation?
the main reason I am asking this is because I know most translators translate from any language to their mother's tongue only. I kindly appreciate your point of view.

Thanks all

LOLITA


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Paul Lambert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:44
French to English
+ ...
No no no no no May 19, 2005

Personally, I believe this is a big, fat no. I have been speaking Spanish since I was a kid, but would never dream of translating from English into Spanish - ditto with French. A lot of the time, it's down to the fact that only a native speaker will have the style, nuances and little subtleties which make a good translation.

When I translate, my main aim is to produce a document which reads as if it were originally written in English, and does not read as a translated text. Just to give an example of this - and this is in no way disrespecting your English (which is great!). In English we say mother tongue, not mother's tongue. Although mother's tongue would be understood, it is not something a native English speaker would say, and would sound odd to someone who was reading a text in which it appeared. It is little nuances like this which non-native speakers sometimes slip up on, and Project Managers in any translation agency worth its salt would certainly pick up on this!

Besides - there is normally plenty of work going round in one or two language pairs, and you might not find the time to take on work from other pairs!!! Good luck and welcome to Proz.com!

Paul


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xxxIanW
Local time: 11:44
German to English
+ ...
Stick to your mother tongue May 19, 2005

Hi Lolita,

Opinion is divided to a certain extent, but I think that the vast majority of professional translators agree that it is best to translate into your own mother tongue (not "mother's tongue", incidentally). I translate from French and can also write good French, but not as well as a professional native speaker French translator. Similarly, I feel that French translators working into my native language, English, do not have the same feel for the language that I do.

There are language combinations where it is difficult to find native speaker translators - for example from Hungarian to English - but this is definitely not the case with French to English. Take my advice and stick to your mother tongue.

All the best


Ian

[Edited at 2005-05-19 08:18]


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Lots of people do it-fine as long as the client doesn't know the difference May 19, 2005

Lolita123 wrote:


Hi everybody!

I have a question that I really like to know your feedback on ?

What you think of pursuing a professional career in translation of 2 languages that you know very fluently however none of them are your mother's tongue? Do you think that you still could be successful? Are you yourself one of them or do you know anyone in this situation?
the main reason I am asking this is because I know most translators translate from any language to their mother's tongue only. I kindly appreciate your point of view.

Thanks all

LOLITA


As someone who used to "proofread" (actually re-translate) such documents, I'd say why not, as long as the document is not meant for a native-speaking audience or is going to be used by others as a basis for further translation. Good as some people may be, a non-native translation is NEVER the same as document translated by a native speaker of the target language.
Often the client is not in a position to tell the difference so as long it doesn't matter at that end, don't see any prob.
Fwiw-it's mother tongue in English.


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xxxIanW
Local time: 11:44
German to English
+ ...
I beg to differ May 19, 2005

Hi all,

With regard to writeaway's comments, I don't think that it is OK to deliver substandard translations just because the customer is not in a position to tell the difference.

For example, if I pay for a Chinese translation, I am not in a position to tell whether it is good, bad or even copied out of the Chinese telephone directory, but that doesn't mean I should make do with substandard quality.

All the best


Ian


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Is there a sound if no one hears it May 19, 2005

Ian Winick wrote:

Hi all,

With regard to writeaway's comments, I don't think that it is OK to deliver substandard translations just because the customer is not in a position to tell the difference.

For example, if I pay for a Chinese translation, I am not in a position to tell whether it is good, bad or even copied out of the Chinese telephone directory, but that doesn't mean I should make do with substandard quality.

All the best


Ian


Agree with you of course-my attitude is 'why fight city hall'? Of course a translation into any target language by a non-native speaker is going to be substandard to some degree at least, but on a few sites I see everyday, that means that 90% of the work being done is substandard. The questions asked (often in Asker's native tongue) are 'how is this said in native English'. My personal attitude now is that if the concern is so great about having a doc that reads like native English, then the client should have/would have given the doc to a native speaker to begin with. So if the client doesn't care, why should we?

[Edited at 2005-05-19 09:42]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
it's about standards and professionalism May 19, 2005

writeaway wrote:

Ian Winick wrote:

Hi all,

With regard to writeaway's comments, I don't think that it is OK to deliver substandard translations just because the customer is not in a position to tell the difference.

For example, if I pay for a Chinese translation, I am not in a position to tell whether it is good, bad or even copied out of the Chinese telephone directory, but that doesn't mean I should make do with substandard quality.

All the best


Ian


Agree with you of course-my attitude is 'why fight city hall'? Of course a translation into any target language by a non-native speaker is going to be substandard to some degree at least, but on a few sites I see everyday, that means that 90% of the work being done is substandard. The questions asked (often in Asker's native tongue) are 'how is this said in native English'. My personal attitude now is that if the concern is so great about having a doc that reads like native English, then the client should have/would have given the doc to a native speaker to begin with. So if the client doesn't care, why should we?

[Edited at 2005-05-19 09:11]



It's not about "if the client doesn't care, why should we?". I care, whether or not the client cares, and I always try to work to the best of my ability... I think that's called being professional. Not caring is taking short-term personal gain at the expense of the profession, a bit like damage to the environment (who cares about the state of the planet our children will be left with?)

It also matters to me that standards are upheld...a non-native accepting a text that they know they can't translate as well as a native is colluding in a process that degenerates language. Just becuase 90% of the EN in websites is atrocious doesn't nmean that we should accept it.....and note the posting has come round to EN as the target language, the most maligned language on the planet...everybody uses it, few correctly (native speakers among them).

I agree with Ian and Paul wholeheartedly, one should translate to one's native language, with some exceptions (rare languages, special clients, the non-native is a field expert, etc).

[Edited at 2005-05-19 12:26]


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writeaway  Identity Verified
French to English
+ ...
Precisely: it's all about it's about standards and professionalism May 19, 2005

Ailish Maher wrote:

It also matters to me that standards are upheld...a non-native accepting a text that they know they can't translate as well as a native is colluding in a process that degenerates language. Just becuase 90% of the EN in websites is atrocious doesn't nmean that we should accept it.....and note the posting has come round to EN as the target language, the most maligned language on the planet...everybody uses it, few correctly (native speakers among them).

I agree with Ian wholeheartedly, one should translate to one's native language, with some exceptions (rare languages, special clients, the non-native is a field expert, etc).


My tone is more sarcastic than not. Precisely, we work to the highest standards possible and take pride in our work. How many times do we sit and work on a phrase to get it 'just right' or research terms at length to produce the highest degree of accuracy. When one sees what it takes to write well in one's own native language (any language, not just English), then it is amazing that those who have grown up with a different native language would even contemplate taking on the job. But they do. And actually think they are doing just as well as any native speaker. (I think English may be the biggest victim of this-see the 'who need the natives' forum discussion).
Why not care? Because these people got the jobs because the client gave it to them, knowing that the target language was not the translator's native language. This happens with all languages, not just English. We rant and rave when we see the results but how much should we 'care'? It's a matter completely out of our hands.


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Ian M-H
United States
Local time: 05:44
German to English
+ ...
Unless there are exceptional circumstances... May 19, 2005

...then I also think "Lolita123" will struggle to succeed if, as her posting suggests, she is thinking of working between English and French without either of these being her native language.

Ian W has made the general point, supported by Ailish:

Ailish Maher wrote:
e should translate to one's native language, with some exceptions (rare languages, special clients, the non-native is a field expert, etc).[/quote]

This is a crucial point - there *are* exceptions. If you have specialist knowledge of a subject *and* not many people have the combination of (1) that specialist knowledge and (2) an excellent (!) command of the two languages in question, then there might be an opening for you. But only if you're not competing with good specialist native speaker translators - and in a major language pair I'd be very surprised if there weren't any.

There are some other exceptions, such as translating "for understanding only" - but that's not a big market and is usually something one does occasionally for an established client rather than the basis of a business.

What is your native language, L123? What makes you so sure that there's no market for translating into that language from French and English?

I'm sure you've already done some research, but bear in mind that if it's a small or difficult market, others will have already given up or been put off. So if you are professional in your work and approach, and sell yourself well, you could still have a good chance of establishing yourself. Probably a better chance, however hard it is, than by trying to compete with a *very* large number of native speakers working between two major languages such as French and English.

Ian


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Jennifer Baker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:44
Member (2004)
Italian to English
My two cents May 19, 2005

I personally choose not to translate into Italian, although I literally eat sleep and dream in Italian. I think the point made above is crucial- even an expert translator will never have the finesse of a native speaker when writing prose. The only exceptions I have ever made were for highly technical documents in a field in which I am an expert. And I definitely don't make a habit of doing those...
Honestly, I would be curious to know how many of you can spot a translation performed by a non-native speaker of the target language after reading the first few lines, even notwithstanding correct grammar and spelling.
There's something intangible that's missing...


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:44
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
No, don't do it May 19, 2005

Please don't take this personally, but apart from what Paul Lambert quite rightly says about "mother's tongue", the second sentence of your post contains a few errors.

"I have a question that I really like to know your feedback on ?"

"I really like" should be conditional - "I would (or should) really like".

There is a rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition, and though this rule is sometimes broken by native speakers, especially in conversation, it is still not good style. So avoid "on" at the end.

You end the sentence with a question mark, but it is not a question.

Your meaning is perfectly clear, but my version of this sentence would be:

"I have a question on which I would really like some feedback from you".

I am a Russian-English translator with over 50 years experience, but I am sure that if I were to attempt to translate into Russian, I would commit similar if not worse errors.

[Edited at 2005-05-19 14:01]


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:44
Spanish to English
+ ...
finesse and subtlety in writing May 19, 2005

writeaway wrote:


My tone is more sarcastic than not. Precisely, we work to the highest standards possible and take pride in our work. How many times do we sit and work on a phrase to get it 'just right' or research terms at length to produce the highest degree of accuracy. When one sees what it takes to write well in one's own native language (any language, not just English), then it is amazing that those who have grown up with a different native language would even contemplate taking on the job. But they do. And actually think they are doing just as well as any native speaker. (I think English may be the biggest victim of this-see the 'who need the natives' forum discussion).
Why not care? Because these people got the jobs because the client gave it to them, knowing that the target language was not the translator's native language. This happens with all languages, not just English. We rant and rave when we see the results but how much should we 'care'? It's a matter completely out of our hands.


Apologies, writeaway, I missed the sarcasm, I'm afraid ...maybe becuase it's a topic close to my heart:-)

However, I still think that it is we, the individual translators, who must take principled stands.

It's good that we bring this subject up occasionally (that 'who needs natives' forum was very interesting and worthwhile), as in this way we hopefully can bring a little moral pressure to bear on colleagues, and raise consciousness among translators.

I have always accepted that non-native translators are valid in particular circumstances, but as a general rule, I wouldn't employ one myself.

It's actually hard enough for natives to write correctly. I have just corrected a reasonably good text, but it is still influenced by the source text (e.g. Spanish 'cuidadanos' translated invariably as 'citizens', when 'people', 'public', or 'society' may be more appropriate).

And often source texts are often poorly written - to my mind this requires an additional writing skill to be able to produce something coherent and legible, and that does not depart from the original meaning....and this level of finesse and subtlety can really only be exercised by natives.


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Iza Szczypka  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:44
English to Polish
+ ...
It's all very well, but ... May 19, 2005

I don’t know if Polish could be considered a rare language as there are over 40M native speakers, but I can assure you that no Polish company (outside the Top 50) or local authority starts looking for a native speaker when they need a draft contract or invitation to tender translated into any of major European languages.
What they do is open a phone directory and start looking for a Polish freelance translator who would do the job at half or (better) quarter price. And IMO such behaviour is just sensible since the number of native speakers of English, French, German etc. who know Polish well enough to understand a contract and translate it into their respective mother tongues probably does not exceed 1% of the demand. Those who do are not to be found in the local directory (Warsaw excepted ... perhaps) and, besides, would never accept the job at the rate offered.
The same goes for a poor Polish villager who needs his vocational school / employment certificate translated to go abroad looking for a job. He has a big enough problem to find a translator at all, and then to pay him a fee even remotely resembling a decent one. If I / my colleagues refused him on the principle of "translating into mother tongue only", he wouldn't get the document translated at all. Full stop.
Principles are principles, and life is life ...


[Edited at 2005-05-19 18:15]


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sylvie malich
Germany
Local time: 11:44
German to English
... May 19, 2005

Iza Szczypka wrote:
The same goes for a poor Polish villager who needs his vocational school / employment certificate translated to go abroad looking for a job.
[...]
[/quote]

And then the poor slob presents a reference letter that almost looks English to his potential employer and gets laughed out of the office...



[Edited at 2005-05-19 13:27]


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Silvestro De Falco  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:44
Member (2006)
Italian to English
+ ...
There is a rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition. May 19, 2005

Jack,
that's a nonsense up with which I will not put.
Winston


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