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Translating *from* mother tongue
Thread poster: Gregory Lassale

Gregory Lassale  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:31
Member (2019)
English to French
Oct 21, 2018

Hello all,

I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue, but bear with me.

I received an offer for a job that involves interviewing French customers as part a company's marketing research project. The questionnaire and a couple of scripts are provided in English and need to be translated into French (so far, so good), but the customers' answers need to be transcribed and translated back into English. All the questi
... See more
Hello all,

I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue, but bear with me.

I received an offer for a job that involves interviewing French customers as part a company's marketing research project. The questionnaire and a couple of scripts are provided in English and need to be translated into French (so far, so good), but the customers' answers need to be transcribed and translated back into English. All the questions in the questionnaire ask the customers to grade the company on a. scale from 0 to 10 in a variety of fields, but also calls for additional comments. I think those comments will be most likely be pretty basic (though no guarantee) but I am wondering what your take is on the language pairing in this particular case...

Would you say no to translating from mother tongue into second language no matter the complexity of the text, or do you think it's ok for very simple texts?


Thank you for the input.
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Soonthon LUPKITARO(Ph.D.)  Identity Verified
Thailand
Local time: 04:31
Member (2004)
English to Thai
+ ...
The rule Oct 22, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:

I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue, but bear with me.


This rule is spoken many years after startup of Proz.com and web-based translation jobs. Many translators cannot understand texts well enough since texts are not their native tongue. Needless to say, translation is functioned to conveyed meanings and nuance into target languages. When source texts are verified wrongly, fluent translation into target languages never correctly conveys meaning by all means.

Soonthon L.


Oleksandr Ivanov
 

David GAY  Identity Verified
Dutch to French
+ ...
With the client's knowledge Oct 22, 2018

Your client must be aware that you're not a native speaker.
So in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it as long as
you don't pretend to be a native speaker. It's at the client's
own risk.

[Modifié le 2018-10-22 01:20 GMT]


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Jessica Noyes  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:31
Member
Spanish to English
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Native speaker for research surveys Oct 22, 2018

Translating survey responses is a different sort of task. The respondents often write cryptically, using shortened words, local slang, and specific workplace acronyms. Their spelling and punctuation can often work to confuse the meaning as well. Dictionaries are useless. So, when it comes to surveys, I believe that it is better for the translator to be translating *from* his or her native language. And, as Gregory points out, the responses themselves, once deciphered, are usually grammatically a... See more
Translating survey responses is a different sort of task. The respondents often write cryptically, using shortened words, local slang, and specific workplace acronyms. Their spelling and punctuation can often work to confuse the meaning as well. Dictionaries are useless. So, when it comes to surveys, I believe that it is better for the translator to be translating *from* his or her native language. And, as Gregory points out, the responses themselves, once deciphered, are usually grammatically and conceptually very simple and don't require sophisticated mastery of the nuances of the target language. So, although I do not translate into my source languages, I would make an exception in this case.Collapse


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 22:31
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
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SITE LOCALIZER
@Gregory Oct 22, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:
I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue...


The main reason why many people believe the "into mother-tongue only" myth is because they think that the best translation is one that sounds like it was written by a native speaker. I believe different (and my opinion is known on this forum): a good translation is one that conveys the meaning (and/or purpose, in certain cases) of the source text best. And that means that the translator's most important quality is his ability to understand the source text.

This is particularly true if the source text author didn't write his text with the assumption that it would be translated, or if the source text author is not a skilled author in the language. We expect certain authors to communicate effectively and unambiguously, and their texts are eas[ier] to translate by non-speakers of the author's language, but the less professional the author, the more important it becomes for the translator to have extra special skill in the source language.

In other words, the "into mother-tongue only" rule mostly applies only to well-written source texts.

All the questions in the questionnaire ... call for additional comments. I think those comments will be most likely be pretty basic


The comments are likely to be short, telegram style, and even cryptic, i.e. likely to be lacking contextual information that would normally guide a non-native speaker in deciding what the author is trying to say. In this particular case, being a native speaker of the source language is especially important.


[Edited at 2018-10-22 05:28 GMT]


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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:31
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
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The rule, if there is such a rule at all, would apply to marketing texts only Oct 22, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:

Hello all,

I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue, but bear with me.

Thank you for the input.


"Only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue" bears little implication for real practice. As far as I know, an overwhelming majority of the materials in a particular subject area in English have been translated into Chinese by those whose native tongue is Chinese. As someone native in Chinese, I earn much more when translating from Chinese to English, because competition is not that fierce. [Edited at 2018-10-22 09:24 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-10-22 15:37 GMT]


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Victoria Britten  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:31
Member (2012)
French to English
+ ...
Ethics Oct 22, 2018

I'm with David:
David GAY wrote:
Your client must be aware that you're not a native speaker.
So in my opinion there's nothing wrong with it as long as
you don't pretend to be a native speaker. It's at the client's
own risk.


Your client may or may not know the "rule", but it's a question of honesty. This having been said, if - as I assume! - you wrote your original post yourself, your English is well up to this challenge (and probably others) and is indeed better than that of plenty of translators here who don't have your scruples. The dealings you have with this client will in any case convince them that your English is very equal to this task.


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 22:31
Member
Italian to English
Dogma Oct 22, 2018

Translating into a language that is not our native language should not be taken as some kind of dogma. I don't agree that the client has a "right" to know whether or not we are native speakers of the desired language, unless that is what he/she has specifically asked for.

But I do agree it's a question of honesty, and we should only ever attempt texts we are capable of delivering the requested quality on, native speaker or not.


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Kay-Viktor Stegemann
Germany
Local time: 22:31
Member (2016)
English to German
Non-native is a big risk Oct 22, 2018

jyuan_us wrote:

Gregory Lassale wrote:

Hello all,

I know that the general rule is only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue, but bear with me.

Thank you for the input.


"Only to translate from your second language into your mother tongue" bears little implication for real practice. As far as I know, most source texts of at least one language pair are being translated by the native speakers of the source language. I personally earn much more when translating from my mother tongue into my second language. [Edited at 2018-10-22 08:14 GMT]

[Edited at 2018-10-22 09:24 GMT]


jyuan_us, you are probably an excellent and professional translator, but I have to say that I receive lots of English sources in my work that have been made by non-natives, and their quality is very erratic. The problem is that many Asian agencies (I have seen this in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese clients) believe they can do the English version themselves (or let it be made by a non-native speaker). And this English version is then used as a base for translation into other languages (like German). That means that any errors and misunderstandings in the English version will propagate into and multiply in the other language versions. The professional way to do this would be to have the English version (if it really must be made by a non-native) at least thoroughly checked and corrected by a Western native speaker of English, before using it as the source for further translations.

And I think that every translator who translates into a non-native language should clearly point out the difference and the risk to their clients.


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Chris S  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Swedish to English
+ ...
Hmmm Oct 22, 2018

most source texts of at least one language pair are being translated by the native speakers of the source language


To me, the three errors in this one line of non-native English say it all.

OK, the meaning is clear, but there will be times when minor errors like this completely transform what is being said.

It's a dangerous game. Native speakers of the source language may arguably understand the text better, but they're not necessarily able to convey the meaning accurately in the target language.

In the case in point, however, translating out of your native language is probably fine, but I wouldn't do it myself because I wouldn't enjoy it, knowing that I might not be doing the best possible job.


neilmac
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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 22:31
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
It's a job for two people Oct 22, 2018

Samuel Murray wrote:

... a good translation is one that conveys the meaning (and/or purpose, in certain cases) of the source text best. And that means that the translator's most important quality is his ability to understand the source text.

This is particularly true if the source text author didn't write his text with the assumption that it would be translated, or if the source text author is not a skilled author in the language. We expect certain authors to communicate effectively and unambiguously, and their texts are eas[ier] to translate by non-speakers of the author's language, but the less professional the author, the more important it becomes for the translator to have extra special skill in the source language.

In other words, the "into mother-tongue only" rule mostly applies only to well-written source texts.


[Edited at 2018-10-22 05:28 GMT]


I'm afraid I really disagree with Samuel Murray. He is absolutely right about the need for the translator to thoroughly understand the source language and that a particular depth of understanding is required for colloquial or otherwise difficult source texts. However, the translator also needs to render that text into their target language, and the general rule about the translator being native in the target language is because it is easier to understand language than to produce it. I have yet to meet anyone who can speak or write any language better than they can understand it.

There are different linguistic communities in any language and so, for instance, I will not accept translation work that involves the need to translate from or for a linguistic community I am unfamiliar with. For example, I will not accept translation work in the fields of (among others) music, medicine, nuclear physics or teenage slang.

With regard to Gregory's question, I think this is a job that should be undertaken by two translators, preferably working in partnership, each one native in the language they are translating into.

Soonthon LUPKITARO wrote
"Many translators cannot understand texts well enough since texts are not their native tongue. Needless to say, translation is functioned to conveyed meanings and nuance into target languages. When source texts are verified wrongly, fluent translation into target languages never correctly conveys meaning by all means."


I note that he translates into English from Thai and Japanese. The quotation above shows why this is a very bad idea. However, as explained above, I do agree with him about the need to understand the source text. Translators who "cannot understand their source texts well enough" shouldn't be in the business of translating them. That said, it is perfectly legitimate to need to do research, and even ask for help (which can count as research), in order to understand the source text well enough to provide a professional translation. There are, nonetheless, translators whose knowledge of their source language(s) is inadequate and they should change their career as soon as possible.



[Edited at 2018-10-22 10:54 GMT]


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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 22:31
Member (2003)
Danish to English
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Understanding the source is half of translation... Oct 22, 2018

But expressing it correctly in the target language is just as important.

In this case, where answers are may be a challenge to understand, but are then fairly simple, (provided you are not expected to come up with equivalent cryptic abbreviations etc.) I would say go ahead.

If, in another context, you needed to reproduce the style and colloquialisms as well as the context, then you might need native help.

My experience, especially some years ago when I proo
... See more
But expressing it correctly in the target language is just as important.

In this case, where answers are may be a challenge to understand, but are then fairly simple, (provided you are not expected to come up with equivalent cryptic abbreviations etc.) I would say go ahead.

If, in another context, you needed to reproduce the style and colloquialisms as well as the context, then you might need native help.

My experience, especially some years ago when I proofread a lot of legal translations for Danish colleagues translating into English, was that a proficient native of the source language can do a far better job than a non-expert native of the target (in that situation me).

One of those translators produced the only example I have ever seen of a twenty-page translation of legislation, where I did not need to adjust a single comma!
She was one of the old school, and had worked for years in an English solicitor's office… and she taught me a lot.
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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 21:31
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Particularly a problem in Japan Oct 22, 2018

Kay-Viktor Stegemann wrote:
The problem is that many Asian agencies (I have seen this in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese clients) believe they can do the English version themselves (or let it be made by a non-native speaker).

Japan has a long and inglorious tradition of using Japanese speakers to translate into other languages, which is probably why it has such a poor reputation for English despite being a highly developed country and an economic superpower. I suspect that this is at least in part due to a deep-rooted belief in some quarters that foreigners just cannot understand the Japanese language.

I wouldn't mind at all if the output generated by these translators was acceptable, but their English is nearly always unnatural and often just plain incorrect. The other thing is spelling mistakes. It amazes me that in a culture for which attention to detail is almost a religion, people seem to think that it is unnecessary to check a dictionary (or run a spell checker) to ensure that a word or phrase used in a foreign language is spelled correctly...

Having said that, I do know a few Japanese people with decades of experience living overseas who write top-notch English that I cannot distinguish from that of a native speaker, at least in email conversations. (I don't know if they can maintain that quality for more formal documents, but it's possible).

Anyway, this dependence on Japanese speakers does seem to be changing gradually. Every month my agencies bring me work from "a client who used to use a Japanese translator but now wants native English".

Nevertheless, when all's said and done, if the client is prepared to use a non-native to translate into a particular language, it's a free market and it's their money to spend as they see fit.

Regards,
Dan


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EvaVer (X)  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:31
Czech to French
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It is normal practice where I come from Oct 22, 2018

In Eastern Europe, MOST translations are done by people who are not native speakers of the target language. I have also translated similar answers, and comprehension is the difficult thing there. Your client needs the content, not beauty (BTW, the original answers are unlikely to be grammatically correct, let alone beautiful). If you are really unsure about it, use a native proofreader.

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jyuan_us  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 16:31
Member (2005)
English to Chinese
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What would you do if you are the OP's client? Oct 22, 2018

Gregory Lassale wrote:

but the customers' answers need to be transcribed and translated back into English. All the questions in the questionnaire ask the customers to grade the company on a. scale from 0 to 10 in a variety of fields, but also calls for additional comments. I think those comments will be most likely be pretty basic (though no guarantee) but I am wondering what your take is on the language pairing in this particular case...
Thank you for the input.


Reading his English, don't you think he is more than qualified to translate this project into his second language?

There are various advantages in using him vs a native English speaker.

I don't think being idiomatic in the target language is a concern at all for a job of this nature. The client just needs to get an accurate understanding of the customer comments, and the OP would get that need met more than satisfactorily.


[Edited at 2018-10-22 14:08 GMT]


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