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One third of ProZ translators never learned what it means to translate!
Thread poster: Nicholas Ferreira

Nicholas Ferreira  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Jan 21, 2008

There was recently a very interesting poll asked by emoreda about the reading of translation theory. The results are available here and the discussion here.

If the results are to be believed, almost one third of translators on ProZ.com are saying they have NEVER even so much as read about what it means to be a translator or how to do a good translation. That is scary. What sort of regulation or standards are there in the industry in that case?

Imagine a surgeon saying the theory of surgery doesn't really mean anything to him, he just likes cutting people open. Lots of people do it, so why couldn't I? What's to study?

And then another 11+% say they are not interested in what it means to translate, they just do it.

If translation is a professional practice, it should be governed by standards like any other, and one should not be able to call oneself a translator without having any notion of what that means.

Your thoughts?


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xxxCMJ_Trans
Local time: 04:16
French to English
+ ...
hang on just a second... Jan 21, 2008

... the question concerned whether answerers read works on translation theory, if we're talking about the same thing.

I studied translation/interpreting and have paper qualifications. I also have YEARS of experience. Why should I at this stage be reading translation theory ? I would rather be teaching it.

And I am sure I am not alone.
So don't jump to conclusions


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Agnès Giner  Identity Verified
Local time: 04:16
Member (2007)
Spanish to French
+ ...
Translators and pianists Jan 21, 2008

When I was teaching translation, (both theory and practice, but very much practice!), I found a sentence I liked very much...
Unfortunately I don't remember the author.
It was something like :
"Not anyone who is bilingual can be an interpreter, and having two hands does not automatically make a person a concert pianist..."
Isn't it ?
Both concert pianists and translators need to have a gift and a good training...


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Giles Watson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 04:16
Italian to English
Sheep and goats Jan 21, 2008

Hi Nicholas,

I earned my first translation fees in 1975, which was before Peter Newmark started the translation theory ball rolling in the UK. Despite the lack of theory at that time, there were plenty of excellent translators around, as there always have been. The plain fact is that although much translation theory is eminently sensible, you certainly don't have to study it to be able to translate well.

It would be fairer to say that good translators apply the principles that translation theory attempts to describe.

And I certainly don't mind who wants to call him or herself a translator. The market has a way of sorting the sheep from the goats.

Cheers,

Giles


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xxxmediamatrix
Local time: 00:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Your take, my take - or how statistics can 'prove' anything... Jan 21, 2008

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
... almost one third of translators on ProZ.com are saying they have NEVER even so much as read about what it means to be a translator or how to do a good translation.


Actually, the poll suggests that somewhat less than one-third of those who responded to the poll (1433) didn't necessarily learn their profession/craft via academic channels dedicated to giving them deliberate exposure to the theory of translation. It also suggests that the other two-thirds (of those 1433) learnt (or are still learning) by other means - for example 'on the job', perhaps under the watchful eye of more experienced colleagues, or whatever.

I actually find that comforting. It suggests that there are a significant number of professional people working as translators whose academic qualifications and/or work experience are in non translation-related areas: medecine, technology, agriculture, etc. They are the translators who can feed real understanding of the specialist source material into this business (for example, through Kudoz), causing those who are endowed with a self-proclaimed superior status as 'academically qualified translators' to 'get by' in this job without actually understanding the stuff they are translating!

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
That is scary.


Your problem, not mine... Actually, what scares me is the thought that a translator who knows little or nothing about hydraulics or electrical engineering might have translated the user guide for the hydropower dam standing a few miles up-stream from my office.

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
What sort of regulation or standards are there in the industry in that case?

None! (at least, in most countries). And my guess is that in those countries where attemps are being made to standardise the only real result with be higher costs to clients ... and lower net incomes for translators.

Nicholas Ferreira stuck his neck out a notch further with this:
And then another 11+% say they are not interested in what it means to translate, they just do it.

You are misinterpreting the question and extrapolating wildly. The poll question was: Do you find reading translation theory useful for your professional practice? and the option that got 11% of the vote was: Not useful at all. That suggests - to me at least, failing more context - that some of those 11% probably did read some theory but subsequently found it irrelevant to their work. That's actually true for most theory relating to most professions! The poll certainly doesn't suggest that those 11% are not interested in what it means to translate like you say.

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
If translation is a professional practice, it should be governed by standards like any other,...


But our profession is governed by standards! It is governed by the standards set by our clients and by those of us who, regardless of our academic background, take pride in serving those clients properly.

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
... and one should not be able to call oneself a translator without having any notion of what that means.


There (at last!) I would agree - but I guess anyone using Proz.com in their work will at least have some notion of what translation means.

Wrapping up, Nicholas Ferreira asked:
Your thoughts?

As above...

MediaMatrix


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lexical  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:16
Portuguese to English
not scary, but healthy Jan 21, 2008

Firstly, I think you need to justify the logic of your implication that translators who have never studied translation theory have "never learned what it means to translate". The two halves of your argument do not hang together logically and you make no attempt to prove the causal connection, other than just a bald, unsupported assertion.

There is nothing in my experience to suggest to me that people who have studied translation theory make better translators. In fact, some of the worst translations I have read emanated from people with Masters degrees in translation.

I suggest that many translators who have not studied the theory but who have lived life have indeed "learned what it means to translate", while others who have accumulated several academic degrees in theoretical studies may still not have "learned what it means to translate".

I would agree with you - if this is what you are saying - that reading, reflection, comparison and discussion are always good things to engage in. We take from that what we find useful and build it into what we do where it makes sense, and we reject what we don't find useful. Isn't that what it should be about - not slavishly accepting something just because it's in some textbook?

Lastly, I'm rather disturbed by your last claim - "If translation is a professional practice, it should be governed by standards like any other, and one should not be able to call oneself a translator without having any notion of what that means." That, of course, is the old protectionist argument of the medieval guilds - and you know what happened to Beckmesser (I mean, you DO KNOW what happened to him, don't you?).


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Madeleine MacRae Klintebo  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 03:16
Swedish to English
+ ...
Not at all Jan 21, 2008

On the few occasions that I outsource, what I look for is:

1. A thorough knowledge of BOTH the target and source languages
2. A high level of knowledge about the culture of the regions where the target and source langauges are spoken
2. Good communicative and gramatically correct writing skills
3. In-depth knowledge of the relevant industry/business area

Having studied translation theory registers very low on my agenda.

Personally, I do not have a translation degree. Has this in any way affected my ability to translate? Definitely not. I did, however, take a short module as part of my degree. This was a very interesting module, but has being converse with the ideas of Nabokov, Borges, etc. in any way affected my ability to produce a good translation. Not the least.


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Juliana Brown  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 22:16
Member (2007)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Hear hear... Jan 21, 2008

Giles Watson wrote:


It would be fairer to say that good translators apply the principles that translation theory attempts to describe.



Giles, I love this statement. It reminds me a lot of what my used to tell my students about literary criticism. One does not take a theory and apply it like a template to a text. Theory provides material for thought and discussion, and once we read it, if we're lucky, it will draw our attention to what was always there, but we perhaps did not know how to name. Note though, that I did say "once we read it" and not "if we read it".
Now...about finding the time...:).


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Nicholas Ferreira  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Clarification and request Jan 21, 2008

lexical wrote:

I would agree with you - if this is what you are saying - that reading, reflection, comparison and discussion are always good things to engage in. We take from that what we find useful and build it into what we do where it makes sense, and we reject what we don't find useful. Isn't that what it should be about - not slavishly accepting something just because it's in some textbook?


Indeed, I have taken some translation theory and know that not all of it is applicable in real life. But I think it is good to at least find what is being taught as standard practice, procedure, ethics, etc. in the field. Then go from there.

Lastly, I'm rather disturbed by your last claim - "If translation is a professional practice, it should be governed by standards like any other, and one should not be able to call oneself a translator without having any notion of what that means." That, of course, is the old protectionist argument of the medieval guilds - and you know what happened to Beckmesser (I mean, you DO KNOW what happened to him, don't you?).


I must humbly admit here my woeful ignorance of the very existence of Beckmesser, much less his outcome. Do enlighten us...


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Steven Capsuto  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 22:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
Snobbish protectionism Jan 21, 2008

Nicholas Ferreira wrote:
Imagine a surgeon saying the theory of surgery doesn't really mean anything to him, he just likes cutting people open. Lots of people do it, so why couldn't I? What's to study?


The two professions are not at all comparable. What the surgeon needs to know is hidden from view. What the translator needs to know is not.

I've never seen any correspondence between study of translation theory and quality of translation. Some of the best translators I know wouldn't know a skopos if it hit them.

Personally, I have gleaned far more theory by studying published translations -- good and bad alike -- than I ever learned from the numerous translation theory texts I read in college. I also learned more theory from the practical exercises we did in those courses than I got from the text books.

[Edited at 2008-01-21 21:52]


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ViktoriaG  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 22:16
English to French
+ ...
You are all right Jan 21, 2008

I agree with much of what has been said above. I do think that translation needs to be practiced if you want to be good at it. I always say that knowledge without practice is just as worthless as practice without knowledge. Both are needed (in many cases, talent should also be added).

Some people get their knowledge through traditional means, like studies. Others get just as much knowledge elsewhere and don't need to go to school to be very competent. But I can very well relate to Nicholas' complaint. I find there are too many "translators" working without having a clue of what they are doing. They don't necessarily need to go to school to become competent - but they often also lack the motivation to find other ways to make up for studies, which in my opinion is wrong.

I don't think a permit or license is needed. Something already exists that can compensate: certification. The thing is that most translators are not certified. So, clients and outsourcers to whom quality matters have a very small pool of translators they can work with. They are often forced to work with people who haven't got a clue. The good news is that the more people become certified, the bigger the pool of certified translators will be for outsourcers to work with. That would help to highlight the difference between the different breeds of translators (weed out the bad seeds) - and if certified translators became the majority, they would get at least some of their control back, so that standards (or worse, rate fixing) are not necessary. And of course, outsourcers wouldn't need to work with incompetent people anymore, which means that most incompetent translators would drop it and a few of them, the ones who have the motivation to be good at it, would feel a push upward to get specialized, offer a better quality, and who knows, maybe even go to university and get certified.

Sounds good to me!


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Brandon Wood  Identity Verified
Japan
Local time: 12:16
Japanese to English
+ ...
Certifications... Jan 21, 2008

I don't think certifications are particularly necessary for a translator to be qualified in his or her field. I personally don't have any translation certifications (though I do have a language certification for my second language), yet my clients often thank me for my high quality and reliability. Certifications are often, in my opinion, over-rated pieces of paper that really do not separate the field up between the good and the bad with much accuracy. Many times those that can succeed at obtaining a certification lack the (many) other skills required to translate competently, of course the same can also be said likewise. Here in Japan we are a highly certification based society, but when I think of the value of these certifications I think about my wife's father who holds certifications to be everything from a professional customs official to a firefighter. Can he REALLY perform those jobs, even though he is certified to do so? No, he just happens to enjoy studying and taking certification tests. The thing that we have to remember is that taking a test for a certification is in very few ways applicable to the real job at hand. Personally, a short translation test is all that's required for me to determine the skill of another translator in my field if I'm looking to outsource, and the same goes for if I am applying for a job myself.

But that's just my two yen.


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B D Finch  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 04:16
Member (2006)
French to English
+ ...
The Importance of a Formal Education Jan 21, 2008

Will Shakespeare is believed to have left school at 14. I cannot believe that somebody who never even obtained a BA from a redbrick university is taken seriously as a writer.

"Cervantes underwent a relatively haphazard education and was largely self-taught; he studied for a while in Madrid with the Erasmian humanist Juan López de Hoyos, and read widely and - by his own admission - indiscriminately. Cervantes's originality as a writer is often attributed to the relatively unstructured education he enjoyed as a youth."
http://www.ems.kcl.ac.uk/content/pub/b031.html

What was that about his "originality as a writer"? Where did he take his Creative Writing degree? How can somebody who knew nothing about the Theory of Originality be considered original?

Flaubert - another imposter - was a college dropout! What's more, he hadn't even been studying French.

I hope that somebody ensures that only properly qualified people will be allowed onto our bookshelves. I am quite horrified at the rubbish on mine, now that I realise how unqualified these people were. I am delighted to be able to feel justified in clearing some much needed shelf space for knick-knacks and my collection of tiddley-winks trophies.


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xxxLia Fail  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 04:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
at last, someone who believes in even a lil bit of theory:-) Jan 21, 2008

Viktoria Gimbe wrote:

I find there are too many "translators" working without having a clue of what they are doing. They don't necessarily need to go to school to become competent - but they often also lack the motivation to find other ways to make up for studies which in my opinion is wrong.



I don't think translators necessarily need to have formal qualifications, but what's really worrying is the sheer lack of interest (30%, right?) in checking out what theorists are saying and comparing that to the way things are done - by me, by you, by the translator whose work we are editing, by the agencies ... in the profession.

I translated for a few years (and I didn't even have a language degree) before I took a couple of different kinds of courses. I don't necessarily have more work or better work becuase I got a Master's, but I'm well established, and part of that is due to my motivation, which includes a motivation to be absolutely sure I know as much as is feasibly possible - given constraints of time and money - about BOTH theory and practice in my chosen profession. Not only does it give me more confidence in what I do and in my day-to-day translation choices, I am also in a position to make observations about the value of theory to me personally-- precisely becuase I went off to study theories so I could apply them (or not) to practice. How can people write off something if they haven't checked it out? How do they decide/are they sure that it's something to be ignored?

I studied translation, I loved it, and maybe it's not directly applicable to all my jobs ...but right now I'm working on a taxonomy text for some direct clients, and I'm really glad I studied some terminology theory becuase apart from terminography being a fascinatingly precise subject, what I learned is helping me ensure that the hierarchy, definitions, etc of the terms in my current text are all in place and correct (and I can write with confidence to my authors, as I know what I'm talking about).

As Viktoria points out, it's not necessary to go back to college, but I agree that study and learning of some kind is necessary to complement practice (ongoing training in the form of short courses, workshops, etc, use of corpora/study of knowledge areas, keeping up-to-date with subjects of interest, subscribing to journals, etc). CPD, in fact, is very likely to become increasingly important, what with the IOL requirements and the new translation standard EN15073 showing the way.


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