Native English speakers are oft the envy of the rest of the world. A world who have no option but to wrestle with phrasal verbs and myriad accents and regional dialects before they reach a level of fluency. English is the language most commonly translated out of. But what about those of us who translate into English? What does the ubiquity of English mean for native English-speaking translators?
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Firstly, we may find breaking into the translation profession less competitive than it is for those working in other language pairs. I have no figures to back this up, but judging by the fact that foreign language learning isn’t a high priority in the British education system, and many of our compatriots rest on their laurels thinking “everyone speaks English”, fewer of us learn a foreign language than in other countries, therefore fewer become translators in the first place. I am assuming the same is true for Anglophone nations the world over.
Now that we have become translators, whether novice or seasoned, let us bear in mind one key consideration specific to translating into English. Given that much of the world uses English as a common language, we need to be aware that the reader of our target text may not be a native English speaker. As such, depending on the text type, it may be worth double-checking that everything is straightforward and that there are no convoluted constructions. I’m not saying we should water down our language, but that we can do our bit to make sure that what we write cannot be misconstrued if read by a non-native speaker. Of course, when it comes to more creative texts, we should write with all the flair of our language and celebrate the beauty of expression. It doesn’t take long when proofreading to check that the language we use is straightforward – and this is especially valued when our English translation is in turn translated into many other languages. It may be worth enquiring whether the text is intended solely for a native-speaking audience or for a worldwide audience.
Lastly, because much of the world speaks a decent level of English, some clients may insist on writing in their second language. Of course communicating across borders in English is very handy, and we may even find a certain beauty in non-native English. However, issues are apt to arise when a non-native speaker writes texts to be published in English. As can be imagined, this can lead to flawed writing with all sorts of flavours and colours stemming from mother tongue interference. My advice in the case of a foreign client asking you to “quickly check” a text they wrote themselves is to assume the worst, allow plenty of time to fix it, and, in the worst case, politely suggest that next time they write in their own language and have it translated. And in such instances, perhaps we Brits need to more forthright than our usual tendency to say “I have just made a few little minor corrections” because people might just take us at our word.