- MYTH: Translation/language students and translators/interpreters are living dictionaries.
- REALITY: Yes, we speak more than one language. No, we don’t know all the words in a given language. It’s impossible to know EVERY. SINGLE. WORD, even in your mother tongue. Vocabulary is important, but we are no living dictionaries and us humans can’t know everything.
I find situations like these annoying:
PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “How do you say *insert word here* in *insert language here*?”
I usually ask them to tell me the context (and think “Ah, if only they realized that a word has different meanings in different contexts…”), a sentence in which they would use that word. Staying on topic, here’s a joke:
- How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?
- It depends on the context.
So, for translation/interpreting professionals and students, context is extremely important. We can’t read your mind, and guessing possible meanings might lead to making mistakes.
- PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “Wow, you study languages! How many do you speak?”
- ME: “Four: Italian, English, French and some German.”
- PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “You know only those?” or “Why don’t/didn’t you study Arabic/Chinese/etc?”
You usually study two to three languages at university. It takes a lot of time to learn a language well, let alone two or three. In my opinion, it’s better to know two or three languages at an advanced level than five or six at an elementary level. In this case, quality matters more than quantity but, if you manage to speak five to six languages at an advanced level… well, congratulations! 🙂 I chose to study English and French because I like(d) them and I’ve studied them since I started middle school. I can speak them fluently and I’m looking forward to improving more and more. I chose English in particular because it is “my passion, my obsession, my life” (as I wrote on some social networking site). Why should I study languages I’m not interested in learning? It also takes many years and stays abroad to learn languages like Arabic and Chinese well.
If you’re on Twitter, maybe in the last few days you read some tweets on “Tips to date a translator” (or an interpreter). I had tons of fun reading them, and I couldn’t have enough of them, haha. Two words: compulsive reading. You can find all the tweets here.
My favourite ones:
- Do not take us too literally and always be faithful. @judittur
- And for God’s sake, spell check your written correspondence. Nothing turns translators off more. @jackiedeal
- Suggesting Google Translate will replace human translators will lead to you making love *without* human translators. @miguelllorens
- Resign yourself to this: The woman loudly criticizing the subtitles in the midst of an action movie is your girlfriend. @miguelllorens
- Don’t brag about your knowledge of a foreign language UNLESS you are really fluent! @avinc1
- Distract the waiter while your translator friend takes photos of the ill translated menu. @petra_s_ger
- We love puns. We LOVE them. If you play on words smartly, you’ll get 100 extra points. 😉 @toolupwithwords
- Don’t be surprised if you buy them chocolates and the 1st thing they do is read the ingredients in all the languages! @Silvia_MediaLoc
- Be ready to put up with pointless arguments about grammar and etymology when fellow translators are around. @carlosckw
- If you ask the translation of a word and she doesn’t know it don’t reply “what kind of translator r u?” @Laura_Solana
- Pour son anniversaire, un bon dictionnaire fera toujours l’affaire. @juliettelemerle
Some blog posts on the same topic:
First of all, I’m wishing all translators, interpreters and students specializing in Translation and/or Interpreting a happy International Translation Day, which is celebrated every year on September 30th on the feast of St. Jerome, the Patron Saint of Translators.
According to Wikipedia,
The celebrations have been promoted by FIT (the International Federation of Translators) ever since it was set up in 1953. In 1991 FIT launched the idea of an officially recognised International Translation Day to show solidarity of the worldwide translation community in an effort to promote the translation profession in different countries (not necessarily only in Christian ones). This is an opportunity to display pride in a profession that is becoming increasingly essential in the era of progressing globalisation.
According to the International Translators Association,
[…] the challenge of International Translation Day remains the same: to raise awareness of the translation profession.
For those who didn’t know, St. Jerome is the Patron Saint of archeologists, archivists, Bible scholars, librarians, libraries, schoolchildren, students and translators. You can read about his life and works on this Wikipedia article. Two years ago, Jill Sommers posted a very detailed post about him, which was also about the way he worked as a translator (he revised and translated parts of the Bible into Latin, and awarded sainthood thanks to the services he rendered to the Church). Quoting the article posted on the TIHOF’s website:
Jerome’s humility regarding his own work set a good example for translators who followed him. He freely admitted ignorance, even embarrassment, when warranted, and revisited some of his translations, making corrections and additions. On the other hand, he also pointed out that a translation’s accuracy depended greatly on the reliability of the source text: copyists often inadvertently introduced errors, which would be compounded and passed down through the centuries.
The International Translation Day has a different theme every year. This year’s theme is Translation Quality for a Variety of Voices.
Many translation-related events are organized on this day. For example, ProZ.com’s Translation3 virtual conference, starting at 10 am GMT, which runs for 12 hours and you can attend for free. Always speaking of ProZ.com, some members even organize pow-wows.
I know this topic has already been widely discussed, but educating our clients is (and will always be) a matter of the utmost importance.
A few days ago, when I visited some relatives of mine, we talked about my intention of getting an MA in Translation. I’ve been asked: “So, you’re going to work at conferences, aren’t you?”. It wasn’t the first time that somebody asked me if I’m going to work as an interpreter. I had to explain my relatives what’s the difference between the two professions. I came to the conclusion that lay people often confuse translators with interpreters: not only did I take my personal experience into account, but also posts I read on other translation blogs.
While translators deal with written texts, interpreters work with oral texts (speeches, conversations and utterances in general) and render them orally, either consecutively or simultaneously (with the exception of the so-called “sight translation”, which is the oral rendition of a written text, done immediately and without using dictionaries). There are also people who both translate and interpret, but a good translator doesn’t necessarily make a good interpreter, and vice versa. It’s just a matter of skills. According to James Nolan:
The translator relies mainly on thorough research with background materials and dictionaries in order to produce the most accurate and readable written translation possible. The interpreter relies mainly on the ability to get the gist of the message across to the target audience on the spot. […] However, in practice, the translator is usually held to a higher standard of accuracy and completeness (including the ability to reproduce the style of the original), while the interpreter is expected to convey the essence of the message immediately. The translator’s activity is more like that of a writer, while the interpreter’s performance is more like that of an actor. A good translator will spend much time searching for the correct technical term or the right choice of words, but a good interpreter must come up with a satisfactory paraphrase or a rough equivalent if le mot juste does not come to mind, in order not to keep the audience waiting.
(“Interpretation Techniques and Exercises”, Multilingual Matters, 2005, pp. 2-3)
Julia K. Barbalace of English Russian Translations wrote:
In my opinion, the professionals who work with interpreters and translators should be aware of the difference between these two terms and use them appropriately. At the same time, we interpreters and translators, should also take a proactive approach and try to clear the misconceptions and promote our professions.
You can read the rest of Julia’s article (very useful and written in detail) about the difference between translators and interpreters here.