Top Ten Translation Misconceptions
You had no idea about the depth of meaning behind the ABC’S when you were learning them. You probably associated them with shapes, animals and people. From A’s being triangles or mountains to B’s being pregnant women with two bellies to C’s being that incomplete piece of pretzel or clipping of a nail, the world of ABC’s just quickly found its way into your head through scribbles and rolls of your tongue.
As you grew older, you saw the way that letters unfolded into words and words into sentences that unraveled literature and multifarious languages from different shores. Who would have thought that the mundane “A” could be pronounced and accented differently in various tongues? It used to be just that plain triangle or that green mountain you saw in children’s books.
Now in the real world, you begin to see that knowing how to write letters and read words is just not enough. You may need to learn more than one language to get ahead of the competition. Knowing how to speak and write two or more languages could not only win you that much-coveted job, but you may even learn to translate between languages.
Yet before you get too excited about translating Portuguese sonnets or Chinese screenplays, check out the common misconceptions people have about translation. Once you understand each of them, you can better understand the intricacies of the art of translation.
10. A dictionary, you say? I don’t need that!
So be humble and take that foreign dictionary out of your dusty drawer. Start leafing through its pages and you may even be amazed at how much more natural your translations sound.
9. To hell with sentence structure and all those rigid rules in grammar! I can translate this text without learning them!
One great example is translating English text to Spanish. Most people commit mistakes when it comes to a nouns and adjectives paired in a phrase. Contrary to the English sentence structure, Spanish has the noun coming before the adjective. You can easily imagine how you could commit the mistake of writing it the other way around if you’re translating English to Spanish without a solid grasp of the latter.
8. Accents my foot! Thanks, but my basic alphabet is just fine.
7. No classics for me. I’m happy with my DVDs of "Malena" and "Life is Beautiful."
If you want to stick to translating informal literature or that written by contemporary authors, then so be it. You can avoid classics like the plague as long as you want to, but if you want to be a full-bred translator, it’s best that you expose yourself to different literature, old and new, formal or informal.
6. Who cares about memorization? There’s always the dictionary to save me.
5. Why should I care about Chilean culture? I just want to translate Pablo Neruda’s poems.
You also have to be careful when translating phrases, especially idioms and figures of speech. You never know if a phrase that seems appropriate to you is actually taboo in the language you’re translating to.
One example is mentioning body parts. While some cultures may, for example, be open to saying or writing “breasts” as part of colloquial or formal language, other cultures may consider it inappropriate.
4. Translation and interpretation? They’re synonyms, right?
While translation refers to turning a text written in a language into another one, interpretation is about turning one language to another orally. It’s basically about the difference between speaking and writing.
For this reason, translators are expected to have a more in-depth understanding of the language translated, so much so that the person can grasp its essence and can express this essence in the language translated to.
3. Bilingualism + high school degree = ability to translate
That’s not to say, though, that all translators who get paid for translating texts have flawless skills. You have to be very picky when choosing a translator. One way to ensure you’ve got a good one is to get an on-the-spot sample from a translator. Then you should let a native speaker of the language to which they translated the text from look at their work. If the native speaker says that the translator can convey the essence of the text well without sounding awkward or artificial, you may have just found your personal translator.
2. I hate translating texts in phrases. I work best by translating word for word.
Remember that translation is a lofty skill, a higher one compared to merely reading a text or listening to it. You’ll be in bigger trouble if you translate a text verbatim when it has a lot of idiomatic expressions or figurative language. This is often the case if you’re faced with foreign poems or proverbs.
The same is true if you have to work on something that employs words that do not have a direct translation to another language. Take the word "Schadenfraude" as an example. In German, it means “pleasure taken from another person’s misfortune”.
While you may be able to translate this German word to English without problem, you run the risk of translating the English phrase back to German word for word instead of simply using the word "Schadenfraude." Again, this is one of the reasons why it pays to know a lot about the culture you’re translating to.
1. This Internet translator is just the best!
If you were a parent, would you entrust your child to the care of a humanoid or robot for years? I think not. Well, think entrusting your text to a machine as a similar case. Keep in mind that nothing beats the skills of humans when it comes to deciphering and expressing thoughts and emotions.
Right now, there’s just no machine that can grasp the essence of a text and effectively translate it to another language. Instead, online translators and those handheld machines tend to translate texts word for word, thus resulting in literal translation. This is the very reason why you’ll likely end up with nonsensical texts using a machine translator.
Whether you’re a student, a language teacher, an aspiring professional translator or an enthusiast of a foreign language, debunking the myths above can help you with your translation ordeal. Knowing the facts won’t necessarily make translation easier for you, but it’s a big step towards finding the best words that capture the essence of a text.