I think that every profession falls victim to some myths and assumptions. I think that they result from ignorance about the true nature of a given occupation. We don’t know what the occupation is really about and we draw false conclusions. The same applies to the translation profession.
I can tell you that as a child I thought doing translations was boring. For me, it was all about sitting behind the desk and playing with words. BOOOORING. Ironically, today I am a translator myself, and it’s my children’s turn now to think that translations are boring.
I feel I must set the record straight. Let me discuss some myths and facts about translation. Let me clarify some ideas and assumptions related to the work of a translator.
MYTH # 1: A good translator will translate any type of text
FACT: Many people may not realize that a good translator specializes in several different but often related areas. This allows them to be up to date with industry news and follow trends. They also use field-specific jargon and recognise all nuances of the original text. It is only inexperienced or poor translators who claim that they can translate any text that goes into their hands. It takes a lot of skill to write a contract translation, user manual or marketing text, so their translation also requires specific knowledge and abilities.
MYTH # 2: Anyone who knows a foreign language can become a translator
FACT: For translated text to be of good quality, the translator needs:
– Skills > in a given language combination.
It is thanks to these qualities that the translator can do his work faster and error-free. It is not enough to just know the language. The translator must also have general knowledge about culture, language, and customs relating to the target language. For a translator to be able to translate a text, he must understand the original text well, both the individual words and the text’s message. If these skills/knowledge are not there, the main message of the text will be lost.
MYTH # 3: Translation is about substituting words in another language
FACT: When translating, we translate not only individual words, but the meaning of the entire message. Therefore, each translation is primarily a precise expression of the author’s intentions in the target language.
Word-for-word translation is a common mistake among novice translators. However, if the meaning of the text is not taken into account, the translation result will be full of errors. Its style, tone and meaning will be completely different than intended and it may bring unpleasant consequences for the person who commissioned the translation.
MYTH # 4: A good translator can translate both ways
FACT: Clients often think that the direction of translation, i.e. whether the text is translated into the translator’s mother tongue or into a foreign language, does not matter. Of course, some translators can translate equally well in both directions. Let’s be honest, however, that there are not many such translators. This is because one of the languages spoken by the translator is usually dominant. It should be in the best interests of the client and the translator for the translator to translate into his dominant language.
Translators should specialize in translations into their native language, because they know their culture very well, understand the political situation, current events, widely used language, so they can convey the meaning of words most precisely. In the UK the idea to translate into a native language only is much enforced under the native speaker principle.
MYTH # 5: Thanks to technology, you don’t need translators
FACT: There is no point in denying that translation technology is available and it’s getting better and better. I would even dare to say that it is good to use software such as Google translator. It’s really helpful and quite efficient. However, I would suggest to use it for simple, everyday translation. When a complex, sophisticated translation is needed, there’s nobody else but a human translator you should turn to. In some types of texts, there are simply too many nuances, metaphors, understatements – also in legal and technical texts – that the computer software is not able to fully fill this language gap. A new trend is to combine the technology with human expertise: post-editing of machine translation. It is a new service offered by many translation agencies and individual translators.
MYTH # 6: Translating is not a tiring job
FACT: Translations can be very tiring both physically and mentally. When it comes to the physical aspect, translation often requires long hours of sitting in one position. Scientists have found that prolonged sitting is even more fatal than smoking. I know something about it – due to long-term sitting I developed knee problems and had to start doing yoga every day. Translators are generally required to stand away from their desks every hour. Some useful devices ease the physical strain, such as ergonomic chair. Others suggest using standing desks. When it comes to the mental aspect – translation requires intensive thinking. This is creative work, sometimes done under time pressure – it drains your energy.
MYTH # 7: Translators are people who can speak more than one language
FACT: Just knowing a language does not mean that a person can translate into that language. For example, in Poland, kids start learning English as early as in kindergarten. The learning process is continued throughout their childhood and teenage years. Does it mean they can be a translator? Of course not because knowing a foreign language is just the first step in the process. Also, being the so-called native speaker does not mean that a person can translate or that he will translate well. Translation requires discipline, knowledge and continuous practice. The native speaker does not have to have these qualities.
MYTH # 8: A sworn translator is a better version of a regular translator
FACT: The widespread belief that a sworn translator will do a better job than a translator who does not have such qualifications is obviously a myth. The fact is that the system of state exams for sworn translators has been helping to improve the level of translation services for years. However, sworn translations are required for specific purposes only – to attest that translation is true to the original text. It is usually required for court or legal purposes. Outside the court, sworn translators do translations just as any other “regular” translator. Also, sworn translators have their specialisations and there are texts that they simply won’t translate.
MYTH # 9: A translator can also be an interpreter
FACT: Interpretation and translation are not the same. Translators work with written texts. Interpreters act as an intermediary between two parties to a conversation and interpret in real-time. In result, they use different techniques to translate. These two specializations also need a different set of skills. For example, translators can often work using different software and hardware, they can adjust their working hours. Interpreters, on the other hand, can be required to travel and stay at the client’s disposal for hours.
Myths about translations are not fair to the profession. They are often hurtful because they present the job of the translator as something simple, not requiring much preparation. The prejudice may often be a result of unpleasant experiences with translators. If in the past you dealt with a translator who did a poor job, I’m not surprised you may be biased against translators in general.
I hope now you feel differently. Next time you have to commission a translator prepare a list of questions to check if the translator is right for you. Or better still, contact me and let’s discuss what I can do for you to bring you closer to the Polish audience.