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Five common misconceptions about Translation

Posted by Annemieke, May 14 2013

1) The more languages a translator speaks, the better

It would be great to work with a translator who speaks many languages fluently, wouldn't it? Realistically, most translators specialise in one language and are pretty busy just keeping up with the relevant professional literature to keep developing their knowledge of that language. It is also best if translators are immersed in their target language (their native language) to keep up with linguistic developments. Some manage two, but any more and it is unlikely that a translator is able to maintain the required standard.

Therefore Media Lingo prefers to work with translators who specialise in one target language only.

2) All translators translate books

There are many specialisms within translation and most of the work is for business related purposes rather than literature. Many translators start out translating copy in an area they have a professional background in - such as aviation, chemistry, geography, film or food & beverage - whilst others study a language and don't specialise until later on in their career.

Whilst some of Media Lingo's translators have translated books, this is not one of our selection criteria. Our main priority is that they have up-to-date knowledge of their specialist area.

3) Every word or phrase has an equivalent

There are many words and phrases in every language that don't have equivalents in any other language. Conversely, in some countries there may be several words to describe something where there is only one in English. Translation therefore requires in-depth knowledge of two languages as well as creative writing skills to recreate the source text in the foreign language.

4) Once someone knows all the words, translation is just a matter of converting them correctly

When I went into my translation exam a number of years ago, a friend of mine commented on the pile of dictionaries and linguistic reference books I was bringing in. She said "isn't that cheating?".

But even if a translator knew the dictionary by heart, translation is about re-writing copy in a different language and for a different audience. The source text is the guide from which the meaning and intention should be taken, but it is then up to the translator to successfully create a foreign version that retains the intention of the writer, communicates his or her message, and reads like an original piece.

5) Translators are always changing the meaning of copy

Every non-translation event I go to, I get the same response when I introduce myself as a translator. "Ah, I know of this experiment where they had a document translated into German, then into French and then back to English, and it came out saying something completely different!". I have heard several variations on this story, both with automated translation and professional translation, but no-one can ever tell me what they mean by "completely different". I am very keen to find out, because I think this is a myth.

When using machine translation, I don't think you can expect much more than a literal translation when you translate the copy for the first time. The next language will then, naturally, not make sense. However paid translators should be able to retain the message and intention of the source text even if it goes through several rounds.


  Posted by Annemieke, May 14 2013