lost in translation

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Common misconceptions

Having a professional translation isn't really so important.

Bad translations or texts which contain mistakes are an insult to the reader, and they reflect badly on the source of the text (not on the translator, who is normally invisible and unknown, but on the company, organization, or person from which the text stems). If you want to be taken seriously, then a good professional translation or a coherent, mistake-free text is of the utmost importance.

Translators are obsolete because computer programs can translate as well as people.

No translation program has yet been able to take the place of a human language expert. Even the most advanced translation programs cannot grasp the depth and nuances of human language, and they certainly cannot produce translations that are of professional quality.

Translation is easy.

Translation is, in fact, often arduous work. A translator must be simultaneously immersed in two different texts: the source (or original) text and the target (or translated) text. This means being immersed in two different languages and two different cultures at one time. A translator must not only understand the source text, but must make that text understandable to people with a completely different linguistic and cultural background. On a more subtle level, a translator must recognize the register of the source text, and must be able to preserve that register in the target text - that means being acutely aware of the tone, vocabulary, and intention of a text. Only a professional translator has the expertise necessary to undertake this sort of all-encompassing task.

If you know a bit of some foreign language, you can be a translator.

This is perhaps the most common misconception. It also the most damaging one.

It takes much more than just the knowledge of a foreign language to be a good translator. First of all, as a translator you must have expert knowledge of at least two languages: the foreign language and your mother tongue. If you don't truly understand your own language, you can't begin to understand a foreign language.

But even being bilingual is not a guarantee that you can be a good translator. You must also be an excellent writer. If you can't express yourself well in writing, you certainly won't be able to produce a coherent translation.

In addition, you must be an anthropologist of sorts. Language is rooted culture and society. If you don't understand the culture behind the language which you are translating, you will never be able to translate the language correctly. And, of course, if you aren't acutely aware of the culture behind the language into which you are translating, your translation will not be understood by its intended audience.

email: jessica@lostintranslation.com

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