Friday, 16 September 2011

Top 10 misconceptions about translation and the translation profession

Many misconceptions exist regarding translation and the translation profession. Given that they are so widespread, I wonder if they are ineradicable? Below are 10 of the most common misunderstandings and misconceptions about translators and translation.

Translation is NOT word-for-word substitution!

1) "Translation is just word-for-word substitution." Nothing could be further from the truth; translation is all about taking the meaning behind the words and expressing this clearly in the target language.

2) "All you need is a computer and some software to become a translator." Quite the contrary; to be a good translator you must possess actual linguistic skills. The computer does not (and cannot) do the job for you.

3) "A dictionary is all that is needed for someone to begin working as a translator." Far from it! With their snippets of information, dictionaries are helpful for getting you on the right track to figuring out the meaning, but nothing more than that.

4) "A translation, when it is finished, is something that is set in stone." Please note: A translation, in theory, is never complete. It may seem perfect after checking it 10 times, but you will still change at least one thing when you check it the 11th time. Also, no translation is exactly like another: Give a text to 20 different translators, and you will get back exactly 20 different translations.

5) "To be a translator you must have a degree in translation." Not necessarily; a translation degree is not a sine qua non for becoming a translator. There is no set career path in translation.

6) "As a medical translator you must have a degree in medicine." No one doubts that having such a degree is useful. In practice, however, many medical translators have not necessarily studied medicine. If a medical translator had studied medicine (law, engineering, etc.), she would probably be working as a doctor (lawyer, engineer, etc.), not as a translator.

7) "Translators are willing to work for peanuts." While some translators are indeed willing to work for peanuts, others prefer to earn a decent income. Ultimately, it is a matter of where you position yourself on the market, what type of work you accept, and who your clients are.

8) "Translation is an intellectual and lonely pursuit." Intellectual – yes, lonely – no. Translators never work in complete isolation because they are in ongoing contact with clients and fellow translators – often to a much greater degree than most people may think! These communications can take place via email or phone, on online forums, and in person.

9) "As a translator you can speak and translate between many different languages." Contrary to popular belief, having just one language combination is absolutely sufficient and will generate enough work for a full-time occupation. Translating from a foreign language into your mother tongue (or language of habitual use) is the norm.

That translators don’t necessarily have to be able to chatter away in the language from which they translate is another matter and leads me right to my next, and probably the most classic, misconception about translation:

10) "Being a translator means you either get dumped into an interpreting booth or you showcase your language skills in face-to-face interaction, out in the business world, all day long." Let me set the record straight and repeat what must have been said umpteen times before: A translator works with the written word; an interpreter handles the spoken word.

Ineradicable? – We shall see!