Imagine you’re a French winemaker trying to market your product to an English-speaking clientele. You can choose between a machine translation tool or a professional translator. Compare the results:
Riche et équilibré, ce vin blanc a tout pour plaire; élevé en fût de chêne (rare pour des vins blancs), cette cuvée apportera des notes de fruits secs grâce au sémillon et des saveurs de miel offertes par le rolle.
English (Human translator):
Rich and balanced, this white has it all. Aged in oak barrels – unusually for a white wine – this vintage reveals notes of dried fruit from the Sémillon and hints of honey from the Rolle.
Rich person and balanced, this white wine has very to like; raised was of oak (rare for white wines), this vintage will bring dry fruit notes thanks to the sémillon and the honey savours offered by the poker.
Which one will impress a customer the most? The first, of course, since the second doesn’t even make sense! So why the difference in quality? Why aren’t machines as good as human translators?
Because machines are insensitive to context, which is all-important in decoding the meanings of words. Take “riche” above, for example. In French, as an adjective it means simply “rich”; but as a noun it means “rich person” (think of “nouveaux riches”…) A skilled human translator can easily work out from the rest of the sentence which is the correct interpretation here, but a machine, which takes each word in isolation, is forced to make a guess – and here it has made the wrong choice. Your white wine has become a rich person! And meanwhile, your Rolle grapes have inexplicably become a “poker”…
Machines also lack knowledge of specialist fields and terms. Compare:
Une robe pâle s'offre à vous…
The machine translates this as:
A pale dress is offered to you…
But the human translator comes up with:
Pale in colour…
Why does the machine choose “dress”? Because the French original uses “robe”, which certainly can refer to this item of clothing. But what on earth does a dress have to do with your wine? Nothing! A human translator with a knowledge of wine, however, knows that “robe” is also a tasting term which refers to a wine’s colour.
If you want to sell your product, you have to communicate successfully with your customers – and this is why the language you use is crucial. Underestimating the complexity of translation can be disastrous – leave things to chance and the result will bemuse and confuse! Whereas a skilled and knowledgeable professional can give you exactly the words you need to create the right impression.
With the huge number of translators out there on the market, how can you be sure that the one you choose is up to the job? What does it take to be a good translator?
First, it’s not a job everyone can do. Even being bilingual doesn’t necessarily make you a good translator. Translation is not simply a matter of looking up words in a dictionary, one by one – if it were that simple, we could all do it. The reason why it’s complex is that languages express ideas in different ways – with different grammatical structures, different word orders and different nuances of meaning.
A good translator is one who can understand the *ideas* being conveyed by the source text, and then reformulate them in the target language so that they sound as if they had originally been written by a native speaker of the target language. To do this, the translator needs to have a mastery of both languages and great flexibility of thought.
Another essential factor is experience. Translators get better at their job with experience – not just experience of translating, but also real-life experience. A translator needs to have excellent general knowledge and research skills, as well as a very keen eye for detail.
Finally, a good translator should know his or her limits. The knowledge required to translate a complex medical, legal or engineering text takes years to acquire – it’s not something you can learn overnight. Good translators know that in order to do a text full justice, they need to have a knowledge of the relevant field and terminology. They won’t take risks with a text they don’t feel fully comfortable with.
A good translator is always needed, anywhere in the world. The demand is high and it makes this job valuable for anyone who has some translation skills. There are several things to consider when you decided to become a full-time or a freelance translator. One of the most important things is the continuous improvement of your skills. Improving Your Translation Skills There are four general skills to master for any translator who begins his/her work in the field of translation. These are: Reading Comprehension, Researching, Analytical and Composing Skills. Reading Comprehension Simply reading a text is, in itself, an act of translation. While you are translating, you do not think as your activity as being broken down into phases. After doing your first translation, many automatic mechanisms come into play that allow you to translate more quickly; at the same time, you are less and less conscious of your activity. There are some basic reading comprehension skills that every translator needs to master: • Search for gist and main ideas. • Read for details • Identify the meaning of new words and expressions using one or more components of the structural analysis clause; punctuation, prefixes, suffixes, roots, word order, etc. • Find the meaning of new words and expressions using one or more contextual analysis. • Identify the writer’s style: Scientific, Technical, Informative, Persuasive, etc. Researching Skills The simplest thing to do when you don't know the meaning of a word is to look it up in the dictionary. What every translator should know is that there are different kinds of dictionaries, such as: a bilingual dictionary, a dictionary on a historical basis, dictionaries of current English, dictionaries of idioms, specialized dictionaries (dictionaries of common errors, dictionaries of idiomatic usage, slang dictionaries, technical dictionaries) encyclopedic dictionaries, dictionaries of neologisms, and monolingual dictionaries. Nowadays, it's getting even easier to find the meaning of new words or even expressions, thanks to free translation software and tools that you can find online. The utilization of the translation tools is truly important to save your time and leverage the quality of your work. Analytical Skills There are two important stages in the translation process: Analysis Stage and Synthesis Stage. During the analysis stage, the translator refers to the prototext (original text) in order to understand it as fully as possible. The synthesis stage is the one in which the prototext is projected onto the reader, or rather, onto the idea that the translator forms of who will be the most likely reader of the metatext (transformed text). Every translator needs to know the following ideas in the analysis stage: • Find beginnings and endings of ideas in the texts & the relationships between those ideas. • Find the best meaning that fits into the context; • Search for the structure in the target language that best represents the original; • Search for transitions between ideas and the best connectors in the target language that represent the original. Composing Skills This is the part where you channel the results of all those three skills above into writings. In order to make your composition coherent within itself, you need to follow these ideas: • Use correct word order and grammar as used in the target language. • Convey the ideas of the text in clear sentences in the target language properly. • Rephrase certain sentences to communicate the overall meaning translated. • Make the text sounds normal in the target language without distorting the original ideas. • Always use all the translation tools to help you create a good result. Conclusion The following skills described above are ideas to help you become a good translator. The ideas presented in this article represent just the basic level for beginner translators. However, advanced and professional translators may find them relevant as well.
If you are serious about becoming a translator, you must be able to fulfil the following criteria, at the very least.
Your standard of education must be very high; with very few exceptions, a degree is essential, though not necessarily in languages - it is a positive advantage to have qualifications or experience in another subject. Postgraduate training in translation is useful. You must be able to write your own mother tongue impeccably in a style and register appropriate to the subject and have a flair for research on technical subjects.
It goes without saying, that you should have a thorough grasp of the languages in your language combination, you must also be familiar with the culture and customs of the country. The only way to do this is by surrounding yourself with the language, i.e: by living/studying in the country where the language is spoken. German is spoken in 5 countries: Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Luxembourg. There is no substitute for first-hand experience of living in a foreign culture, and as an Irishman living in Berlin, Germany, I can only recommend this course of action.
It is best to have a specific field that you specialise in, be it literature, technical, medical, legal.
Have invested in a minimum of equipment and software - At a minimum you should have a computer and appropriate word-processing software; fax machine and internet connection; suitable dictionaries, preferably online dictionaries like LEO, which return results at the touch of button, saving you an enormous amount of time searching through printed dictionaries. A telephone; answering machine (and, optionally, a dictating machine); increasingly, today's translators are also using translation memory software and other translation tools. In an office translation environment, the use of the Computer-Aided Translation (CAT)-tool Trados has become the standard. CAT-tools like Trados or Deja vu can cost quite a handful. If funds do not allow, seriously think about taking out a loan to cover start-up expenses. The investment will pay off.
While it is not the industry standard, Wordfast also offers a very resourceful alternative as it has the functionality of Trados and Deja vu, but doesn't cost you a penny. Donations, however, are welcome.
Produce a well-typed, well-presented curriculum vitae, briefly describing your education, qualifications and the languages from which you translate (source language/s). For Germany, you should usually include a picture of yourself beside your name and address and choose a tabular layout.
A translator translates from a source language into a target language. You should translate only into your mother tongue (target language). Make sure you mention any other degrees you may have or relevant work experience. Say how you produce your work (word-processing software) and whether you can communicate by email or fax.
Never shy away from asking a friend who works in business or in the language world to take a critical look at your CV before sending it out. It is, after all, your career we're talking about! In fact, if they can help you even more, all the better.
If sitting at home all the time does not appeal to you, then you should not rule out the possibility of working as a freelance translator with a 9-5 office job. I myself worked in an office where the majority of translators were freelancers.
An online translation forum is a great way of getting your foot in the door. Sign up for e-zines and newsletters.
You should send your CV and a short covering letter to possible places of employment: Not just translation companies though, try local exporting/importing firms of whose products/business you have special subject knowledge. If you are a student, there are plenty of companies out there looking to take on apprentices with a view to later full-time employment.
A-Z Checklist for Translating
Business-like is a word you should not forget! As long as you have an answer to my a-z of questions, and tick them off when you've an answer for each one, then you should be ok.
Pre-Translation - You should know...
a) Who is the translation for - this can be helpful when determining the register of your translation.
b) Is there a contact for queries? Make sure you have records of the contact person's details: name, email, telephone & remember business-like as always. Always keep records.
c) Find out if the language has to be translated into a particular variant. UK English or US English?
d) Are there particular terms that the translation should include for consistency?
e) If working under contract for a translation company, do they have a style guide that you should follow: i.e: Rules for translating dates etc.
f) Are text areas, embedded in tables and images, to be translated as well? If so, knowledge of graphic editing programs is of an advantage.
g) Are you required to use a specific word processing software for the translation?
h) Are you required to use a specific Computer-Aided Translation (CAT)-tool for the translation e.g. Trados, DÃ©jÃ Vu?
i) Is there a translation memory available for the translation?
j) Before delivering: has the translation been double-checked for accuracy, consistency, spelling, font styles the same?
k) Does the text sound as if it was translated? If in doubt get someone who doesn't speak the source language to have a quick read through your translation.
l) Where is the translation to be delivered? To the customer's address, Internet address?
m) When is the translation deadline?
n) How is the translation to be delivered? By fax, email, post?
o) Do copies of material sent have to be returned?
Charging and Extra Charges
p) How will the translation be charged? Time, per word, per sentence?
q) Will there be an additional charge for irregular difficulties?
r) Will there be an additional charge for research? Specialist terminology?
s) Must the translated text be proofread?
t) Will VAT be applicable?
u) How and when is payment to be made?
v) When is payment to be made?
w) What method of payment is to be used? Bank transfer, cheque?
Liability and Compensation
x) Is the translation to remain confidential?
y) Does your indemnity insurance, and you will need indemnity insurance, cover all possibilities?
z) Is the early termination of a job subject to compensation?
And that's it! If you can answer these questions then you're one step closer to becoming a professional.