7 Pitfalls Faced by Professional Translators (Or: Reasons Why Translation Is More Difficult than You Think)
Have you ever listened to a song in one language and tried to translate it to another? If you haven’t, it’s surprisingly difficult. Change the rhythm? That’s a deduction. Muddy the original meaning? That’s a deduction, too. This example–that of translating a song–is a good one because it applied to the field of translation in general.
Every day, translators must take text in the original language, understand it, synthesize it, and transform it into a new one for an entirely new audience. They must be meticulous in order to maintain the original meaning, tone, and style. What’s more, translators must be excellent wordsmiths in their native language capable of writing at the original author’s level.
Because of these reasons and more, translation is a difficult task best left to the skilled professionals. Here are 7 pitfalls faced by professional translators (a companion piece to our previous post, “5 Things All Translators Know“).
This one really goes without saying. To be a good translator, you need an excellent vocabulary in two languages. It has been said that in order to read, understand, and enjoy a work of literature such as a novel by a notable author you must know 20,000 words in a language. When you think about it, translators know a lot of words!
Feels over reals
It’s not just a funny saying! Translation very much relies on “feels over reals.” The feeling one experiences when reading a book in Italian should be the same in English. The same goes for legal documents, brochures, financial statements, and other written materials. As much as possible, translators must translate the feeling. The thought. And that’s very difficult.
If you were to translate tea time in Filipino, you wouldn’t say oras pangtsaa which literally means time for tea. You would translate it as merienda which means break time. Translators must consider the cultures of the people who speak both the source and target languages.
We’re pretty sure that no two languages have the exact same grammar. English says who first. Arabic says what action first. In English, she loves him. But in Arabic, loves she him.
Style, tone, and register
Translators have to be adept at mimicking the style, tone, and register of the original text. A formal source document using flowery language must be mirrored in the target language. The same goes for casual texts, informative texts, and any other text written in a particular style.
Try translating a canny pun into your native language! It’s pretty difficult. This one goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway: translating humor into another language is an art form unto itself.