The Art of Translation

How to Achieve Translation Excellence

The concept of translation seems easy to embrace. Most people see someone taking a document and repeating it word for word into another language. It’s time to correct this misnomer. Translation—and I am going to refer to high quality translation here—involves considerably more. We can all understand this on the simplest level. Think about someone that you have spoken with that doesn’t share the same native tongue as you. You can tell right away, can’t you? They may not use the verbs in the proper spot of their sentence or skip words to make simplistic sentences in lieu of a longer, more complex statement.

Now imagine if you needed something translated from English to French, would you rather have someone whose native tongue was English translate it? Of course not! You’d want your translation to flow with the language that you were translating to. That is a distinction and difference that can only be achieved by a masterful translator who understands all the nuances of effective translation.

Translation is Creative Writing

If you want to see firsthand how a translation can get lost in interpretation you only need to translate something from a different language into your native tongue using a tool such as Google Translator. The words will not flow smoothly and it’s rather apparent that whatever was translated likely sounded better in the native tongue of the originator. Some people realize this, but not everyone does.

With good translation you are going to be assured that:

The translator is not only using words from a different language. They are conveying the author’s ideas from his culture to another culture.

Think about books translated from a foreign language. This type of translation is the essence of the art of translation. Literary translators are writers.

Two important elements come into play when you are having a document translated from your native tongue to a foreign tongue.

  1. A language is more than a means of communication.
    Language is forged by the culture of the people who are using it. It is the carrier of the system of thoughts of a population. People from different languages have different cultures; they think differently and have different codes. This is even true between different regions that speak the same language. For example, French Canadian is subtly different from the French spoken in the country of France.
  2. A true translation relays the essence of the author’s message effectively.
    You cannot ‘wing it’ when it comes to a true translation. With it, you take the message and the ideas from one author and use them to write a new text in another language, as if you were the author. Through this process, you are writing for a different audience with different cultural codes. A professional translator can capture the essence of the author’s message and ensure that they are translating using the same cultural code that makes it so the author is ‘one of them.’

Translation is not Symmetrical

There is one rule of thumb that is an absolute for all translations—no exceptions! That is:

You only translate to your native language, never the other way around.

That means that a translator whose native tongue is French but also speaks and reads English does not translate from French to English. They only translate from English to French.
Our native language is the one we have the best command of; especially if we live in the country where it is spoken and if we use it every day. When dealing with our native language we know:

The three bullet points listed above are not true for other languages someone may speak, even if they can speak fluently in that language. Those of us who are bilingual can:

The Distinction of Professional Translators

Most people’s actions are what set them apart in their careers. For a translator, it is their words that set them apart from the vast sea of people who call themselves ‘translator.’ In order to create distinction as a translator you need to ensure that you are recreating the author’s thoughts in their native language, otherwise the results are not going to be as intended. Do not let anyone convince you otherwise; know that there is an art to translation.