What Does a Translator Do?
Translation is easily one of the most influential processes happening in the background of our world. In fact, by their very nature, good translations are completely unrecognizable as anything other than a text originally written by a native speaker. The quality of a translation determines whether a major business deal is closed, a patient receives the proper dose of a medication, or a jury understands the evidence presented.
Thousands of pages have been written on the topic of challenges associated with translation. In the interest of brevity, I’ll cover just one — one that applies to every translation ever: context. Aside from highly specific terms, such as certain words that would be encountered in the medical field, quite a lot of the words we commonly use have more than one meaning. A word might have several different denotative meanings (basically, numbered entries in the dictionary), several different connotative meanings (the nuances loaded behind a word that often take effort to describe), or both!
All of that might sound like a boring mess of grammar, so let’s take some examples, referring back to the situations from earlier:
1. A sportswear company wants to close a deal with Amazon that will allow their brand to be recognized and sold around the world. Part of this process includes pitching their product, describing in detail the look and feel of their clothing.
2. A doctor searches through a patient’s medical record to determine what medication to prescribe, telling the patient that it doesn’t look like they’ve ever tried medication XYZ, so that’s what they’ll try next.
3. In the courtroom, everyone is instructed to look at Exhibit A.
No higher education or training of any kind is required to understand that “look” is applied differently in all three situations. On the contrary, understanding these differences on a linguistic level — and thus translating them properly — requires something more. On a concrete level, it requires higher education, training, or many years of practice in translation itself as well as the target language (the language being translated into). On an abstract level, it requires a language professional who can write with native (or near-native) proficiency in the target language. After all, if the translation doesn’t accurately convey the intended meaning to the final listener, we’re no better off than where we started. In fact, we are often worse off than where we started in this case!
The importance of context only scratches the surface in explaining the everyday obstacles of translation and, hence, the importance of translation being handled by qualified professionals. What I love about educating others on this topic is how relatable it is even to people who have never learned another language or couldn’t care less about the difference between an adjective and an adverb. Look at you, taking the time to learn something new today!
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What is a CAT Tool?
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- How Does a Translator Work?