Beyond language learning

“So you have learnt XXXX language. Wow! That’s great. You can become a translator now”  

“It’s so easy, learn XXXX language. Somebody told me that there is a two year diploma in XXX University, and then you will be a translator”

“You have a great job. You get XXXXX rupees for just typing 4000 words. That’s awesome. I should be a translator too”

These are some of the statements I have heard during my last seven years of translation (although there were many more, but they are not worth discussing). It is weird. People in general do not know the difference between translation and language acquisition. Sure, language learning is the first step towards building a career in translation but that is it. This is just the first step. There are several other steps to be taken, many concepts to be learnt before one can call himself/herself a translator. To name a few, here it goes:

  1. Specialization: “So you have completed a Masters in French from XXX University. Now you are a translator. You know everything about this language. Build a business.” …..No! This is not how it works. Language specialization is one aspect. Knowing French, for example, does not mean that you can translate all that is written in French. From my experience, I can tell you that a Rack and pinion linear gear specifications document (Automotive domain) is very different from a toy manual about Rattles and Cuddly toys (Toy manual), though both of these may have been written in the same language. You have to target those sectors in which your interests lie and learn about those sectors, how they function, their assembly lines, the terminology they use daily (for e.g.: If you want to specialize in Automotive sector, you should know at least the working knowledge of gears, clutch, steering wheel, hubcaps, fenders….etc.).
  2. Learning on the job: Translation is a very new industry in India. This is why it is often called as a sunrise industry. It has not reached its boom yet. Although hearing this gives me a great deal of satisfaction that the best has yet to come, but it also hits me that as we are new, we still have a lot to learn. Also, we have only a few mentors. As you will agree, there are not many courses in translation taught in universities in India. The Indian Translators Association has only 10 translators registered in French<>English domain. Mr Sandeep Nulkar, CMD, Bits Pilani Limited has said “Presently, the translation industry is quite disorganized in the sense that there are immense job opportunities in the corporate as well as government sectors but the supply of skilled and efficient manpower to fill the vacancies is lacking. The novice translators with inappropriate training and partial understanding of language do more harm than good in their field of work”. The term novice translators refers to those translators who have just come out from language schools and claim to have all the knowledge required for translating any document, without even having the slightest idea that what this entails. We must not forget that it is our responsibility to make this industry organized and to lay the groundwork for us and our future colleagues. A lot of work has to be done. But is a not a futile endeavor. As I have said earlier, the best is yet to come.
  3. Target Audience – Being a translator is more like being a writer. A writer writes his work keeping the audience in mind. It is the same for us. Translation does not mean we put the English (Target Language) sentence in place of a French (Source Language) sentence and the work is done. We have to keep our audience in mind. For e.g.; In case of manual of a washing machine, the target audience will be consumers; common men and women who are more likely to have no knowledge of the specifics of a washing machine, its parts, the connection between them, etc. So the language has to be very lucid along with clear diagrams explaining its working so that they can properly operate it themselves in compliance with the company’s standards. A document of a software program, which will most likely be read by fellow developers, must be in a language that is straight, simple, with less use of idioms and proverbs and more detail should be given to the translation of the coded language (in many cases the codes are not even translated).
  4. Sharpen the saw – Dr. Stephen Cover, in his bestselling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effectively People”, named his last habit sharpening the saw which serves as the base for all other habits to function properly. I think it is an important activity if you want to be best in your field. A translator’s learning never stops. He is continuously learning; about new software, new words and idioms in their respective source and target languages being added every year, new ways to market themselves…etc. In a nutshell, you always remain a student with your mind always active to grasp new concepts.

A competent translator is not only bilingual but bi-cultural. A language is not merely a collection of words and rules of grammar and syntax, but it is also an interconnecting system of cultural references whose mastery is almost a lifetime job. Hence it is a misconception that a person fluent in two or more languages can easily become a translator. Language is a road map to a new world, translation is the journey.


One thought on “Beyond language learning

  1. Pingback: Some practical tips for Freelance translators | Whole Wide Word

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