Have you ever tried to classify jobs? Some may fit into the category “dangerous”, or “well-paid”, or “difficult”. Actually, the list can be very long and the suggestions can turn to be numerous. But if you were asked about translator, would you say is translator’s job difficult?
To be honest, sometimes translator’s job is underestimated, because these are translators who face lots of challenges performing their work.
Translation demands a deep understanding of both grammar and culture. Translators need to know the rules of a language as well as the habits of the people who speak it. And even for the most experienced professionals, confusion and frustration are familiar feelings.
Translators face many challenges when creating accurate, quality translations for clients. Translator’s job is capturing the meaning of words from the source to the target language. Here are just a few challenges translators face when working on a project:
Every language sits inside a defined structure with its own agreed upon rules. The complexity and singularity of this framework directly correlates to the difficulty of translation.
Translator’s job is not transferring words for words, but it is the transfer of the meaning of sentences to the target language. Each language has different rules and structures that need to be followed in order to to maintain the same meaning. Without the correct language structure, it is easy for a sentence not to make any sense in the target language.
As a result, translators frequently have to add, remove, and rearrange source words to effectively communicate in the target language.
Idioms and expressions in translator’s job
Idiomatic expressions explain something by way of unique examples or figures of speech. And most importantly, the meaning of these peculiar phrases cannot be predicted by the literal definitions of the words it contains.
Many linguistic professionals insist that idioms are the most difficult items to translate. In fact, idioms are routinely cited as a problem machine translation engines will never fully solve.
Ideally, publishers should try to limit the number of idiomatic expressions contained in content they hope to translate. But if they insist on keeping these potentially confusing phrases, cultural familiarity must be a priority in translator recruitment.
Compound words are formed by combining two or more words together, but the overall meaning of the compound word may not reflect the meaning of its component words. It’s usually best to think of them in terms of three separate groups.
The first group of compound words mean exactly what they say. The second group of compound words mean only half of what they say — at least in a literal sense.
The third group of compound words have meanings that have nothing to do with the meanings of the individual words involved.
A language may not have an exact match for a certain action or object that exists in another language. That is why the translator has to involve different tactics to transmit the idea and make the target reader/listener understand the source writer/speaker.
Sometimes a verb and a preposition will take on a separate, specific meaning when used together. Two-word verbs are common in informal English. These structures can not be separated in order to transmit the meaning. In many cases, though, it is neither necessary nor appropriate to translate the preposition separately.
The same word may mean multiple things depending on where it’s placed and how it’s used in a sentence. This phenomenon typically follows one of two patterns.
There are homonyms, which look and sound alike but are defined differently. And then there are heteronyms, which look alike but are defined and pronounced differently.
Sarcasm is a sharp, bitter, or cutting style of expression that usually means the opposite of its literal phrasing. Sarcasm frequently loses its meaning when translated word-for-word into another language and can often cause unfortunate misunderstandings.
Ideally, a publisher would remove sarcasm from the source text prior to translation. But in cases where that style is central to the content requirements, the publisher should explicitly underscore sarcastic passages. That way, translators will have a chance to avoid literal misunderstandings and suggest a local idiom that may work better in the target language.
Style is the overall attitude, or feeling in a text. Recreating the same style is one of the most difficult tasks for translators.
Working professionally as a translator involves having sufficient knowledge and experience in particular business fields. Translators have to be able to work with different materials. Whether it is legal documents, marketing documents or websites, these tasks are very different. Whatever the type of document is, a specific knowledge in the right field and industry is essential to be as accurate and reliable as possible, as it takes a knowledge of the right vocabulary, the right procedures, etc.
For marketing documents, translator’s job is to translate but also to adapt the message to the target market’s culture, society and lifestyle. For example, when translating a simple slogan, the sentence has to be adapted in another language where the rhymes won’t necessarily be the same if translated literally. This is therefore a major difficulty for the translator and only creative translators are able to complete such tasks.
When it comes to legal documents, it is even more fastidious to translate from one language to another. A specific knowledge in this area is required as each country has its own legal system and its own laws: the translator must be able to cope with that and be aware of these differences.
As for the translation of a website, it doesn’t just imply translating word-for- word but it implies adapting it to the target country, otherwise it won’t cut the job. It is important to use a localised approach, more than just a “one-for- all” approach.
Translating specific content
Translators who must translate specific materials like fiction have to transcribe a whole story, context, world and environment into another language. It involves creativity to transfer cultural values and traditions and to make them understandable and adapted without altering them: the translator has to remain true to the original piece.
When translating films for example, the right words and expressions should be chosen to fit each scene and maintain a certain coherence. Culture then plays a major role.
For books, literary translations are about transmitting feelings, emotions and transcribing metaphors to make the fiction travel in an adapted yet accurate way. It is often hard to keep the writing style intact, which is another challenge translators have to deal with. The same goes for poetry: it should be handled carefully to maintain the implicit message, the writing style and the beauty of the piece.
Translating fiction is therefore a subtle work and professionals have to pay attention to all the cultural factors involved as well as the purpose of the original piece.
Once again, it is not just about being fluent, but knowing the culture and the market that correspond to the target language. It is part of the translator’s job to meet these specific conditions for an efficient and successful translation, without misrepresenting the initial core message.