Whenever I tell people that I’m a translator, I always get ‘oh how they envy me’ because my job is so easy. Apparently, all I do is sit in front of a computer and paraphrase and that doesn’t even actually require brains. Even Google could do what I do.
Hearing this over and over again made me realize that not everyone is familiar with what goes into the process of translation. So, here’s a generic routine to set the basis.
First things first; translation is not the same for all texts. You wouldn’t translate a newspaper article the same way you’d translate a technical or a diplomatic document. Then you have your subtitles for your favourite TV programme, or the best-selling book of your favourite author. The process changes drastically across fields.
The first step in all, however, is to skim the text. If you’re translating a laid-back blog article, for instance, that will do the trick. You’ll be familiar enough with the article to read and translate as you go. But if you’re working on a creative project or an intricate subject, then you’ll want to delve right into it and scrutinize every single word. Once the wheels start turning in your head, you will be ready to get going.
There is this one mistake that all of us go through at this point. It took me a while to admit it: we do not, and cannot know everything. There will always be something that you’ve yet to learn, and there will always be that one thing that no matter what you do, goes right over your head (I’m looking right at ya, finance). That means, have your dictionaries and thesaurus at hand. And while you’re at it, look up relevant articles and pages to use as sources. You may think you know the language, but only if you knew the mistakes I made when I first started translating medical documents. Apparently, these white coats have their own lingo and won’t accept otherwise. At the time, I read countless articles to acquaint myself with the use of specific words and adjectives. I still find it useful to read a couple of related articles before I get to work on a heavily technical document. It may be best to try and avoid being pulled into the vortex, though. It was one too many times that I found myself adrift in some Middle Ages articles some hours later. Simply put; know what you don’t know and learn how to learn it.
Now that you are familiar with your text and you have your sources at hand, let’s gear up. Not all texts will be crystal clear in meaning. In some cases, you’ll have to dive deep to only guess what the author might’ve meant. There may be a bunch of scenarios here. You may be lacking context. The text you’re working on might be translated from another language, having lost some of its essence in the process. The author may not be a native speaker of the language in question. The text might’ve been written in haste, brimming with incomplete sentences and abbreviations. The text might be addressing a highly specific group of people with considerable inside terminology. The author may not have very good writing skills. Or, perhaps, you might be incompetent at the subject. In all cases, it is your job to decipher the code and put it into legible syntax. Which brings me to the next step.
Each group of words has their own personality. They all express in different ways. Two different sentences may mean the exact same thing with quite the clashing emotions. Translation goes beyond words and reaches out to these moods. You mind the tone, you mind the word choice, you mind the level of literacy, you mind the subject. It is best to use simpler sentences in scientific documents, while legal articles are notorious for never-ending paragraphs. A blog article may be quite the read or fun and easy-going. I personally like to refer to thesaurus in making that distinction. The missing puzzle piece in one context may be random in another, and you learn to hear that sketchiness over time.
Of course, needless to say, the key to all the above is to have a working grasp of both the source and target languages. You wouldn’t want to misunderstand and spread false information. After all, translation is indeed somewhat akin to paraphrase. Well, combine those language skills with the steps above, and there you have it!
You see, there goes a lot into that smoking cauldron of translation. No wonder we all get cranky every now and then! And you know what the best part is? Before you know it, translation will have you know something about everything. Then all you have to do will be to know everything about something!