Wednesday, 5 March 2008

So what is it translators do all day?

Well to put it bluntly they look for words, they search for syntax, battle with grammar and tackle tenses. They open dictionaries and try to understand; most of all they try to render the source language into their own language in as credible and true a way as possible. Sometimes they can do this in a neat and tidy fashion, sometimes they have to dredge up things from the recesses of their memory or conciousness. Of course these days Google can help alot.
My close colleague Rosemarie said today how pleased she was to have been able to find a phrase in German that was just right for a rather poetic text we received this week, each phrase in English began "It's time to..." and she finally came up with the idea of using words similar to the opening phrase of a German song sung at a rally against the war in Iraq. Computers can't do that, not until they develop consciousness and watch the nightly news.
One thing that all translators know is that your translation will be better if you've got time to sleep on it and read it through one last time the next day, but deadlines don't always allow for that.
The other thing translators know is that once you've gone through all this hard labour it's quite likely that someone will send your text back claiming the word you struggled over for ages is wrong or circling the one mistake you made in red. Ah well, only those who produce nothing never make mistakes.
My own big bugbear is not being sure whether I actually write English anymore, rather than franglais. Rosemarie quoted her former translation professor to me in my first week in this job "Your first foreign language is always your mother tongue."
When I'm looking for an English word I can sometimes find a French or German one but not an English one - it's a bit like the problem with washing socks, lots of singles no pairs!
Meanwhile the writer and editor I share my bed with can often be heard tutting over my efforts at translation saying none too patiently "that's not English".
Ah well translating is a humble profession and we're learning new words every day, the problem is we're not always sure where we've put them ... Now what was it I wanted to say, where did that word go?

1 Comment:

David D. said...

Thanks Jane for "translating" my own thoughts on the matter - and into perfectly good English at that!