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Translation Obstacles

August 20, 2008 2 Comments »

The act of translating can be a very gratifying experience…or a pain in the neck.

Talking about the satisfying side is easy (and rather boring), and because the enjoyment is personal and distinctive for each one of us, it doesn’t do us much good in regards to learning or improving our skills.  The problems we face while translating however, if we were to share them, discuss them with colleagues and try to solve them, could help us grow in our profession.

What are some common problems that we face as translators? We have gone to great lengths to master the twists and turns of our own language, its rules and idiosyncrasies. Not to mention a new language, one that we grasp almost as our own, that we know so much about, but always with so much more to learn.  And we have a specialty, or a topic we prefer, or one that comes easily to us. But we also have the thousands of topics that we know nearly nothing about, that are hard for us to figure out, and that the mere thought of having to translate frightens us.  Even in best case scenarios, no translation is “ideal.” We have all had experiences with the client who doesn’t understand what we do, the time and the effort that we put into it. Not everyone understands that we are not machines that you enter words into and then a little while later the translation pops out automatically.

And the texts we work with? How does one deal with “clippings” with no context that give no clues as to the appropriate meaning/verb tense/pronoun? How many times would we give “our kingdom for a glossary” that wasn’t provided?  There is also the client that asks for explanations once the work is finished, or even returns the work “corrected.” And of course we have the small day to day decisions: “This sentence is correct, but… who is the translation for?” Things like not using the formal “usted” for elementary students, and tailoring our translations to a specific audience, be it Latinos in the US or Argentineans in Buenos Aires, or on the other side of the coin, British English versus American English. And if there are two choices for the same term (baúl/maletero or trunk/boot) we must select the proper “flavor” for our intended audience.

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2 Responses to “Translation Obstacles”

  • Commented on August 24, 2008 at 5:48 am

    I totally agree with you. The more information a client provides regarding the intended audience, the better translation they will receive. Unfortunately, we are left to guess too often.

  • Commented on August 23, 2008 at 10:48 pm

    I totally agree with you. The more information a client provides regarding the intended audience, the better translation they will receive. Unfortunately, we are left to guess too often.