This is the translator’s best quality
And he is happy with this. Though a happy translator is a myth.
If you are a translator or if you happen to decide to be a translator, please take my advice seriously and give it a second thought, and find another career. If it is your destiny to be a translator, then go ahead and read.
You will find here a series of posts as guidelines how to be a better translator. This is the first of these.
As a translator, your deadly mistake is to come across something you don’t understand, yet you suppose you do.
Three steps to translate
- Be aware of requirements and expectations
- Read and examine the source text
- Simply translate and check your translation product
Be aware of requirements and expectations
Where do I start?
First of all, you have to know the requirements and expectations of your client. If your client understands what you do even to the least extent, he will leave no stone unturned to clarify the original text (target text), and will try to brief you about what he is going to do with the target text.
Since he is the one who is going to pay, you have to involve him in your translation. As a translator, you are not the launcher of the process. So, spare yourself troubles of pretending to be, and abide by instructions if you care about making living. You came to the party after a writer wrote a text, which is needed now in another language.
A due process of translation should include what is called a translation brief. A translator should receive this sheet of instructions from the client.
The client states at least the purpose and the audience for which the target text is to be used, along with some other useful information.
Suppose you as a translator, are asked to translate an educational resource. Your client will use such text to teach children how to play a certain game. Your role as a translator requires you to understand what kind of language you have to use to achieve the best result. This should be clear, informative and entertaining for children of certain age.
Bear in mind, it is not about you, it is about text. So this is not the right time and place to sound smart (though I suppose you are indeed, since you are reading this post) and linguistically knowledgeable. This is not the right time to show your translatorial muscles.
Be simple, accurate, and specific and have your words to the point.
Of course, you have to take the tone (formal, semiformal, non formal, etc…) of the text into consideration. But remember, Arabic clichés like حاز قصب السبق and قلب له ظهر المجن may sound to you appealing and you may not be able to resist inserting few of them here and there, but for a reader of a certain type, it is all Latin to them.
After all, a translator is a communicator, and he/she is a communicator in between. Always remind yourself of the saying, “Simplicity reigns”.
As a translator, you have the right and duty to understand what you are doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions related to the text. The more answers you get, the more understandable of your task you become.
Read the whole text first, and see if you understand the whole text.
Don’t take the text and the author for granted. Mistakes are everywhere, and you may spot few of them in the text. The text between your hands is neither a Quran nor a Bible (unless of course you are translating either). Make sure that factual data like dates, numbers, names, events, persons, etc.. are correct in the source text.
You may raise red flags and communicate your concerns and queries to your client. For all purposes, fact check is a prerequisite. This will give you a bonus, since you will give the client an impression that you are honest and take his translation job seriously.
Abide by instructions, but facts have to come first. Writers and translators have no right to change the world, at least has become past already, by words.
Ask yourself if you miss anything. After reading the text, you have to spot these places where something seems opaque to you. The text is written by a human, so you have to understand it and be able to translate it. Anything that can be said can be translated… somehow.
A word of advice:
Have you heard of the Arabic saying, “Men are four: One who knows and knows that he knows; One who knows and doesn’t know that he knows; One who doesn’t know and knows that he doesn’t know; and one who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.”
Whatever man and translator you choose to be, don’t be that one who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. Believe me, you are going to suffer.
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