You already know that language translations have been around for several millennia. In fact, the earliest record was the translation of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian poem, into several Asian languages during the Mesopotamian era, between 3100 BC and 539 BC. Some Indian documents were translated by Buddhist monks into the Chinese language. Thus, language translation is not a novel concept.
Historically, the English term translation comes from the Latin term translatio. This originates from ”trans,” meaning across, and ”ferre,” meaning ”to bring,” or ”to carry.” However, it doesn’t seem to make sense ”-latio” is from ”latus,” which is the past particle of the verb ferre.
The full word ”translatio” means ”a bringing across,” or ”a carrying across” of (written) text from a source language to another language.
Basic rules of translation
Translation is considered an art form, as the translator should have the knowledge, creativity, and flexibility to ensure that the translations come out precisely as expected. Translation is difficult because each language varies and contains innate peculiarities and nuances that can sway the translation into something different from the source text if the translator is not careful and skillful. Understanding the basic rules of translation ensures accuracy.
Some of the rules may apply only to a specific language, while others apply to certain languages. Knowledge of the rules helps the translator decide how to proceed with the translation, minimizing errors than can plague some translation projects.
Do not translate proper names
It is better not to translate proper names, such as the name of an institution, company, or person, so that the text’s meaning is not lost. However, there are always exceptions where you can write the translation of the term in parentheses at the first instance it appears in the source document. Names of people should be retained as they are written in the source text.
False cognates spell trouble
False cognates are word pairs that appear to be related because they may be similar in meaning and sound. However, their etymologies are different. The thing about false cognates is that they may come from the same language family, dissimilar languages, or the same language.
For people who do not speak the same language, they may sound similar. For example, the English word ”push” sounds similar to the Portuguese term, ”puxe” that means pull. In Spanish, ”apellido” means last or family name, while the Portuguese word, ”apelido” means nickname.
Translators must be aware of the various false cognates to avoid confusion. They should have reference materials, dictionaries, and other tools to ensure their translation work’s accuracy and integrity.
Literal translation does not apply to every word
Most words in one language have equivalent words in another language. However, some words cannot be literally translated, meaning they require several words or a long explanation to convey their meaning. Further, some words cannot be translated at all.
Newbie translators should learn these basic rules of translation. However, there are more complex rules to follow. Being a translator is an exacting job and requires more skills and knowledge than just fluency in a language pair.
Translators become better at their job through patience, hard work, and dedication to their chosen field. They do not stop learning and continue to enhance their skills. If you want to be good at your job, here are some translation tips to improve your translation quality.
- Avoid grammar mistakes and typos by installing tools and apps such as grammar and spelling checkers.
- Apply the common practices and rules of the target language when you correct punctuations and translate text.
- Follow the source text as much as possible. There may be exceptions to the rule, but you would know the terms and words that may require some deviation from the norm as a professional translator.
- Do not be satisfied with just one reading. Read the translation several times, silently and aloud, before you submit the translation to the editor. The process will help you check if the words sound clear and harmonious. You may find that some of the words you use are not appropriate.
- Compare the translation to the original text and see that you convey the same message and context.
- Ensure that you do not overlook the adverbs and adjectives, which can help you improve the accuracy of the translation. They may not seem essential but paying attention to them shows how skilled as a translator you are. Adverbs and adjectives may be small texts, but they can lead the writer’s thoughts in a precise direction.
- Pay attention to prepositions as well. They should not be translated separately but in relation to the noun or verb that precedes or follows them.
What is the formula for translation?
There is no fixed formula that you can use for translation. It is usually a combination of several techniques, which the target language dictates. Translation involves using different methods, according to the client’s requirement, and applies to the entire document. Translation also uses different techniques, even within the same document, depending on the text elements’ particular needs.
You can divide the techniques into two categories: direct translation and oblique translation.
You use direct translation techniques when the source text’s conceptual and structural elements can be transferred into the desired language. Techniques include:
- Borrowing. This technique uses words from another language and using them without translating them. The translator may pick up the source text’s words and use them exactly in the target text.
- Calque. In this technique, the translator borrows a phrase from another language and translates it word-for-word in the target language. Example: skyscraper (English)/gratte-ciel (French).
- Literal translation. The technique is also called metaphrase, a word-for-word translation that is idiomatically and grammatically correct in the target language. One example is asking, “What time is it?” in English, which literally translates into “Quelle heure est-il?” in French.
You use oblique translation techniques when the original text’s conceptual or structural elements cannot be directly translated into the target language without changing the target language’s stylistic and grammatical structure and its meaning.
- Transposition. This technique involves shifting the sequence of the parts of speech without changing the meaning of the phrase.
- Modulation. Instead of changing the sequence, modulation introduces a perspective change. The translator uses another phrase that differs from the source but will convey the same meaning.
- Reformulation or equivalence. The technique requires using a different expression to relay the same meaning, which helps in translating proverbs, idioms, interjections, and names of institutions.
- Adaptation. With adaptation, the substitution is often cultural, meaning that the translator uses another word or phrase that is more suitable and familiar to the culture that speaks the requested language.
Languages with the highest demand for translation
As new markets open their doors to international trade, translators receive higher demand for specific languages. The languages indicate the growing markets in various locations and show you that the number of speakers of these languages is increasing.
- Spanish. The demand for Spanish translation is worldwide, but the demand in the United States is growing as well because Spanish is the second most spoken language in the U.S. Internationally, Spanish is spoken in various places in the four continents as an official language.
- Chinese Mandarin. Mandarin translation is enjoying high demand globally because it is one of the world’s most spoken languages. But unlike Spanish speakers who are geographically distributed, most of the Mandarin Chinese speakers are located close to the mainland.
- German. Germany is one of Europe’s strongest economies in Europe, and it continues to grow, which is one reason why the demand for German translation remains high. Another reason is the difficulty in learning the German language.
- English. Requests for English translation remain high because it is the language of travel, business, and international relationships. Speakers are widely distributed worldwide, unlike other languages whose speakers are regionally located.
- Arabic. Not only is Arabic one of the most in-demand translation projects, but it is also one of the highest-paid because the language is difficult, and the number of translators is limited.
Other languages include French, Korean, Japanese, Russian, Portuguese, and Hindi.
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