14 November 2007

Translators and Interpreters

What makes a good translator or interpreter? I have had pause to consider this over the last couple of weeks. For two reasons: a tender that came up for both translator and interpreter work and the fact that I have just completed a couple of days working both as a translator and interpreter. What follows are some thoughts on this...

The essence of translation and interpreting work is conveying the meaning of the presented material to the participants or target audience. Simply, a basic knowledge of words or a vocabulary is not enough. An in-depth or intimate knowledge of the intricacies of the source and target languages is also critical. A classic example is an interpreter's ability to translate accurately jokes or idioms which may appear simple in the source language but may not be funny in the target language or even have an equivalent.

Personal experience in Indonesia has afforded me an insiders view on the field as it is. This experience has taught me that the best translators and interpreters are not necessarily employed by specialized companies focusing on these activities but rather they are individuals who do translation and interpreting work as a hobby or to supplement their incomes from their primary job. This experience has also taught me that there needs to be a re-evaluation of the certification process and more stringent controls put in place to ensure that certified / sworn translators are capable of doing the job that they have been certified for.

There are many classic examples of where translators get it wrong. Nevertheless, if you are employing the services of a translator you would expect that you would get guaranteed quality on which you could rely. But, if you get something that should have been translated as "this law will come into force one year after its enactment" translated as "this law will be in force for one year" you will certainly start to doubt the quality of the certification system. The reality, on a personal level, is that the system does not allow for foreigners to be certified locally as sworn translators. So, being a sworn translator is not something high on my agenda at the present time.

Interpreting is all about gaining trust; the trust of the presenter and the trust of the audience who is to receive the material. This is not something that I have ever had trouble with despite some initial concerns which the first couple of sentences put to rest.

In a nutshell, and as I have recently been told, "you gotta be able to walk and chew gum."

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