This semester at university I’ve been studying Translation and Interpreting. It is just a theory based course, while the actual translating and interpreting course is for post graduates. However, we had to do a lot of translating for assignments and a presentation on difficulties in interpreting, so we did have to do these activities, we just didn’t get marked on our actual translation, just what we had to say about it.
Right now I’m going over all the material we learnt during the semester, as I have a test next week. If there is one thing I’ve learnt about translating and interpreting it is that it is HARD! You have to have a high understanding of not just your target language but how your own language works. Things you often take for granted, such as little sayings like “It’s raining cats and dogs” can be difficult to translate.
There are so many things you need to be aware of when translating. Not just what is being said (content) but how it is said (form).
You need to know a lot about the culture of both languages, to know what would be understood and what would not, for instance, when talking about children’s games, would someone from another culture know “Pin The Tail On The Donkey”?
Japanese is only really spoken in one country, but English can also be difficult as it is spoken in many. So there are many different cultural differences between the countries. This is evident in how many words were changed in Harry Potter between England and the US (for those who are curious – Australia got the UK version). I had to translate text from a New Zealand fiction story, very difficult indeed!
You also have to make decisions on what to translate and how. Do you translate Pin The Tale…” literally (word for word), as “a child’s game”, or into a similar if somewhat different game from the target language’s culture? It all depends on the context.
In English there are also many words that I have a hard time explaining. I just “know” what it means but can’t put it into words. Obviously my vocabulary in Japanese isn’t big enough to even attempt to translate there words, but I imagine if it was it would still be difficult.
One thing to remember is translation isn’t a natural process. The person doing it must be focused. I do believe that when one is first learning a second language that using your first language to help you learn it makes a lot of sense. However, as you learn more, it is easier just to use the second language and not to translate it back into your first language unless you are really having trouble.
I think that translating and/or interpreting as a job would be very stressful and hard. I don’t think it is the kind of thing that would get easier as you go along. Sure you would have your own system that you can streamline and improve over time, but I think that each text or situation would be new and challenging. Certainly it could be very rewarding and exciting job. For me personally, I think I would rather only translate or interpret situations that are of interest to me, I couldn’t imagine trying to translate Harry Potter, I think I’d have to shoot myself!
It still surprises me how many people assume that all languages can have a word-by-word translation into other languages. “Why did it take so long for him to say that one word?” Next time someone says something really silly I’ll have to remember to write it down so I can have a post “The Funny Things People Think About Other Languages” kind of post.
If people are interested, I would be happy to talk more about the individual topics that we talked about in class. This is an advanced level class, so most of the class was spent talking about the topics and then some (hard!) exercises involving what we were talking about.