Taking the world less travelled

Introduction to Translating and Interpreting

Posted by on Jun 7, 2008 in Language | 8 comments

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.





Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. James Nolan

    You might be interested in my book, below.
    Good luck & regards,
    J Nolan
    INTERPRETATION Techniques and Exercises
    James Nolan

  2. GoddessCarlie

    James, I cut your comment because it was very spam like. You’re luck I let you through really.

  3. badtzphoto

    I came here from Mangablog.com :)
    “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.”
    This is so very true. English isn’t my first language. My dad used to tell us to think in English when he was teaching us English. Sometimes when asked to translate a phase in English back to my mother’s tongue, I had a very hard time doing it – something very simple like “who cares?”
    I find your posts about learning Japanese fascinating and read it with interest because I’m thinking of learning the language because of my manga obsession :)

    “If people are interested, I would be happy to talk more about the individual topics that we talked about in class.”
    Yes, totally interested :)

  4. Kristi

    Wow! That was a very interesting post! I am learning Japanese as well, and I thought translation would be a great side job to have once I become fluent (I also want to teach). But, I never thought too much about it, and your post really made me think.

    In your opinion, do you think written translation is easier than spoken? Maybe because you have more time to think/work through it? I would be really interested to see what you think!

  5. Ersby

    Written translation is easier because, as you said, you have more time to think. I used to translate Italian to English and even though they’re both Latin-based languages, there are more than enough differences to have you staring at a sentence thinking “I know exactly what this means, but I don’t know how to say it in English.” And I’m a native English speaker. So good luck to Goddess Carlie when translating languages as different as Japanese and English!

    btw, I was told that an English translation of an Italian text should always be shorter. If not, then something’s gone wrong. Do people say anything similar about Japanese to English?

  6. Atreya

    Yes I have to agree with Ersby. Written translation is much easier. I have just done one page though (Japanese to English) and it was a work that was forwarded to me from a friend. However, it took me 8 hrs to finish it because the level of Japanese used in it was quite high as compared to my level. I still have a long way to go though. But interpretation was just too difficult. I was with this Japanese guy as a guide and we were out sight-seeing and half the stuff he was talking about went way over my head. Most of the time I used to say – ’ゆっくりお願いします。’ and he used to slow down a bit for my sake. Nice guy.

  7. GoddessCarlie

    Hey guys, thanks for the replies. There is lots to talk about here, so I could make new posts on them all. Some quick points:

    * translation and interpretation, in my opinion, are both hard! For different reasons. They both have unique challenges. Personally, I think translation would be easier for me, but that is because my writing skills are better than speaking (in English as well).

    * Translating from Japanese to English, the text is going to be longer, simply because Japanese characters take up less space. However, with Interpretation, as far as I’m aware, the general consensus is that the translated portion should be shorter than the original portion.

    Again, thanks for all the comments :)

  8. Dan R

    One thought that you might find interesting – our company has a translation division, usually for translating the learning material we produce in to the other languages used by staff in the larger companies we do business with. We always (and we’re not alone) only use native target language speakers, so for example in your case Carlie we would get you to translate the Japanese in to Australian/British English.

    As for your point about spoken Japanese taking longer, is that because of the politeness adding a dozen ~ございますs to everything as opposed to the more direct, somewhat less polite written form?

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