Translation: more than what people think it is

You know that horrible feeling when you have a string of thoughts to share, but the words stop at the tip of your tongue? Your mind is racing with little details but your lips are stuck on ‘ums’ and zany sentence construction. This normally happens when you’re sleepy, nervous, or hey, maybe even a little bit tipsy. Either way, not being able to express yourself is an annoying feeling.

Now imagine how frustrating it is to try and explain yourself in a different language; have you ever had that feeling? Since we live in such a multicultural country, I assume that most readers can speak more than one language. But does this mean that the reader can translate between target language and source language easily? Not at all.

That time I translated an invoice sheet into French:

I’m going to make this one short. How well do you know car parts in your second language? Let me tell you honestly, translating things like front double wishbone suspension, limited slip standard seat-belt, electronic shift-on-the-fly and standard high altitude compensator was one of the most challenging translation tasks that I have ever come across. 90% of the time I raced through the internet trying to find out what was even going on in English. And the scary thing is, perfect translation is critical in a piece like this. How bad would it be for customers if I mistook a front 2x3-point ELR with an ALR 3-point?!

Playing around with lyrics:

In my favourite cover song, two verses are translated into French. The first line says ‘all I am is a man’. It sounds easy enough to translate, but actually, the translator must rely on a technique called circumlocution. This can be described as a roundabout manner for describing something. So instead, the line got translated into ‘I am only a women’.

Why? Because the translator has to make sure that the content of the translation can still be followed through logically, but be grasped in such a way that the syllables of the translation do not throw the song out of rhythm.

But doesn’t this change the meaning of the song?
No, actually not. The purpose of the sentence is to describe that the speaker is only human, so changing the gender does not influence the magnitude of emotion in the song. Basically, the translator had to keep refining each verse so that both the message and the beat of the song stays 100% equivalent.  

Translation goes far beyond words:

Translators are expected to understand communication strategies well enough to work with non-verbal languages. Sign language, as a symbolic representation of communication, uses multiple channels of hand shapes, movements and facial expressions to replace communication represented by morphemes and added lexical items.

The limited ability to explore synonyms, code-units or loan-words changes the approach to translation. Instead, the translator must consider the physical dynamics of explanation in sign language to form a way to convey a message or word quickly and simply. The word ‘yellow’ in sign language is directly derived from the letter ‘Y’, in which the signage looks the same but the hand remains still. Since English and sign language belong to different semiotic systems, the translator must focus strongly on that which is the most important to convey as opposed to following intricate English linguistic patterns. 

We have just touched the tip of translation’s gigantic iceberg. But basically, it is better to hire a professional translator who understands the ins and outs of language and communication and who strives for building a web for better communication.