My question is: how to be a good translator to your language?

Rachel Wicaksono answers:

OK, thank you for your question, Fatimah, about being a good translator. I’ve done a little bit of translating, from Indonesian into English, so my suggestions are based on my limited experience. And I hope they’re useful!

I’ll try and answer the question: What do you need to know before starting to translate a document?

The target language is the language you are translating into, so first, you need to know what variety of the target language is required. In your case, I know you’re translating between English and Arabic. So, if you’re translating into English, is it British English or American English? And if you’re translating into Arabic, is it Lebanese, Egyptian or Standard Arabic? And so on.

Next, you need to know about your audience:
Are you translating for a general or a specialist audience, for example, doctors?
How will the translation be used? Perhaps it will be used for legal purposes, maybe in court? And the answers to these questions will help you decide how much attention to detail is needed.

Does the style of the translation or the vocabulary need to be similar to what the clients have received before? For example, should the style be formal or informal? If you write for publication, do you need to use an academic, legal, medical or even conversational style? The answers to these questions about style could affect your choice of vocabulary, as well as the structure and layout of the text.

For example, in terms of vocabulary:
If you’re translating an academic article about the results of a scientific experiment, you may need to decide whether the results have been proven or not. And this will affect whether your vocabulary should be confident, vague or ‘hedged’ with words like ‘may’ and ‘might’, ‘perhaps’ and ‘possibly’.

And in terms of structure and layout of the text:
For example, are there sections that should be in italics or bold?

And now onto more practical matters:
When and how should the translation be delivered? Maybe a printed copy by post, fax or courier is needed, or even a digital copy as an e-mail attachment, or by Skype, or uploaded to a webpage?

And finally, the most important part, the money:
Will you be paid according to the number of words you translate or the number of words you deliver in your translation? Sometimes you can be paid according to how many hours you spend on the work. But remember to check whether you’ll be paid an extra fee for an urgent job or for other difficulties that you have to deal with, for example, a complex layout or a handwritten text that’s really difficult to read.

And don’t forget to ask when you’ll be paid and will you be paid by cheque, by bank transfer, PayPal, cash or in another way. And last, but not least, if the job is cancelled, especially after you’ve started work on it, will there be any compensation for the translator – a sort of ‘cancellation fee’?

So, to sum up:
What language and what variety of language, for example, British or American English, will be used in your translation?
Who are your audience and how much information do they need from your translation?
How should your document look? So, vocabulary, style and layout.
How and when should you deliver the document?
And how and when will you be paid?
And finally, what happens if the job is cancelled?

Perhaps you could use these suggestions to check or to draw up a contract with the person who needs the translation. I hope you enjoy your Translation Studies course, Fatimah, and your future work as a translator!

Rachel has taught English and trained teachers in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Japan and the UK. She is an IELTS examiner and a trainer and assessor for the Cambridge ESOL Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. Currently, Rachel works at York St John University where she is Head of Programme for the MA English Language Teaching and the International Foundation Certificate.

LINK: BBC World Service. Learning English


3 Responses to My question is: how to be a good translator to your language?

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