Dnipro University of Technology — Compliance with the Time


It is often taken for granted that it is impossible to learn to translate or it can be managed only by people who have a talent for learning languages.

However, the realities of today show that you can learn to translate – if you wish.


There are some common myths about the work of the translator:

- If the translator knows foreign languages, it is enough to make high-quality translation.

Unfortunately, this is unbelievable. First of all, the translator must not only be proficient in the source language, but in the target language as well – just to be able to express an opinion and to provide for information exchange. Secondly, it is not enough just to know languages. There is the so called branch translation, which has its own terminology and descriptions of technical processes. Thus, without knowledge of certain phenomena, the work of the translator comes to nothing.

- Technical translator must be an expert only in one area to make the adequate translation.

This statement makes sense, but only to a certain point. In a modern world, knowledge is rapidly changing and there are new, related areas that need the work of the translator. Also, we should not forget about the increasing interactivity and mobility of the translator. For example, a person always translated texts from the gas industry and suddenly changed the job, where she was offered a text on another subject, for instance, on the history of the marine. Therefore, the interpreter must be an erudite person and not cling to the field, where he is a lord and a master.

- The translator must be confident in his knowledge.

Even in ancient times, Socrates suggested a challenge to this statement: “I know that I know nothing”. Only a wise man, who has not only the life experience, which he can rely on, but also the doubts, could say such things about himself. There are two extremes in the work of a translator and both are related to ignorance. The first one is confidence in one’s own knowledge. It is very good when there is a good basis, but without proper usage the knowledge is worthless, because when it is limited to one or two fields, or is not updated for some time, it is devaluated and is not up to the modern demands. So such a translator is doomed to shame. The second extreme is the fear and constant doubt to make a mistake or produce an inaccurate translation. Overloading himself with a bunch of options, he loses the pearl in a pile of manure. Therefore, self-confidence and uncertainty are impossible: it should be the equilibrium, when the translator knows what he wants and constantly updates his knowledge. Doubt is inherent to every person, and it is natural, because sometimes doubt can become a push to the correct version of translation of one or another variant of translation, which the key content depends on.

- You should worship the dictionary, because it is the holy book of the translator.

The experienced translator and professor of the Kiev Institute of International Affairs, G. Miram in his book “Translation Algorithms” expressed the neat opinion, which crushes this myth into pieces: “Translation starts where the dictionary ends”. This is confirmed by the fact that dictionaries, even highly specialized ones and those which are composed by the most famous lexicographers, or online dictionaries, cannot contain all the realities, and therefore very often, especially at the beginning of the translation career, the phrase “it is presented in the dictionary” causes the smile. But the importance of dictionaries is not detracted, vice versa, when learning a language and translation, high-quality dictionaries are necessary, moreover, they are an integral part of learning process and the work of the translator. Just to look into a dictionary and define the field the word belongs to and its possible contextual meanings is not even half of the matter, but only a third part, and here we need to use background, industry and general knowledge, which must help in the translation of the text. 

But then there is a question: if everything what was said is true, than how to acquire translational knowledge?

The answer is simple. You need to acquire a foreign language and translation in different fields simultaneously because any kind of translation is an individual linguistic phenomenon.

Of course, we must muster a foreign language; it is the first and the most important part of studying in order to become a translator. And there is nothing you can do about it. But there is a trap in which most students fall. They either study according to the program or overestimate their knowledge pretending they know everything.

The main point in any foreign language mastering is not only to fulfil the plan of a teaching program but also to exceed it. The other point is that you are to hand in your paper in time (for translator the ability to hand in your paper is one of the crucial characteristics) and learn independently from your teachers. Besides, do you know that only 10% of a student’s success depends on the teacher and 90% depends on the student? The explanation is very easy: you are the only person who can learn the language. The teacher already knows his subject and his task is just to improve your knowledge. You are not only to reach the level of teacher’s knowledge but also to exceed it.

That may be strange but the best way to do this is to read modern fiction in a target language. On the one hand, it helps to memorize words and, on the other hand, while reading modern fiction you see the words and structures which are used nowadays.

However, just reading and watching movies without attempts to communicate and use your vocabulary are passive ways of studying a foreign language. But the main point is how to practice? Of course, you can attend talk sessions hosted by native speakers, and the key advantage of such clubs is that you can speak without fear to make a mistake.

If you cannot find such a club in your city, modern technologies can help you, for example, social networks with video chats. Nowadays one of the available services for video conferences is Google Hangout chat; moreover, you can record your video and download it on youtube.com. You can use it for self-analysis in order to improve your language skills in future.

But the question of translational knowledge acquirement is still open. You can master the language, but what is the secret of success for amateur translators?

You can translate the fiction you read, but you are to pay attention to the point which most amateurs miss. This is a comparison. How could the translator expose different images, which linguistic devices he used and why he translated it in a certain manner? But we must know how either to compare (similar translation works) and their originals or enhance our own translation. It is a well-known fact that at the very beginning the amateur will certainly meet some lexical and grammatical difficulties. Another thing related to some existing translations is that they interpret source texts too freely. So we must be able to do justice to the original.

The second stage, -and it is an axiom, - is that a translator must constantly renew his background and field knowledge about the country (historical, political and cultural). The crucial thing for amateurs is not only to renew, but also to accumulate the knowledge, because translations without this basic knowledge would be inadequate.

If we do not have any problems with information about the country (guide books, movie watching or native language books), we might have a problem with field knowledge. The thing is that the majority of higher educational establishments just give basic translational courses , and as for technical translation you receive the knowledge from philologists who do not have wide field knowledge.

National Mining University does not have such a problem. There are technical disciplines (chemistry, physics, engineering and basics of mining) in bachelor’s curricula. These disciplines are conducted by experts from different technical departments in Ukrainian language. The main purpose of these disciplines is not only to give background knowledge but also to form basic technical knowledge of a certain field, because without understanding a process, any translations could not be done accurately. It is worth nothing that the very student is interested in his technical knowledge improvement, because his future salary depends on this. After technical preparatory course in the third academic, year the technical department lecturers start to teach not only the common basic courses but also practical technical translation at the same time.

Just like mastering a foreign language, the professional competence of a translator requires practice and a lot of independent work which means that self-discipline is to be considered too. Here volunteer programs can help us. The main disadvantage is that they are free, but during these programs, you can gain one of the most significant things, that is experience. The thing you will get first is that you are to prepare and study vocabulary, repeat the rules and so on. But the main enemy at the very beginning of your translational career and during oral conversations is fear and lack of self-confidence. If you defeat them, your translation must be perfect.

Independent work and learning more than teachers give you at the lesson is a major task of an amateur. That is the reason why you must do not only oral translations but also their written versions, but here we can also have some traps. For example, you need to translate a birth certificate in English. This is a very significant document and every word should be in its place. With the help of dictionaries some translators manage to render this certificate, however, it turns inadequate. This is a common mistake of the amateurs because, at first, you must find clichés and only then translate the document. You must understand that we live in different countries and our documents differ from those of other countries. That is the reason why we should find a document form which will be valid in the country you go to. This all concerns the foreign documents (technical and legal documents, manuals, technical specification etc.). And only having found the necessary clichés, we could begin to translate.

There are lots of things you can do to improve your translation and one of them is to find a person who mastered the field of your translation specification. You can ask this person to clarify certain details and define whether you have made a semantic mistake (смысловая ошибка) and correct it, if needed.

The translator’s profession is a constant improvement of the language skills during all your life and if you have made your choice, you must understand that it is a permanent search, hard individual work, huge responsibility and, of course, self-perfection.

The article is written by Shchurov A.V., Assistant Prof. of the Translational Department

Translared by Skripnik Artem

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