Inclusive Language Resources

As professional translators, we are often called upon to produce content that transcends linguistic and cultural barriers. Clients may look to us as key resources in getting their products, messages, and ideas into new markets. Upsetting target audiences by using language that is offensive or perpetuates stereotypes can be very problematic in most contexts.

Whether you’re a newcomer or veteran to the translation field, staying abreast of inclusive language best practices is a professional must. Below is a list of inclusive language resources that we have collected over time and continue to update. This list includes articles, style guides, term lists, webinars, and websites specializing in the areas of ability, age, appearance, ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, and religion. If there are other resources you would like to see added to this list, please reach out to us at

Please note that the content of each resource reflects the opinion and beliefs of its publishing organization.



Ethnicity & Race

Gender & Sexuality

Socioeconomic Status


Six International Language Associations to Join

Language associations are a great way to connect with people of different backgrounds who share a similar appreciation for learning foreign languages. By joining a language association, you have the opportunity to engage with speakers at various levels of proficiency and practice your language skills with native speakers. You’re probably already familiar with the American Translators Association since this blog is run by ATA volunteers, but what about other international associations for languages?

Learning a new language can be very difficult and it’s also a challenge to maintain proficiency. Language associations allow you to stay proficient in the languages you have worked so hard to master while also connecting with new people.

If you’re looking to improve and increase your foreign language skills, take a look at these six international language associations you should join!

  1. The International Language Association (ICC)

The International Certificate Conference (ICC) is a non-government organization that sets the standards for a transnational network of language learners. This international language association offers foreign language teaching and learning with exchange of ideas and culture.

This association provides the following to its learners:

  • Proven expertise in projects
  • Quality assurance
  • Networking
  • Theory and practice
  • Personal development
  • Independent voice

As a platform for ideas, projects, teachers, and courses, the ICC encourages research and development in language teaching by collaboration. In addition, the ICC has a local impact, representing the field of language learning and teaching, and promotes quality in both aspects.

  1. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) is committed to the improvement and expansion of the teaching and learning of all languages at varying levels of instruction. Established in 1967, this organization now has over 13,000 members including language educators and administrators ranging from elementary through graduate education, with some holding positions in government and industry.

The ACTFL strives to advance the value of world languages and empower learners to become linguistically and culturally competent through the following strategic priorities:

  • Equity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Outreach and advocacy
  • Teacher recruitment and retention
  • Professional development
  • Research

If you’re looking to make your mark on the language education field, become a member of the ACTFL today.

  1. Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL)

The Association of Departments of Foreign Language (ADFL) supports the language, literature, and cultural studies communities in the United States and Canada. This association has a broad range of members, with representatives of departments and programs in diverse languages at postsecondary institutions.

The ADFL membership base provides a network to review the issues faced by language-related humanities fields and works to develop solutions and fieldwide policies. Through seminars, journals, discussion lists, and their website, the ADFL provides a forum for collegial exchange about important issues and legislation that affects the field of work.

Looking to find out more information about the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages? Check out the ADFL website.

  1. The Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA)

The Australian Federation of Modern Language Teachers Associations (AFMLTA) is a professional body that represents educators of all languages in Australia. This association strives to provide vision, leadership, representation, advocacy, and support for promoting quality foreign language teaching and learning.

The AFMLTA strategic plan outlines actions they intend to complete in order to achieve their goals and support their members in the following key areas:

  • Member services
  • Governance and operations
  • Leadership and representation
  • Research and professional practice

For additional information on the AFMLTA and membership opportunities, contact the AFMLTA team.

  1. Association for Language Learning (ALL)

The Association for Language Learning (ALL) is an independent registered charity and the United Kingdom’s major subject association for individuals involved in the teaching of foreign language at varying levels of proficiency. It is their goal to represent and support language teachers and their ongoing professional development. The ALL supports their members by offering opportunities to access local, regional, and national training or networking events.

Founded in 1990, ALL is run by teachers for teachers and consists of thousands of members across the United Kingdom and further afield. To learn more about how the Association for Language Learning can help to improve your foreign language skills, check out the ALL website.

  1. Association of University Language Centers (AULC)

The Association of University Language Centers (AULC) is an organization for staff working in language departments and centers located in the United Kingdom and Ireland. With approximately 70 universities as current members, the AULC provides opportunities for networking for all staff involved in management, teaching, and resources.

The major goals of the association include:

  • To encourage and foster good practice and innovation in language learning and teaching
  • Effective resource management and administration
  • To conduct regular meetings to facilitate discussion and an exchange of information on the diverse activities hosted by the various language centers
  • To facilitate contacts with university departments internationally
  • To monitor emerging international and national language standards and work to develop quality assurance mechanisms

To learn more about their membership guidelines, check out the AULC site.

About the author

Molly Downey works with the Kent State Master of Arts in Translation program. This department provides a variety of courses in foreign languages, cultures, and literatures.  

Style Guide for Spanish Writing

Oftentimes, clients will have questions as to the style choices that language professionals make. Perhaps the target document may not appear the way they see it in English, or perhaps it does not coincide with other documents they have seen written in the target language. In order to alleviate some of the stress in this process, this style guide was created to help English speaking translation clients understand some of the key differences in the visible appearance of Spanish. Translators could create similar guides for their respective languages as general guidance for their clients.


In Spanish, for titles of stories, creative works, and articles written in magazines or newspapers, slogans, etc. sentence case and italics are used:

  • Cien años de soledad
  • Las señoritas de Avignon (Avignon is capitalized because it is a place)
  • West side story (note that Spanish rules apply to an English text quoted in a Spanish document).

The rules are more similar to the English ones for titles of weekly publications, presentations and exhibitions, laws and official documents. Spanish capitalizes all words with lexical content, as well as italicizing the name of the publication to show where the title starts and ends:

Weekly publications

  • La Nación
  • El Comercio

Laws and official documents

  • el Código Civil
  • la Ley 40/1998, de 9 de diciembre, de Impuestro sobre la Renta de las Personas Físicas y otras Normas Tributarias
  • la Convención de Ginebra

Names of historical eras, events and festivities:

  • el Precámbrico
  • la Contrarreforma
  • Navidad, Año Nuevo, Día Internacional de la Mujer


Semicolon: separates phrases of equal weight that are all affected by the same verb. Spanish sentences are often quite long, and phrases within them are separated by semicolons.

Comma: separates words of equal weight within the phrase.

Colon: no capital letter after a colon. Caps only go at the start of a sentence, the start of a book title, or the start of a proper name.

Traiga lo siguiente a la escuela: compás, transportador, lápiz, papel.

In this case no caps follow the colon since it is only a list of items to take to school.

However, note the following exceptions:

Cómo hacer puré: Hierva las papas, etc.

In the above case, using a capital letter after the colon is OK because a small sentence truly starts after the colon.

Muy señor mío:
Le agradeceré…

After the colon that follows the greeting in a letter.

Que D. José Álvarez García ha seguido el Curso de Técnicas Audiovisuales…

After the colon that follows the main verb of an administrative legal document.

Pedro dijo: «No volveré hasta las nueve».

After the colon that introduces a citation or quotation.

Bulleted lists: treat the punctuation as if the items followed each other within a paragraph. In other words, each new item does NOT get a capital letter because it is on a new line. To make this point obvious, I used the same list as in the sentence above. In English, items in bulleted sentences are separated by semicolons, and in Spanish we can use commas.

Traiga lo siguiente a la escuela:

  • compás,
  • transportador,
  • lápiz,
  • y papel.

(Note that this list has commas, no capital letters, and ends in a period: it is a sentence graphically broken down into bullets to itemize the elements of the list.)

Simple quotes enclose meanings.

Quotation marks:

The period always goes outside of the quotation marks.

Me dijo: “Es una tontería”.

Long parenthetical comments should be replaced by footnotes.


Numbered lists should always have Arabic numerals followed by a closing parenthesis, as shown below. Lowercase Roman numerals are not used, nor is the (1) format. Even inside a paragraph, these rules are followed.



A long dash can be used to enclose explanations –. In these cases, the long dash needs to be on both sides of what it encloses, even if the end is just before the period at the end of the sentence or the paragraph. In this case, it is “kissing” the enclosed comment and “keeping its distance” from the rest of the sentence with a space. However, such use is somewhat rare, and often writers use commas or parentheses instead.

  • La editorial ha publicado este año varias obras del autor –todas ellas de su primera época–.
  • Para él la fidelidad –cualidad que valoraba por encima de cualquier otra– era algo sagrado.

(Examples taken from Ortografía de la lengua española, published by Real Academia Española, p. 374)

Siglas” (Acronyms) don’t take periods (OTAN; ONU, EUA)

Acronyms are not pluralized in Spanish (“los CD”, not “los CDs”)

Translators should not create new acronyms, but use the official ones in Spanish (for example ONU for UN, SIDA for AIDS, etc.). If no official Spanish acronym exists, translators should use the acronym of the source text, spelling it out the first time, followed by (ABC, por sus siglas en inglés) or (ABC, American Broadcasting Company) and using it sparingly after that. Either format can be used as long as it is consistent. Note that in some cases, acronyms have been used as words often enough that they are commonly found in lowercase format, such as “sida”, and in some cases only the first word is capitalized, as in Renfe. Readers should not have to go to the previous page to find the definition of the acronym. If it is used once per page, it should be spelled out or the name should be abbreviated using words, not the acronym.

tú (informal you) vs usted (formal you): In Spanish business communications (from memos to manuals) should always be in the “usted” form unless the client insists. Of course, when addressing young people, the “tú” form is appropriate.

Business letters signed with only a first name are not culturally acceptable in Spanish. When an English document is signed by “Joe”, the Spanish should also give Joe’s last name and say “Joe Brown, President”.

Unit conversions: square feet, inches, pounds, etc., are not used in the Spanish speaking world. However, the units in the document should be those commonly used in the target country. The requester should specify whether unit conversions should be made. Any unit conversions should be done carefully, verifying the accuracy of the conversion. In technical documents, however, units of measurement should not be converted to avoid confusion. One acceptable alternative is putting the conversion between parentheses, as follows: 450 sq. ft (45 m2). In any event, the unit should always be stated immediately after the number because significant mistakes have been made in the science field because of lack of attention to unit conversion.

Gender neutrality: In Spanish, the masculine singular is the neutral case. Filling the text with “él o ella” makes for cumbersome reading. As a matter of fact, when referring to a group of men and women as “them”, the Spanish is “ellos” (masculine plural).

Sex (male/female) refers to people, but nouns in Spanish have gender (the table is “la mesa”, a glass of water is “el vaso”, the president could be “el presidente” or “la presidente”, etc.). The fact that a noun ends in the letter “a” does not necessarily mean that the article should be “la”: “el pianista” could refer to a male pianist, for example, and “el mapa” is “the map.”

Conversations: In Spanish, conversations are punctuated by a dash, not by quotation marks. Please note that in English we assume that the speaker continues to speak if there are no ending quotation marks. In Spanish, we assume the speaker changes from one dash to the next. If there is any ambiguity or change from this norm, the author will clarify it.

–¿Cómo estás? –dijo José–. [Note: no space between dash and spoken text, no space between dash and explanatory text]

–Muy bien, –dijo María– pero siéntate, por favor.

–¿Qué te trae por aquí? [José is assumed to be speaking.]

–Vengo a devolver un libro. [María is assumed to be speaking.]

–Bueno, me alegro de haberte visto acá en la biblioteca. Hasta la próxima.

–Nos vemos.

Numbers: N.° 1, or Núm. 1 are correct, but #1 is not Spanish.

Units of measurement don’t take caps or periods (10 km, 5 cm, etc.)

MPH is OK because it is an English only unit. However, KPH doesn’t exist. It would be km/h

Prefixes are not independent units;therefore, they are used in three ways:

  • attached to the word they precede: antiadherente, cuasidelito, exalcohólico, expresidente;
  • with a dash separating the prefix from the main word only when the root word is capitalized (e.g. pre-Obama) or it is a number; and,
  • separated only when they modify more than one word: ex relaciones públicas, anti pena de muerte, pro derechos humanos, vice primer ministro, super en forma.

Periods and commas in numbers:

Half of Latin American countries use commas for thousands and periods for decimals, and the other half go the other way. The European Union is going with hard spaces. Any of these choices is acceptable as long as consistency is maintained through the document. However, when the document is written with a single target country in mind, the translator should make an effort to be consistent with the usage in that country.

Abbreviations should be easy to understand with no previous knowledge. They take accents, periods, and can be pluralized.

Days, months, seasons, job titles, languages, tribes, religions are not capitalized. The General Manager is “el gerente general”. If the title is at the start of the line, only capitalize the first word (Gerente general de Operaciones). However, names of departments do take more than one capital letter (e.g. Recursos Humanos, Operaciones y Mantenimiento). NEVER capitalize articles or prepositions, though!

Use italics for

  • names of titles of books, articles, etc.,
  • foreign words
  • invented words
  • scientific names

Bold type: avoid it as much as possible, as overuse makes reading difficult. However, bold type can be used to emphasize a word within a sentence, since capital letters and italics are not used for emphasis in Spanish.

To give multiple options, señores(as) is widely used in Mexico, but señores/as is used in other places (Spain and Argentina, at least).

DO NOT USE ALL CAPS. There are other ways to denote emphasis. A text in allcaps is visually convoluted and hard to read. Capitalization for emphasis is not used in Spanish texts.

Paragraphs should have a left indent, except for the first paragraph. This applies to writing an article, a letter, or something of that type. When working on a PowerPoint, the rules change for the sake of space. Depending on the type of text, it may be important to maintain the same style as the source.

Names of institutions, laws, medications, etc.: Use the Spanish names when translating to English, and when the English source text is using material that has been translated from Spanish, use the original terminology from the source country. However, when translating the name of a law from English to Spanish and the name of the law is not commonly known in Spanish, give the name of the law in English in italics followed by a translation of its meaning in Spanish between parenthesis. Users will be searching for it by the English name, not the Spanish name, in any event.

The official Spanish names of many US government institutions can be found on this page.


Translation from English to Spanish does not require keeping the same tense. The following are just a few examples.

  • Spanish uses the subjunctive much more frequently than English does.
  • Spanish uses tacit subjects unless the subject must be specified to avoid ambiguity.
  • The English passive voice is often replaced by the impersonal se hace or by the active voice.

Keeping English terms in the Spanish text:

This practice can lead to clumsy Spanish writing and confusion. When technical terms must be kept in English because they will be on the computer screen in English, the translator should receive a list of the terms the user will see on the screen to be able to avoid leaving unnecessary terms untranslated. In any event, all English terms should be followed by a Spanish translation in parenthesis and the English term should be in italics, as follows:

Haga click en la pestaña Design (diseño).

This practice allows the reader to follow the text as a Spanish paragraph with no loss of meaning or fluency.


In Spanish we avoid redundancy. If the concept is repeated too many times throughout a text, the English would use the exact same term throughout, whereas the Spanish would use two or three variations of the term so as not to sound so repetitive. Especially in legal documents or instructions, when the English is very repetitive, it will seem like the Spanish is missing a sentence, and it may actually be missing a sentence, but it is deliberate when the meaning of the sentence is included in previous content. This also happens with legal doublets (e.g. “terms and conditions”, “cease and desist”).

Source materials:
Many ideas came from Xosé Castro, presentation to AATIA in September 2010
Discussions with Gabriela Penrod
Ortografía de la lengua española, Real Academia Española, 2010
El buen uso del español, Real Academia Española, 2013

A Translator’s Grown-Up Christmas List

A Translator’s Grown-Up Christmas ListAh, the age-old question: what do you get the translator or interpreter who has everything?

If your December is anything like mine, throughout the month your family will try to subtly (or not-so-subtly) ask you for gift ideas, and you’ll try to come up with a better response than “extra hours in the day” or “a nap”. This year, we at The Savvy Newcomer are here to help. It’s not too late to get in your last-minute wish list for the holidays, and there is surely something on our list that you’ve been wishing for this year, whether you realized it or not.

One thing to keep in mind as you share gift ideas with your loved ones is that many business-related expenses are tax-deductible. Before you put a big-ticket item on your wish list to be purchased by someone else, consult your accountant and think about whether you will be able to deduct the expense on your taxes or whether you may be better off spending it on the company credit card to earn rewards points. On the other hand, the nice thing about gifts is that they’re free – so maybe it’s worth foregoing the tax deduction anyway!

Without further ado, here are some ideas to help you make the most of holiday gift-giving time and perhaps give you an idea for the translator or interpreter on your shopping list. Readers, we would love to hear your ideas as well; leave us a comment and let us know what you’re looking to give and receive for the holidays!


Tablet: The Amazon Kindle Fire was on sale on Black Friday for about $35; prices are a little higher now but still pretty reasonable. Tablets can help you keep connected while working at home, allowing you to carry your work throughout the house. Also great for working while traveling.

Echo Dot: The Echo Dot is a surprisingly affordable “smart home” product from Amazon. You can keep one or several in your house and use the voice-activated “Alexa” to connect to your cloud and perform a variety of functions, such as telling you the weather, reading off your calendar events, and so forth. Went on sale for $40 apiece on Black Friday and are around $50 each now.

Power bank: The battery life on my Galaxy S4 is not what it used to be, so I always keep power banks in strategic places so that I’m never left without a way to charge my phone – my desk, my car, and my purse. Power banks are a good gift for anyone who is on-the-go and can’t always connect to an outlet. You can get cheap ones at most electronics stores or even order a few with your logo on them – a great form of advertising that you can give to family, friends, clients, and potential clients to surreptitiously get your brand out there.

Personal power supply: A step up from a power bank, PPS’s such as the one at this link are good to keep in cars (great for interpreters who are traveling to many different locations). This one will charge via USB, has a flashlight, can charge certain types of laptops, and can even jump start a car! I didn’t know this product existed until a few years ago when my father-in-law got us one for Christmas, and it’s wonderful to have peace of mind knowing I’ve always got one in my car.

Scanner/printer/copier: Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a printer that works 100% properly, 100% of the time… anyone? A nice, high-functioning wireless printer can mean the difference between spending four hours of your workday on the phone with tech support or spending four hours of your day doing paid work. Enough said!

Digital Gifts

Invoicing software: A nice way to streamline your accounting procedures; perhaps you’re working with spreadsheets now and haven’t made the upgrade, or you’re using the lower-priced version of some software and know you would enjoy the functionality of the premium version. Examples include Xero and QuickBooks.

Extra storage space: I am chronically short on space for Dropbox and Norton Remote Data Backup. Most cloud storage services offer an upgrade option for a slightly higher price. Or splurge on your own personal cloud with an NAS system. This gives you access to wireless backup and secure storage that doesn’t leave your own home network. A nice touch if you have clients with NDAs containing strict data security provisions. Some contracts even prohibit you from storing the client’s data in the cloud (i.e. Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive etc.).

SDL apps: Did you know that Trados has an App Store? Many of the apps are free but others aren’t; this could be one that you’ve exhausted the free trial for, or one that you’ve always wanted to try. Other CAT tools may have paid apps, but I’m not familiar with them.

Memberships: Many membership dues may be tax-deductible, but sometimes it’s hard to justify spending the money. Some memberships that would be nice holiday gifts include dues to work at a coworking office, ATA membership, your local translation/interpreting association, a local chamber of commerce, or Payment Practices.

Office Supplies

Ergonomic mouse and keyboard: Carpal tunnel is no joke. Ergonomic mice and keyboards can help with or help prevent wrist, hand, and arm pain caused by prolonged amounts of time clicking your mouse and typing at your keyboard. The shape and position of some ergonomic keyboards can even be adjusted to suit the exact position that is most natural and comfortable for your hands. I have my eyes on the Microsoft 4000.

My Savvy teammate David has sworn by the TypeMatrix 2030 with a Colemak skin for years. You can choose skins with different keyboard layouts, including ones localized for different languages. David used the HandShoe Mouse for years before switching to a Contour RollerMouse Red in 2015. Trackball mice such as the Logitech M570 are also an affordable way to relieve the strain on your shoulders and arms a bit, since you can move the cursor on the screen with just one finger.

Office heater/fan: Depending on where you live, it might be counterproductive to heat or cool your whole house all day when you’re the only person there. When the weather isn’t too extreme and I’m not planning on leaving my office for the day, I often turn down the heat in the house, turn on the space heater under my desk, and close the office door so I can stay warm without it costing me a fortune.

Roost: This laptop stand that a colleague recently told me about can help relieve back and neck strain by lifting your laptop to the proper height so you don’t have to slouch. It’s collapsible and very portable; good for frequent travelers.

Slidenjoy: This one is pretty cool. Slidenjoy is a startup company with the brilliant idea to add additional screens to your existing laptop. It isn’t cheap, and involves sending your laptop to the company so they can custom-fit your device to the new screens and ensure that everything is in working order. Then you can use the screens as additional monitors, turn them around to share your screen with others around you, and collapse them for travel and storage.

Spontaneous Pop-Up Display: This could be really cool for translators and interpreters on the go. It isn’t available yet, but can be pre-ordered through Kickstarter for expected delivery in June 2017. The only catch is the poor resolution at 720p…

Handibot: An interpreter’s “office” is often very different from that of a translator – for those of you who have to drive often and navigate with your phone to get places, Handibot is a good hands-free way to view your phone while you navigate, without taking your eyes off the road. Looks like the Walmart link no longer sells these online but there are surely other similar options available.

Work-Life Balance

Books: We’re language professionals; of course books are going to be on our wish lists! Some ideas include books from this list, translated works in your language pair, and target language books related to your specialization.

Massage: Sitting at a computer or working the interpreting circuit can take its toll on you. Working out the knots in a complex source text often creates knots for you as well! A massage can be a great stress reliever for the over-worked translator.

Fitness tracker: My colleague David just bought one of these on Black Friday and is loving it. It’s great for translators because you can set an idle alert: if you haven’t moved for a certain number of minutes, the watch vibrates and reminds you to stand up and stretch.

Pet: This is not a joke! One of the things we miss out on the most by working from home is companionship. I’m not ashamed to admit that I sometimes talk to my cat throughout the day, and often ask her for business advice. She has yet to respond with anything of value. Check with the recipient first to make sure it’s something they want and can afford, but even a guinea pig or bird can bring enrichment to the freelancer’s long and lonely day.

Workout classes: A great way to get out of the house, stretch a bit, and interact with other human beings. Disclaimer: husbands, purchasing this gift for your wives unsolicited may send the wrong message. Tread with caution.

Branded gear: One of my favorite gifts my husband has ever given me was a t-shirt with my company logo on it. He surprised me with it after an ATA conference one year and it was a great reminder that my significant other supported me and was proud of me! I liked it so much that I got one for him, too. Many different online and brick-and-mortar companies offer personalized products: Vistaprint, 4imprint, Promotions Now.

Readers, we’d love to hear your ideas as well, and go ahead and send this link to your family so they don’t have to resort to gifting you socks and gift cards for yet another year!

 Header image credit: Pixabay

Analyzing the Message: Eugene Nida on language and culture

By Helen and Cynthia Eby

Analyzing the Message Eugene Nida on language and cultureBoth translators and interpreters take a message across from one language and culture to another. They must communicate the message accurately, in order to produce the same effect in the target language as in the source language.

But how can we know if a translation is good? According to the ILR Skill Level Description for Translation Performance, “a successful translation is one that conveys the explicit and implicit meaning of the source language into the target language as fully and accurately as possible.”

Eugene Nida was a founding charter member of Wycliffe Bible Translators, and worked with “the Summer Institute of Linguistics and the American Bible Society … to gather considerable data from the examination of translations of the Bible into various aboriginal languages. These translations were made by both linguistically and non-linguistically trained individuals.” By 1975, when his book Exploring Semantic Structure was published, the Bible had been translated into 1064 languages. (67)

In his book, Nida analyzes the mechanics of message transfer. According to him, these are the basic assumptions underlying all semantic analysis:

“(1) No word (or semantic unit) ever has exactly the same meaning in two different utterances; (2) there are no complete synonyms within a language; [and] (3) there are no exact correspondences between related words in different languages.” (Nida, 120)

Because of these limitations, no two translations by excellent professionals will ever be exactly alike, especially if the translations have any level of nuance. This does not mean we should give up! It means we should consider the issues analytically and see where the challenges lie.

Problems to Consider: Linguistic and cultural

What are the main problems we have to deal with? Language is inevitably linked to culture. To help us understand this, the ILR addresses culture as well. “Competence in intercultural communication is the ability to take part effectively in a given social context,” they say, “by understanding what is being communicated and by employing appropriate language and behavior to convey an intended message.”

Nida says the main problems of equivalence in translation can be summed up in the following categories (cf. 68-78):

  • Ecology. Because languages are spoken in different locations, the language may have developed more elaborate vocabulary for different ecological issues.
  • Material culture. What objects do people handle every day in their country of origin? This can have significant impact on communication. For instance, a doctor will often say to “take one tbsp. of medication.” In some cultures, people reach for a spoon they use for soup, not for a 15 ml measuring spoon, which is what the prescription is calling for.
  • Social culture. How are people addressed? What level of formality is appropriate in the target culture? In the United States, it is common for the top executive to sign off a letter to his employees, “Bob.” In Latin America, a last name is required.
  • Religious culture. The dominant religion of the place where the language is spoken may influence aspects of how people communicate. There could be significant differences between the source and target languages and cultures in this regard.
  • Linguistic culture. Each language uses different syntax, and uses the passive voice with a different relative frequency to communicate different things. Capitalization is used differently. These differences must be respected in the translation.

Practical Application

As I discuss these questions with my clients and with the people I interpret for, I notice that they unanimously need documents that read naturally, that express the original message of the author in a way they can understand with no hesitation.

To do this, we must express ourselves in ways that reflect the actual usage of the language in current publications and speech. We need to immerse ourselves in contemporary language usage, available through online and print sources as well as connecting with the language community.

Of course, some people have a “knack” for translation, but it certainly is a skill that can be taught. By focusing on the issues we have brought up and following a series of steps, a translator can produce an accurate translation. The key is to analyze the message from various points of view: syntactic (structural), semantic (meaning), pragmatic (purpose), and cultural context. This article is not long enough to cover all of them, but we can give a brief outline.

Here are the steps for translation which Nida provides (cf. 156-59). I added steps 1 and 7-8.

  1. Pragmatic analysis. What is the purpose of the original message? What is the purpose of the translation? Without this information in hand, we cannot produce a translation that helps the author communicate with his audience.
  2. Syntactic analysis. This is the study of how each piece fits in the sentence from a structural point of view: subject, direct object, verb, etc.
  3. Semantic classes of each word. This refers to the meaning of each word. What type of meaning is each section of the message trying to communicate?
  4. Add all implied relationals. These are the conjunctions, prepositions, linking verbs, etc.
  5. Decompose the text to its semantically simplest form. In other words, break the message down into units of meaning so we can know what we have to communicate in the language. Once we can outline the meaning, we know what we are dealing with.
  6. Recompose the simplest form of the text in to an appropriate equivalent in the target language. Here we include the necessary connectors in the target language. We can reorganize the units of meaning in a way that fits and make it flow in a natural way. Basically, we rearrange the jigsaw puzzle: How would I say this to my neighbor in Beccar, Buenos Aires?
  7. Analyze the text from a target language point of view. Does the text read naturally from the point of view of a target language reader? Will he be able to read it without referring to the source language or culture? To accomplish this, some semantic units may shift from one grammatical word class to another.
  8. Peer review. Ask another translator, who is at least as qualified as the original translator, to review the translation for accuracy and for language mechanics. Is the meaning transferred accurately? Does it read smoothly from the perspective of a native speaker of the target language with no knowledge of the source language? Remember, in the publishing world nothing hits the print shop unless three people have reviewed it! Having only one person review your translation is going very light on the review process.

Translation is teamwork. Translation is analytical. In his book, Nida says, “One often receives the erroneous impression that translation is almost entirely an art rather than also a science, and a skill.” (67) We have tried to help our readers outline a path to success in this science and skill. At the ATA conference, there will certainly be workshops to address these areas!

Nida, Eugene A. Exploring Semantic Structures. Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 1975.

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