On Translators

This post originally appeared on Kevin L. Hull’s blog and it is republished with permission.

This post is an assignment I did in English 101 in the summer of 2017, and I would like to share it with the world. The assignment was to do a paper on careers, and I did mine on translators. I hope that those of you who hope to work in translation find this helpful.

I have to admit that I am having a hard time determining my career path! I haven’t even chosen a major! All I know is that I want to do something different from what I have been doing. For this reason, I have started researching careers that interest me, based on my interests, skills, and values. In this essay, I will analyze four articles related to the career of translating.

Review of “Interpreter and Translator”, by Sally Driscoll

The first article I will discuss is “Interpreter and Translator” by Sally Driscoll. In this article, she lists the interests, work environments, duties, and responsibilities of interpreters and translators. She shows how interpreters and translators differ. She gives the pay and growth rate of these occupations. She concludes by listing the education, training, and experiences that are helpful, even necessary, to become a translator or interpreter.

This article is meant to inform people about the professions of interpreter and translator, and it presents good ideas in a clear, coherent, and orderly manner. Her information has increased my interest in becoming a translator. Driscoll writes, “Interpreting and translating attract those who are linguistically gifted and enjoy foreign cultures. Translators tend to be introverts who prefer reading and writing…” (under “Occupational Interest” heading) Well, I am an introvert who loves other cultures, has considered being a writer since childhood, and enjoys reading.  Furthermore, I have a better idea of which courses I need to take should I decide to become a translator. Thus, my conclusion is that Driscoll has made her point well, and I would refer aspiring translators and interpreters to the article.

However, I do have a critique. Driscoll didn’t address global employability. While she  mentioned “Employment & Outlook: Faster Than Average Growth Expected”, she neither addressed whether or not red tape is reduced when translators seek work outside their home countries nor gave tips on where to seek foreign employment. Since she mentioned “foreign cultures” under “Interests’, this would imply that some translators would like to work outside their home country. So it would seem logical to reference it.

On the other hand, perhaps that topic was beyond the scope of the article. After all, she did mention the practicality of travel and study abroad programs, and said that sometimes internships are needed. Perhaps she included foreign employment under that umbrella.

Review of “Differentiated Instruction and Language-Specific Translation Training Textbooks”, by Anastasia Lakhtikova

The next article I will discuss is Anastasia Lakhtikova’s “Differentiated Instruction and Language-Specific Translation Training Textbooks”, in which she reviews two Russian language textbooks (Russian Translation: Theory and Practice by Edna Andrews and Elena Maximova; Introduction to Russian-English Translation by Natalia Strelkova) and one Spanish translation textbook, Manual of Spanish-English Translation by Kelly Washbourne. Lakhtikova is not impressed with Russian Translation, because she assesses that it contains a lot of dated exercises (such as a medical text from 1942, on p. 154) and requires an advanced level while marketing it to people with only two years of college Russian (p. 155). On the other hand, she highly praises Strelkova’s Introduction to Russian-English Translation, calling Strelkova “a Julia Child of translation giving enthusiastic advice to apprentices”, and “Students would find it useful to read it over and over again before going to bed” (p. 156). Lakhtikova also heaps praise on Washbourne’s Manual of Spanish-English Translation. She praises both as practical, but says that Washbourne’s work is even better, in that, unlike Strelkova’s, it is useful for translation students in general. That is, what Washbourne includes is useful even for translation students not working with Spanish, provided they find similarly-themed material to the stuff included in the exercises. Lakhtikova sees this as developing skills that translators use.

The purpose of this article is to inform readers on the quality of three translation textbooks, and it presents good ideas in an orderly, clear, and coherent manner. I find Lakhtikova’s tips to be useful in determining resources, should I embark on a journey to become a translator.   There are a number of things I like about Lakhtikova’s review of Introduction to Russian-English Translation. “Its discussion of written bureaucratese (i.e., administrative language) and colloquialisms is aimed at non-native Russian users…the text focuses on ‘accuracy’ (Chapter 3), ‘readability’ (Chapter 5), and ‘correctness’ (Chapter 6)” (p. 156), all of which is useful. However, due to my desire to be able to translate multiple languages, I particularly like the review of Manual of Spanish-English Translation. Since the latter book teaches the skills needed to actually do the work, and is applicable across languages, a multilingual translator could apply the principles to other languages as well. So, I think Lakhtikova made a good point.

However, this is not enough, in my opinion. Right now, this is just someone’s opinion. What I would like to know is what the rate of user satisfaction among both instructors and students is. I would like to know about research done on these textbooks, on whether or not they are effective.

Review of “Some Misconceptions Concerning Bilingualism and a Career in Translation”

The third article that I will discuss is “Some Misconceptions Concerning Bilingualism and a Career in Translation” by James Bell. The bottom line is that a career in translation requires more than bilingualism. First, the author mentions overhearing a conversation between two students who were complaining about their English Comp class. One student said that the English Comp class was one of the reasons that she was majoring in Spanish. She told her friend, “I want to teach Spanish, but if I can’t, after taking a couple of professional translation classes and being bilingual, I can always translate or interpret.” (p. 38). Bell arranged to meet with her later to clarify things. At that meeting, after telling her the average annual pay for translators and informing her that the industry is expanding, he told her that she has to have a good knowledge of both languages. The author then responds to a couple of the student’s questions. The first question was why translators need to translate into their native language, “since translation appeared to be a two-lane road…both leading to the same direction.” (p. 40). His answer was cultural knowledge, and that cultural misunderstandings can lead to misleading translations. The second question was, “So why am I going to take ‘Introduction to Professional Translation’ and ‘Advanced Professional Translation’ as part of my Spanish major?” (p. 41) Bell’s answer is that translation enhances Spanish learning (p. 41). He concludes by saying that the reference to “Professional” should be dropped from the course title.

In this article, the author tells readers a story in order to inform readers that there is more to being a translator than being bilingual. He tells the story and presents his information in a clear, coherent, and orderly manner. As someone who did not know what being a translator entails beyond bilingualism, I find this article enlightening. I have a strange feeling that the student and I are not the only ones. Because of this, I think this is good advice for aspiring translators. I especially like the following quotes from M. Eta Trabing’s article “Beyond Bilingualism”: “Having two languages does not make you a translator or interpreter any more than having two hands makes you a pianist” (quoted by Bell, p. 39); and “For translation you must know the target language (the one that you are translating into) in great depth, and your grammar, spelling, and punctuation should be nearly perfect.” (quoted by Bell, p.40). I see the point of the latter, in that, in my experience, knowledge of grammar in English has helped me learn other languages. I also like his mention of the need for cultural awareness: “Culture is arguably the main reason a translator, especially a beginning translator, should translate into his or her native language, rather than a second language.” (p. 40). Due to the existence of culture-specific terms and the existence of figures of speech, I find this advice to be wise. Furthermore, I like the fact that Bell takes the student’s objections seriously and replies to them. In my view, this makes him seem more informed. With his replies to the student, his mention of language competence in both languages, and his comment on the need to be culturally aware, Bell’s article gives direction on a couple of areas of knowledge that aspiring translators need to seek.

I do think, though, that the author could have given more information on what is needed to become a translator. My question is, “What else is needed to become a translator?” On the other hand, the author was responding to a specific incident, and trying to correct a misconception that one merely needs to be bilingual to be a translator: thus, that may be beyond the scope of the article. Ultimately, this article is helpful for those seeking to become translators.

Review of “What Does It Take to be a Good Translator?”

The last article that I will discuss is Jim Healey’s “What Does It Take to be a Good Translator?” In this article, Healey asks four professional translators their thoughts on a Parade article called “What People Earn”, from 15 April 2007. Healey’s questions focused on the line, “not all jobs require a four-year degree… ‘Some of the best opportunities are for workers with an associates degree or some kind of vocational training. One type of worker in particularly high demand is interpreter/translator.’” (quoted in Healey, p. 29). Among the translators, there is agreement that bilingualism is insufficient to be a translator. In addition, more than one mentioned the need for good writing skills and cross-cultural knowledge. However, they differed on the necessity of a college degree. Two of the translators, Dena Bugel-Shunra (a freelance translator specializing in IT and sub-specializing in legal translation [p. 29] ) and Lori Thicke (co-founder of Eurotexte, which was renamed Lexcelera [p. 32] ) said that a degree isn’t that important. Bugel-Shunra says that clients generally do not ask about degrees (p. 30); however, she recommends getting one for the societal advantages that it gives (p. 31). Thicke says, “In the 20 years since I moved to Paris and co-founded Eurotexte (now known as Lexcelera), I have noticed that certain characteristics are shared by virtually all good translators, and that a degree in translation is not one of them.” (p. 33) She then goes on to list seven traits she feels define a good translator better than any degree. On the other hand, Cliff Landers (a freelance literary translator) and Donald Barabe (vice president, professional services, at the Canadian Federal Translation Bureau [p. 29] ) say that a degree is required. Landers is concerned that a lack of degree sends the message that one only needs to be bilingual to be a good translator. Barabe, observing declining language skills among the younger generation, says, “Recruits not having the basic skills normally acquired by a three-year university program in translation require additional training and supervised coaching.” (p. 35). Barabe then continues by discussing the Translation Bureau’s training program. The article concludes with Healey’s summing up his findings, with the following conclusion: “It becomes clear that there is no single path to becoming a qualified and successful translator. The profession has many avenues of entrance, not to mention the hard work, discipline, dedication, sacrifice and a love of languages that accompany this career choice.” (p. 36)

The purpose of this article is to inform readers: in particular, to analyze a claim made about the translation industry, and it was written in a clear, consistent, and orderly manner. I find Thicke’s aforementioned list of traits of good translators to be helpful. These traits are intelligence, discrimination (that is, between literal and figurative language), ethics (specifically quality work), writing style, experience in the source language culture, continuing access to the target language, and specialized knowledge (pp. 33-34). Concerning writing style, she says, “Good translators are good writers…often better writers than the original authors.” (p. 34) Since Landers also mentions cultural experience, I would like to share his thoughts on the topic: “Familiarity with German culture is likely to be more valuable in translating an Austrian novel than a Dutch one, and all but useless if the work is from Albania.” (p. 32) Not only do the translators clarify the misconceptions in the Parade article, they also give aspiring translators direction and advice on what they DO need. I think that with the advice given here, aspiring translators will have information to make plans on how to obtain their goal.

I also like that both opinions on the necessity of a degree were given. This allows people to make their own judgments based on their own personal situations. My personal opinion is that it is better to get the degree, in that it won’t hurt. In addition, the degree will increase employment prospects. Furthermore, getting the degree can help with specialization, something that Thicke mentioned helps make a good translator. (p. 34)

Concluding Thoughts

Having reviewed these articles, I find myself more informed on the translation industry. As I mentioned in my review of “Interpreter and Translator”, I have an interest in other languages and countries. This is what got me interested in the profession in the first place. However, as a couple of the articles revealed, bilingualism is not enough to be a translator. I have also learned skills about the skills that I need to become a translator, and thus am better prepared to take the steps needed to move in that direction. I still remain undecided, but I plan on taking my courses in such a way that being a translator is an option. Even as I have found these articles useful, I believe that they will be useful to other undecided students who are considering becoming translators.

Works Cited:

Bell, James. “Some Common Misconceptions Concerning Bilingualism and a Career in Translation”. Journal of the Georgia Philological Association, 2008, pp. 38-42

Driscoll, Sally. “Interpreter and Translator”. Salem Press Encyclopedia, January 2016

Healey, Jim. “What Does It Take To Be A Good translator?”. MultiLingual, Vol. 18 Issue 5, July/Aug. 2007, pp. 29-36

Lakhtikova, Anastasia. “Differentiated Instruction and Language-Specific Translation Training Textbooks”.  Translation & Interpreting Studies: The Journal of the American Translation & Interpreting Studies Association, Vol. 10 Issue 1, 2015, pp. 153-160