languages, Translation & Interpreting

When Translators (and Language Students) Meet the Rest of the World

  • MYTH: Translation/language students and translators/interpreters are living dictionaries.
  • REALITY: Yes, we speak more than one language. No, we don’t know all the words in a given language. It’s impossible to know EVERY. SINGLE. WORD, even in your mother tongue. Vocabulary is important, but we are no living dictionaries and us humans can’t know everything.

I find situations like these annoying:

PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “How do you say *insert word here* in *insert language here*?”

I usually ask them to tell me the context (and think “Ah, if only they realized that a word has different meanings in different contexts…”), a sentence in which they would use that word. Staying on topic, here’s a joke:

  • How many translators does it take to change a light bulb?
  • It depends on the context.

So, for translation/interpreting professionals and students, context is extremely important. We can’t read your mind, and guessing possible meanings might lead to making mistakes.

Next conversation:

  • PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “Wow, you study languages! How many do you speak?”
  • ME: “Four: Italian, English, French and some German.”
  • PERSON I’M TALKING TO: “You know only those?” or “Why don’t/didn’t you study Arabic/Chinese/etc?”

You usually study two to three languages at university. It takes a lot of time to learn a language well, let alone two or three. In my opinion, it’s better to know two or three languages at an advanced level than five or six at an elementary level. In this case, quality matters more than quantity but, if you manage to speak five to six languages at an advanced level… well, congratulations! 🙂 I chose to study English and French because I like(d) them and I’ve studied them since I started middle school. I can speak them fluently and I’m looking forward to improving more and more. I chose English in particular because it is “my passion, my obsession, my life” (as I wrote on some social networking site). Why should I study languages I’m not interested in learning? It also takes many years and stays abroad to learn languages like Arabic and Chinese well.

If you’re on Twitter, maybe in the last few days you read some tweets on “Tips to date a translator” (or an interpreter). I had tons of fun reading them, and I couldn’t have enough of them, haha. Two words: compulsive reading. You can find all the tweets here.

My favourite ones:

  • Do not take us too literally and always be faithful. @judittur
  • And for God’s sake, spell check your written correspondence. Nothing turns translators off more. @jackiedeal
  • Suggesting Google Translate will replace human translators will lead to you making love *without* human translators. @miguelllorens
  • Resign yourself to this: The woman loudly criticizing the subtitles in the midst of an action movie is your girlfriend. @miguelllorens
  • Don’t brag about your knowledge of a foreign language UNLESS you are really fluent! @avinc1
  • Distract the waiter while your translator friend takes photos of the ill translated menu. @petra_s_ger 
  • We love puns. We LOVE them. If you play on words smartly, you’ll get 100 extra points. 😉 @toolupwithwords
  • Don’t be surprised if you buy them chocolates and the 1st thing they do is read the ingredients in all the languages! @Silvia_MediaLoc 
  • Be ready to put up with pointless arguments about grammar and etymology when fellow translators are around. @carlosckw
  • If you ask the translation of a word and she doesn’t know it don’t reply “what kind of translator r u?@Laura_Solana
  • Pour son anniversaire, un bon dictionnaire fera toujours l’affaire. @juliettelemerle

Some blog posts on the same topic:

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Translation & Interpreting

Consecutive Interpreting Techniques Fascinate Me

Yes, you read right.

Since each interpreter has his/her own note-taking style (it can differ in structure, the way words are written/abbreviated, the symbols used or even in the language in which notes are written), I like reading examples of consecutive interpreting notes. Every time I read an interpreter’s notes, I always think nostalgically of interpreting classes I attended during my undergraduate course. While attending my first consecutive interpreting class I might have thought: ‘How will I manage to write all those things while still listening to the speech?’ I remember I had difficulty in splitting my attention between listening and taking notes at first, but I guess everybody went through that stage. You know, interpreters are made, not born. By trial and error, I eventually realized that (worrying about) writing EVERY. SINGLE. THING. was counter-productive, and that it was important to find a balance between listening and taking notes. It’s better to focus on the speech and write only the most important details, the essential ones. My note-taking style improved over time, but I think it’s still improvable. As a saying I particularly like says, practice makes perfect.

I started reading books and online interpreting resources to improve my note-taking, and I always try to use this technique when taking notes because it works for me. Experimenting with different methods while “in training” is okay, but you eventually have to choose one that works for you (it’s the same for symbols and abbreviations). Writing notes horizontally isn’t for me because it takes me a longer time to read them and I would be tempted to write a lot more than I should, which is not good, because I would get distracted. As far as the language used is concerned, I try to stick to the source language but, if I already think of a translation or words/abbreviations of the target language (I even use English words and abbreviations a lot, even when the target language isn’t English), I immediately write it down.