The Importance Of Hiring A Professional Translator

Translators are simultaneously one of the most invisible and one of the most relevant and widespread professions. You can find them working for publishing companies, law firms, streaming services and even in hospitals or courts. As soon as we know someone is a translator, we ask them to translate no matter what word, assuming they are supposed to answer instantly, as if translating was such an easy task that we can do it instinctively. They will surely not tell you the answer that fast, sometimes even if it is only a single word and that is because there is hardly ever a perfect equivalence between languages and professional translators know exactly what that is about.

It does take some doing learning to translate properly. That does not mean that, for instance, someone who has acquired a very high level of a foreign language is not able to translate from their foreign language to their mother tongue and vice versa; they will, but certainly with many limitations. Language and communication are some of the most essential skills of human beings; thus, they have always dealt with translation. Nevertheless, they may not be aware of the differences in culture, grammar or even vocabulary between the two languages they are working with and this leads to many misunderstandings in the target text. 

For instance, translated newspapers are often full of calques, that is, the transfer of structures from the source language to the target language, when these structures do not exist in this target language; many unnecessary borrowings from English are also found when you are translating from this language, due to its huge influence in the rest of the world.

For all these reasons, we may find in an article of a Spanish newspaper sentences such as “El ‘delivery’ está cada vez más demandado debido a la pandemia” or “La Corte sentenció en contra de los republicanos”.

Why do you need to use ‘delivery’ instead of ‘entrega a domicilio’? It is true that in American Spanish they usually use the word ‘corte’ as a translation of ‘court’, but in Spain, ‘tribunal’ is commonly-used. You would rather use ‘corte’ meaning ‘cut’ or when referring to a royal court (‘la corte real’).

Even some grammatical structures are being transferred, as we can see in some translated Spanish sentences: “lavo mis manos” or “cepillé mi pelo” is a typical English sentence, using the possessives rather than the articles when referring to body parts (I wash my hands; I combed my hair), but in Spanish you would use a reflexive pronoun and the articles, as in “me lavo las manos” and “me cepillé el pelo”. Still, we find the former sentences more and more frequently due to mistranslations!

Many situations will require at least some training or knowledge in a specialised field to perform a proper transfer of the meaning from one language to another, for example, when you are required to translate a legal document such as a contract. Not only do you need to master the specialised terms, but also to understand what the structures of these documents in these legal systems are like, or whether a legal concept exists in the legal system of the country of both languages.

If you are dealing with a video game, you will need to know at least a little bit of programming, to understand what tags (symbols used in programming to change fonts, underline the text, introduce a changing value, and so on) mean and whether you are supposed to translate them or not. If you have a tag that says “TIME” you probably should not change it, otherwise, instead of the exact time it is when you are playing the game, you will see displayed on the screen the translated word (or even worse, a fatal error in the programme will not allow you to play).

These are only some of the tricks of the trade translators need to learn when they are trained to become professional translators. The path to professional translation is so diverse and it is fine in that way since they are needed in so many fields! They may be lawyers, doctors or engineers that acquire a very high level of a foreign language and with a one-year masters or a short course in translation they have enough knowledge (they already have the knowledge of the field and a very good level of the foreign language), or maybe they are bilingual thanks to their parents and they only need to learn to translate properly! All of this is fine, but before criticising the subtitles in a movie for saying ‘Bye!’ instead of ‘See you later!’ as the original version does, bear in mind that there is probably a reason behind that change (in that case, surely time and space constraints).

Daniel Granados Meroño

Escuela Oficial de Idiomas de Murcia