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Translation Today

I’m a translator. I have been a translator (on and off) for the last 30 years. I am also multi-lingual. This did not automatically make me an expert translator. That took work, time, and study. Lots of it. However, it made travel easy and it certainly made me a natural conversationalist. Unfortunately, in this day and age, nobody wants to pay a good translator or a good interpreter. They use “bilingual” people and … oh well … results are not always what is expected. To make a long story short, being a polyglot does not automatically qualify you to be a translator.

Nowadays, the job requires in-depth subject knowledge. Vocabulary for specific fields may not be at hand in either language. It is one thing to have an informal conversation; it is quite another to translate terms such as, e.g., “Angiogenesis inhibitors,” especially without any prior formation in the field. It may lead to ambiguous term translations and to -- if not outright mistakes – serious misunderstandings.

Interpreting is an even touchier subject. The professional aspect of the job is critical. While interpreting you become the other person. Body language and voice tone are essential. To convey verbatim what is being said in another language requires training. Unfortunately, often, interpreters used in proceedings are just bilinguals. Kids or friends, or even neighbors understanding the source and speaking the target language, if at times only at a fundamental level. It is thus non-skilled and untrained people conveying what others cannot. Often at a cost for both. Let's not forget the importance of correct translation and interpreting in, for example, legal matters such as court proceedings or medical issues. And don't get me started on machine translation. That, my friends, is food for another day.

What is Language? Language is complex. The ability to acquire a language- verbal or sign language- is inherent in mankind. Its acquisition is earned by listening, memorizing, storing and using₁. It is a learned activity. Learned. Not inherently given.