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Along with the likes of World Smile Day (the first Friday of October) and World Nutella Day (February 5th, obviously), International Translation Day is probably one of those lesser known dates. Celebrated on September 30th by bilinguals, multilinguals and polyglots around the world, we have likewise not been one to miss out on the party this year. But what’s so special about being a translator, and why celebrate the profession that is translation this Sunday?

International Translation Day falls on what is traditionally the Feast of Saint Jerome, a figure who is often seen as the patron saint of translation (it was Jerome who worked on one of the first translations of the Bible into Latin Vulgate). It is therefore rather fitting to remind ourselves of one of our most important forefathers.

But what does it mean to be a translator, and where does one start? We’ve no doubt all seen poor translations over the years—perhaps the sign in the Parisian hotel elevator saying “Please leave your values at the front desk”, or the Engrish sign inviting you to “Racist park”—however these are thankfully few and far between when professional translators are involved!

Translation training around the world can take several forms, and agencies will typically be reluctant to work with linguists without either a formal qualification in translation or a certain amount of prior experience (especially if the organisation is ISO-certified, as we are at Comms Multilingual).

Routes into Translation

Many potential translators will often start their careers on a general language degree programme – perhaps studying one foreign language coupled with a non-linguistic subject such as management or economics, while others will take a multilingual pathway from the outset and opt for two or more languages simultaneously.

However, many of these programmes provide minimal or no training in translation proper, so either a specific translation Bachelor’s or Master’s in Translation are advised.

Some translators will have taken an alternative, but equally rigorous route, such as self-study and examination to become a Member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting or of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. While these don’t necessarily require a degree-level education in translation, the end result and ability of the translator certainly compares well with those studying through a university.

The Value of Good Translation 

Given that we work primarily in high-stakes domains, the effect of a poor translation can be more than just embarrassment and a laugh among customers; it can have a huge financial or reputational impact on your company.

Imagine being the person who accidentally found out an extra zero had been added when passing the order for 1,500 eggs for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games, yet receiving 15,000 – the financial cost must have been significant. Likewise for Schweppes’ Tonic Water, which was launched to the Italian market unchecked as Toilet Water.

If your materials rely on correct translations, it soon becomes essential to use professionals.

So, what’s so special about translation?

Translating isn’t just about being able to speak another language and say something that means the same in another language. Translators need to be excellent writers in their mother tongue —able to write with versatility across a range of styles and for a host of different audiences. Likewise, they need to have as near a native understanding of the language they are translating from as possible, to ensure they understand the texts they are translating. Conveying meaning of a technical IT examination in translation is completely different to a marketing translation for consumers, for example.

What’s more, translators also need to have excellent research skills, and a university education can really help with this aspect – they need to be able to find the right term for sometimes extremely technical words, where the correct equivalent may only be used in specific publications or limited, unfamiliar contexts. Admittedly, the internet has made this exponentially easier, but it can be a challenge nonetheless – I once spent several evenings researching page after page of specific nautical terms such as the French equivalent for “poop deck” (no, this isn’t as bad as it seems!). Here, some in-depth Google image searching saved the day and I was able to relate the visual context to the right term, but for certain text types, there is no bilingual dictionary available!

Professional translators are also likely to have invested heavily in tools of the trade, so they can ensure consistency of terminology between the first paragraph and the hundredth page they translate for you. This can be essential for understanding, as if concepts change half way through the document, your readers may not be able to follow. In any case, you wouldn’t trust a carpenter who turns up and asks to borrow your tools!

And finally, whatever the case may be, it’s not always about translating just words –the purpose and context of a text needs to take precedence. Take for example a verbal reasoning test item with a question such as:

Tennis is to racket as bat is to:

  1. Baseball
  2. Hockey

Easy in English: both Baseball and Hockey use different objects to play. But in some languages, the word “bat” translates as “stick”, so the same word ends up being used twice – not ideal, as this will confuse many participants and lead to many supposed “wrong” answers that are, in the foreign language, actually correct.

So, next time you are considering asking someone to translate, make sure they have the skills, experience, tools and qualifications to deliver a researched, considered and quality translation.

Think twice if their job isn’t that of a professional translator and consider our patron saint and his followers’ work on the well-polished texts that we most likely take for granted and don’t even consider as being translations. So here’s to Jerome, and all the other professional translators working for us – translators really do deserve a day of celebration!