Is it Enough to Know the Words to Know the Ropes?

Many people who study or have ever studied a foreign language will recall that the translation of a text was part of the curriculum. Others will remember how the translation of a certain amount of text was how to pass the exam in English in university. Some will also remember what difficulties they had in translating, especially from their mother tongue to English.

Many of these difficulties arise from the popular belief that it is enough to “know the words to translate the text.”  The good knowledge of a foreign language is a must. However, it is not sufficient to produce a high quality translation.

We can often hear statements like: “A friend has finished an English Language High School, she translated it for me”. Recently, a friend of mine told me:  “My sister is a graduate of German Philology and she works for a small Jacksonville Translation Agency.   Well, it is true that she is not very experienced yet – she has been doing it only for six months. However, I was utterly surprised that when I asked her to make a German to English Translation of some texts I needed for my report in Social Studies, she said that there were many parts it was hard to translate.”

The problem is that language is traditionally regarded as a subject for study, the achievement at a test – as “level completed”, the graduation from a high school or philology as something unique, limited and highly specialized.  In fact, language is a communication tool which has arisen and developed spontaneously and chaotically in time and the people who have been using or changing it have no notion of vocabulary and grammar. Dictionaries and grammars only describe language as it is or should be, but do not prescribe how to use it. Teaching aids only provide guidance on generally accepted norms of expression, but they do not teach you how to communicate.

The simple conclusion from all the above-listed is that the diploma does not guarantee knowledge, and the title does not guarantee professional translator. The only way for a professional translator to maintain a constant level is to use language in real situations, constantly raise their qualification, and mostly – to understand and recognize his or her potential, because nobody is good enough in everything.

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