Ask the natives
Some may call it an inability to switch off from work; others may call it ‘maintaining a professional interest’.
Language is everywhere. As a translator, it is impossible to switch off completely – not even in the most glorious of surroundings.
The surroundings don’t come much more glorious than those of the Alhambra in Granada, which I recently had the fortune to visit. Yet my memories are not just of Moorish architecture, breath-taking views of the city below and the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada.
I must have spent a whole five minutes marvelling at this humble sign. My knowledge of Spanish is limited, and whoever translated this sign into English quite probably did a better job than I could have done the other way around (if indeed this is the result of human translation). Yet that is not really the point.
The point is, if for some reason I had to warn any Spanish visitors to my home of some inconvenience, I would not even attempt to provide the translation myself. Languages can rarely be translated word for word, and to expect ‘labores de mantenimiento’ to be ‘labours of maintenance’ – with its almost Herculean imagery – is the height of optimism. No native speaker of English would think of anything other than ‘maintenance work’; similarly, ‘We apologise for any inconvenience’ would roll off the pen for ‘Disculpen las molestias’.
Of course, the message in this case is still clear and no-one could be in any doubt that the path ahead was closed. Imagine, though, if your website, or company literature, was similarly translated? Providing amusement to potential clients is probably not the intention.
The hallmark of a good translation is that it does not appear to be a translation. When I started translating some years ago, I quickly learned the golden rule: always translate into, and only into, your ‘native’ language. This will usually be the language you first learned as a child, though of course some people may have acquired ‘honorary native speaker’ status after many years spent in a country in which the language is spoken.
For many companies, the necessary resources are unlikely to be found in-house, which essentially leaves two options – either find a translator directly, or use a translation agency. Agencies may use in-house translators, freelancers, or a mixture of both. A good agency will match the job to the translator, not only in terms of source and target language but also the subject matter. Finding a good agency is a great feeling for client and freelance translator alike!