How Can One Become a Good Translator?
Paper presented at the Second International Conference on “Critical Discourse Analysis: the Message of the Medium” in Yemen, Hodeidah University, October, 2003
In addition to being a member of our country, we are members of the world community, and this gives us a global identity. Therefore, it is quite natural for us to think about world affairs and cooperate in solving the world’s problems. To do so, the first and most important tool is “language,” which is socially determined. Our beliefs and ideologies are always reflected in our way of talking, although the connections are hidden and only “critical language study” reveals these hidden connections in discourse. A nation’s culture flourishes by interacting with other cultures.
Furthermore, we know that a nation’s culture flourishes by interacting with other cultures. Cultural variety opens our eyes to human rights, but cultural variety can only be recognized through discussions, which leads us back to the major tool for discussion: “language.”
The role of language in the developing world is materialized through “translating,” and since critical language study is concerned with the processes of producing and interpreting texts and with the way these cognitive processes are socially shaped, it can be considered as an alternative approach to translation studies.
The world is becoming smaller and smaller as the systems of communication and information are developing and becoming more and more sophisticated. In the process of such a rapid exchange of information and for the purpose of improving cultural contacts, one thing is inevitable, and that is “translating.” This is why there is a need for competent translators and interpreters.
As mentioned earlier, the whole world is undergoing complex changes in different areas such as technology and education. These changes necessarily have an important bearing on systems of higher education, including translator training programs.
According to Shahvali (1997), theoretical knowledge and practical skills alone are not adequate to prepare students to face the developments in the field. There is a need for ability to adapt; therefore, it is necessary to focus on students’ self-updating and to develop their relevant mental, communicative, and planning skills.
Training translators is an important task which should be given a high priority. The service that translators render to enhance cultures and nurture languages has been significant throughout history. Translators are the agents for transferring messages from one language to another, while preserving the underlying cultural and discoursal ideas and values (Azabdaftary, 1996).
The translator’s task is to create conditions under which the source language author and the target language reader can interact with one another (Lotfipour, 1997). The translator uses the core meaning present in the source text to create a new whole, namely, the target text (Farahzad, 1998).
Bearing these facts in mind, the question is: what skills are needed to promote translating ability? And how can one become a good translator?
The first step is extensive reading of different translations of different kinds of texts, since translating requires active knowledge, while analyzing and evaluating different translations requires passive knowledge. Therefore, receptive skills should be developed before the productive ones; i.e. by reinforcing their passive knowledge, students will eventually improve their active knowledge. Receptive skills improve the students’ language intuition and make them ready for actual translating.
A good translator is someone who has a comprehensive knowledge of both source and target languages. Students should read different genres in both source and target languages including modern literature, contemporary prose, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, announcements, instructions, etc. Being familiar with all these genres is important, since they implicitly transfer culture-specific aspects of a language. Specialized readings are also suggested: reading recently published articles and journals on theoretical and practical aspects of translation. The articles will not only improve the students’ reading skill in general, but also give them insights which will subconsciously be applied when actually translating.
“Writing” skills, i.e. the ability to write smoothly and correctly in both source and target languages, are also important. Writing is in fact the main job of a translator. Students should become familiar with different styles of writing and techniques and principles of editing and punctuation in both source and target languages. Editing and punctuation improve the quality and readability of the translation (Razmjou, 2002).
Moreover, translation trainees should have a good ear for both source and target languages; i.e. they should be alert to pick up various expressions, idioms, and specific vocabulary and their uses, and store them in their minds to be used later. This is in fact what we call improving one’s “intuition.” Intuition is not something to be developed in a vacuum; rather, it needs practice and a solid background. It needs both the support of theory and the experience of practice. Language intuition is a must for a competent translator.
One of the most important points to consider in the act of translating is understanding the value of the source text within the framework of the source-language discourse. To develop this understanding, the translator must be aware of the cultural differences and the various discoursal strategies in the source and target languages. Therefore, the hidden structure of the source text should be discovered through the use of various discoursal strategies by the translator.
A good translator should be familiar with the culture, customs, and social settings of the source and target language speakers. She should also be familiar with different registers, styles of speaking, and social stratification of both languages. This socio-cultural awareness, can improve the quality of the students’ translations to a great extent. According to Hatim and Mason (1990), the social context in translating a text is probably a more important variable than its genre. The act of translating takes place in the socio-cultural context. Consequently, it is important to judge translating activity only within a social context.
After developing a good competence in both source and target languages, actual translating may begin. But there is a middle stage between the competence-developing stage and actual translating: becoming aware of various information-providing sources and learning how to use them. These sources include: different monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, encyclopedias, and the Internet.
Using dictionaries is a technical skill in itself. Not all students know how to use dictionaries appropriately. Words have different meanings in different contexts, and usually monolingual dictionaries are of utmost value in this regard. Students need a great deal of practice to find the intended meaning of words in a particular context, using monolingual dictionaries.
Translation trainees also need to be familiar with the syntax of indirect speech and various figures of speech in the source language such as hyperbole, irony, meiosis, and implicatures. Awareness of these figures of speech will reinforce students’ creativity and change their passive knowledge into active skill.
While there is a strong emphasis on developing source and target language competencies, the ways in which students can develop them should not be neglected. Group work and cooperation with peers can always lead the translating process to better results. Students who practice translation with their peers will be able to solve problems more easily and will also more rapidly develop self-confidence and decision-making techniques (Razmjou, 2002). Although there is a possibility of making mistakes during group work, the experience of making, detecting, and correcting mistakes will make the students’ minds open and alert.
Another important point is that successful translators usually choose one specific kind of texts for translating and continue to work only in that area; for example a translator might translate only literary works, scientific books, or journalistic texts. Even while translating literary works, some translators might choose only to translate poetry, short stories, or novels. Even more specific than that, some translators choose a particular author and translate only her or his works. The reason is that the more they translate the works of a particular author, the more they will become familiar with her or his mind, way of thinking, and style of writing. And the more familiar is the translator with the style of a writer, the better the translation will be.
Translation needs to be practiced in an academic environment in which trainees work on both practical tasks under the supervision of their teachers and theoretical aspects to enhance their knowledge. In an academic environment, recently published articles, journals and books on translation are available to the trainees, who thus become familiar with good translators and their work by reading them and then comparing them with the original texts. In this way, trainees will develop their power of observation, insight, and decision-making, which in turn will lead them to enhance their motivation and improve their translating skills.
Therefore, translation studies has now been recognized as an important discipline and has become an independent major, separate from foreign-language studies, in universities. This reflects the recognition of the fact that not everybody who knows a foreign language can be a translator, as it is commonly and mistakenly believed. Translation is the key to international understanding. So in this vast world of communication and information overload, we need competent translators who have both the theoretical knowledge and practical skills to do their jobs well. The importance of theoretical knowledge lies in the fact that it helps translators acquire an understanding of how linguistic choices in texts reflect other relationships between senders and receivers, such as power relationships, and how texts are sometimes used to maintain or create social inequalities (Fairclough, 1989).
Finally, it is important to know that it takes much more than a dictionary to be a good translator, and translators are not made overnight. To be a good translator requires a sizeable investment in both source and target languages. It is one of the most challenging tasks to switch safely and faithfully between two universes of discourse. Only a sophisticated and systematic treatment of translation education can lead to the development of successful translators. And the most arduous part of the journey starts when translation trainees leave their universities.