When asking yourself what the role of a language translator is, it’s possible you’d come up with an answer as simple as this: A translator’s role is to convert text from the source language into the target language. You’d be surprised to discover that there’s much more to it.
In his book Translation as a Profession, author Roger Chriss summarizes it well:
“Translators are language professionals. They are applied linguists, competent writers, diplomats, and educated amateurs.
“Like linguists, translators have to be capable of discerning subtleties and nuances in their languages, researching terminology and colloquialisms, and handling new developments in their languages. Like writers, translators have to be accustomed to working long hours alone on a subject which interests few people and with a language that few people around them know. Like diplomats, translators have to be sensitive to the cultural and social differences which exist in their languages and be capable of addressing these issues when translating.
“And like educated amateurs, translators have to know the basics and some of the details about the subjects they deal with…The fundamental rule when you’re not sure of a term or phrase is ask. An important part of the translator’s role is to communicate with the client — and a good translator knows when to ask questions.”
A Translator is an Author
The main role of a language translator is to author a piece of writing. This may seem like an odd notion at first glance since the translator is not usually the original writer of the text being translated, but a good translation should read as though it were originally written in the target language. A large amount of concentration and expertise goes into making a translated text flow as smoothly as the original text, similar to authoring a piece of writing from scratch.
Multitasking is Key
Another role of a language translator is to multitask like you’ve never imagined multitasking before. Here is a list of things a translator must do or take into account while working on a translation:
- Seize the intended meaning of the source language
- Gauge the word choice for the target language
- Match the formatting of the source language
- Know or research the best terminology for the subject matter
- Assess cultural differences in case it impacts phrasing or grammar
- Convert proper names into a new alphabet if applicable
- Ensure overall clarity and accuracy of finished translation
This is quite a lot to consider for one professional working on one text, not to mention that several of these things must be done simultaneously.
Translation is as much an art as a science. A lone machine cannot be depended upon to effectively complete all these tasks. It’s unlikely that the same application can be trusted to process both grammatical nuances and cultural nuances in one fell swoop.
Human translation is still very much a necessity and should certainly be the preference for translating your carefully worded material. Like many machines, humans do err — but that’s why any reputable agency should have a thorough quality assurance process in place.