Translation involves the manifestation of a written message from one language to another. It is inaccurate to assume that a sentence in one language can be transformed word for word into another language due to the variations in syntax, grammar, and even the cultural connotations between countries and/or languages. The best translators find the perfect balance between staying as faithful to the original text as possible while being as idiomatic as necessary to ensure that the same message is conveyed from one language to another.
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When conducting business on a multilingual level, accurate communication and cultural awareness are of the utmost importance. Poor translations or lack of linguistic and/or cultural awareness can cost companies colossal amounts of money in certain circumstances.
One of my favorite examples of an incorrect translation is from a soft drink company when they began their new generation, come alive marketing campaign back in the mid 1960’s. This slogan was mistranslated in Chinese to suggest that the soft drink could reanimate the dead. This mistranslation obviously did not boost sales, but more importantly, made the company look foolish in front of an entire nation. If this company hired a professional translator that only translated into their native language, they may not have made such an expensive mistake.
Free online translation tools can be useful in circumstances where one needs to find out the meaning of one stand-alone word. However, these tools fail miserably at communicating an entire message from one language to another. These tools attempt to translate sentences word for word which frequently results in incomprehensible garbage.
Translation is a well honed skill. Being bi-lingual does not necessarily make a person a good translator. Of course, a professional translator should be fluent in both the source and target language; however, it is also necessary to have formal training regarding the theory behind translation and how to determine the register of language, cultural idiosyncrasies, and intended target audience in order to render exactly the message and tone that the original author intended.
Despite popular belief, translating to and from several different languages might not necessarily be a sign of a skilled translator. In order to really be a proficient translator, you should only translate into your native language. Even in bi-lingual countries or households, everyone is going to have a dominate language and a weaker language. A translator should hesitate to translate a text into their weaker language because it is easier to make stylistic, dictional, and sometimes even grammatical errors.
It is a very common misconception to believe that translation and interpretation are one and the same. They are actually two completely different fields, only related by the fact that they require people who fluently know, speak and/or understand more than one language. Translation deals only with written documents, whereas interpretation deals only with verbal communication. Interpretation can be defined as the transfer of an oral message from one language to another. There are two types of interpretation as well; simultaneous interpretation and consecutive interpretation. An interpreter is performing simultaneous interpretation when he/she is interpreting what the other person is saying as the person is talking. Consecutive interpretation allows the interpreter to listen to several sentences at a time and then interpret what the other person said. Although it is not uncommon for translators to also be interpreters, it is unwise to assume that just because someone is proficient at one of those skills that they must be proficient in the other.