Almost each of us wants to achieve perfection in some field. The pursuit of knowledge, this wanting to improve oneself is (or at least ought to be) one of most important urges influencing human behaviour. Regardless whether you’re a translator, a programmer, a teacher in a school or a biologist, you need to learn new things while refreshing information obtained long ago. Unfortunately, no matter how try, we will be always behind: there will be always something we don’t know or we can’t do. Recently, I’ve been thinking about such things and started wondering whether someone as a ‘perfect translator’ even exists. And, regardless of the anwser, what a good, reliable translator should be like?
Let’s start from the last question since it’s easier to answer. Now, let’s think for a while, what traits and abilities a translator ought to have.
First of all, it must be someone trained in his field and it’s not about learning by heart some words or phrases but actual knowledge of the specific branch of science: how do things work, what relates to what element, so to understand what the text is about. That’s why, medical translators need to learn, for instance, how do particular organs and systems function. Of course it would be better if a real professional would translate technical or legal texts but we know it’s not always possible. Besides, general knowledge is quite important as well, as we can never be sure what we will find in the next task. And even if he doesn’t know something, he should be able to quickly find required information. Moreover, the translators should have a particular sense of sensitivity to words (especially if they want to be literary translators!): choice of words, their matching, their placement in a sentence. It is what the translator works on overall: on a language and so the proficiency of both languages should be flawless, on native-like level. We should note, however, that it does not refrein us from making mistakes. Constant switching between two language systems may be cause of not only simple typos, but also transfering the rules of one lingo into another (the so called ‘language transfer‘). If we want our translation to be perfect, we must know how to stay concentrated on a task, how to avoid these awful mistakes. Reading what you have just written (what is unfortunately impossible at simultaneous translation about which I will be talking in a while), comparing it to the source, rechecking your dictionaries or the Internet and analysing each element helps keeping some „standards”, in the end making translator and his work look profesional. And coming back to interpreting for a moment: interpreters need to be able to translate on the spot, immediately decoding, analysing and interpreting the message sent out by a speaker (which don’t really need to be coherent and clear) and quickly translate it into particular language. Also, the vocal awareness is quite important, as well as knowledge of convention, courtesy, as it sometimes might temper the heated argument or lead to signing the contract. The interpreter ought to be fully focused and yet able to quickly change his/her attention onto another object. The most important thing, however, is probably a training, since even having all necessary atributes to be an interpreter, one has to practise a lot and learn both theoretical and practical stuff to reach his/her potential.
We could almost endlessly ponder over the qualities of a good, reliable translator, as almost each of us has a different opinion. I believe, however, that the image shown in this entry is a fine example of who a translator should be. Nevertheless, when we look closer and think about it for a while, we may come to conclusion that these traits can also describe this whole ‘perfect translator’. So, is there any difference? In my humble opinion, there is indeed. Answering now the first question in the intro: I’m inclined to believe that such translator can exist, that it isn’t just an unattaunable ideal. But what does it precisely mean?
A translator is somebody who by pushing his limits can achieve perfection. It is not an easy or rapid process, although it is possible. I believe that being perfect is being full of flaws which we are trying to overcome, to get better and improve ourselves. A perfect translator is someone who is a master of his field. I’m afraid this requires years of practice, as it is very unlikely for a rookie to quickly achieve such level of proficiency. A perfect translator is someone aware of his virtues and vices, someone aware of his own capabilities and abilities. A perfect translator is also a someone who keeps learning, broadening his mind, horizons. Moreover, what I find very important, is the fact that it should be somebody not corrupted by arogance and impertinence. Years spent on translating does not make them almighty and omniscient: even the older translators encounter some difficult task and even the older ones need some help from time to time. They shall not forget that even they might be wrong. Unfortunately, some do forget and thus we have little quarrels and arguments. I think it’s just the human nature, that there is always someone smarter or at least someone who keeps thinking he is.
Furthermore, yet another important thing is the fact that the perfect translator is not an universal one. By ‘universal’ I understand here ‘being able to do everything’. Some people believe that we are living dictionaries or something in that way. ‘But ya learning English for so long, ya know, it’s easy for you, just a moment or two!’ You might be a native but you’re not born speaking perfectly, you still need many years to improve it, so why everyone believes that if you’re learning a foreign language you can do each task possible? But if we presume that ‘universal’ means ‘flexbile’ then it is quite possible for someone to be a translator specialised in, for instance, literature + Business English or Legal English. They are well oriented in their field and in the market. So, if by ‘universal’ we mean ‘swiftly adapting to the working conditions and having a knack for different types of translations. I think that this ‘flexibility’ is worth practicing, as it helps greatly.
If you have your own vision of a reliable/perfect translator, share it with me! I’d be glad to hear what you think about it 🙂 For the meantime, it’s all for today. Thank you for attention and see you next time!