Feb 23, 2009

If you can't catch the drift, get out of translation!

Given the current economic situation in the world and the climate of nervousness it has inspired, it is not at all surprising that translator forums are dominated by "how are you doing this week?" threads or the darker "are you ready to eat your dog, too?" discussions. This is not to make light of the real difficulties which some are experiencing for whatever reason; the situations in different language pairs and different fields and different market segments are so diverse that generalizations of any kind - including those of the doomsayers - are pretty worthless. I'm sure plenty of my pronouncements fall in that category if you try to apply them outside of my language pair and target markets. 'Nuff said.

In one recent "how are things in your language pairs" discussion, the responses passed along the highways and byways as well as through the gutters of translators' discourse, and when one fellow who is well known for dark generalizations launched into a wandering diatribe based on a complete misunderstanding of comments I had made, which ended with
Kevin Lossner wrote:
Of course, that statement may not be much comfort to someone lacking the cash cushions recommended for a freelancer (me, for instance), but it's still better than irrationality.

I am a bit confused here, because your phrasing was not very clear to me:

1) Do you mean other people were not methodical enough to enjoy the cash cushion that you have, and you wish to remind everybody about that?

2) Do you mean you don't have the cash cushion either? But you wrote earlier that you were making so much money that you don't find the time to write your invoices.

Could you be more precise about that please? In normal language also, please.
another translator observed:
With all due respect, Kevin's use of language is perfectly 'normal'. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it should be perfectly understandable to anyone with a proper command of English, especially someone translating from it.
Which raises an interesting point. I have noticed that quite a few of the flame wars which erupt on public forums are based on a misunderstanding of language. If a German-Russian translator misunderstands a point in English, I tend to shrug and try again patiently to explain a point. But when someone who translates from English requires an English text to be at a grade school level in order to grasp it properly, at some point one must ask the question what that person's true calling must be. Not all clients are stupid, and if it is noticed that a translator consistently fails to understand a source language text, it should not be surprising if clients lose faith and move on to other more expensive but reliable service providers. Especially in these hard times, the price of amateurism is much too high.


  1. What did you mean, though? Does the 'me' in 'me, for instance' follow on from 'recommended for ...me' or from 'to someone ...me'?
    May I still continue to translate out of German, even if I don't understand English?!

  2. Good point. The parenthetical comment works better after "someone". However I do think the meaning is perfectly clear with the placement given it.
    As for you translating from German to English, Zeppo, how should I know? Unless I am familiar with your work, I don't have an opinion on that one; it's for you and your customers to work out. There is plenty of room in the German to English market for even utterly incompetent translators to do well. For them it is often a matter of choosing their clients (victims?) carefully.


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