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Literature Architects: What Does It Mean To Be A Translator

Translation: One of The Oldest Professions in The Modern World - What Does It Mean To Be A Translator?

When you start reading a book written by a foreign author, do you ever think how different it is from the original? Do you ever wonder if you would feel the same emotions the writer felt when writing the book, or have they been processed and alternated by the translator of the book?

In the quest for the answers, it all comes down to knowing what it is like to work as a translator, more specifically what it takes to be one in order to have a better understanding of the job itself.

Translator vs. Interpreter

Firstly, let’s clear out some common misconceptions people tend to have for translating and interpreting. Being a translator and being an interpreter are completely separate jobs. While translation deals with the written word, interpretation involves the spoken word. Therefore, the translator pays strict attention to the finest linguistic details, while the interpreter works with the spoken words in real time, and the job as such is much more dynamic and fluid. Which brings me to the next misconception of the two vocations: An interpreter can be a translator and vice versa.

While both professions require an excellent fluency and understanding of the language, they do develop different skills in people who work as the one or the other. An interpreter has mastered the ability to react fast, easily adapt to speakers, situations, and subjects all the while having excellent oral skills. Although these are useful skills to possess, the translator wouldn’t make much use of them while working. The person who deals with the written word has developed an exceptional attention to details and outstanding writing skills.

In an interview for the Art of Manliness, explaining how to know if you are a good skillful translator, an English-Japanese translator and interpreter Greg Melchior says: “a good indicator would be whether or not you can explain how to tie your shoes in a foreign language without using gestures”. Although it may sound like a funny way to test it, think about it, it can get complicated and you may end up all tangled up.

Understanding the language through the culture

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Language is a living thing. New phrases and cultural references are constantly being added as the time passes so the translators need to embrace the culture of the languages they are dealing with. In addition to current events, as those have a major impact on the way people communicate.

They don’t just convey meaning from one language to another, they re-create. It’s architecture of words building bridges that connect people and cultures from around the world.

So, to the question if your book feels the same whether you are reading it translated or original, think of it this way: a translator disassembles the very structure of the text and reassembles it into another structure that functions the same. Therefore, since we all comprehend our native language on a whole different level mixed with emotions and feelings, it does feel the same, probably even better.

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