You Be The Translator

Find Out What's It Like To Do It Correctly

So that's what it's like to be a translator. Now I know and darling, I'm so proud of you.

It's Greek to You (tm)
What's it like being a translator? Now you can find out. NOW Translations has developed a little test so you can come close to the translation experience without actually having to know another language.
Below are a handful of items we'd like you to work on. Each is different and each is taken from existing literature. Just re-word what's written below, saying the same thing a different way without loosing the original text's meaning.

Original: When even one American -- who has done nothing wrong -- is forced by fear to shut his mind and close his mouth, then all Americans are in peril.

Introduction Translation (re-write): When just one American -- who is free of wrong doing -- is afraid to cultivate ideas or speak, then every American is at risk.

We think we maintained the original meaning of this quote of Harry S Truman. Why not give it a try yourself.

Remember, you're "translating" this so it can still be understood by anyone who reads it, even a novice. That means you'll have to ascertain which words the novice might not understand and explain those in parentheses. Ready for more? Let's start with an easy one.

The Test
"Manual Installation"

Just two words. But maybe it's not so easy after all. You're probably wondering, "What's the context?" You don't know: you received this "translation job" at the end of the day, there was no reference material, and these two words don't relate to anything else in the project. Your contact person at your client's office has no idea what the term refers to and the client's tech guy is on vacation (the translation is due tomorrow!). What does "Manual Installation" mean? Is it a software prompt so a user can choose to install something manually, picking which parts of the package he wants? Or could it be a prompt to install the manual (some programs don't come with printed instructions, but you can install a PDF of the manual on your drive)? Maybe it's mechanical. Doesn't "manual" refer to a keyboard for organs and harpsichords? It does.

OK, it wasn't easy. It was "deceptively" easy and that's something a language pro has the experience to pick up on. Still, we wanted you to have the real-world experience of having to play word sleuth.

Extra Credit: Here's a completely incorrect translation we ran across: Lightening Mad. If you can backtrack this mistake to mentally figure out what the original text was, you might be someone we want to hire. You'll find the correct answer at the end of this page.

Try these others (2-5). Remember, just re-write the text as best you can.

With each generation of analog tape recording, mixing, and mastering (e.g. open reel at 7.5 IPS), noise increases 3dB. That's for each stage. This is before duplication. In duplication, the copy introduces drop-outs and narrowing of stereo image. Azimuth (the skew of the head in relation to the tape) problems also plague tape copies making havoc with upper frequencies; it can also cause a perceptible alteration of the stereo image, with sound emanating from one channel earlier than the other. Wow and flutter is also accentuated.
Keynes, in his The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, argued that a lack of demand for goods and rising unemployment could be countered by increased government expenditure to stimulate the economy. His theories made a major contribution to the study of macroeconomics and his ideas are today contrasted with those of monetarism.
Zones: The first concerns the consideration and comparison of the effects of two quite different climes: the gentle but significant variations in a temperate zone, the northern half of Europe, for example, and the less variable, hotter and drier zones exemplified by North Africa, the uplands of South Africa, the irrigated areas of South Australia and Southern California.
Bicycles that are not designed for conventional road use include time-trial bikes, which have a short head tube, sloping top tube, aero handlebars, and aerodynamic tubing.
Moller International in the USA has conceived various fan-lift aircraft, of which the four-seat M400 Skycar is currently under test. Powered by eight highly efficient 160 hp Moller MR 530 rotary piston engines mounted in pairs in four pods (each engine driving a seven-blade fan), vertical flight is achieved by using sets of computer-reconfigured variable lift vanes at the rear of each pod to redirect thrust.

Put Your Pencils Down
In re-writing the above six items, the first thing you probably noticed was that not all things English, even plain English, are non-technical enough for a fledgling to understand.

Did you note that just re-writing something takes time. And surely you also read over what you re-wrote and improved it so it read just as nicely in your version as it did in the original.

You may have also thought, sure, if you had more of the original text to go on and to use as reference and if you were given the time to research the subject more completely and - wait a minute, that's exactly what professional language translators and editors are up against.

Look at number 5 again. NOW Translations would assign this to someone who knows bicycles. But what if the bike manufacturer has gotten creative with terminology or is describing something unique to this bike alone; what if the tech writer actually made a mistake -- even our expert would be lost.

Unfortunately, language agencies often receive snippets no larger and no more complete than the ones above. That's all they have to go on to quickly turn-around a good translation.

Using Your Translation Experience
you've done the translation "thing." You now know that you can't just send some text to an agency, whether it's a word list, a single phrase, or an entire user's guide and not expect them to have a few questions. Questions AND answers take time and if no time is left in the budget or if no one is around to answer those questions, then the translation won't be as good as it could be.

Extra Credit Answer: "Lightening Mad" was a mistranslation of "Nuts and Bolts." How could someone make such a mistake? We have no idea, but he, she, or it (translation software?) made an astounding number of howlers throughout the text. A mistranslation like this is funny to you and me, but it didn't get so much as a smile when we pointed it out to the person who thought he was paying a qualified source to localize his web site.

If you study hard enough, one day you will be a professional translator (or know which ones to hire)!

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