Who Is a Translator?

Who Is a Translator?

What makes up a translator? It is a fundamental but often overlooked rule of thumb that translators work into their native language or dominant language, the language in which they can express themselves most precisely and effectively. It goes without saying that they must have mastered the language from which they translate, but rare are the cases of translators having mastered it to such an extent that they can translate in both directions. While bilinguals (a bilingual is a person fluent in two languages) constitute a potential exception to this rule, true bilinguals, speakers who have grown up educated and acculturated equally in two languages, are few and far between.

A translator is working.

A translator is working.

In the end, knowing two languages, no matter how intimately, does not automatically make one a translator. Knowing two languages is, of course, a prerequisite, but translation is a craft and, like any craft, it calls for training. The quality of the end product varies in relationship to the training the translator has received. True, talent and natural aptitudes play a role, but professional guidance is important, be it for the development of talent or instruction in technical procedures.

Training has traditionally taken place at post-graduate institutions devoted exclusively to translating and interpreting. Recently, however, universities have begun offering courses and even degrees in the field. Lists encompassing both types of programs are available at atanet.org/certification/eligibility_approved.php and www.lexicool.com/courses.asp.

A typical M.A. curriculum includes courses such as theories of translation, translation skills and techniques, translation tools and technology, translation as a profession, etc.

Since highly specialized scholarly texts are best translated by scholars with a background in the field, potential scholar-translators cannot be expected to complete a degree in translation. However, now that instruction in the practice of translation is increasingly available in university settings, social scientists who contemplate translating texts they find seminal to their interests should seek them out before undertaking a project.

Who, then, is a translator? A translator is one whose native or dominant language is the target language, who has attained a high degree of mastery of the source language, and who has undergone professional training in the techniques of translation.

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