This past weekend, I had the good fortune to attend Translate in the Catskills, a conference on target language writing skills for translators. Where to start? This conference made me think more about the actual quality and style of my translations than I have in a long time, and made me realize that there are concrete techniques that all of us can use to make our translations sound less like translations.
The presenters for the Catskills conference were really top-notch (you can read their bios on the site linked to above) and we literally talked translation from dawn to dusk. Although it bothers me when people complain that the ATA conference sessions focus too much on general information for beginners, I have to admit that it was really invigorating to get into the nuances of higher-level translation topics in a group of experienced translators. Here are a few snippets of what I learned at this conference:
- Most of us focus too much on the “hard” words in our translations, while it’s the “easy” words that make something sound smooth or sound like a translation. We’re so intent on making sure that our subject-specific terminology is correct that then we write things like “the decision of management” instead of “management’s decision,” and wonder why our translations sound so clunky.
- Every language has its pitfalls. Once you learn to identify these, it’s a lot easier to write around them. For example, French writers, especially attorneys and corporate writers, use a lot of passive voice. Also (and like many other languages), French uses “of” for possessives as in the example above. How we translate these constructions makes a big difference in the readability of our translations.
- It helps to say it in your own words. When you’re stuck on how to translate something but you understand the concept, think of how you would explain that concept to someone in your own language, then start your translation from there. Don’t get so fixated on remaining faithful to the original that you write something convoluted where something simple and clear would do.
- If you use a translation environment tool, always proofread larger chunks of text, not one segment at a time. Personally I am a big fan of TenTs, and I use OmegaT or Wordfast for pretty much every document I translate unless it is a non-OCRable PDF. I find that I can work about 10% faster by using a TenT, and I think that I am much less likely to skip a word or sentence if I’m looking at one segment at a time. However, from the text flow point of view, TenTs make the job harder; you’re probably much less likely to notice words that you use too often, conflicting verb tenses, etc. when you’re only looking at a few words at a time.
This is the first language-specific conference I’ve attended and I definitely came away hungry for more. Partially, I think that many of us are attracted to translation because we really like to write, but we often lose sight of that aspect of the job. Also, I think it’s really, really rare that we sit down with a bunch of colleagues for two or three hours and talk about how we would translate a set of example sentences. I’ll probably write some additional blog posts about this conference, and I’m definitely hoping that there will be another one like it in the future.