Linguists all over the world agree that the best way to learn a new language is to immerse yourself in the culture and traditions of the country. The word ‘immersion’ implies the exclusive use of the language you are learning. However, translators are faced with an even more challenging task since they are also required to communicate effectively in their mother tongue. This is not a naturally acquired skill as you might think; it has to be nurtured and developed for full mastery of your native language. So, what should translators do to ensure they know the ins and outs of their own language? Here at SMG Languages we have come up with some top tips to help you on your way.
Firstly, keep up-to-date with new vocabulary. Translators often leave their country for months on end to find work abroad. During this time, new words can be introduced into their language. An example of this is ‘omnishambles’ which was recently announced by the Oxford Dictionaries as the UK Word of the Year 2012 . It refers to ‘a situation that has been ‘comprehensively mismanaged, characterised by a string of blunders and miscalculations’. ‘Omnishambles’ was first coined on a British political comedy series The Thick of It and has since spread like wildfire, appearing in the media and political speeches. In order to translate for a modern audience, it is crucial that translators and revisers are aware of new terminology. This is particularly important in sectors which are constantly progressing and receiving updates such as medicine and engineering.
Orthography is another language element in constant evolution. This is especially the case with languages that have accents such as French. The French orthography reform in 1990 dictated changes which included the fusion of certain words with hyphens such as ‘porte-monnaie’. These are now incorporated in the ‘Petit Robert’ dictionary and therefore translators should always refer to updated versions when carrying out translations.
Secondly, don’t forget to immerse yourself in your own culture. You may think that you know all there is to know about your own country, but cultures are constantly evolving and it is important to keep up with these changes. I recently took part in the Guardian ‘how British am I?’ quiz only to discover the questions were hugely outdated. Britain’s identity was once a stiff upper lip, an insatiable fascination with the weather and a passion for cricket. However, with the rise of immigration and 8% of the population of England and Wales declaring a main language other than English, a new multicultural identity is forming. Translators should keep up with the news, popular culture and politics of their countries in order to localise texts effectively.
The third piece of advice I would offer is to keep reading. Long periods living in a foreign country can influence your language so it loses it grammatical structure and syntax causing translations to be too close to the source text. Moreover, exposure to other countries that speak your language can also have a negative impact. For example, Spanish translators who have spent a long time in the Spanish speaking parts of South America may accidentally use dialect words which are not common to Spain. Reading is a great reminder of the target language idioms and style. So ensure high quality translations by keeping on your toes and immersing yourself in both your target and source languages and cultures.