The musicians of language

May 16, 2017 | First Edition Translations, Language, Miscellaneous, Translation

Flute player“My cousin speaks this language, so he translated it for me. Could you just certify it?”

If I had a penny for every time I heard this or something similar, I would be rich. Alright, this might be an exaggeration, but I do hear this quite a lot.

People often underestimate translators and assume that everyone who speaks another language can also translate. Many don’t realise that being a translator requires hard work and dedication.

Being a translator is more than just being bilingual – it is a serious profession on its own right. Actually, I would go even further and say that it is a vocation! Just like musicians who transform notes on a paper into beautiful music, translators transform what the author wrote into another language. Translators are the musicians of language.

Similarly to musicians, translators start their training early. First of all, they need to learn the delicate intricacies of their own mother tongue, and then the secrets of at least one other language. Speaking another language is not all, though. They need to be culturally aware and should have a certain type of curiosity that drives them to learn more. They need to know about the theory of translation and familiarise themselves with translation techniques that help them handle the task of translation.

Like musicians, translators need plenty of practice. As the best musicians rehearse for hours each day to be confident on stage, translators need practice to sharpen their skills to be able to deliver high quality work every single time.

Before musicians make a start with a new piece, they analyse and interpret it based on their knowledge of the historical era it is from, the composer’s style, music theory and various other aspects. Translators are no different: before they start work, they interpret the text, look at the specific subject matter and the wider context and make sure they understand everything there is to the text as without that, they couldn’t translate it successfully.

Last but not least, translators need talent and creativity. Without that certain je ne sais quoi, their translations would just turn out be clunky and mechanical renditions of the source text. They need to have a great writing style of their own but they also have to have the ability to change that style and adapt to the author’s manner of writing, so that they can convey the message of a foreign author, just like musicians present composers’ ideas in a concert hall.


Source of image: Wikimedia