Today’s post is an English translation with slight adaptations from an article I first published on my German blog. When reviewing the site stats for Translator Mentoring Blog earlier this week, I found that the most popular post by far continues to be Should I only translate into my native language? which suggests that this topic is one which translators, especially those just starting out, struggle to get their heads around. This is hardly surprising with so much conflicting information out there, apparent rules, requests which seem to run counter to these “rules”, and strong opinions. So I thought that my readers might be interested in this article which is a brief summary of the main points I discussed at a workshop last year. A longer article is soon to be published. Please feel free to e-mail me if you would like a copy.
The future of the translation industry – what will translator training look like in the future?
In September 2015 an interesting invitation landed in my inbox. I was being invited to speak at a workshop entitled “Foreign Language for Future Language Professionals: Reassessing Market Needs and Training Programmes” in Trieste, Italy. The seminar was being organised by the University of Trieste and the European Union and would address, among other things, the topics of translator training and translation competence into the non-native language and the extent to which this is necessary given the native speaker principle which appears to dominate the industry.
As a representative of the translation industry, in my presentation I wanted to set the advantages of the native speaker principle against my experience of the requirements and needs of corporate clients and to explain why translators must be extremely competent in their foreign language(s), irrespective of whether they translate into their non-native language or not.
The native speaker principle
Personally I am and will remain a proponent of the native speaker principle, but purely because this happens to fit my own personal circumstances. The main argument in favour of the native speaker principle is that it ensures that the translation is linguistically and grammatically flawless. In many cases, this is, of course, of utmost importance. However, being a native speaker of the target language alone is in no way sufficient to ensure that the translation also properly accurately conveys the source text message – and this must surely always be at the very top of the list of objectives.
The native language of the translator therefore is only one factor which must be considered when commissioning a translation. Equally important is whether the translator understands the source text, i.e. the level of his/her foreign language competence and specialist technical language of the subject-field concerned. Only if the translator has a very good command of the foreign language and the specialist technical language, can he/she produce an accurate translation into his/her mother tongue.
Unfortunately, this second point is often ignored when applying the native speaker principle.
From ideals to reality
What is more, academic rules and ideals (“only translate into your native language”) are often not in line with the requirements of the industry and the needs of clients. It is increasingly the case that companies and clients are looking for their internal translators to meet all of their translation needs. Perhaps a company has a regular translation requirement and therefore wants to employ an internal translator, but doesn’t have enough translation work for it to make economic sense to employ one translator per language pair, let alone one translator per language direction. In such cases, it clearly makes business sense to employ one translator who can offer all of the language pairs required in both directions. But even companies which work with external translators are increasingly looking for a one-stop shop – often due to time constraints and concerns relating to confidentiality.
Whether future translation graduates translate only into their own mother tongue or in both directions is, in my view, a question which each new translator must decide for him/herself. There will always be a market for translators who only offer the highest quality translations into their own mother tongue, providing that they also have extensive specialist knowledge in their field. However, there will also always be a market for translators wanting to translate in both directions.
Whatever the decision these translators make, it is, however, extremely important that they are given the opportunity during their training to increase their foreign language competence to the highest possible level and to polish their writing skills in the foreign language because, irrespective of whether they later decide to translate into the foreign language or not, one thing is for sure: in order to be successful in today’s translation industry, more than average foreign language competence is absolutely essential, not least for marketing purposes and communicating effectively with clients.
So ultimately there is no “right” or”wrong”. Whether you decide to translate in one direction or both is simply a choice that you, as a businessman or businesswoman, are free to make on the basis of your skillset, your strengths and weaknesses and your vision. Know that whatever choice you make, there are clients out there for you – it is your job to find the ones which are the right fit for you.
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