The Arduous Task of Translation

The task of a translator is not as simple as one might assume. Nowadays if one wish to understand the meaning of a particular text in a foreign language, say from a website, he or she can simply use one of the freely available translation tools on the web such as Google Translate to instantaneously perform the translation of the foreign language into a language that he or she understands. Nonetheless, the result of using such a mechanical tool may be far less than satisfactory than one would have wanted.

The underlying reason behind this is due to the fact that the process of translation is complicated and time-consuming, and hence the job of the translator is a difficult one. The task of translation is not simply about translating individual words or sentences just as Google does, but rather entire texts have to be translated. It is not enough to produce grammatically correct sentences, but natural sentences that faithfully reflect the meaning of the source text in the way the author originally intended. Furthermore, the translator should do his best to retain the special characteristics of the original source text, while at the same time the translated text has to accommodate readers with a different culture and background.

We can quote the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Language to sum up translation as a task to be accomplished:

It is sometimes said that there is no task more complex than translation—a claim that can be readily believed when all the variables involved are taken into account. Translators not only need to know their source language well; they must also have a thorough understanding of the field of knowledge covered by the source text, and of any social, cultural, or emotional connotations that need to be specified in the target language if the intended effect is to be conveyed. The same special awareness needs to be present for the target language, so that points of special phrasing, local (e. g. regional) expectations, and so on, can all be taken into account.

The translator can also be likened to a bridge, in the true sense of the word. As an intermediate information receiver and at the same time the secondary dispatcher, the translator has to analyse the intention of the author in writing the source text and try to convey it to the reader of the translation, who should understand the intention of the author through the target text.

The importance of the work of translator cannot be underestimated in this modern age of globalization. Acting as an intermediary between countries, civilizations, cultures, and groups of people, the translator is indeed a bridge that connects diverse people together. In conclusion, the purposes of translation can be summed up as the following:

  1. To contribute to the understanding and peace between nations, groups, and individuals.
  2. To transmit knowledge in plain, appropriate and accessible language, in particular in relation to technology, science, and engineering.
  3. To explain and mediate between cultures on the basis of common humanity, respecting their strengths, implicitly exposing their weaknesses.
  4. To translate the world’s great books, the universal works in which the human spirit is enshrined and lives.
  5. As a general aid or as a skill required in the acquisition of a foreign language.
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