Translation Techniques And When To Use Them


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Have you ever wondered what translators do when faced with hurdles during their translation works? Has it ever occurred to you that translators have strategies they use or use if ever they face any difficulties in their line of work? These are questions that you might not have thought of because you couldn’t care less about what the process of translation entails. I am 100% sure there is a person out there who doesn’t sleep at night because they are “steadily” thinking about this. In this article, we will look at some techniques that have been availed for translators to use when working with different languages. 

Ask any translators what some of these techniques are and they won’t know what to tell you, but do they use them? Yes. They use them because their line of work demands, but they might not even know that these techniques have an origin and a name, and that’s what we will outline here today.  A client will scout for a translator, find them, make an offer to them and eventually end up giving them some documents to translate, it takes a very well knowledgeable and professional translator to know what to do when they come across difficulties because chances are; the client came to you because they needed your help, and they knew you would help them out. If you end up not knowing how to solve some challenges you face, then you will end up disappointing your client. Therefore, translators need to empower themselves with this knowledge as they grow their craft.

The sole purpose of this article is to educate readers who are interested in translation work and who would love to learn a thing or two about the field of language translation.

A lot of these translation techniques come to play where literal translation is not possible. If a translator is working with languages whose vocabulary and grammar levels are not the same, then some translation techniques really help to come up with translations that are accurate.

Before we go further, I would like to note that translations methods differ from translation techniques. Translation methods usually apply to the whole document, while translation techniques only apply to a specific segment of a document. With that said translation techniques are divided into two main types, and that is direct techniques and oblique techniques. Both categories have subtypes under them. 

Understanding these two main categories allows the translators to know where the different sub-types apply and where they would work well if used. It is very important to be keen because using one technique in the place of another might end up creating a really off translation and context when compared to the original documents.

Direct Translation Techniques.

The techniques that are termed as direct translation techniques are usually used when the grammar content on the source language is easily translated to the target language without removing the original context and meaning of the source language. There are three sub-types in this group of techniques and that is Borrowing, Calque and literal translation. We will look at them below.

1. Borrowing.

This is a technique where words are taken directly from one language into another without translating them. Just as the word depicts its technique that borrows from one language to the other. A lot of languages if not all usually borrow a few words from the English language, and the words usually make sense even without translating them. Some of these words are “software” which is a word in technology that is usually borrowed into other many languages. The English language also borrows words like Café and passé from the French languages. It is a very common technique that translators really gravitate towards. Borrowed words are often printed in italics when they are considered being “foreign”.

2. Calque.

A calque translation is also known as a loan translation. You should note that the word calque is a German phrase that has been borrowed from another language and translated literally from word-to-word. This is the translation that is usually done from word-to-word from one language to another and it is very specific to particular fields such as quality assurance which is (assurance qualité in the French language). Depending on what languages you are working, it is important to make sure that when using the calque technique you don’t end up using certain words that are not specific to a particular language and their cultures.

3. Literal Translation.

A literal translation is the one translators term as a word-to-word kind of translation. This is a very tricky technique because depending on the sentence structure, and the language pair that you are working with, you can either end up using this technique or the technique not apply at all. Word to word translations work and times and other times they really don’t. That is why a translator must be able to know which of these direct translation techniques would come in handy to resolve a challenge they are experiencing. Their statements can be translated literally across different languages, but not all can be translated the same way. 

Now that we are done with the direct translation techniques, we will get into the oblique translation techniques. 

Oblique Translation Techniques.

These are translation techniques that are employed when the structural or conceptual elements of a particular language cannot be directly translated into another language. Here, that is the source language and target language. If a word cannot be translated to a target language without altering the message or meaning of a statement, then a translator should use oblique translation techniques that best suit their situation. The oblique translation techniques include Transposition, modulation, reformulation or equivalence, adaptation, and compensation.

1. Transposition.

This is the technique in which the parts of speech change their process sequence when translated to a target language. It affects the meaning of the speech but is also not a word to word kind of translation. It can be termed as shifting words to maintain the same meaning as the source language. This is usually common if the language pair is English and French. These two languages cannot have a direct word to word translation and still maintain the original meaning, and that is why transposition is the best translation technique to use. This is because the grammatical structure of the English language differs from that of the French language. 

2. Modulation.

This is a technique that ensures that the translation conveys the same meaning in both languages by using phrases that are different but gave the same meaning and provide the same context in a statement. These techniques change the semantics and usually shifts the point of view of the source language. In this technique, the translator can generate a change in the original or intended point of view and thought process while still maintaining the meaning and not introducing a new aspect that might be weird or awkward to the target reader. It can be used within the same language or when paired with other languages.

3. Reformulation or Equivalence.

This is a technique that is mostly used by translators when they come across expressions that cannot really be translated into other languages because translating them directly would alter their original meaning. With this technique, the translator has to express a statement in a different way. It is not an easy process because you must be able to deeply understand both languages, for you to know what to put in place of any expression or an advertisement slogan and translate it to a target language. The process is creative, but not always easy. This is one technique that I can tell you for sure translators don’t enjoy engaging with because it is very easy to make things more complicated with this technique.

4. Adaptation.

Just like the name depicts, this is a technique that allows the adaptation of words familiar in different languages that hold the same meaning in another language. When something is specific to one language culture and is expressed in a different way that is familiar or appropriate to another language and culture is what we mean with adaptation. It offers a total shift when it comes to cultural and environmental aspects. If not used with someone who is keen and one who knows what they are doing, this technique can end up not providing the best solution to a challenge.  It involves changing the cultural reference when a situation in the source culture does not exist in the target culture.

5. Compensation.

The same way you understand the meaning of the word compensation is the same way you should be able to understand the compensation technique. This is a technique that is used when something cannot be translated and the lost meaning is translated by compensating it somewhere else in the statement to make it make sense. A lot of language pairs work well with the compensation technique.

All these techniques come in handy for translators in different circumstances. Depending on what challenge you are facing as a translator, you should be able to know which technique will work well to deliver perfectly translated texts.

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