Language for a Living

Language for a Living

There is something intangible about the work of a translator. Some may wonder whether translating even qualifies as working. During my student years, on more than one occasion I was approached by a Japanese friend who would ask me to translate a wall of text into English, “because you speak the language, don’t you?” Even as a professional translator, my prospective clients are sometimes startled when I tell them it might take more time to accurately translate a text than it took them to write it. Experiences such as these made me think a closer look at the work of a translator is in order. Let’s start with the obvious: you can be sure that any translation job that exceeds the complexity of a shopping list will be deliciously bungled by Google Translate. Let’s have a look at what Google makes of the following Japanese sentence: Japanese: 青春の輝き、熱き若者たちの挑戦 (seishun no kagayaki, atsuki wakamonotachi no chōsen) Google: “Youth of shine, challenge of Passionate young people” I will not bother you with the Dutch translation, which ended up even more creative because Google first translates Japanese into English before the end-user is shown the final translation in Dutch. The Japanese sentence itself poses an interesting challenge. It is the subtitle of a television series and captures rather typically the importance concepts such as nostalgia and youth hold in the hearts of many Japanese. I would translate the sentence as follows: Iki: “The power of youth – fearless youngsters on a mission” Even without further context, the general emotion behind the subtitle shines through. In an actual translation, aided by a footnote or two, I would go...