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Sophia Q


10 Reasons why Translation is a valuable exercise

I love learning foreign languages. Through networking and a bit of perseverance, I've been able to turn this passion into a marketable skill. Now, in addition to my day job, I have a side hustle as a French to American English translator.

I was working on a project about online education yesterday, and it got me thinking about translation as an exercise. I think it's a valuable use of time for me (and of course for my clients, who receive a service), and not only because it's a job where I make money.

    1. Translation helps you master your own native language

    This is a general, all-encompassing plus. When translating for a client, or at work, it's imperative to ensure that your work is of good quality. That means that, in addition to capturing the meaning of what you've translated, your final product needs to have gramatically-correct structure, accurate spelling, and appropriate vocabulary.

    2. Translation helps you focus on clarity in writing

    It's an exercise in summary. In order to translate, you have to 1) find the meaning and 2) convey it.

    3. Translation emphasizes the importance of the audience in communication

    Language is full of synonyms. So, how do you choose which words to use? You need to take your audience into account to develop the appropriate tone.

    4. Translation is a reminder that tone can be distinct from content

    This is similar to the above point, but I think it merits its own line. How we say something can be as important as what we say, and a translation is incomplete if it focuses on content alone and fails to evoke a tone similar to the language of origin (where possible).

    5. Translation trains you in solving problems

    Sometimes, there's no direct translation for a word or a concept. Still, the show must go on. Lexical gaps exist, but translating teaches you to be solution-oriented.

    6. Translation improves lateral thinking skills

    This might be an idiosyncratic one, but I think speakers of multiple languages will find it to be true. Sometimes, when I see a word in one language, it's easier to translate it to an "intermediary" language and then to translate the intermediary word into the desired language. Being indirect and creative can help to reach an optimal end product.

    7. Translation helps you develop your own style

    No two translators are alike. Facing the same sentence, two translators could conceivably produce very different translations, but both would be acceptable. Unlike in exact sciences, there is no "right" answer (although there are certainly "wrong" answers).

    So, when you translate a body of work, you come to discover your own style little by little. You come to understand your preferences for sentence structure, your preferred tone, how you like to use certain words as opposed to others, and more.

    8. Translation forces you to make choices

    Again, enter the problem of synonyms, intentionality, and meaning. In some situations, it seems like a litany of words would be needed to get at what the original author was intending. Of course, in many situations, that's not possible, and a shorter solution is needed. Translation makes indefinite "analysis paralysis" impossible, and it emphasizes the importance of "95% good and done" over "100% perfect and unattainble".

    9. Translation is a reminder of the importance of rigor and perspective

    One word may carry multiple meanings in one language but just one in another. A quick yet contentious example that comes to mind is the concept of "race" in French. In English, "race" can have several meanings that cross over ethnicity, nationality, culture, and color. In French, however, the tone of the direct translation is much more pejorative. Same word, but it elicits totally different reactions.

    What I understand as an American reader, French foreign language speaker, and translator may be different from what a native speaker perceives, even if we're reading the same words. It's yet another reminder that words have meaning that can go beyond what we intend, and it's important to be cognizant of these differences.

    10. Translation teaches us that people who speak different languages see the world in different ways

    Culture, of which language can be a critical component, influences each person's identity. I once read that speakers of one indigenous language in Australia didn't have the concept of right and left in their language; instead, their language contained the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west), and speakers would employ them to orient themselves in day-to-day conversations. This example always reminds me of a few things: 1) reality is rarely black and white (even when it's "objective") and 2) there's so much value in diversity and bringing together people who are different as we face complex problems.

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