The Perfect Translator

February 2nd, 2013

It’s a pretty common trope in science fiction stories to have future societies speak one unified language.

the perfect translator

Translator as Super Hero

It’s easy to see why people see this as an overall Good for the future: Many people find other languages to be a challenge to learn, and as a result all the different languages out there represent nothing more than barriers. Even people like myself who work in translation services and have a facility with languages can never hope to learn every language in the world, or even become passably familiar with them. If we found ourselves in a future without language barriers, the world would be a closer, more peaceful place.

Of course, I would be out of a job, but I would make that deal if it meant world peace! That future is a long way off, however, and until then we have to rely on translators to bring us all closer together. Translators are the superheroes of the modern age, working tirelessly to bring the thoughts, literature, and friendly contacts of the world to us all.

The Perfect Translator

Considering how essential translators are, it’s a good moment to pause and consider what makes a great translator – and what would make a perfect translator. To keep things a little simple, let’s consider what would make a perfect translator between just two languages.

First of all, they would have to be beyond fluent. Fluent means you can easily understand and be understood, but it doesn’t mean you have perfect knowledge of a language – and doesn’t take cultural understanding into account at all. A perfect translator would not only have a perfect comprehension of both languages, they would also have deep, first-person experience with the cultures behind each language, as many high quality translations rely on such cultural knowledge to capture the exact meaning.

The perfect translator also needs to be able to express themselves clearly and easily – they must be articulate. I have personally known people who, despite being extremely fluent in both the languages and cultures of two countries lacked the ability to be articulate – and this harmed their translation work when they failed to truly comprehend subtleties, or, if they understood them, when they were unable to duplicate the depth of meaning in the target language.

Business translation might seem easy – but believe me, it’s not work for the faint of heart. The perfect translator would have to understand that, as well.

Image courtesy www.flicks.co.nz

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