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The limits of specialisation

September 13, 2015 9:04 pm

The notion that translation neatly falls in to specialist and general has always struck me as pretty dubious. After all, just about every text is about something (and is therefore specialist or even technical to some degree). And on the rare occasions when I have been asked to translate a truly non-specialist text it has usually turned out to be a nightmare – the absence of any identifiable content just forcing me to focus all of my brainpower on ensuring that the right ‘message’ comes across without any tangible hooks to hang it on.

Another problem with the notion of translation as a discipline that divides neatly into specialisms (medical, legal, financial) is that the real world is far messier than that. I often translate investor reports for a pharmaceutical company. Financial or medical? Both.

And this issue was brought home to me with particular force over the weekend when I sat down to translate a commercial contract. Legal, you would have thought. But the contract included a 3-page list of items such as the following:

  • Equipos de sonido
  • Equipos de luces
  • Transporte de equipo de sonido y luces
  • Sound equipment
  • Lighting equipment
  • Transport of sound and lighting equipment

If all texts are about something (and thus specialist) then it is also true that a lot of specialist texts are also about something other than their own field and thus encompass two or more specialisms. Contracts are legal texts (and thus assigned to legal translation specialists) but the contract itself necessarily relates to something else – in this case, the organisation of a series of concerts – with the associated specialist terminology. Financial reports, likewise, report on the activities of specific companies and thus, necessarily, include specialist terminology relating to the company’s field of activity. In practice, this means that you will usually have to handle both the specialist terminology of finance and the specialist terminology of whatever activity the company engages in.

So let’s hear it for all of the ‘general’ translators out there – we are the true specialists!

Financial training under the radar

September 13, 2015 8:46 pm

There’s a strong trend towards validated continuing professional development (CPD) in the translation profession. While I think this is generally a good thing – who would argue against keeping your skills and knowledge up to date? – I sometimes wonder whether the emphasis on official courses, certified seminars and the rest is altogether healthy. If I’m honest, this kind of thing makes up a tiny proportion of the skills development required to keep translators up to speed (and improving) in the modern world.

So here is a little list of my “under the radar” financial training for this year (no certificates or courses, just a list of bloody good finance books and blogs that I’ve read during 2015):

  • Monevator – probably the UK’s best investment blog: an informal, one-stop investment studies university
  • The Incredible Shrinking Alpha, Swedroe, L.
  • Irrational Exuberance, Shiller, R.
  • Stocks for the Long Run, Siegel, J.
  • Sterling Bonds and Fixed Income for the Private Investor, Glowrey, M.
  • All About Asset Allocation, Ferri, R.
  • Rational Expectations: Asset Allocation for Adults, Bernstein, W.
  • Smarter Investing, Hale, T.
  • The FT Guide to Exchange Traded Funds, Stevenson, D.
  • D-I-Y Pensions, Hulton, J.
  • Investing Demystified, Kroijer, L.

There’s two ways to think about my slightly chaotic financial self-education. If you’re into things being validated and rubber-stamped, you might worry that my curriculum has some missing elements. But if you care about motivation and passion – and these, surely, are the key ingredients to any effective education – then my list has one really big plus: these are all books that I have read because I wanted to.

Loose change and wagging tails

June 5, 2014 8:23 pm

I’m in the middle of a long, urgent UN translation, so I was quite pleased when some colloquial business scenarios landed in my in-tray. They consist of four scripts of people complaining to their bosses, and I had a bit of fun with the opportunity for some creative translation:

aquí las bocas van mas sueltas que las monedas que llevo yo en el bolsillo

[Literally: Here people’s mouths are looser than the coins I’ve got in my pocket]

My labrador, Ronia, was lying under my desk while I was working, and she inspired me to come up with the following:

there are so many wagging tongues around here it’s like being at a dog show on a summer’s day

 

Prima Pagina

March 3, 2014 5:52 pm

I’m finding that a daily podcast is a great way of improving my Italian and keeping abreast of Italian current affairs. Rai3 produces the excellent Prima Pagina, in which a guest journalist summarises the main stories in the day’s newspapers. Over the last 12 months I have followed the demise (but for how long?) of Silvio Berlusconi, the rise (but for how long?) of Matteo Renzi, and the ongoing trials and tribulations of the Italian economy, the Italian political system, and the Italian legal system.

Most frequently heard phrase: “In un paese normale…” [“In a normal country…”].

Word of the year: “rottamatore” [Literally, “scrapper” – Renzi’s nickname, for his promises to bring radical change to Italy’s ageing system.]

Visca Catalunya!

October 4, 2013 12:44 pm

A couple of weeks ago I did an urgent job for a valued client (25k in 10 days). This consisted mainly of PowerPoint presentations in Spanish, but also included in a couple of the files were presenter’s notes – in Catalan. By the time I encountered these, it was the weekend, and the job was due back on the Monday, so there was no question of raising it with the client.

Fortunately, Google translate came to the rescue. (Words you won’t often hear a professional translator uttering.) In my experience, Google translate is okay for gisting (while making the occasional hideous mistake) but its output is a very long way from being presentable, even as a rough draft. However, I wondered if it could be used to turn my Catalan source text into a Spanish source text. I put my source text through Google translate and was pleasantly surprised to find that it produced fairly passable Spanish, which I could then translate into English (checking back against the source, of course, for accuracy) and ironing out any imperfections as I went.

I guess this reflects the relative similarity of Spanish and Catalan, and the fact that ‘business’ Catalan is bound to be strongly influenced by the vocabulary, structures and conventions of Spanish.

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