What is translation?
Translating from one language to another is not as easy as many people think. It is much more than looking up the words in a dictionary; for example, you may look up a word and find it has more than one equivalent word in another language. How do you know which word to use? In today’s digital age, online translation services and translation software are readily available, so does this mean the problems of translation are over? It certainly does not; automatic online translation services can give a general idea of what is being said and are helpful in translating basic conversation and short texts. However, if the translation involves an important document or a business letter, accurate and clear translation is essential, as an inaccurate translation could lead to misunderstanding or even more serious problems.
Language is not simply a matter of words; every language in the world is rooted in a specific culture, and as words have developed over the centuries, they reflect the experience and the local environment of those who speak that language as natives. Some languages, for example, in certain equatorial regions, particularly small islands in the ocean, do not have a word for ‘snow’, as those who have lived in such regions all of their lives have never seen snow, so it no word has developed to describe snow.
Imagine a situation where a person is fluent in two languages. Is that person, therefore, a good translator from one of those languages into the other? The answer is maybe, or maybe not. Translation is a skill in its own right. It involves not just a knowledge of the languages themselves but also a knowledge (or even an immersion) in the culture from which these languages originate. A good translator reads the text in one language and understands exactly what it means, then ‘rewrites’ it in the other language, retaining the precise meaning. Translation is similar to paraphrase, but not equivalent to it. Paraphrase allows more freedom to use synonyms, but translation needs each word to be accurately translated as well. For this reason, it is a good idea to employ the services of a good and experienced translator.