Did you know that we have a team of expert translators and revisers at CBC/Radio-Canada who translate close to 4 million words a year from French to English and English to French, and also provide a handy telephone consultation service? To help you get to know them better, we asked them to clear up seven myths about their profession.
Are you in a hurry? A draft translation will do, then!
False – Marina Bost
There’s no such thing as a “draft” translation – only good and bad translations. Translators have a work ethic, much like journalists do. Even when we’re rushed, we strive to produce quality work. We can’t simply translate every second sentence, or only sort of render meaning in a text. In the end, every translator must self-revise and make corrections. Our skipping the re-read and revision stages certainly won’t save you any time. If your readers don’t clearly understand your message, a “draft translation” won’t be very useful to you. Given a reasonable deadline, we can often deliver speed and quality for you.
Anyone who’s bilingual can translate. In fact, translators can easily work in French or English.
False – Brian Cassidy
Being bilingual means you can speak two languages, period. If you think about it, just because you speak English or French well, that doesn’t make you a good writer or a gifted public speaker in either language. So why would anyone who’s bilingual automatically make a good translator or interpreter? Even translators, who are often considered fluently bilingual, generally don’t freely translate into both languages. We always translate into our mother tongue, because we’re tuned into its nuances and subtleties, and we know the ins and outs of our original culture. I could attempt to translate something into my second language, but it’s a bit counter-productive given that my Francophone colleagues would do it better and so much faster than me. So it’s just more practical to stick to what I know well!
Google Translate can’t replace translators (well, not yet, at least).
True – Miguelle Saulnier-Madore
People say that computers, software and other computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools are going to replace translators – in fact, they’ve been saying it for the past 15 years or more! But language is more complex than you’d think! To translate, you need to think, weigh your options, and make choices. Machines can’t figure out what puns, metaphors, and nuanced or unclear writing mean, so they’d translate parler le français comme une vache espagnole as “speak French like a Spanish cow,” when that really means “speak broken French.” Translators don’t work in word-for-word mode – they translate meaning, and so they have to clearly understand your message.
To speed things up, I’ll translate the document myself and then you’ll just have to edit it
False – Jonathan Kotcheff
Unfortunately, doing the translation yourself rarely speeds things up. Unless you’re particularly gifted at writing in your second language, chances are your text is going to be riddled with syntactical errors and unidiomatic expressions (e.g., “The softwares permit to augment your efficacity”). Fixing up a text like that can often take just as much time as translating it from scratch – and sometimes even longer. So not only are you not speeding up the process, you’re also wasting a lot of your own time doing a job that we can do better and more quickly. After all, that’s what we’re there for!
Some words are the same in French and English, but they don’t mean the same thing.
True – Myriam Ocio
The closest word in the other language isn’t always the right one to use. Of course, French and English share many similar words, but each language has a logic all its own. You have to be wary of words that appear to mean the same thing, because you can easily end up with your foot in your mouth. You might even be saying the opposite of what you mean. For instance, in French the verb supporter means to tolerate someone, not assist them! The key is to flag it and go check. Otherwise, you could start using expressions that may well work in your department or with your team, but are totally out of touch with the wider world.
A text that took three days to write takes at least as many days to translate.
True – Nicole Pigeon
There’s a whole process before your requests land on a translator’s desk. Basically, we need to assess the work, do the word count, and put everything through the translation memory. I then read pre-translated documents sentence by sentence and consult the memory results to see if anything can be lifted from previous translations. Because we often receive multiple documents for the same project, the terminology, headings and taglines must be identical. Next, we have to check whether our translators are available to meet your deadline. That’s why the 3,000 words that took you three days to write can’t be translated in three hours.
Translators have limitless knowledge.
False (unfortunately) – André Journault
People often assume that translators know everything, but that’s not true. Certain translators specialize in a specific field, like legal or financial. Then there are generalists, who know a bit about a lot of fields. But no one can possibly know the name of every galaxy, fruit or bird. Nor could they recite every single grammar rule and exception to you. But we do know how and where to find them for you! And even though many documents end up on our desks, we don’t know everything going on in every department of the Corporation. A bit of background and a briefing on what you expect can really go a long way with us.