Driving Translators to the Goat Farm

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Родной язык: native language

Every once in awhile, I consider giving up translation and starting a goat farm. Goats are nice. Their milk can be turned into really expensive cheese. They are small enough to fit in the back of your car when you need to take them to the vet (which cannot be said of cows). If you give them food and milk them on time, they're happy. And best of all, they never argue with you about your translation or your strange desire to be paid for your work.

If you work with translators or translations, here are a few things translators wish you knew about us and the work we do.

1. Переводчики переводят на свой родной язык (Translators translate into their native language). Yes, yes, I know: There are lots of exceptions to this rule and a few experienced translators who translate competently -- and sometimes even brilliantly -- out of their native language. But for each uniquely talented translator who can produce good texts in a foreign language, there are thousands who do it badly.

2. Just for the record: Родной язык понимается как язык, который человек усваивает с раннего детства без специального обучения (Native language is understood as the language that a person masters from early childhood without special instruction). Generally, your native language is what you grew up speaking, usually in an environment where everyone around you spoke that language. Studying in school from an early age, spending a semester abroad, watching a lot of movies, or speaking it occasionally with a grandparent doesn't make you a native speaker. Sorry.

3. So even if you know the language your text is being translated into, don't assume that you know more than your native speaker translator. If I had a nickel for every time a client thought хорошие перспективы should be translated as "good perspectives" instead of "good prospects," right now I'd be writing this at my beach house while being served a mojito by my servant Juan. If something strikes you as wrong: Спросить, прежде чем ругаться (Ask before you yell). You might say: Почему вы одно и то же слово переводите по-разному? (Why did you translate the same word differently?)

4. If you have not followed Rule No. 3 and are still arguing with your translator, don't be surprised when you hear two mutually contradictory phrases about dictionaries: Так написано в словаре (That's what's in the dictionary) and Мало ли что там в словаре написано (There is lots of nonsense in the dictionary). We use the first phrase when we are trying to convince a client that, say, "plant" can mean an industrial building and not something in your garden. We use the second phrase when we are trying to convince a client that, say, "roadster" does mean an open car with no roof at all, but it cannot be used as synonym for a 2008 model convertible.

5. If your company or organization has a style book or a glossary, give it to the translator before he or she begins work. If you don't have one, provide the translator with similar translations done in the past. Переводчики не читают мысли (Translators don't read minds). If your company is called Газуралтехпром, your translator will render it Gazuraltekhprom unless you tell him or her that the standard English name you use is Ural Gas Technologies.

6. Be honest about the length and nature of the translation job. If you say: Надо перевести простой текст -- совсем немного (We need a simple text translated -- it's not much at all), your translator will not expect 15 pages of complicated text.

7. Please, pretty please, on the day before the deadline, don't send the translator a corrected version of the text with the changes unmarked. When you do that, we start thinking about goat farms.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.