Friday, January 31, 2014

Translator's block: is it real?

We've all heard of writer's block. It happens when writers get stuck and for one reason or another lose their inspiration. Translators translate other people's written documents. They don't have to come up with content themselves and whether it is a legal agreement, a clinical trial or a novel, they usually receive the entire text, from start to finish.

People might think that, unlike writing, translating doesn't take much creativity as you are simply transferring concepts from one language to another. However, in order to convey accurately not only the content but also cultural nuances and between-the-lines meanings of a text, as translators we need to choose our words carefully and make sure the target reader and the source reader have a very similar experience when they go through the document.

I believe that what I call translator's block can happen every time we encounter a term or sentence whose translation into our target language is not straightforward. Perhaps it's a mini-block and it won't last for months, but it can certainly throw you off for anything between a few seconds to several hours.

The reasons behind a translator's block can be numerous. Here are my thoughts. If the translator is inexperienced or unfamiliar with the topic he/she might get stuck on a term frequently. If the concept is foreign to the target culture, it will be hard to find the right words to convey the message faithfully. The structure of a sentence might differ considerably between source and target language and it will take some playing around before achieving a satisfying solution.

In all the above mentioned instances I find it very helpful to think outside the box. Playing with concepts, synonyms and analogies, and changing around the word order can be very inspiring and open your mind to creative options that will lead to an acceptable compromise.

The translator's state of mind plays an important role. After a busy work day, our brains get tired and we struggle to put two words together. Perhaps we are stressed and unable to focus properly, or we find the topic boring and can only do so much at a time. In these cases it is better to call it a day and start fresh in the morning.

What about you, dear colleagues? Have you ever experienced translator's block and, if so, how do you handle it?

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