di Alessandro Cantonetti da Beijing

Languages are different, such a fact is almost self evident, hardly needing any explanation or discussion; but what often goes unnoticed at a first glance under this so called self evident truth is “how and how much are they different?”.

It’s not just a matter of sounds and pronounce, it’s also a matter of grammar and morphology as well, but it’s most of all a matter of mentality and culture. That’s the greatest challenge whomever wants to become a professional translator must face. Grammar is tough stuff for sure, but nothing that study and dedication – and time – can’t solve; but a good grammar knowledge alone, though an indispensable prerequisite, can hardly turn you into a translator, let alone a good one. To really be a good translator, one must not only know the language, but also feel it somehow.

Language is a human trait, and as for all other human traits, it deals with and is influenced by sensations, feelingsand passions. In a word: culture.

This is, in my personal opinion, the real starting point of a good translation. A professional translator must not only possess a high level linguistic background, he/she should also have a deep knowledge of his/her own culture, as well as of the culture of which the language to be translated is a product. He/she needs to be able to correctly understand the meaning – i.e. the actual meaning plus the cultural implications that come with it and can slightly or completely change its original sense -, decode it and devise an acceptable linguistic way to transport the information and the nuances it originally conveyed into a correspondent expression in his/her own language.

Analyzing sentences grammatically is often necessary and useful when translating, especially in the case of very complex or convoluted sentences, but it can also be tiresome and terribly slow; it can also lead to messy and very poorly phrased results. That’s why I think that “feeling” a language is even more important, cause it can help you in a very subtle way when technical skills seem to fail, or not giving the desired outcome. With this, of course, I do not mean that translators can just take the original text and change it as they see fit whenever they want. Fluency within faithfulness is the objective a professional translator should always try to strive for, but, in my opinion, to sacrifice fluency and intelligibility for an excessive fidelity to the original text is also something which should be avoided. Exactly conveying the original message or information in a form that will not enable the reader to understand it, or will give him/her only a sketchy idea of it, would be, from a translator point of view, the perfect failure.

Aside from what I’ve already said, I think a professional translator should also be patient, imaginative (so as to be able to find new ways to look at a linguistic problem, in order to solve it) and focused. Carelessness and superficiality are what I consider the worst traits of an unprofessional translator.

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