The easiest way to get to notice really awful translations available on the web is by far watching films. Although many viewers can understand spoken English or any other popular foreign language of their choice quite well, they are not in the habit of turning off the subtitle option. When background noise is too loud, they may come in handy. Yet, more often than not, one gets to read incredibly awkward language which not only ruins the pleasure of watching a film but also raises questions like ‘Who on earth did this pitiful translation?’ or ‘Why didn’t they hire a specialist to do the subtitles?’. I believe you can guess the answers to these questions: Most of the people involved in this kind of job are not qualified translators; they just happen to know the ABC of a foreign language and are right there when the job needs to be done.
Indeed, being proficient in a foreign language does not mean only knowing a few grammar rules and having the ability to grasp the global meaning of a complex sentence. The dialogue in a film usually implies more than that; it sets the tone of a certain conversation and plays an important part in shaping the characters’ personalities. If the translation of their words and sentences sounds as if a machine had done the language transfer, the wit of a dialogue is gone; on top of that, the sense of humour of a character and a whole lot of feelings will dramatically diminish in terms of intensity and variation.
What is there to do?
To be honest, I don’t think that bad translation jobs will ever disappear from the available downloadable movie package that the ordinary man and woman are interested in watching on the Internet. However, there is one lesson that you should learn from all this, especially if you are planning to become a translator or interpreter in the near future. In order to do a top-notch translation you simply cannot rely on all available online dictionaries. The appropriate resources for professional linguists cannot always be found on the web; and even if they are, you will probably have to pay for access. What you most definitely need to do is find a selection of books that will answer all questions that ordinary dictionaries cannot do. There is always a great deal of polishing required when a translation has been done. Whoever has worked in this field knows that collocation mistakes can sometimes be more annoying than spelling mistakes and the fluency of a paragraph (or page) may not turn out to be ‘perfect’ in spite of the very carefully worded individual sentences that form it.
Create your own army of helpful tools!
So, what you need to arm yourself with is a personal ‘library’ – whether online or on paper it’s up to you – but make sure you have a complex collocation dictionary (in the target language) next to an up-to-date bilingual dictionary and a comprehensive thesaurus as well. If your work is mostly based on vivid spoken language, you might need a dictionary of idioms as well. And one more thing: any language gets regularly enriched with a wide variety of ‘imports’ every decade or so, which means that you should stay in touch with specialised magazines that constantly share such ‘new words and expressions’ with the general public and word sleuths alike.
If you work as a translator, you will find using such dictionaries really helpful in shaping a meaningful and beautiful translated version of a given text. If your job is that of an interpreter, individual study based on the above-mentioned material will, in time, enrich your vocabulary and turn you into a more accurate language professional.