Translation tips: When a jack is not a jack
Translation is not an easy task. Many people say that the best translation is when translated text exceeds the quality and understanding of the original text. We fully agree, but to get there is an uphill battle and a struggle unless we know what we are dealing with. In reality, there are hundreds of different ways that you can combine words to make up an intelligent expression that reflect the original meaning without getting into wordiness or veering too far off subject. We do this as a matter of course daily – actually round the clock.
Translating for industries is a continuous undertaking, and we do it in close to a hundred languages. We use translation memories, reference resources, and then we use glossaries – either ones we have made ourselves or those provided by clients. All of this helps, but there are times when we are at a loss, and then we usually ask.
Many of our assignments are additions to existing documents, where we translate out of context. This can be a nightmare to a professional translator.
Once in a while, we come across terms that simply cannot be translated unless we have references. As in this title “jack” is a good one. It has so many meanings, especially when it appears as a lone item. Even my good friend Jack agrees.
Many Jacks 1 Jack Jack
But there are many others. When clients ‘help’ and prepare projects in e.g. Trados, we often come across terms like “No” that can mean both Number and the opposite of Yes. It is of course also a Japanese style of theater, mostly performed by men, and it has even more meanings, e.g Nitric Oxide. Here we try not to guess, and we use the context to try to figure out the meaning, but it is undeniably a challenge.
Don't risk. Get reference.
This is why we always emphasize use of references. Original files as PDFs are most helpful, especially with pictures. Just think of another simple term like "cart". This being a reasonably old term, it has numerous different translations in any imaginable language. It can refer to a shopping cart, the horse driven variant, or something small and ‘fast’ that kids love for downhill races and band-aid use. Grandpas and other fellows use it on the golf course, some use it as a beverage carrier, and in Africa you can go on a Rhino safari in a Cart.
The above is a typical translator dilemma. For the Rhinos, you definitely need to emphasize some protective elements when referencing the “cart”; if you are dealing with a grocery store, you simply use the standard “cart”.
The core of this issue is reference. All translators need good reference that supports the text s/he will translate. Glossaries are a good help, a translation memory too – anything less is a risk of stating something imprecise or downright wrong.