Translating is by no means simply the substitution of one word by another. This doesn’t apply just to idioms, puns, and jokes – it applies to each and every text. The first thing a professional translator does is therefore to carefully analyze the source text, which must be contextually, structurally, stylistically, and culturally decoded. The translator’s job is then to re-encode the text into the target language, adapted to the needs of its intended audience – and thus for a different cultural background, especially ensuring that the content and intention of the text are preserved. The style depends in part on the target audience, in part on the target language. The English language, for example, makes special use of the verbal style, while German uses the nominal style, and at the same time the text must be adapted according to whether it’s to be published in a business journal or an illustrated. The translator’s brain is constantly pondering on a wide range of concerns, since for every word in the source text there are generally several translation options from which the translator must make his/her well-considered choice. Usually a translator works from sentence to sentence, but depending on the source and target language it may be necessary to join short sentences together or to split a long sentence into two shorter ones. At every step along the path the translator must consider how best to render the content of the source text in the cultural context of the target language. While in principle a translation should be as close to the original text as possible, in not very few cases it’s better to communicate the meaning rather than give just a word-for-word translation.
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But the job isn’t over when the last word of the translation has been written. The target text must be checked for mistakes and errors, ideally by a second translator – after all, it’s easier to recognize the mistakes of others than your own. All these aspects go to show that translating is a demanding, analytical-synthetic process, one which puts not only the translator’s skills in the foreign culture and language to the test, but also the competences in his/her own cultural setting. A translator who doesn’t ask questions or take intercultural problems into account is not handling the text with the necessary intensity, and the quality of the translation will suffer as a result.
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