Translation is one of the most important aspects of language learning, but even if you’re completely fluent in both the source language and target language, translating isn’t as easy as some may think. As a language student, I’ve done my fair share of translating over the years, although not as much as I’d hoped to do at Leicester. We did some translation in our language classes in second year, but I personally would have liked to have done more as I believe that being able to translate effectively is an invaluable skill for a linguist.
Last semester at UAPV (Université d’Avignon et des Pays de Vaucluse. Fancy, right?) I did one translation module, and I failed it. Never before had I doubted my knowledge of the English language as much as in that class. I thought translating from French to English would be easy, and although I had some advantage over the French students, I still found it challenging. Nevertheless, I found it beneficial to my translation skills and for this reason I have decided to continue with said failed class this semester, as well as taking up two new ones. Thème is French to English, Version is English to French (very difficult, accepting failure already) and Traduction splits its time between both.
As a native speaker, I will readily say that I know nothing about English grammar. I mean, of course I know the basics such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and other simple grammar points, but I couldn’t tell you what the preterite means. (This word comes up a lot in one of my translation classes. I’ve just Googled it and apparently it’s a simple past tense). This is where the French students get somewhat of the upper hand. They’ve learnt English the same way we’ve learnt French, grammar and all. So when the lecturer asks questions about English grammar the French students can take a stab at an answer, while most of the time the Anglophones sit there clueless. Well, I do at least. The lecturer for Traduction is American and directs these grammar questions more towards the French students. Either he’s trying to test them on their English skills, or he’s avoiding the Anglophones because he knows very well that we don’t know the answers. I fear it may be the latter.
The main thing I struggle with when translating from French to English is conveying the correct meaning of the original text. I may be able to write grammatically correct English sentences, but if I’m not 100% sure what the French text is saying then I’m not translating properly. Translating from English to French poses the opposite problem; I understand what the English text is saying, but it’s difficult to form grammatically correct sentences and express the right meaning in French. I suppose translating is something that comes with practice. So I suppose it’s a good thing that 30% of my modules this semester concentrates entirely on that.
Although the decision to focus on my weakness is wise in some ways, I’ve also set myself up to receive lower marks this semester. I’m preparing myself for this. However, building on my existing translating skills is more important to me than getting good marks. After all, I could potentially get high marks in cultural modules, but one day in the not so far away future I’ll be looking for a job where I can use my language skills, and translating will most likely be essential to that. Regardless, I actually enjoy translating, even if it can be absolutely soul destroying at times.