Making a ruckus about translation?

The well-known translator and translation advocate Chris Durban took part at the beginning of this month in a Ruckus Makers weekend organised by Seth Godin in upstate New York. Fellow participant Luis Vázquez, a developer and consultant, challenged the 80 ruckusmakers to blog for 8 days straight (hashtag: #RuckusmakersChallenge) and Chris’ posts can be found at http://chrisdurbanblog.com. Their content draws on Seth Godin’s workshop.

The Ruckusmakers 2015

The Ruckusmakers 2015

In her introduction she wrote:

I’ll be exploring how some of Seth’s insights apply to hot issues in translation and to my own personal challenge: raising awareness in the general public of how expert human translators work and how that expertise can be harnessed to make life better. And allow translators to secure the income and recognition they need to shape their working environment — and get even better at what they do.

While all the posts are interesting, the one that spoke most to me was No. 7: Out into the fray. In it she describes attending a networking event for entrepreneurs in Paris. March’s get-together celebrated some tech start-up heads just back from a successful trip to 2015 CES in Las Vegas and showed clips featuring their products. She says:

…each of the first three films was saddled with distractingly odd English subtitles. (“Where only the bests is about the most important show of the world […]”) … one thing was clear: I was the only one wincing … The explanation? Everyone else was a native French speaker. They all spoke English fluently enough for meetings, but just didn’t see the written mistakes.  That’s language for you—non-natives rarely have the same sensitivity to grammar and style glitches in writing their foreign language, which is one reason why professional translators work only into their mother tongue.

The situation of being the sole native speaker at a networking or somesuch event and seemingly the only person bothered by such linguistic awkwardness is one in which I’ve found myself more times than I’d like to count, and while it can be a lonely feeling, it’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. Doubtless Chris’s persuasive powers are more developed than mine, as she discreetly spoke to those in charge and a language review is now planned for 2016’s conference as these people care about what they do. However several times I’ve tried the same approach and found the result to be less than satisfactory: “We don’t get many English speakers anyway” (vicious circle – you’re not going to get more with bad translations are you?), “But that’s the translation I got off the internet” (so if Google translates it like that it must be correct of course), “But the translation was done by my bilingual cousin/son/secretary”… What IS the solution when people don’t care? When DO you give up and stop trying to persuade/educate people?

6 responses

  1. Pingback: Making a ruckus about translation? | Lingua Gre...

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  4. I feel your pain! What I’ve started doing is gathering statistics to illustrate *why* people should care. This has been pretty effective so far. As a “words person,” being able to sprinkle in some numbers for the data people helps bridge the gap a bit. When I can quote Study A that states that in the local market, XX% of the population speaks , the numbers show them just how big a market they are depriving themselves of with poor language offerings.

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