Tough job to translate like an expert

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Reading an insurance policy thoroughly and translating the English document into a Chinese one is not a typical vacation activity. But it was what four Jurong Junior College (JJC) students did during their June school holidays.

The first-year junior college students, who are among the first batch of eight students studying translation as an A-level subject at JJC, spent a week at a translation firm to get a taste of being a professional translator.

This included translating materials which they would usually not come across and which are heavy on technical terms, such as insurance policies, financial documents and articles on issues such as immigration.

The exam syllabus covers the translation of materials from eight genres, including news articles, literary texts and brochures, which are also what students are mainly exposed to in class.

Mr Tan Dan Feng, director of translation company Interlexis, said: "I wanted to give the students something they have little exposure to, to see how creative they are in the translation process."

He had offered the students an opportunity to be attached to his firm for a week after giving a talk to them at JJC.

During the stint, he supervised the students' work and discussed with them the possible ways that a text could be translated.

The students also debated among themselves how best to translate certain words and phrases.

Student Tricia Chee said: "We can even debate up to 30 minutes over the translation of one word."

She added that a challenge that she faced during the week-long stint was having to translate materials "way longer than what we do in class".

"I learnt that we need to translate with consistency and flow. When I read through what I had translated, I could tell that they had been translated at different times."

Schoolmate Debbie Abby Wong said: "It requires stamina to be able to read through a long text without feeling tired."

The students also struggled with the translation of technical terms. For instance, when translating an insurance document, the group was stumped by the term "policy holder", and did not know the Chinese word for it, which was "tou bao ren".

"It's not a word we use often in our daily life," said Debbie.

Tricia added that she also learnt to translate using the appropriate language for the targeted audience. She said: "For example, if the text is meant to be read leisurely, we should avoid using technical terms."

A sloppy piece of translation also signals a lack of respect for the recipient of the message, said Mr Tan.

He added that in Singapore, where almost everyone can speak at least two languages, translation is "very much a part of our daily lives, whether at family gatherings, at work or when eating out".

Against this backdrop, professional translators here may find that they are not as valued as their counterparts in monolingual countries, he said.

"I'd like to tell aspiring translators that this just means they have to push themselves harder to excel at their craft," said Mr Tan.

"Not only do they need to master the languages concerned and translation techniques, but they also need to develop a sensitivity to

cultural nuances and contexts and be adept at using translation tools and resources.

"This will allow them to handle work that someone who is merely bilingual cannot."

This article was first published on September 14, 2015.
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