Proficiency and Translation

It is commonly thought that the ability to “speak” a second language is comparable to translating between languages, thus confusing linguistic competence with translation proficiency. In reality though, it is not that simple. This article summarizes the relationship between language proficiency and the ability to translate.

Language proficiency in source language

Evidently, proficiency in the source language is prerequisite to producing high-end translation. It is impossible to achieve a fine translation without fully understanding the source text. However, translation proficiency is much more complicated than this. European experts believe that learning any foreign language dictates acquiring four main skills; speaking, listening, reading and writing. Each of these skills is mandatory to learning a foreign language.

As far as the translator is concerned, reading is the most crucial as it enables him/her to understand the source text, rather than writing, speaking or listening.
This, however, does not negate the role of the other three skills in improving the translator’s work.

Proficiency in target language
In addition to acquiring proficiency in source language, the translator is required to be proficient in the target language. Comprehension of the source text in all its details is pointless to a translator, if he/she is unable to transfer these details to the target language.

Though very straightforward, yet commonly neglected. Simply because in most cases the end translation from a second language to the mother tongue is finer. Nevertheless, to produce a fine translation speaking a language with proficiency comparable to the native tongue is insufficient. Providing translation to marketing material necessitates using persuasive style of writing. Likewise, aesthetic writing is demanded to translate poetry. Thus, in-depth knowledge of the native language does not necessarily produce a high-quality translation. As with the variation of proficiency in the native language, the translator’s competency fluctuates according to the topic and field of knowledge. Understanding a poem does not necessarily give the means to produce an accurate translation of it in another language.

Producing high-end translation dictates competence in both source language and target language. However, mastery of and fluency in the original language and target language do not necessarily make a good translator. A text can be translated in several methods. Determining the best method is dependent on the purpose of the source text and target text. Thus, regardless of any other variables, implementing an inappropriate style of translation of some text deems the translation inapt or poor. To find robust solutions to translation problems and obstacles, the capacity to produce and transfer ideas into other languages in different contexts is absolutely imperative. Similarly, the ability to solve linguistic problems absent in other contexts is necessary. Therefore, translation proficiency precedes linguistic proficiency, which is an essential matter underestimated by many translation students who believe that the main focus should be on improving their linguistic rather than translational competence.