New Definition of Translation

For years, in my translation classes, I have learned one thing: Translation is not looking up the dictionary. There are many variables other than this: context, target culture, source culture, target audience etc. However, last night, I have decided that translation is literally looking up the dictionary. Yes. If anyone wants me to define “translation”, I would say: Translation is looking up the dictionary and choosing the right equivalent of a given word considering all the variables. In time, as translators, we learn how to look up the dictionary. We learn to choose the exact match from hundres of options.

It is nonsense thinking a translator without a dictionary in hand. I do not mean that we should look up each and every single word; however, translating a long text involves some research and thinking. Two weeks ago, I was in an internship interview. The manager came and gave me a paper. There was a short text (500-600 characters) about marketing and statistics. It is a subject with which I am not familier. She said I had 20 minutes- without a dictionary. At that moment I made my mind; I would not accept the internship even if they accepted me. This is like singing without knowing the melody exactly. You have lyrics but you do not know how to combine them in a harmony.

I just wanted to share what I have been thinking since last night. Have a nice day fellow translators!


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Nora Acuña on August 11, 2011 at 17:52

    I agree with your definition of looking up for a given word in a dicitionary and choosing from the differnt variables, that is exactly what I do when translating a text, any field has a its own compilation of specialized dictionaries and we will never end learning and researching. We translators are getting wiser and more sensitive towards words with experience.


    • You are right Nora. With every translation process, we start from the beginning. First 1-2 pages go very slowly. As we learn the terminology by looking up, we get faster.


  2. Excellent point – I would not translate without a dictionary either. I believe that it is not simply choosing ANY word from the dictionary, it is exactly what you said – it is about choosing the right match. However, in order to confirm that you have the right match, you need to make sure – that’s what makes the difference between a good translation and a great translation.


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