Lost in translation

After two years studying languages, I have been considering working in the translation world. Back home I take a few classes devoted to translation from French to English and from English to French. I have only been working on texts, though there were from different sources.

Yet, for 3 weeks now, I have been facing new challenges that I never thought about…

Not only I discover that oral translation is harder than writing translation – as you don’t have time to think about your words and have to be quick and spontaneous – but it gets even harder when it comes to translating style.

Writing for this class is making me understand that transferring one’s style from one language to another is actually very difficult. Beyond language barrier, I feel much more comfortable when I write in French, stylistically speaking. I read lots of books in French, I have a little experience in writing in French so, naturally, it’s much easier for me to adapt my words according to the stylistic effect I want to make – by knowing which vocabulary to use, which type of linguistic register, figures of speech and so on…

In English, otherwise, I can never be sure whether the effect I want to make using such and such word will be understood by English speakers or not. I have no idea of which vocabulary to choose to sound more sophisticated for instance.

Here are examples from my personal experience:

In French, using the translation of the word “Indeed” is very common. Usually, people use it as a comment to someone’s statement which seem obvious to them. For instance, if you find your little sister with pink stains all over her mouth and that she says “I ate all the strawberries”, we would answer the French translation for “Indeed”, which basically means “It’s obvious”. English people, on the contrary, would go for a “I can see”, or “I can tell”.

As a result, I found myself laughed at many times for using it every time.

Another one is “LOL”. No need to tell you what it means, of course. Back home, people my age tend to use it ironically as an answer to something that is not funny at all. Once more, I was completely ridiculous when I used it during the past 3 weeks. Not only nobody say that – it appears to be something you write, not something you say – but also people haven’t caught the “ironical effect” I wanted to produce, making me feel like the most uncool person on earth. Anyway, I was laughed at again.

I can even confess that the few English speaker friends I made take advantage of my ignorance and naivety: they keep on trying to make me use the most absurd words so that I make a fool of myself when talking to someone.

Perhaps you don’t feel concerned by this post. Yet, if one day you come to France and go for a translation of some common phrase or slang – such as “dude”, “like”, “literally”, “actually”, you would be the one who would be laughed at fo’ sho ! *

* This was obviously a joke. I’ve just learned this word and apparently, no respectable person should ever say that. So, PLEASE, don’t even attempt to translate that in French !

Here is the first episode of « Mind your language« , a very funny hollywood show about communicating in a different language:


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