Recently, the American Translators Association (ATA) reprinted a news brief from the Associated Press in its newsletter. It concerned translation for the armed forces overseas — and should serve as a cautionary tale to anyone looking for a translator or interpreter.
My mother is not fluent in English, and that fact counted heavily against her on a call to an insurance company recently.
The call was about an important question relating to my mother’s account, so I joined her to make the call. The person on the other end of the phone said they had to verify my mother’s identity, and so they needed her to speak, not me, her daughter. The operator asked what language my mother speaks, and put us on hold while they found a Farsi interpreter.
The American Translators Association (ATA), a well known international organization, offers a translator certification—a distinction that puts all translators, regardless of work status, in a better position to market themselves. For Farsi translators and interpreters in particular, the ATA certification is more than just a suffix.
I am very passionate about the mission of the organization and the importance of these certifications for the following reasons:
- It distinguishes those who are qualified to translate from those who are not; and
- An increase in Farsi translators will support the Farsi-English pairing. As of now, this pair has not been established at ATA, and the ATA is not recognizing Farsi as a language.
I find this article to be both essential and amusing. How many times have I wondered where an English idiom came from and if it does convey the meaning I am looking for. Find out for yourself. Read more.
In Iran, the phrase marg bar Amrica ( مرگ بر آمریکا) is often chanted at rallies and seen on signs held by unhappy protesters. The phrase is most commonly translated literally as “Death to America”, but it actually means ”Down with America”. Hooman Majd, a former interpreter for Iranian President Ahmadinejad, has explained that “Death to America” is far too harsh of a translation. As Majd pointed out, Ahmadinejad also handed out potatoes in exchange for votes, after which protesters chanted ”Marg bar seeb zameeni!” They were literally saying “Death to potatoes”, but it’s pretty far fetched to assume that their intention was to kill the spuds.The above excerpt is from Jost Zetzsche’s book, Found in Translation, which mentions a myriad of instances of literal translations and interpretations gone wrong because of the fine nuances associated with cultural idioms and values.
At first, I thought this statement could actually be my perfect motto. As translators and interpreters, we agree that so much of the meaning can be lost in our work. Of course, Nietzsche’s point of view is a deep philosophical statement and does not lend itself to a superficial, short and precipitous examination.
As a court interpreter, however, I would readily disagree. Legal proceedings are based on facts and my interpretations would lose their objectivity if I overlooked the facts in favor of renditions.
Still as an interpreter, I am very mindful of how true this statement may sound. For example, trying to translate some of the best poems of Rumi or Hafez seems impossible. Even the best poetic translations that currently exist fall short of capturing their true and deepest messages.