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The art of translation
In 30 years as a full-time professional technical translator, I have learned something about the art of translation. For make no mistake: Despite computers, specialized glossaries, technical aids and translation memory programs, translation is an art requiring skill, experience and native ability.

We’ve all seen the “howlers” – translations so bad they make us howl with laughter, such as this one spotted in a Norwegian bar:

“Ladies are requested not to have children in the bar.”

There is nothing grammatically wrong with this sentence, and yet it conveys the wrong message entirely. Or this one in an airline ticket office in Copenhagen:

“We take your bags and send them in all directions.”

Again, nothing wrong, but we’d rather our bags were all sent in one direction, thank you, preferably to where we’re going.

Less hilarious, but with equally dire consequences, are all the just-plain-poor translations of technical and scientific texts and advertising copy I encounter daily, riddled with incorrect terminology, awkward sentence structure, unclear syntax, inappropriate shades of meaning, and wrong or inconsistent spelling.

Why does this happen? All Swedes are well-versed in English – or at least they think they are. So to save a little money they devote many hours to producing a poor translation which a professional could have done in less time, at less cost, with much better results. What they end up with is a weak rendering of what was perhaps a strong original text. Publishing such a text will only bring them ridicule and harm their image on the market. That’s why it makes sense to engage a professional translator whose native tongue is the target language. It pays in the end.

One language — many variants
English is a global language with many variants and dialects and with an extremely rich vocabulary. It is a language with many faces.

The first thing I do before starting a translation or editing job is to consult with my client to establish what kind of English is suitable in this particular context: British, American, “mid-Atlantic” or EU English? Technical, academic, legal, financial or everyday English? Formal or informal, strict or conversational? If I am unfamiliar with the subject matter, I research it to find out all I need to know, including the correct technical terminology, so that the end product will sound as if it had been written by an expert on the subject.



Born in the USA
I was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating with a B.A. in biology from Cornell University, I worked for a few years at a biochemistry laboratory at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. In 1971, I moved to Sweden with my Swedish wife (whom I had met at Cornell) and began doing research at the Swedish Museum of Natural History (Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet), intending to earn a Ph.D. in biology. After I had learned Swedish I was asked to translate a book on bird migration into English in 1972, and then more and more translation requests began flowing in. Before I knew it I was translating full-time and have been doing so ever since.



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