Notes on translation.


Today, I had my first exam after the holidays. I wouldn’t really count it as an exam in the sense that it didn’t involve the usual run up and emotions I typically experience before exams- i.e., I wasn’t manically searching and scrolling through Wikipedia pages on the French Revolution and trying to memorise quotes I definitely would not need. It was a translation exam. Years of French studies have taught me that there really is very little I can do before translation exams other than go through all the nippy little phrases that I always forget- tandis que and tant que, I hate you both.

I do a thing called Theme, which means that the translation is from French to English and is on a certain theme. In this case I found myself faced with a passage on cheap airplane flights, which was fitting after I payed a criminally large amount for my flights home for Christmas. The translation was relatively simple, but once again I find myself trapped in a grey area where I don’t know whether to play it safe and stick as closely to the passage as possible, or go a little off piste and translate it less literally but more as I would say it in English. I tried to do a mixture and aimed to incorporate colloquial english sentences and structures whilst staying true to the original text.

Translation is an art. Being good at it is really not as easy as it seems, and I always marvel at how differently people translate one word or one sentence, thereby completely changing subtly the meaning of the whole paragraph or sometimes even the whole passage. My translation drafts are always covered in crossings, scores and edits, which is my process for trying to find something that fits just right, something which gets the meaning of the original across in an effective way.

I was allowed a french>french dictionary. At first I thought what the hell is the point in that, but oh, it was helpful. Still, I question the use of dictionaries in translation exams. Isn’t the point to test your knowledge of words and their meanings in general? I know the whole dictionary I used is in french, but how much am I being tested if I can look up synonyms and definitions of words I should know? I won’t complain, but how valid is my exam if I was allowed the help of a dictionary?