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730Re: [itit] Translation ability of natural bilinguals

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  • M FiF
    Feb 6, 2003
      >Several people have mentioned the distinction between translation and
      >interpretation. As Daniel Simeoni pointed out, some natural bilinguals
      >would make bad translators simply because they received an education in
      >only one of their languages, and as a result they do not have a mastery of
      >the writing norms of the other language. So to pursue this line of
      >inquiry, one would have to either restrict it to interpretation, or find
      >out about the educational background of translators.

      A *good* formal education does not only ground you in written norms, but
      also in spoken norms. Many natural bilinguals (and multilinguals) speak
      only a "household" register, or even just a family idiolect, of some of
      their languages; I don't think there's any need for formal studies and
      statistics to back that statement. Conference interpreters who teach,
      whether regularly or occasionally, are always going on about natural
      bilingual students who are actually "alingual". I wonder what makes you
      assume that competent interpreting is easier for bilinguals than competent
      translation. True, the written standard is usually more exacting than the
      oral, but then again, time constraints give translators far more latitude.
      Monolingual students who can produce an acceptable written translation will
      suddenly forget all their (oral-standard) grammar, not to mention their
      active vocabulary, when interpreting. Sometimes, the gist of the message
      gets across anyway, as with online machine translations, but as often as
      not the listener misunderstands because of poor output.

      I used to believe that natural bilinguals were generally less qualified to
      become interpreters or translators, with many, many exceptions, including
      myself - a natural trilingual! :-)

      I'm not arguing against neurological findings, but I'm beginning to wonder
      whether there isn't an artifact involved here. Teachers and examiners at
      translation/interpretation schools probably find that a significant share
      of natural bilingual students or applicants lack a formal education in at
      least one of their L1s, as opposed to the monolinguals. This is simply
      because natural bilinguals are more likely to have heard "why don't you
      become a translator/interpreter?" all their lives (I know what I'm talking
      about!) whether they show any aptitude or not. Beyond translation school,
      bilinguals who lack an ear for language are also far more likely to dive in
      and become practitioners with no formal training and therefore with no one
      to tell them where their L1 problems lie.

      Any statistical study would need to consider a number of factors that could
      make a huge difference, including:

      - formal education (no. of years in each language, hours per week in each
      language in primary school vs. secondary school - secondary school is where
      you really learn formal writing and, with luck, formal speaking - and
      whether oral presentations and written compositions were a regular
      requirement - don't laugh, it's a pertinent question, unfortunately)

      - degree of contact with each L1 (just nuclear family conversation, family
      plus children's books, "mature" reading, media exposure, friends, etc., and
      educational level of the speakers exposed to)

      - linguistic proximity of L1s (Catalan-Spanish bilinguals probably have
      more interference than Chinese-English, for instance)

      - social proximity of L1s (Catalan and Spanish create mutual interference
      in Catalan society as a whole, including monolinguals, and I'd guess
      bilinguals living in Montreal would have to contend with the same social
      influence, whereas natural bilinguals raised in a monolingual society
      wouldn't have that issue)

      Natural bilinguals with a bilingual formal education usually have an edge
      in terms of comprehension; output is the usual problem, but then again, a
      thorough understanding of the source text/speech, even if it's non-standard
      usage and very convoluted, might give them more confidence to rephrase the
      text, assuming they have an ear for language in the first place. When
      revising/redoing translations done by monolinguals, I've been surprised and
      disappointed at the poor quality of the text, simply as a result of
      inadequate comprehension and the ensuing calques.

      (Reply to a different posting)

      >It appears that these interpreters do quite well, until placed in
      >language structures, that on the surface, require educational
      >experiences that go beyond their education.

      Absolutely. Wouldn't that also apply to a natural monolingual liberal arts
      major required to interpret a medical conference, or translate instructions
      for a CRM program, for that matter? Isn't that a language structure
      requiring educational experience beyond his or her background? An
      interpreter, whether a natural monolingual or bilingual, needs to be a
      quick study.

      As a practitioner, I really don't think an undergraduate degree in liberal
      arts is an essential requirement. Undergraduate degrees don't usually teach
      you to write or speak well if you don't have it in you already, and many
      excellent practitioners have trained in fields other than languages.

      As to theory, I'm all for it, but I'd really like it to be put in
      perspective. The prestige of an interpreting school ultimately rests on the
      rate at which an experienced interpreter working alongside a fresh graduate
      of that particular school feels that it's okay to go to the bathroom now
      and then. Whether the fresh graduate can quote Seleskovitch or Gile
      verbatim or expound on the differences and similarities is not really a
      major concern.

      Mary Fons
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