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Erupting into translation

I did not study Arabic, English or translation. When people ask, “Why did you choose to translate?” my answer is “bad Arabic, bad translation, and anger”.

Image by wayhomestudio on Freepik

This first started when I got to university. I enrolled on the Electrical Engineering program and for the first 3 years it was hell. My books and lectures were written in Arabic and for some reason I could not make head nor tail of what they were talking about. I loved physics but not understanding what was going on was an awful experience.

Later, in year 4, a professor gave us a text that had been translated. I remember it was about Resonant Cavities, and I was like “Aha! Now I don’t feel stupid, this is actually fun!”.

Everything I did not understand about electronic and electric circuits was explained beautifully, with key word definitions and footnotes with concise background on terms.

For example:

(Unit Step Function) the foot note tells you how, when, and why this function became the foundation of modern communications. Although everything I knew in math tells me this is a strange "function"! (Well duh! Whoever came up with it paid a heavy price for coming up with that kind of maths. It’s just fine to look at it sideways).

And If I could understand the material in English better than I could in Arabic, it was because the writing in Arabic was terrible! You can’t write books in Arabic with bad Arabic, no one can read them!

I got angry, I was cheated, by bad translation and bad writing. Cheated out of a world of fun for 3 years.

I started reading everything I was learning about in English. Just the introduction of one book on telecommunication basics answered a million questions in my head!

I did not have to buy the English books, all I had to do is to camp out in college library and read. But I did buy many books in Arabic. I did not have the internet. I looked for the original information in English to be able to figure out what the Arabic books meant. Those Arabic books were the equivalent of MT or just good old Google Translate today.

Needless to say, that experience improved my English. I did not go on any special courses. So, what you have behind this text is one angry end user of bad translation.

My first and second translations, and even my 15th translation, on electronics and electrics were bad, but the Arabic was good. And using all my skill in finding out terms without the internet meant they were better than many I had read. I kept at it. I never stopped, and I think I’m okay now.

This is my story, and this is why I’m still angry. With all the tech at hand a translator still finds themself able to deliver their work without bothering to look up terms or post edit MT. Or even use AI translation. This is why I find it important to ask for feedback, accept it with gratitude, and to accept changes.

We don’t live everywhere or do every job. We sit and translate for people from everywhere and for every job. We are a bridge that can save lives, or not, with one translation of medical instructions, one status update on a war, a wildfire, an earthquake, or a pandemic.

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4 Kommentare

Well said: "We don’t live everywhere or do every job. We sit and translate for people from everywhere and for every job."

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What a unique reason! Thanks for sharing.

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Wonderful post Shams! Thanks for sharing your unique experience. Fortunately, most translators I know do the necessary research to produce top-notch quality translations!

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Antwort an

At the time (2000-2006) ,were I lived, most Tech people did not worry about language, and most linguists did not interest themselves in Tech, books of the 70s and 80s did not have that kind of problem. Tech was booming and producing new concepts and terms.

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