Perfect – and yet invisible
By: Janne Olsen, Production Director, Amesto Translations Norway
The better the translation, the less the reader notices it. The perfect translation becomes invisible and its importance is therefore often overlooked. A book published recently sets out to chart the impact of translation on nothing less than world history.
Picture the scene: You’ve popped down to your BMW dealer for a test drive of the elegant new 5 Series, or at least to daydream a little. Later, back in your trusty old Toyota, you leaf through the glossy brochure given to you by the salesman. What springs to mind? The fabulous features of the car, of course, presented in such a tempting and convincing manner. You might ponder how much BMW spent on the amazing pictures and the heavy paper quality. But does it occur to you that translators who are specialists in both automotive technology and marketing transformed the original German text into – yes, exactly – tempting and convincing Norwegian? Probably not. When the translators are good, their efforts are rendered invisible to the reader.
Amesto Translations operates in a market currently estimated to be worth 33 billion USD. Yet many people don’t even know that there is such a thing as a translation industry. Perhaps because of the fact that when we do a great job of translating a text, the end user won’t notice the service we delivered at all. For our clients, however, this is just as it should be. People are not supposed to notice our work.
Invisible or not, translation and interpreting really do matter. Be it in war or peace, business or pleasure, sales or globalization – translations connect the world. In her book, Found in Translation: How Language Shapes Our Lives and Transforms the World, American author and interpreter Nataly Kelly explores the impact of translation on world history, no less. Kelly and co-author Jost Zetzsche claim that translation has an impact on all aspects of our lives, big and small. A strong statement, indeed.
The just over 200-page long book is filled with short, pithy stories, enabling you to look up things that you are particularly interested in, or browse through a few snippets every now and then if you don’t have a lot of time for reading. Sectioning a huge subject into bite-sized literary pieces in this way produces good and at times really entertaining stories. Like the speculations on why Swedish furniture manufacturer IKEA names products for bedrooms and living rooms after Norwegian and Finnish towns and places, whilst Danish place names are given to products like toilet brushes and door mats (yes, proper research has been done). Or Ms Kelly’s slightly embarrassing experience as a telephone interpreter between English and Spanish for a love-sick couple based in the US and Colombia, respectively. And who knew that someone has to translate all the search words for porn sites on the Internet?
Other stories tell of mistranslations that have cost companies millions of dollars, or how dozens of volunteers helped translate via text messages on mobile phones immediately after the earthquake disaster in Haiti, enabling American rescuers to communicate with victims and rescue more people faster. Recent reports in the Norwegian media on the fate of local interpreters for the Norwegian forces in Afghanistan are also echoed in the book, with a US major being quoted as saying his interpreter is more important than his weapon.
Nataly Kelly’s book Found in Translation demonstrates the continuing importance of translation – needed by one and all, and yet invisible when at its best.