Dutch linguist Nicoline van der Sijs has written a book about the influences of the Dutch language on North American languages. The book will be published in September, both in Dutch (Yankees, cookies en dollars: De invloed van het Nederlands op de Noord-Amerikaanse talen) and in English (Cookies, Coleslaw, and Stoops: The Influence of Dutch on the North American Languages).

From Santa Claus (after the Dutch folklore saint Sinterklaas) and his sleigh (the pronunciation of the Dutch slee is almost identical) to a dumbhead talking poppycock, the contributions of the Dutch language to American English are indelibly embedded to some of our most vernacular terms and expressions.

What are the benefits of joining a professional association for translators and interpreters?
The benefits of membership of a professional association depend of course on what the association in question has to offer, but most associations offer the following benefits:

  • Representation and promotion of interests of translators and interpreters
    Many professional associations take part in discussions about the translation and interpreting profession and are involved whenever new rules and regulations affecting the profession are being developed.
  • Information about new developments in the business
    Most associations publish their own newsletter or bulletin with information about whatever is of interest to their members: new rules and regulations, information about and reviews of software and books, articles on how to market your services, interviews with fellow translators, etc.
  • Continuing education
    Professional associations often organise workshops and/or conferences on subjects which are important for their members, allowing them to improve their language and business skills and to keep up to date with the latest developments in the business.
  • Networking with other translators and interpreters
    Membership of a professional association gives you an opportunity to meet fellow translators and interpreters, either at meetings of local chapters or at workshops or conferences organised by the association.
  • Professional services
    Many professional associations offer professional services such as model terms of business, professional insurance, debt collection services and legal advice for free or at a discount and specifically tailored to the translation profession.
  • Searchable member directory
    Professional associations often have a searchable database of their members, which potential clients can use to find a service provider.
    [Thank you Céline Graciet for adding this one]

Can anyone become a member of a professional association?
No, all professional associations have minimum requirements for membership. Some offer different types of membership. For some associations/memberships, sending in copies of credentials and references will suffice, while others require passing an exam or work assessment.

Which professional association should I become a member of?
It is always useful to become a member of a professional association in the country you live and work in, so you can visit their meetings and use any professional services they offer. In addition, it might be useful to join an association in a country of your working language(s), to be able to keep up to date with developments in that country/language and to meet other translators working in the same language.

Where can I find a list of professional associations?
The website of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs/International Federation of Translators and Interpreters (FIT), the international umbrella organisation of associations of translators, interpreters and terminologists, contains a list of FIT members all over the world.

Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about translation, most of which basically imply that translation can’t be that difficult and that anyone can translate. Here are some of them, with my response to them.

“I speak a foreign language, so that makes me a translator”
Just because you speak a foreign language, even if you speak it fluently, doesn’t mean you are a good translator. Spoken language is very different from written language, so just because you are able to have a conversation in a certain language, doesn’t mean you are able to write in that language.

“I was raised bilingually, so that makes me a translator”
Being raised bilingually doesn’t automatically make you a translator. There is more to translating than just knowing two languages: you should also be able to translate, ie. convert one language into another in such a way that the translation reads like an original text. There is a difference between being able to understand and use two languages, and being able to translate between them.

“Modern translation tools are so advanced, they can easily replace human translators”
The translation tools currently available are only able to translate a sentence word for word. Since they cannot understand context, they cannot distinguish between different meanings of the same word. In addition, they simply copy the word order of the source language, which often leads to awkward, even unintelligible sentences in the target language, which the translation tool is unable to rewrite. Translation tools can be useful to find out what a text in another language is (roughly) about, but they are as yet unable to create a good, reliable translation.

“I have a text of around 2500 words. Can you get the translation back to me in an hour?”
Most people can’t even type 2500 words in one hour, so translating 2500 words in one hour is out of the question. How many words a professional translator can translate in one hour depends on different factors, such as the type of text (a creative marketing text takes longer to translate than a straightforward manual) and the level of technicality (a text on a highly technical subject with a lot of specific terminology takes longer to translate than a general text without any specific terminology).
On average, a professional translator can translate around 250 to 350 words per hour, so it would take 7 to 10 hours to translate a 2500-word text.

“We don’t need to translate our website and marketing materials, all our customers can read English”
Even though these days a lot of people do read English, they often aren’t comfortable enough with the English language to understand all the details and subtleties of the language. As a result, they will be reluctant to buy a product or service which is not offered in their own language. Research shows that even people who speak English confidently still prefer products in their own language.

“We offer advanced dictionary and search tools which will help you create your own translations”
Good (online) dictionary and search tools are extremely useful for translators, because they can save a lot of time in looking up terminology or background information. However, even though correct terminology and a good understanding of the subject matter is very important, it is not enough to create a good translation: you also need excellent translation, language and writing skills to be able to produce a good, correct and readable translation.

“Translation can’t be that difficult, there’s only one possible translation for every text”
Language isn’t an exact science: there never is just one correct answer. Ideas can be phrased in many different ways. Ask ten translators to translate the same sentence and chances are you will get ten different translations which are all correct. Some translations may be more appropriate for the context and the intended target audience than others, which is why it is important to hire a translator who is familiar with the context and target audience.

“What do they teach you at a translation course, do you have to learn all the dictionaries by heart?”
Even if it would be possible to learn all the dictionaries by heart, it’s not very useful for translation, apart maybe from the fact that it will save time because you never have to look up a word again. But knowing the translation of every single word in a specific language doesn’t make you a translator, because translating is more than just translating individual words, it involves translating concepts and images rather than words. This requires a thorough knowledge of the source and target language and, preferably, of the cultural backgrounds of both languages. And this can only be achieved through talent, training and lots and lots of practice.

Jargon – the practice of never calling a spade a spade when you might instead call it a manual earth-restructuring implement.

Bill Bryson in Mother Tongue


What’s another word for Thesaurus?

Steven Wright


The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

Ludwig Wittgenstein


Dictionaries are like watches; the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true.

Samuel Johnson


Language is the dress of thought.

Samuel Johnson


He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in Kunst and Alterthum


A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini


But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

George Orwell


To know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of yourself.

Winston Brembe

Spotted by my brother at the Tran Quoc Pagoda in Ha Noi, Vietnam:

Tran Quoc Pagoda, Ha Noi

We always get our sin too - Maarten H. RijkensNa het succes van I always get my sin van Maarten H. Rijkens is er nu een vervolg: We always get our sin too – Tips om bizar Engels te vermijden. Dit boekje bevat niet alleen voorbeelden van vermakelijke fouten in het Engels (I fuck horses), maar ook de correcte vertaling (I breed horses).

Het boek Vertalen wat er staat van Arthur Langeveld verscheen voor het eerst in 1986 en is nu opnieuw uitgegeven. In het boek worden vertaalvragen beantwoord aan de hand van bestaande literaire vertalingen. Voor beginnende vertalers en voor iedereen die met vreemde talen en vertalingen te maken heeft.

Vertalen is een vak, een moeilijk vak, en slechts een gering aantal natuurtalenten beheerst dit van meet af aan, de meeste andere mensen echter moeten er een opleiding in krijgen, want het is een vak dat – mits enige aanleg aanwezig is – zeker geleerd kan worden. Dit pleidooi voor een professionalisering van het vertalen zal iedereen kunnen onderschrijven die bijvoorbeeld wel eens geworsteld heeft met een volstrekt onbegrijpelijke, want door een Japanner uit het Japans vertaalde, handleiding voor een elektrisch apparaat.

About this weblog

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture
-Anthony Burgess

To know another’s language and not his culture is a very good way to make a fluent fool of yourself
-Winston Brembeck


In this weblog, Percy Balemans writes about translation and language.

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