English, for translators

DipTrans: 5 common pitfalls

The Diploma in Translations (DipTrans) is obviously a translation accreditation, as the name says. But given its nature — no contact with the outside world, just old-fashioned books and papers, plus the time constrain — it is very tricky even for experienced translators. Here we explain why linguistic knowledge is not only what counts at the DipTrans and what are common pitfalls.

1. Cultural references

Being the DipTrans an examination of the Chartered Institute of Linguists of London, their papers have been known to contain cultural references about the United Kingdom. This happens because sources used for the exams from English could be picked from a British source, like The Independent, The BBC, The Telegraph etc.

You might have to translate terms like Chief Medical Officer (Diptrans 2015 General Paper) which Wikipedia defines as “the most senior advisor on health matters in a government”. With no Wikipedia at hand, would you have known that? Furthermore, there might not necessarily be an accurate equivalent in your target culture and you have to find a way to convey the CMO role.

In 2016 I did not pass the General Paper about public school vs. private school education because I failed to recognize that public schools are not scuole pubbliche (IT) / escuelas públicas (ES) [non-selective State-owned school where students attend for fee] — indeed! From Wikipedia: A public school in England and Wales is an older, student selective, fee-paying independent secondary school. In other words, I totally missed the point the author wanted to make. I deserved a fail.

2. Brush up your math skills!

We already mentioned in the post 10 things to bring with you when sitting the DipTrans that it is better to arrive prepared and to bring in a calculator. Why? Because you might have to translate a text about how many yards a certain sportsman is able to run in a certain time, except that your target audience has no idea of how much a yard is, so they wouldn’t understand if the athlete is fast or not.

Well, if with linear measurement units it is pretty simple, you might have to convert a bi-dimensional (a surface) or tri-dimensional (a volume) measurement unit for your target audience. Can you do that?

And do not forget that in some industries we still like to use non-metric units (such as for pipe diameters). So, brush up your math skills!

3. You have to be a citizen of the world

On the same line along the one in point 2., you have to be able to tell whether there is an official translation for some international organizations, such as the WHO (World Health Organization) and an official acronym, and if the acronym is widely recognized in your target culture. In this case the answer is yes to all three, and do not forget to use the proper capitalization in case you write the translation in full. For you lazy ones:

  • [IT] Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità. (OMS)
  • [ES] Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS)

In the case of the European Union, their Annex A9 lists the names and the official translations of their institutions.

Last but not least, you might end up translating a paper about an unpopular currency, like the Canadian or Australian dollar. You should be able to convert it into USD or EUR (as appropriate) so that your audience can get an idea of whether something is cheap or expensive — write the equivalent amount in brackets (e.g it costs 4 australian dollars (about  2.5 euros)). Bring with you a printout of the exchange rates of the main currencies.

4. Knowing your stuff might save you!

I was translating the following sentence and I started to have a doubt about its meaning:

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for about 20 percent of global emissions.

So you at first understand that methane accounts for 20% of global emissions, but you could also read that carbon dioxide does that. If you know a little about GHG, you will have no doubt you got it right at the first reading.

Second thing to pay attention to: GHG means green house gases. While in English the acronym GHG is widely used, in Italian there is no acronym and has to be translated in full (gas serra).

Third, carbon dioxide can be literally translated as biossido di carbonio (diossido is less correct, but also accepted), but only a chemist would know we are actually talking about anidride carbonica. Consider if you are translating for a general audience or a technical audience and make your choice.

Bringing with you a compact encyclopedia might save your exam and some headaches afterwards.

5. Be on top of neologisms and highly specialized terminology

Bringing a recent dictionary with you is key as languages are continuously evolving. For example, are you sure about the correct translation of ‘to scan a document‘ in your target language? In Italian there is a little controversy (scannerizzare, scannare, scansionare?) and an up-to-date dictionary might spare you an unnecessary mistake.

Highly specialized terminology is really the hardest: sometimes the Latin or Greek origin of a word might help even if you have never translated that actual word before you on paper. But sometimes you are left wondering. I freaked out in front of the name of a fungi (mycorrhizae, 2014 DipTrans Science Paper) I could not find on any of my English dictionaries! Guessing is fun… only when you are playing Taboo.

Especially if you are aiming at translating the Technology Paper, the Science Paper or the Business Paper, try to find unconventional dictionaries on the web, such as company dictionaries or glossaries. However, don’t fall for the opposite: if anglicisms are very common in your target language you might be used to hear a certain word in your social circle, but it might have a perfectly acceptable translation which you should prefer.



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