High demand for competent translators

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By 2017-10-11

By Thisari Imesha Kannangara

Three major languages are used in Sri Lanka today. Sinhala is the main language, while English is a link language. Tamil is considered the second language in the country and is used mainly by the Tamil and Muslim communities.

During colonial times, English was the official language and everybody had to learn it. Even schools taught in the English medium.

After 1956, a mini revolution took place in the country with the arrival of S.W.R.D Bandaranaike. He promised to make Sinhala the official language. In 1959, the Sinhala Only Act was passed. However, when Tamils in the North and East protested against it, Tamil was also made an official language. But there was no mention of English. Even government servants had to learn Sinhala for their promotions. Those from the Burgher community who could not, or did not want to learn Sinhala, left the government service and many emigrated. It is at this stage, the government felt the need for translators. School text books published in English had to be translated into Sinhala and Tamil. Even proceedings at Courts were often hampered due to the lack of translators.

Thus, a translator's service was introduced to facilitate official work. A translator is someone who interprets writing or speech into a different language, especially as a job. An 'interpreter' while similar to a translator, is defined as a person whose job is to translate what somebody is saying into another language. In a nutshell, an interpreter translates orally while a translator works on both written texts and speeches. Today, there is a scarcity of skilled translators in the country, especially as the number of foreign development projects and business deals increase.

Now the world is overwhelmed by technology that makes day-to-day tasks simple and quick. Anything from banking to educations can be done online. At the same time, you can translate any particular text into the target language by using Google translation or any other tool available on the internet. But could you be 100% sure of the result? It is not advisable to be wholly dependent on such programmes as technology still can't replace the mind of a human being. Human emotions can only be understood by

other humans.

A computer can only give you a similar word that goes with the source language. The idea behind that word may be correct or incorrect. For example, if we want to translate the infinitive 'to cry' in French we may translate it as pleurer or crier'. Actually it depends on the situation. Pleurer is used for a sense of weeping and 'crier' is for shouting. So how can one distinguish the real meaning? It is only then only we feel the importance of a translator.

Translating is not just an exchange of words between two languages. It is really a big task. To be a good translator, you have to have a firm grasp of your mother tongue as well as English. This is because English idioms differ from those in Sinhala and Tamil.

It is the same for other languages also. You cannot become a skilled translator unless you are familiar with them. Translators have to deal with two diverse languages when they translate from a source language into a target language. Two diverse languages mean there are two different cultures. So the translator has to be aware of cultural nuances and use the most appropriate word and phrase in the right place. To reach that point, translators have to enrich their language skills as much as possible and be very familiar with both languages. They also need to be creative.

Proper training and educational qualifications in translation studies as well as the willingness to learn new writing patterns and words, are also essential for success in this field.

Over the years, some universities have introduced degree programmes for translators. At present, the Universities of Kelaniya, Sabaragamuwa and Jaffna are conducting four-year degree programmes in Translation Studies. Students are taught the relevant languages and translation techniques. Once they qualify, they will be absorbed by various government departments. In addition, there are examinations conducted for translators. The Ministry of Justice holds an examination for sworn translators.

There is a big demand for competent translators in the country's State and private sectors. This service is a new avenue of employment for anyone with a flair for languages.

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