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Online Context-Specific Translation Programs and Courses

by Angelita Williams

Translation is an extraordinarily difficult task, perhaps even more difficult than learning a second language in the first place, because translation is involved in the transmission of meaning between two languages that do not have one-to-one correspondence in meaning.

For example, if someone were to say to you in Spanish, "Tengo hambre," and you had an amateur translator explain what she meant, you might end up with something like, "I have hunger," which is the literal translation from one language to another.

"Tengo hambre," however, merely means, "I am hungry." The difficulty is that Spanish does not have an equivalent phrase or syntactical mechanism to directly correlate in meaning to the English phrase. Thus, translators are tasked with understanding the subtleties in both the source and the target language, and bridging the gap in meaning between the two.

Being able to bridge that gap usually requires fluency in both languages, a feat that takes many years and often immersion in another country to fully absorb idiosyncratic and regional turns of phrase or informal slang to be able to convert one language into another.

There are certain situations, though, in which complete fluency is not absolutely necessary, such as business situations, where members of both parties tend to speak very formally anyway, or in the case of literature, where again authors tend to write formally.

For these situations there are online courses and programs that students and other interested people can enroll in to gain a working knowledge of another language and the specific kinds of phrases they will need to be familiar with to transmit meaning from on language to another.

Of these programs, New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies probably offers the most well known. These courses include: Arabic to English Medical Translation, English to French: Translating the News, English to Portuguese: Translating for International Organizations, French to English Translation for Marketing and Advertising, among others.

As you can see, these courses are highly situation-specific. Translating a work of literature, or even just a simple exchange between an enamored couple would probably pose a much greater challenge than translating a news headline, both because you are unlikely to find very much slang in the headlines, and because the subtle nuances of language are not as important (though they do play an important role).

Still, as advanced as the internet is, you couldn't rely on translation sites for an accurate representation of meaning. There really is no substitute for interacting with a native speaker or a thorough education in another language from an accredited online course.

So if you are interested in becoming a translator, start trying to talk with native speakers and look for a program that can put you in context-specific language situations that will hone your ability to transmit meaning accurately and clearly.

About the writer

Angelita Williams writes on the topics of online courses. She welcomes your comments at: