What is the meaning of learning of a foreign languages and translator competence?



This typical in-class situation may be familiar to you: You learn vocabulary by heart and later manipulate them and enter them in blanks after applying specific grammar rules, which you also had to study. Many teachers and professors support this method since, in this way, students who have basic knowledge of the particular language can begin a study at a university.

Real life, however, looks different if you do not choose to study languages traditionally taught at school, but languages such as Portuguese, Arabic, Chinese, or Dutch. In this case, you participate in a basic course of the particular language with the aim of becoming a competent translator. But, what does "competent" mean? Translator competence involves the mastering of the foreign language as well as the mother tongue, the understanding of what has to be translated ( specialized competence) and the ability of transferring the sense of one language into an other. According to Pym ( qtd.in Kiraly, "Why" 19) this ability includes the two following components:


If you apply the school-style learning of vocabulary and grammar to the professional translation, the following question may arise: Does the strict rote learning of words make any sense? It may give you the impression that each word in the original language has a particular meaning in the target language and vice versa. However, in this way, you run the risk of doing an one-all translation of texts which, most of the time, is unsatisfactory and often produces an inaccurate translation. Bilingually educated non-translators, for instance, would never translate a text word for word. They would rather rephrase the sentences the way they are really formed in the target language.

In an interview, we asked three professional translators how they have studied a foreign language and how they have acquired the translator competence.


Translation is closely related to communicating in the foreign language. Thus, translators need to have not only a good command in the theory of the particular language. They need to know how to apply this knowledge to a communicative situation. Translators have to acquire a precise and clear understanding to translate a text in a competent and reliable way.


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