Translation offices lack competence [Archives:2006/933/Reportage]

March 30 2006

Mohammed Al-Jabri
[email protected]

The future of translation in Yemen is not promising, as the number of non-professional translators increases. Nearly every day, UNESCO in Sana'a receives complaints about translation offices making mistakes in translation.

Increasing demand for translation services necessitates the existence of translation offices. Translation services figure prominently in various aspects of life, especially in light of increased communication between countries, international relations, exchange of cultures and dialogue of civilizations. Translation offices in Yemen offer various types of translation, especially commercial translation. They offer translation services for individuals, firms and governmental institutions. More than any other languages, most translations offered are English and Arabic.

“Authorized Translation” is a catchphrase found in all translation offices. One sometimes finds claims like, “Translation of all languages,” “Instant Translation,” “All kinds of translations” and “Specialized Translators and Interpreters,” but whether these slogans are true is not certain. For one thing, in any translation office, a translator is ready to translate any type of translation although not specialized in one specific type. Also, should one visit a translation office claiming to translate all languages and request German translation, the office often will inform such client that the specialized translator is absent or on vacation.

Of course, there are incompetent and nonprofessional translators, as evidenced by some who discover translation mistakes when they receive their translated works. “Every day we receive more than one complaint against translation offices,” noted Adel Al-Haddad, director of UNESCO's translation department in Sana'a.

Clients perhaps do not care about a translation office's authorization as much as they care about getting their documents translated at a low price. “When I want to get my commercial documents translated, I visit different translation offices, finally choosing the one offering the lowest price. I never ask a translator for his authorization license, as I only care to understand the document's contents,” admitted Khalid Al-Matari, who regularly deals with translation offices.

Not everyone can be an authorized translator without UNESCO approval. Opening a translation office should be under approval of the Sana'a-based Culture Office. Al-Haddad explained, “The one intending to open a translation office should meet some conditions, most notably he should have five years' minimum experience. He should be an English Department graduate in the Faculty of Languages, the Faculty of Arts or the Faculty of Education, with at least a bachelor's degree. If he passes translation exams, then we grant him a certificate stating his competence in translation. In view of this certificate, the Sana'a Culture Office grants him a license to open his own translation office.”

Translation office owners undoubtedly hire other translators not approved by UNESCO to help them complete different types of translation services. Most are nonprofessional, while some translate on a trial basis. Al-Haddad says he conducts field visits to translation offices to ensure authorized translators. If he finds unauthorized translators, he questions the translation office owner and then informs the Culture Office's general secretary.

Translator Nasser Al-Hamami confessed to working as a translator in a leading Hadda Street translation office in Sana'a. “Last year, I worked as a translator in one of the most well-known translation offices. I attended the morning shift, as the owner was busy with other work. I translated all kinds of material – economic, commercial and medical reports. The office owner only attended the second shift,” Al-Hamami explained. He added that such offices translate all types of translation, although it does not match with the translator's competence.

A few weeks ago, UNESCO issued a general statement warning translation offices about translation mistakes: “Any translation mistake will lead us to shut down the translation office.”

It is observed that translation services have become a trade more than a business. Several shops recently have opened on Sana'a main streets, most notably around Sana'a University. Such shops first offered typing and other computer services, but later added translation service. However, some take such shops for granted, being attracted by false mottos like “Authorized Translation.” Workers in such shops are not authorized translators. While they have a fair knowledge of English, they mostly depend upon electronic translation programs like Al-Wafi.

Al-Haddad noted that UNESCO is not responsible for supervising such shops. “We are mainly concerned with supervising UNESCO-approved translators. Other shops offering translation services should be supervised by the Culture Office.” He added that UNESCO's translation department only reviews certain translated documents by authorized translators. “We only review documents like certificates and similar official documents. We do not review all types of documents.”

If translation mistakes are reported, Al-Haddad explained, “When a translator makes mistakes in translating some documents, we deal with the matter with humanitarian methods. We bring the document back to the translator, asking him to correct any translation mistakes found.”

Translation mistakes are unavoidable and the extent of mistakes differs from one translator to another. While some translators make slight spelling mistakes, others make gross mistakes in grammar or use inappropriate words. In reading store and trade shop signboards, one notices phrases incorrectly translated from Arabic to English.

Translation office owner Basel Ali said a translator may make mistakes when translating hastily. Negligence and work pressure also lead to translation mistakes. “Some clients want their documents translated as soon as possible. This in turn creates a problem for the translator and in this case, mistakes are inevitable. Sometimes a translator makes a technical mistake such as dropping some sentences without noticing it.” Ali added that he hires outside translators to help him complete some works, but he reviews their translation to make sure everything is OK.

Generally speaking, the Yemeni translation situation is the result of numerous factors. Al-Haddad pointed out that there is no association for translators as in other countries. Al-Hamami attributed the situation to the fact that there are no specialized translators with professional skills. Others say there is no college for translation skills in Yemen.

“Those who graduate from the English Department in the Faculty of Arts, Languages or Education have not received sufficient translation courses,” said Mohammed Abdullah, a graduate of Sana'a University's Faculty of Languages. Even the Faculty of Languages' Arabic and Translation Department does not qualify students as translators, as the syllabus focuses more on Arabic language.

“While Arabic and Translation Department graduates are good in Arabic language, they lack important aspects of the English language. This affects the way they translate Arabic texts into English,” Al-Hamami commented.

Mohammed Ali, a Sudanese translator residing in Sana'a, said, “Translation in Yemen depends on those with experience, especially in existing translation offices. The standard dictionary of expressions used is very limited and, to a further extent, seems to be memorized by users, as it mostly relates to commercial agreements and contract terms.”

Unlike countries such as Egypt and Jordan, Yemen lacks firms specialized in translation services. Literary works, international conventions and other books remain untranslated in Yemen, as there are very few professional Yemeni translators able to translate such great projects.