You are on page 1of 9

Individual Differences in the Translation Process

Differences in the act of translation between two groups of ESL Japanese
by Atsushi Iida
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
The purpose of this study was to identify the differences in translation processes between
Japanese students who have less experience and those who have the experience of having lived
in the United States. In order to achieve this goal, participants who were six Japanese students
at Indiana University of Pennsylvania were asked to translate a short passage from Japanese to
English and then interviewed as to their translation processes. This study lastly discusses the
difference in translation process among Japanese students and the relationship between their
word choices and their translations.
The Grammar-Translation method has been widely applied to EFL Japanese contexts.
Thus, Japanese students are quite familiar with translation. These students are expected to
translate English sentences into Japanese word by word, so that translation is one of the
necessary approaches in their language learning. In addition, translation is the only way for
middle and high school students to understand 'English' because they are taught to do so by
teachers and at the same time, it is a shortcut to getting high scores in exams or to passing the
entrance examinations. For that reason, many students tend to misidentify successful language
learners as those who are able properly to translate English texts into Japanese. In contrast, the
fact is that a test-based approach has provided situations in which students have to cram as much
English as possible. More specifically, these students are required to memorize not only
vocabulary items but also grammatical aspects of the English language. As a result, students
must be dependent on the strategy, which is 'memorization.' One of the main problems in this
approach is that students must translate the given texts on the basis of literal meanings of words,
ignoring the perspective as to how these words are used in English-speaking countries. In other
words, they do not study English in practical terms. Overall, all students are expected to translate
the English texts in the same way as their classmates do.
However, the fact is that, even though translators translate the same source text from L1
to L2, the produced documents vary, primarily due to individual differences (Coba, 2007),
including genders, translators' L1 and L2 aptitudes, L1 and L2 proficiencies, cultural
backgrounds or learning styles. With these differences, how do second language translators
negotiate the given texts? How do they choose words appropriate for the texts? Ultimately, what
factors determine their translation? This study will examine the differences among Japanese
students when translating a Japanese text into English. It will also address whether there are,
among interviewees, any specific translation strategies described by Howell (2001): foreignizing
or naturalizing translation; and linguistically-oriented or culturallly-oriented translation.
Previous Studies in Second Language Translation

278). Natural equivalence consists of "two-way of equivalence: 'natural. translation referred to the action of negotiating cultural and linguistic codes. William's study indicates that a lack of cultural knowledge can cause misusage or misunderstanding of language. More specifically. 1992). This study reported on the relationship between language and politics in translation and discussed that the act in translating is not just a neutral medium of communication but strictly connected with politics. and the perspective supported Kramsch's theory: "nature. and learning styles (Coba. 2004). 1992). and the concept of equivalence (Pym. Especially. Translation and Equivalence From a more specific point of view. neither simply as knowledge nor as manner. Freeman discussed that translators should "be aware that people may perceive words in very different ways because of their cultural background" (as cited in McCleanahen. but translation theories which all translators can apply to their own practices have not been found yet. Translation and Cultural Significance Muller's (2007) study emphasized the significance of cultural awareness in translation. The argument of the study is that translation is "a conscious ethical-political choice" (p. cultural background. His perspective of translation is not simply language conversion but a cultural phenomenon which is more important than just customs or traditions. problematizing translation between two languages (Muller. 2007). The concept of equivalence has been the assumption that "a source text and a translation can share the same value (equi-valence) on some level (p. L1 and L2 proficiencies. while directional equivalence refers to nonnatural translation in that translators go straight from a source text to the target one.' at least in the sense that the correspondence exists in some way prior to the act of translation" (p. but it is the past thirty years when there has been a noteworthy movement away from a prescriptive approach towards more objective research so as to better understand the concept of translation (Matrat. From a general perspective. For that reason. therefore. cultural sensitivities are one of the important factors translators need to consider. In this way. A crucial consideration in translation is to accept the imperfection and recognize the impossibility of meaning equivalence. In short. Translation Studies have developed since then.24). 2007). L1 and L2 aptitudes. similar to the process of second language learning.212) and this feature determines the language use in producing translation. the primary concern in Translation Studies is 'equivalence. Cultural sensitiveness. p.Translation Studies have been conducted since the 1950s. 2007). From this viewpoint.19). two completely different aspects of studies which are the translation process and the translation product (Aly. The study defined culture as life itself. Translation Studies have been controversial from various viewpoints: what is the exact meaning of 'translation' and what is a 'good' translation (Matrat. and the feature negatively affects the performance of translation. cultural significance is the one of the important factors which translators need to keep in mind. McCleanahen (1995) mentioned the importance of cultural correctness and linguistic accuracy necessary for translation.' Pym (2007) reported on the concept of natural and directional equivalence in translation theories. William's (2005) study also indicated the cultural significance in the act of translation. is the key factor in translation. their individual differences which can affect their translation include: gender. Pym's study . because there exist more or fewer both cultural and linguistic differences. the translation process varies according to translators. culture and language are interrelated" (p.272). 1995.

Translation Studies have been focused on identifying the differences in translation processes between experienced or novice translators or between high and low proficiencies of bilinguals. Malkiel's study revealed that trained and experienced translators produced higher-quality of translations and better performance than untrained and inexperienced translators. and L2 is English): interference.revealed that perfect equivalence between languages never exists and it is always assumed equivalence. but that translation process became neither easier nor faster even in the case of trained and experienced translators. Seven months had passed since they arrived in the United States. Japan. They did not have any working experiences relevant to translation either in Japan or the United States. and L2 is English) with different proficiency levels. but these meanings are not associated with the concept of equivalence. how the semantic and pragmatic framework works and it affects translation products. This study indicated that less fluent bilinguals greatly depended on word association translation which is based on a semantic approach and that bilinguals of various L2 fluency levels accessed and applied conceptual memory representations into their translation most of the time. 2007) is closely related with the concept of a semantic-pragmatic framework. The first was the 'less experienced group' which consisted of three students (two male and one female) who were exchange students from Kansai Gaikokugo University in Kyoto. and a semantic-pragmatic framework is prerequisite in producing translation. . Method Participants Participants were six Japanese students whose majors were Education. and difficulties. They had learned English based on Grammar Translation Method in middle and high schools in Japan. Business. from a Dutch translation of an English text. Malkiel (2006) examined the following four features in translation generated by both experienced and novice translators (L1 is Hebrew. The study of natural and directional equivalence (Pym. The study of Pym (2007) and Vendepitte (2007) has provided two distinct implications: there are natural (pragmatic) and directional (semantic) meanings necessary for the translation. Two students had lived in the United States for one year and eight months and one had lived here for more than three years. All participants had similar educational backgrounds in English language learning. The study reported on the necessity of both semantic and pragmatic approaches in translation and at the same time. The remaining three were the 'experienced group. Groot and Poot's (1997) study has reported on the relationship between translation process and bilinguals (L1 is Dutch. International Politics and MA TESOL at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. false cognates. it emphasized the importance of a semanticpragmatic framework to gain awareness of the concept of equivalence in Translation Studies. The six students were divided into two groups by the length of time they had attended college in the United States. lexicalization. Translation Process In addition to the topic of equivalence. Vendepitte (2007) examined. and it was the second semester for them to attend the class. and its framework can heighten the degree of equivalence.' These three students who were all male had been in the United States for more than one year.

their strategy use and the relationship between their word choices and their translation.TESOL 15 min. their word choice. <Less-experienced Group> Student Gender Term Major Time Spent Words A. All participants were given the option to answer the questions using either Japanese or English. Male 1 and 8 months MA. a questionnaire was administered soon after the participants finished translating the source text. such as electronic and online dictionaries. participants were divided into two groups depending on how long they have lived there: less experienced and experienced groups. the participants were allowed to use everything they needed. The main purpose of the interview was to understand more about the problems they encountered and the difficulties they had to translate from Japanese into English. their approach to the translation.TESOL 19 min. all participants were given a source text which they were asked to translate from L1 (Japanese) into L2 (English). Male 3 and 3 months Politics 17 min. Male 1 and 8 months MA. their strategy used. 71 . 79 B. 79 F. Male 7 months Business 23 min. there was no significant difference in the number of English words used for the translation between two groups. and 184 words total) in Talking about Japan--Q&A. In addition. in order to examine participants' translation process. Data Analysis In order to examine how the experience of having studied abroad in the United States affects their translation.Data Collection Data were collected from the following three sources. Finally.' In doing their translation. etc. laptop. time spent on a series of translation procedures was measured. However. Female 7 months Business 22 min. 81 C. The questionnaire consisted of the reflection on their process. The source text was chosen from a short passage (four sentences long. which were related to the concept of 'bending the truth. Male 7 months Education 20 min. Next. Data were analyzed quantitatively to explore the difference in translation processes between the two groups. 71 <Experienced Group> Student Gender Term Major Time Spent Words D. The experienced group devoted less time than the less-experienced group did. Results Time Spent and Word Counts The following tables indicate how much time the two groups of subjects spent on translating and how many words they used in their translations. First of all. The text was about the explanation about typical Japanese behaviors in the society. based on both the translated text and the questionnaire. an interview was conducted. 83 E.

In contrast. On the other hand. As a result. if necessary). 5. translate each sentence (using dictionaries. all participants used dictionaries to a greater or lesser degree. As for translation strategies. once they encountered difficult or unfamiliar expressions in the source text. In addition. paid attention to the rhetorical differences between Japanese and English especially in starting to work on translation (in procedures 3 and 4). What kinds of dictionaries each of the participants use varies depending on their preferences. Word Choices Regardless of the participants' level of experience. these results indicate that. For easier and more familiar words. trying not to use the passive forms. All students. but they never used the words the dictionary mentioned. one participant's perception of the degree of difficulty of the words used in the source text is completely different . However. they did not come up with the possible choices immediately after seeing a sentence in the source text. the translated text turned out a word for word translation. Their approach is based on pragmatics which refers to their practical language use in the United States. all the participants could choose intuitively. so that they didn't need much time to think about their word choices. In this way. clarifying the framework of each sentence). Their word choices varied depending on how difficult were the words used in the source text.e. 1. though all participants took the same sequence in producing translations. The experienced group used a bilingual English-Japanese dictionary only to check the usage of vocabulary. interpret the content of the text. The decision of whether they applied an English word found in Japanese-English dictionaries to the target text varied according to the participants. 2. the expressed group was inclined to use a pragmatic approach while the inexperienced group depended on semantic translations. the less-experienced group used both English-Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries in order to check the spelling as well as to get the literal meaning of difficult words. especially JapaneseEnglish dictionaries were used in the following situations: they had no idea as to what English word could be applied to describe a specific Japanese expression in the source text. except for student D. think about what each sentence means. the use of dictionaries between the two groups was different. All participants translated the text from Japanese to English in the following sequence. Dictionaries. 3. In contrast.Translation Process All subjects in both the less-experienced and experienced group used a similar translation process. nor did they encounter any problems. not to get literal meaning of words. they first guessed what word could be the most appropriate for the context and then checked whether the word fit into the sentence. although they were familiar with a basic English structure to be used. read through the source text. check the translated sentences (and to fix them. because these words are different from what they wanted in their translations. though there were some differences in the points of grammar to which they paid attention in translating (i. These results demonstrate that individual differences affected the participants' word choices including the use of dictionaries in the process of translation. Student D tried to find and apply to his translation similar sentences. which he had practically used in the United States. 4. They also used a bilingual Japanese-English dictionary to look up unfamiliar expressions. if necessary). various factors influenced their word choices in translating.

the less experienced group argued the significance of grammatical points including vocabulary items. The less-experienced group translated the source text word for word while the experienced group translated in terms of pragmatics. Factors to Enhance the Quality of Translation As for the interview question of what factors affect the quality of the translation. This result supports Gerloff's hypothesis of translation process: "Translation Does Not Get Easier" (as cited in Malkiel. The primary difference between the less-experienced and experienced groups was whether a semantic or pragmatic approach was used in translation. different from that of the others. in the interview. The more English words they had learned. the higher the quality of translation they could produce. experience influences the translation process. the longterm staying in the country does not affect the time spent and word count.') Furthermore.. more specifically when. so that they cannot use the natural approach in their translation. individual differences are the key factor to choose words in translating. including what approach is used or what translation strategy is applied to the translation. indicates that experience does not necessarily make translation easier and faster. Each participant's translation process was a distinct process. all participants are inclined to use their own approaches in translating. the experienced group insisted on the necessity to understand the L2 cultural background in translating. which reports on the relationship between the time spent and word counts in the two groups. student F answered. p. one of the crucial elements to enhance the quality of translation is knowledge of pragmatics. In other words. In this way. 2006. In contrast. the language actually used in English-speaking countries.' while others checked 'somewhat dissatisfied.e. similar to second-language learning.from the others'. In addition. five participants were dissatisfied with their product (only student E checked 'quite satisfied. This result is similar to Groot and Poot's (1997) study which discussed that less fluent bilinguals used 'word-associated' translation. Along with that. i. All participants felt that this translation from the source text into the target text was not easy (nobody checked 'very easy' nor 'quite easy' in the questionnaire). The earlier chart. the translated document produced by the less-experienced group is less natural than that of the experienced group. From this point of view.356). and in what situation the target language is used in the society. more specifically the meaning of English words. One of the common features in this group was that they had learned English in terms of language use. The more 'authentic' English. All participants in this study confirmed that both L2 linguistic and cultural knowledge gained through the experience of having lived in the United . even though professional translators or bilinguals work on it. Rather. they had learned. how. However. the experienced group highlighted the importance of 'experience' of using English in English-speaking countries rather than just memorizing the meaning of English words. and the perception is related to each participant's language proficiency. which is based on the direct connection between the corresponding L1 and L2 word-form representations. Discussion One of the findings is that. These results imply that a long-term experience of living in the United States is not the only component to make translation easier and faster. the more nuances they could express in their translations. that the reason why he spent only 15 minutes on his translation was not because he had long-term experience of living in the United States but simply because he was familiar with the topic of the source text.

but those who were in the less-experienced group tried to translate the source text using the literal meaning of each word. and constitutiveness. from their experience of second-language learning.65) is fundamental in thinking how language use shapes thinking. A few participants mentioned that intuition determined word choices. Bruner's theory is associated with the concept of cultural awareness in the act of translation. participants in the less-experienced group struggled with the use of a Japanese-English dictionary. and contextual significance becomes the key factor for us to combine our thoughts with words. On the other hand. Even when an English word they chose did not have exactly the same meaning as the Japanese . The difference in translation between less-experienced and experienced group is the level of practical L2 use proficiency. His central perspective is that world creation occurs through the process of negotiating meaning and culture. even though participants in the lessexperienced group attempted to translate the source text naturally.States is necessary for better performance. especially a Japanese-English dictionary. which can be shared with others in a specific context. what dictionary and how it is used varied depending on the groups. growth. and that it is required to go beyond the concept of 'word-associated' translation to enhance the quality of translation. therefore. the use of a dictionary is a major strategy in both the less-experienced and experienced group. that the meaning of words provided in the dictionary is not always appropriate. The fact is that there are many cases in which the translation does not make sense even though the source text is literally translated word for word. a lack of pragmatic knowledge resulted in a word-associated translation. A finding gained through the interview is that participants in the experienced group tried not to use any dictionary. meaning. Especially constitutiveness plays an important role in connecting inner idea to outer notion. a natural approach which is based on pragmatics is more important than a directional method in terms of using expressions to be more appropriate for the target (L2) text. From this viewpoint. referring. and the dynamic process involved in the transformation from inner to external speech. Both Bruner's and Vygotsky's theories include an important implication for Translation Studies. our life is always bound by context. but they had to rely on the meaning found in the dictionary because of a lack of pragmatic knowledge. they attempted to organize the text and produce a better result using some expressions they had actually used in their life in the United States. It occurs because of lack of cultural significance. On the other hand. This idea is associated with Bruner's (1986) theory of world creation in that the nature of transaction consists of syntax. more specifically cultural or social facts provide people with the pattern of human action. This constraint affects translators' strategy use and word choice. It is because they had realized. participants in the experienced group attempted to do so within their knowledge which they had already gained through their experience of studying in the United States. As a result. It is. and the feature can allow us to situate ourselves in a world of shared reality. Vygotsky's (1989) theory can also be applied to Bruner's perspective. For instance. Vygotsky's main idea is that inner speech always develops from external speech. However. Hence. vital for translators to understand how L2 culture is different from L1 culture and how the use of L2 is different from that of L1. His statement. The process of connecting the two factors can allow our thoughts to have meanings. More concretely. and understanding. and arrange the source (Japanese) text to be most appropriate for the English expressions. Word choices in the act of translation seem to depend on the participants' experiences. "learning how to use language involves both learning the culture and learning how to express intentions in congruence with the culture" (p.

which is the semantic approach. Translation reflects two linguistic systems. checking and revising the translated sentences. The act of translation is affected by various factors. translating each sentence. It is essential. This result is related to the second research question. but one of the most important ones is 'experience. they regarded their translation as being fine because the translated sentence made sense in the given context. teachers should try to teach the target language from the viewpoint of how the language is used in the culture." each of the Japanese students is inclined to use fundamentally a process like the following: reading through the source text. There are some limitations in this study. First of all. Along with that. but the opposite process which refers to the translation from L2 (English) to L1 (Japanese) was not researched. but also a cultural phenomenon (McCleanahen. For that reason. Hence. Likewise. as well as two cultures (Matrat. In addition. translated documents should be produced from the perspective of appropriateness in both linguistic and cultural features by going beyond the notion of literal translation through which the words found in dictionaries are thoughtlessly applied to the target text. should be applied in language teaching. it includes a greater understanding of L2 culture through experience. Previous studies (e. what is the relationship between word choices and translation. this study is meaningful in terms of experience affecting the act of translating. therefore. However. this study has reported on individual differences in translation process. the more directional and word-associated translation they produce. which is another suggestion in this study. As for the first research question. thinking about what each sentence means. and finally. a significant consideration is for translators to develop not only their L2 usage proficiency but also their cultural awareness. The less experience translators have. Second. Overall. so it is not efficient to learn the target language from just one aspect. Hence. it highlights the significance of having 'experience' of actually living in a country where the target language is used.word. the number of participants was small. 1995). the study just reported on one side of the act of translating. Translation is not just language negotiation. the translation approach and the strategy used. it is difficult to generalize these findings to other contexts. Culture and language are inseparable. A suggestion is that it is necessary for language teachers to have students become culturally sensitive in language learning.' Experience refers to learning L2 in a country where the language is actually used. . while the more experience they have. "what are the differences in the translation process among Japanese students. Learning both the target language and its culture is the key to produce better performance and can allow translators to access a pragmatic approach and make their translation more natural. interpreting the content of the source text. Aly. A pragmatic approach. Nevertheless. From this viewpoint. including the use of dictionaries. In other words. Hence. the more natural meaning they can generate. Conclusion From a qualitative analysis. individual differences in translation come from experience.g. conducting research on the translation from L2 to L1 could provide more valid outcomes. each student tends to choose different L2 words. 1992). 2004) have indicated that translation from L2 to L1 is more difficult than that of L1 to L2. vary depending on students. It affects both process and product in translating. This study has implications for second and foreign language teaching. participants are inclined to choose words appropriate for the text which needs to be translated. this study focused only on the translation from L1 (Japanese) to L2 (English). As discussed. to translate the source text with a greater understanding of the differences between the two languages and cultures.

Language Learning. Concentrating on 'appropriateness' can provide students with freedom to produce the target language in their way. 21 (1). C. S. Word translation at three levels of proficiency in a second language: The ubiquitous involvement of conceptual memory. 47 (2). P. & Poot. (2007). A. Target. Vygotsky. 39 (2). 2008.pdf Bruner. because the main focus of the approach is not on grammatical accuracy but on communicative fluency. Target. 59-66. Edinburgh working papers in Applied Linguistics. N. M. 215-264. R. B. The belief systems of cultural brokers in three minority communities in America. language teachers should keep in mind that the concept of appropriateness in language use is crucial. C. and enable them to develop their language usage proficiency. (2007). Howell. 337-366. The Latina Values Scale: Translation and cultural adaptation. Vandepitte. J. . Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Thought and language. (2001). (2004). 18 (2). Pym. 271-294. 185-200. 11. The effect of translator training on interference and difficulty. References Aly. Coba. cultural sensitiveness. (1992). Massachusetts. University of Delaware [Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation]. Williams.. B. Groot. J. To sum up. 17-19. (2005). McClenahen. Matrat. 19 (2). students don't have to be afraid of making mistakes in the context.eric.From the pragmatic aspect. M. (2007). S. (1989). (2006). Natural and directional equivalence in theories of translation.ed. (1986). Strategy and style in English and French translations of Japanese comic books. Harvard University Press: Cambridge. Translation strategies of EFL student teachers: A think aloud protocol-based case study. (2007). (1995). pragmatic approaches. Investigating the translation process: Thinking-aloud versus joint activity. L. More importantly. Malkiel. A. A. Actual minds. M. Belgian Journal of Linguistics. from http://www. The State University of New Jersey. Muller. What's in a word? Problematizing translation between languages. D. Semantic and pragmatic meanings in translation. How can you possibly say that? Industry Week. The situation will decrease the anxiety in language learning and ultimately students will feel more comfortable to generate output of the target 19b/80/1b/c0/b7. 206-213. Area. [Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation]. The MIT Press: Cambridge. (1997). [Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation]. possible worlds. Massachusetts. S. Retrieved March 13. and the concept of appropriateness are the key factors in developing students' communication skills in both ESL and EFL contexts.