WHY SHOULD K-12 TRANSLATIONS BE DUMBED DOWN?

BY: LESLIE PADILLA-WILLIAMS

I have an esteemed colleague who was asked by a bilingual teacher to change his translation of “puppy” from cachorro to perro pequeño. His argument that a small dog could be fifteen years old went to deaf ears. When translating the parent instructions on an online student enrollment page, I was asked by a bilingual staff member to change introducir la información del estudiante to insertar la información. The argument for that suggestion was that introducir meant to “introduce a person”.
Many years ago, an assistant principal asked me to “dumb down” the translation so parents could understand the content.

The list of examples of how other school translators have been asked to do the same—maybe without those exact words—is infinite. Translators are not opposed to choosing a synonym that is more commonly used to translate a word whenever possible, but sometimes it doesn’t exist. Of course, I would choose escritorio to translate “desk”, instead of pupitre, but what simpler word can I choose to translate “percentile” or “neuromuscular status”?
There is a misconception that translators have to explain these technical terms, instead of translating them. Explaining can be very dangerous, especially since translators are not educators, school psychologists, speech-language therapists, and so on. If an untrained translator starts explaining concepts or omitting complex information, aren’t they now becoming the author of that document? And, in that case, who would be liable for its content?
Keep in mind that there is a fine line between the speaker and the interpreter, the translator and the author. If that line is crossed, the interpreter becomes the speaker and the translator becomes the author.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) explains that clinician (special education teacher, case manager, school psychologist, therapists, and so forth) have the responsibility of making sure parents understand. They should be concerned about having parents understand their technical assessments reports, not the interpreter or translator. Why don’t they try providing a simplified, summarized version of their full report, and then have that translated!

Posted in: Learning

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