What distinguishes our work from machine translation output? Lots of things, including a sense of organization and creativity. The first allows us to organize the knowledge conveyed by the texts we translate. Any text, whether it tells a story, provides information or illustrates an opinion, is rooted in a distinct body of knowledge (e.g., law or environment). Sweeping concepts, interrelated in a variety of ways, weave together to form the text’s canvas. Although your intuition often reveals the relationships between concepts, ultimately the end result may fall short. The search for the right word or expression absorbs so much time and mental energy that the quality of the canvas gets short shrift.
The text’s canvas, however, can be your saving grace in situations where you come up against the pure genius of a language, the very same genius that prevents you from finding the words to express an idea in your translation language, mother tongue or not. Yes, you understand what the author wants to say but the words in the target language escape you. What now?There are some interesting tools available to help you develop your canvas, for example CMapTools and Scrivener. That said, jotting key concepts down on a piece of paper—a tried and true method—works just as well. Scribbling concepts on post-its then slapping them up on a white board is another workable approach. The canvas you create using these approaches creates a visual representation of all the concepts that make up the text, a dynamic perception that evolves as you translate. The most important concepts are displayed in a hierarchy and linked by simple but precise key words (e.g., “include”, “identify”, “characterize”). You can also add secondary concepts.
Quick as that, you have an overview of your text. Add a dash of creativity to quickly find idiomatic or elegant expressions well-suited to the type of text you are translating. Try it! Remember: lucid design leads to clear expression, and the words you need will be at your fingertips.