But wait! What is context? Why is it important? And how can we benefit from being aware of it?
Context can be compared to looking at the whole picture instead of just focusing on a certain detail.
The fact of the matter is that only one detail can be put into focus at any given time.
Have you ever noticed how everything else looks different when looking straight at one thing?
Try this: take your finger and put it out in front of you with your arm straight out. Now, stare at it intently. Do you notice how everything else looks out of focus? It gets harder to distinguish details around you. Stop for a second. Now, stick out your finger about a hand's length closer and repeat the exercise. Do you notice that it gets much harder to tell the difference between objects and surroundings? Take another break and try it again. This time with your finger at about a palm's distance from your face. You can see your finger, but everything else is indistinguishable.
What's the lesson here?
It's the same thing in life... and it's definitely the same thing for translation.
Most people don't realize this but translation is about life.
Even someone that's monolingual will have to translate the meaning of things before being able to act on any information gained.
There's a common problem though. Most people will concentrate on details without ever looking at the surroundings. They do it to a fault.
It's important that we learn the habit of stepping away from something and looking at it within its context. This will allow us to better understand the detail that interests us.
Let's illustrate an example in words.
I'm going to start with the mental image of a person taking pills.
What does it make you think? Maybe it's a junkie? Could it be a medical condition?
Let's pinch to zoom out...
And we notice another detail. There's someone next to that person smiling.
Now what does it make you think? Could it be that the person taking the pills is actually taking a supplement? Or could the pills really be a type of candy?
Let's step back one more time.
This time by stepping back, you can see that this was actually a poster ad for an online school.
If we had kept our focus just on the person taking the pills we could have never figured out that the pills were symbolic. Their meaning being that of "pills of knowledge" - bits and pieces of information. On the top part of the poster the writing "Don't settle for a blog or an article, get a full course!" again changes the context of the picture. Now we know that the pills represent reading a small amount of information. But if we look at the person smiling we'll notice that it's holding a tray with a complete wholesome meal - which represents the online school.
Lack of context leads to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. Let me repeat.
Lack of context leads to misunderstanding and misinterpretation.
Now, let's apply what we learned to translation. You can't translate properly without context.
Before starting a translation, it's fundamental that the translator understands the main theme, then the topic, then the details, and finally the terms.
Because if you know the word but don't understand the material the result of your lack of understanding will show. But if you understand the material but don't know a specific term you can always describe it in a way that has meaning for the reader.
What do you think? Have you had situations where if you paid attention to the big picture they would have gone differently? Comment below!