Employer: "There are two kinds of people. Those that simplify things and those that complicate them. Which are you?"
Me: "I try to simplify things"
I remember the question because I later decided to reflect on its meaning.
Do you understand the difference between simplifying and complicating things? Why is it important especially when dealing with translation?
It all has to do with complexity. But you already knew that...
What's less obvious is this: "the greater the knowledge you have of a topic, the more you'll be able to simplify it".
There's the stereotype that intelligent people use vocabulary that is difficult to understand and explain things with a level of complexity that would make Ernest Rutherford cringe.
That couldn't be farther from the truth.
So, what is the truth in this case? Like I said before "the greater the knowledge you have of a topic, the more you'll be able to simplify it".
Yes, but what does it mean? Let's simplify it by making an illustration.
Let's say that we're going to make some bread. When describing the process, the language we use makes a big difference whether others will understand us or not. Normally you don't hear someone say, "You put the flour in a bowl, along with water, and yeast, then you let it ferment. Fermentation involves letting the yeast, which is a eukaryotic microorganism belonging to the fungus kingdom, digest part of the flour and water mixture to produce carbon dioxide and make the mixture rise..." et cetera, et cetera".
The description is of course accurate, but technical. You'll never hear a baker explain it like that. It's too complicated.
What the baker will say is "you let it leaven for a few hours". You see, with one simple term (leaven) the baker described an exceedingly complex process. Does that mean that he doesn't understand it? On the contrary! He has mastered it. A master will usually be able to describe very complex things with simplicity.
The very fact that he can explain things with simple concepts is proof that he knows the topic inside and out.
Someone that is not a master, that has only theoretic knowledge of a topic, will usually use overly technical terms in the hope of sounding like a "pro" or someone in the know.
Let's go back to our principle: "the greater the knowledge you have of a topic, the more you'll be able to simplify it".
How can we apply it in this case to translation? What can we learn?
To do a good translation of a subject, you need to focus on actually knowing the subject - not just knowing the terms.
This is the very reason why translation agencies/Language Service Providers ask for subject specialization. It's also the reason why you see a lot of poorly done translations.
Remember the interview I mentioned at the beginning, how did it go? I got the job.
So yes, I try to simplify things... and you should too.