January 2018 Europe House, London

"Unlocking the black box of translators eyes and mind"


The European Commission in conjunction with CenTras very kindly organised Translating Europe Workshop that took place on the 2nd of February at Europe House, London.

Speakers included:

Professor Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow, Carlos S.C. Teixeira, Dr Binghan Zheng, Dr Agnieszka Szarkowska, Dr Lucas N. Vieira, Dr Claire Y. Shih.


 Here you will find my reflections on attending this event.


The focal theme throughout the day was the application of eye tracking technology in translation studies. Translation process research of all the abovementioned scholars incorporated analysis of data collected by tracking the movement of the eye on computer screens with the aid of complex eye-monitoring equipment and thus establishing patterns of behavior of translators during their work. The findings of the analysis were proposed for various applications, including improvement of ergonomics of professional translation, identifying key characteristics of behavior of experienced translators during the workflow as opposed to students and novices, establishing which parts of the brain are involved in the translation process and whether these differ when translating into one's native language and into the second language. One researcher presented an insight into the use of eye tracking technology to develop subtitles for deaf and partially-sighted people. And of course, we were advised how to use eye tracking devices to improve the workflow and outcome of our job as translators. We were advised that this technology can provide a useful tool for self-monitoring and self-improvement.


Although I found the workshop very useful and I was amazed at the highly-technological approach to translation scholarship, the whole day made me feel a little sad and I suppose my feedback will be highly subjective.


When I subscribed to this event, I was totally mystified by the phrase "unlocking the black box of translators' eyes and mind". I imagined a highly enriching linguistic experience and was prepared to be challenged in my approaches to translation. I suppose I still live in the days when translation was regarded as a branch of linguistics; and meaning, beauty of style and faithfulness to the original were the kings and the queens of the translation process.


What made me feel sad was not the thriving progress of technology in translation, but something else... Not a single time did I hear the phrase "quality of translation". A lot was said of the time factor, i.e. professional translator with experience translates faster. The frequency of referring to external sources was seen as a benchmark of the experienced translator. And it was established that translating into your own language takes less effort of the brain than if you translate out of your native tongue.


On the way home I was trying to define in words what it was that felt so wrong. Why I was not only sad but scared. And the answer to this "why" is in the rich linguistic heritage that I am so fortunate to have been exposed to, in those books that I have read in multiple languages (in original and translation), in the linguistically rich and colourful editorials that challenged my intellectual boundaries, and of course the invigorating debates that I have had with my friends and collegues. 


Language acquisition is a life-long experience and on every step of my journey I learn something new. For me translation is a way of transferring my entire knowledge of life into one text, filtering out what is unnecessary but carefully preserving every nuance of what is in the original. I feel that this is never complete and the longer I live and learn the richer my translations will be and closer to the original and to the target audience. The balance between the two is the perpetual challenge. Unlocking the black box of the translator's mind for me is allowing to see the text from a holistic perspective, to discover new ways of analysing the Word not as a lexical unit but as a key to the micro-meaning that could transpire through the whole concept of the translated work and form an integral part of it. For me this is all about linguistics.


I often wonder why in modern translation studies and in professional industry standards so little attention is paid to the text. ISO 17100 focuses entirely on the procedure of translation (which I meticulously follow of course), the introduction of CAT tools requires us to minimise the variety of the language in order to enable production of neat repetitive segments that can be comfortably fitted into as many contexts as possible. What is going to happen to the language in ten, twenty, thirty years? Are we going to lose all the words that are outside those saved in TMs? If the goal of modern translation is to convert TM into MT — the danger is not only for translators who will lose their bread and butter, the danger is for the whole of mankind whose languages will be... lost in translation. That is what makes me feel worried...


However, I am an optimist in my heart and as a person who deeply cares for the future of languages, for the preservation of diversity and wealth of their heritage and culture — I have sworn an oath in front of the image of St Jerome to deliver in my translation the very spirit of the original text and in doing so I intend to utilise pen and paper, dictionaries and online technological tools, incorporating all my knowledge and expertise as well as my heart and my soul.









All text and images/artwork copyright © 2018 Liudmila Tomanek. All rights reserved.



Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce



The following article was published by Cambridgeshire Chamber of Commerce on their website and in their International Newsletter

Available here

Translation Matters



Thursday 22 February 2018


Liudmila Tomanek, from Russian Translation World, highlights the importance of cultural understanding when translating.

When Saint Jerome, the patron saint of translators, was translating the Bible he was very meticulous and followed the original script almost word for word. Yet he made a mistake that impacted upon the image of the most revered prophet of the Old Testament, Moses. Chapter 34 of Exodus in the Vulgate, the Latin translation of the Bible, decorated the prophet with horns and that is how Moses was depicted throughout the years of the Renaissance. That particular version of the Bible was in use until 1960.

So, what happened? The answer is — a lack of cultural awareness on the part of Saint Jerome. In Ancient Hebrew shining rays could be compared to horns due to their similarity in shape. This metaphor just does not work in Europe. The actual meaning of that description was that the face of Moses was shining and emitting rays after his return from God. The shining rays may symbolise light, purity and holiness. Yet, throughout the history of Catholic Christianity horns were a part of the revered image of Moses — due to the translator’s error.

This example demonstrates the importance of cultural understanding in translation. It shows how crucial it is not only to have a good command of source and target languages, but also to maintain a profound knowledge of both cultures in every aspect and nuance. 

When I came to this country 17 years ago, I knew the language and I was eager to communicate with people. But all too often a passing neighbour would say in a cheerful way “How are you?” and in my keenness to be friendly I would return a long answer detailing all of my recent news. At the end of my monologue I would discover myself standing in the middle of an empty street with the neighbour vanishing behind the corner. “How rude”, I would think, deeply offended. That was an example of my cultural ignorance. 

In my native Russia people might be offended if you just say “I am fine, thanks”. They could interpret it as distrust and unwillingness to communicate. Yet in Great Britain “How are you” is the equivalent of “hello” and often just requires a friendly wave back with a short greeting. It is an exchange of good will and positive energy. Since that time I have spent many years learning the cultures of all my working languages and it has been of great help in my profession.

Not knowing cultural differences and translating out of context can have grave consequences and indeed history has some sad stories to prove me right. Translation errors have started wars and led to breaking relationships in politics, diplomacy and trade. Such was the case in the disastrous Hiroshima bombing in 1945, which came as the result of mistranslating the Japanese word “mokusatsu”, a reply to the ultimatum given to the country by US, UK, Russia and China after the Potsdam Conference. Japan answered with one word, and it was translated into English as “ultimatum not worthy of a response” whereas in reality that word meant “No comments. We are still thinking. Our reply is silence.” A better translation might have stopped the nuclear bombing and may have changed world history. 

However, this is the field of politics and we are in the domain of trade and commerce. That is why I would like to finish my article by quoting a prospective customer — her observation on a poorly translated advertisement into Russian: “Best not to buy from a company that saves up even on a translator.”




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