Natural Language Acquisition, a blanket term including numerous methods, such as Natural Way, Silent Way, and Automatic Language Growth (ALG), suggests that people are too focused on language, and this causes them to miss the communication.
Back in high school Spanish classes, you spent hours poring over dictionaries, doing grammar translations, doing homework, and taking exams. But after four years of study, you couldn’t speak Spanish.
Natural Language Acquisition methods shy away from the teaching of grammar, are less likely to assign homework, exercises, or exams, and often steer students away from dictionaries and from any form of translation. The idea is that the student must think in the target language and then he will simply understand the same way a native speaker does. This concept is excellent for language learners with a goal of learning to speak and understand a foreign language. It is great for people who might not be academics, but need to acquire a second language for the purpose of doing their job or working abroad.
Generally, for translators, these methods are not recommended because translators do need to use dictionaries and focus on the language when it comes to very specific technical vocabulary. In other words, if you are translating a prospectus for a mutual fund, wrapped in an annuity, do you really know the difference between active and passive interest, gains through appreciation, unrealized gains, or insurance dividends vs. stock dividends?
Maybe the first question is: Could you explain what each of these concepts is in English? Next, do you know them in German or Chinese or whichever language you are hoping to translate?
Here is a link for a random mutual fund prospectus. Go ahead and test yourself. Can you accurately translate it into your target language?
Translators focus more on the nuts and bolts of a language, which is a divergence from natural methods. But the result of a translation is a communication. And once again, concepts of natural language acquisition apply.
The final product of a translation must translate, exactly and perfectly into another language. One of the highest paid translators I know of is a woman who specializes in mutual fund prospectus. One small mistake in the translation could cost the company millions in legal fees. So, the translation needs to be accurate. But, just like in natural methods, the end result must read fluently. It must read exactly as an original document, generated in the target language.
At FASK, University of Mainz, Germerheim, Germany, a leading university specializing in the teaching of applied linguistics and translation, many students parallel to their translation studies also acquired a qualification as a technical writer. Of the classmates I have kept up with over the years, several went on to well-paid careers as technical writers, not even using their foreign language skills. The reason is that good translations are well-written.
One friend, after acquiring his translation degree and a job at a corporation, went to journalism school at night, as a way of improving his English writing. Now that I am considering getting back into translation, he sent me an email, urging me to brush up on my English.
Where natural methods suggest that people shouldn’t be so focused on the “nuts and bolts” of the foreign language, it is interesting that good translators put emphasis on your native tongue.
Many of the theorists who lectured or taught short courses at Germerheim also advocated natural approach for translation. One professor, who was a long-haired hippie dressed in hemp, used to kick off the open-toed sandals he wore all winter, hop up on the desk, sit in the lotus position, and tell us how he translated.
“Imagine you are a child. Interpret the world as a child does. Simply let it be. Let it flow through you. Then when you start to write, write as if you are explaining to a child.”
He told us that he always meditated before beginning a translation, to get himself into a childlike trance.
His methods were considered too cosmic for many of the traditionalists, but he did well with his freelance business.
Where natural way and translation align is in the concept of meaning. The meaning and the fluency must be there, or the translation is bad. The defense that incompetent people often use is, “Well you can’t translate word for word.” Granted, word for word translations would look pretty silly, no matter what the language combination. Something as simple as “What times is it?” would translate as “How many hours is it?” in many of the languages I speak. So, the agreement between the two camps would be, ignore the exact verbiage used in the foreign language, and translate the meaning.
In the end, while translation necessitates focusing on nuts and bolts of language, the end result is translation of meaning. Natural approach and translation may not be as far apart as one believes.