What do the media need to know about translation? A NEaT member explains

Journalisti.fi, the online version of the professional Finnish journalism periodical, published an article last month about the translation journalists are forced to do in their work. The context is the vast amount of English-language sources Finnish journalists use every day and the occasional unidiomatic ways journalists render foreign languages in Finnish. The article’s headline asked: “Is translation part of every journalist’s basic skills? Media companies say yes, but little training is on offer”.

To our delight, NEaT member Minna Kujamäki, a University Lecturer in English (translation and interpretation) at the University of Eastern Finland in Joensuu, was consulted as a source for this article. It is excellent news that Journalisti asked a professional educator about some of the basics of translation, which are not always apparent to everyone.

Kujamäki told Journalisti.fi that the unidiomatic Finnish produced by journalists when producing news based on foreign-language sources can be compared to the errors first-year translation students make.

‘One good example is former British prime minister Theresa May’s “Let me be clear”, which was translated in Ilta-Sanomat as “Antakaa minun olla selvä”,’ Kujamäki said. This may make some sense in Finnish, but is still totally unidiomatic because the verb ‘be’ is translated literally as ‘olla’, not as a verb such as ‘puhua’, which would mean ‘to speak’.

The article explained how some Finnish news organizations help their staff deal with the work they do with foreign-language sources. News agency STT is the only one that includes specific instructions about translation in its style guide (here, in Finnish). “STT is not a translation agency. […] Say it in your own words and make sure you that you say it in Finnish. Take special care with direct quotations.” The public broadcaster Yle, the news service of the commercial TV station MTV 3, and the newspapers Helsingin Sanomat and Iltalehti said they did not have special instructions for working with foreign-language sources, but that individual departments may. Most of the media companies that Journalists.fi contacted said they did not test new recruits’ translation skills or provide translation training.

Translation is not generally taught to Finnish journalism students: only the Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences includes a compulsory module on journalism translation and professional English in its journalism course.

In NEaT’s opinion, translation is a job for professionals with the relevant skills and experience. Not everyone is a translator merely by virtue of having to use materials in a foreign language as a raw material at work.

Are journalists’ translation skills also discussed in other Nordic countries and further afield? Let us know in the comments!

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