I recently took the ATA certification test (French-English) in Reno, Nevada. It is the probably the only reason I would go to Reno in all honesty. It was the closest test location to L.A. during the time I was in the U.S.
The test is itself is archaic. Try to remember the last time you took test with pen and paper. Try to remember the last time you translated any document in pen and paper and were limited to paper dictionaries. It is clear that the test does not completely reflect a translator’s abilities, but the ATA has its reasons, some justified, for its refusal to allow computers.
I took the practice exam, a good idea for all first time test takers. I learned that my French is good enough to pass the test, but I had to make some adjustments for the actual conditions. I tried to translate and then recopy. I still missed too many errors. Another thing I learned was that it was more important to avoid mistakes than to provide an ideal translation. In other words, you start with 100 points and try to avoid losing any.
In the actual test, I applied those lessons. Since I wasn’t going to recopy the document, I could take my time and translate each sentence one at a time. I figured that I had one and half hour for each section, but that turned out to be incorrect. The general text took a full hour and a half while the legal section took less than 45 minutes, maybe because I have translated so many contracts. The other two translators taking the test agreed with me on that point.
After I opened the texts and read the three selections, i.e. the general text, the medical one, and the legal one, I began with the general text. Unfortunately, in the first sentence, I faced a term that I fully understood, but could not find the term in English. After struggling for five minutes, I fortunately skipped it and went on to finish the exam. After two hours, I came up with a hopefully appropriate translation. Another issue was how to deal with a particularly ambiguous phrase in French. In a real translation, I would not have hesitated to add a clarifying adjective, but here I debated with myself a long time whether I would be penalized for adding meaning. For the first time in my life, I stayed until the end of the exam, constantly rereading my translation. I even found a spelling error two minutes before the end. Just think about translation without Spellcheck!
My feeling at the end was that I had a 50/50 chance of passing, a matter of how many mistakes I made and how serious they were. The proctor, who had failed her first attempt and passed her second one, concurred with me on this feeling.
The best thing about the test, until I hear that I pass of course, is the feeling of satisfaction that I can understand the meanings, both expressed and hidden, of a foreign language. That is something to be proud about.
רשומות נוספות מפרי מקלדתו של סטיבן תוכלו לקרוא בבלוג שלו Tip of the Tongue.