Tips for Candidates

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Tips for Candidates

Read all of the passages before you decide which to translate.  Do the dictionaries you brought cover the subject matter?  Are there complicated sentences that will take time to untangle?

When you finish a paragraph, read it over to yourself.  Does it sound right, or does is sound awkward and stilted?  Will changing the word order make a difference?

You will be graded on your ability to render the entire message of the original in the target language, not on your ability to rewrite or improve upon it.

  • Carefully read the translation instructions at the top of each passage and choose the correct register (language level, degree of formality) based on the specified target audience. The translation instructions set the context for the translation. Failure to follow the instructions will be penalized when the translation is graded.
  • Observe the formatting of the original. If paragraphs are separated by a line, do the same in the translation.
  • Don’t add clarifications unless you’re certain that readers from the target-language culture will miss the meaning without them.
  • The exam instructions also say “Translate everything below the horizontal line.”  This is a reminder that any headings or subheads, for example, are considered part of the passage.  Follow the conventions of your language combination with regard to words or terms that remain in the source language. Be sure not to add or omit information. Additions and/or omissions can change the meaning. Qualifiers are also important.
  • Be careful where you place qualifiers and modifiers. Remember that word order is not the same in all languages and that careless placement can completely change the meaning.
  • Alternative translations will be considered errors.  It is up to you to select a viable translation. The graders will not choose for you.
  • Unwieldy sentences can be broken into shorter ones, provided nothing is added or omitted to change the meaning. Use particular caution in this regard when translating legal passages.
  • Avoid regionalisms wherever possible, using instead more standard words.
  • Candidates are expected to use standard American spelling style and usage.
  • Pretend you are reading the passage aloud in the target language. Does it sound both grammatically correct and natural? Following the syntax of the source text too closely may be penalized if the resulting sentence is unidiomatic/awkward in the target language.
  • It is especially dangerous to translate idiomatic expressions literally. Try to find an equivalent expression in the target language. For example, in the phrase “... hanging around the house,” “hanging around” conveys the idea that one is relaxing, being lazy. Don’t omit an idiom just because you can’t find an exact translation.

Use dictionaries judiciously, and be sure your word choices are correct in context. If a dictionary offers more than one translation for a word, don’t assume you can use any of them interchangeably. It sometimes helps to cross check an unfamiliar term you have tentatively selected by looking it up in the other direction.

If a word or phrase is not in your dictionaries, apply your translation skills.  Perhaps it is a compound whose parts are in the dictionary, a derivative of a word that is listed, or a cognate you can look up in the target language. In other cases, you are expected to determine the meaning from the context and determine the correct term/phrase in accordance with the translation instructions. Texts selected as exam passages are modified to avoid obscure terms, and you will be penalized if you simply note “not in dictionary.”

Remember that you will be working without a spell checker. Consider bringing a monolingual dictionary in your target language.

Pay attention to spelling, punctuation, and capitalization. Conventions vary from one language to another, and failure to follow target-language rules can change or obscure meaning.

Consider bringing a grammar book for your source language and a stylebook for your target language.

You are not expected to make mathematical conversions of measures, distances, money, and the like. You will not be penalized if you convert correctly, but you will if the conversion is wrong.

Proofread carefully. Check:

  • proper names
  • numerals and dates
  • commonly misspelled words
  • placement of punctuation and diacritical marks
  • repetition (a bird in the the hand)

Also proofread for grammar and usage: subject/verb agreement, prepositions, verb tenses, and syntax (too close to the source text?) Don’t make hasty last-minute changes unless you’re sure you made a mistake.  If you’re undecided, it’s safer to trust your first instinct.

Special note for candidates taking the exam from English into German: The new German spelling was introduced in 1996/97 and the "grace period" ended in 2006. All candidates are expected to use the new German spelling rules or spelling errors will be marked.