Being bilingual isn’t
Understanding cultural nuances in a language
is the key to a good translation
August 28, 2005
Following one of the Curriculum Development Department’s
titled “Translation: How does it fit into a curriculum for an intensive
basic language course,” I thought of a humorous letter to send to the
speaker to confirm
he had explained.
had stated that according to the American Translators Association, “Being
bilingual isn’t enough to make a [professional] translator or interpreter.” You
need additional training. The Speech Act theory in linguistics emphatically
describes the role of understanding sociolinguistics in learning a second
The following letter found on the Internet makes
an excellent example.
The Original Letter
When Iranian People Write in English
This letter was written by an employee
of the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company) back in the 1960's
to his American boss, Mr. Hamilton. (Key expressions are in quotes.)
Dear Mr. Hamilton,
I, the undersigned, have worked
in the NIOC in Masjed-Solyeman for three years. But since Mr.
Ahmadi transferred here everything has changed.
I don't know "what a wet wood I have sold
from the very first day he has been "pulling the belt
to my lift". With all kinds of "cat dancing" he
tried to become the "eye and the light" of Mr. Wilson.
He made so much "mouse running" that finally Mr. Wilson "became
a donkey", and appointed Mr. Ahmadi as his right hand man,
and told me to work "under his hand".
promised me that next year he would make me his right hand man,
but "my eye did not
drink water", and I knew that all these were nothing but "hat
and he was trying to put a "hat on my
I "put the seal of silence to my lips" and
did not say anything. Since he was just "putting watermelon
under my arms", knowing that this
transfer was only "good for his aunt", I started
begging him to forget that I ever came
to see him and forget my visit altogether. I said "you
saw camel, you did not see camel"... but he was not "getting
off the devil’s donkey"...
"What headache shall
I give you"? I am now forced to work in the mail house
with a bunch of "blind, bald, height and half height" people. "Imagine
how much my ass burns".
Now Mr. Hamilton, "I turn around
your head" you are my
only hope and my "back and shelter"...."I swear
you to the 14 innocents" please "do some work for me"...."On
the Day of Resurrection I’ll grasp your skirt"...."I
have six heads of bread eaters"..."I kiss your hand and
Fatima Farideh Nejat holds a Bachelors degree in Interdisciplinary
Studies of Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and Women's Studies;
and a Masters of Arts degree in International Training and Education
from the American University in Washington, DC. She served in diplomatic
corps of Iran working at the Iranian Embassy in Washington, DC,
from 1970-80. She is currently Assistant Professor at the Department
of the Army, Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.