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TOEFL Tip #205: Translation vs. Transliteration

by Strictly English TOEFL Tutors on May 25, 2013

For non-native speakers of English who are studying for the TOEFL exam, the gold standard is being able to think and communicate entirely in English, without reference to your first language. But that’s really something that only fluent English speakers can do. For most non-fluent English speakers, ideas start in their head in their own language, and then the speaker / writer goes through a process of turning those thoughts from the native language, say Japanese, into English.

Turning thoughts in native language into English can happen in two ways: through transliteration, and through translation.

Transliteration involves one-to-one substitution between two languages. The most common form of transliteration is to substitute letters of the Latin alphabet – the alphabet used for English – in place of non-Latin letters, such as Russian’s Cyrillic alphabet. More generally, transliteration switches between languages word by word. Some common problems with this technique include leaving out articles necessary in English when transliterating from a language that doesn’t use articles, such as Japanese or Russian; redundant doubling of nouns and pronouns in English when transliterating from a language that uses pronouns in combination with verbs, such as Spanish or Italian; and misplaced adverbs of frequency (such as hourly, monthly, sometimes, often) when translating from German and related languages.

Translation, on the other hand, takes the non-English sentence and reinvents it in English, using English grammar while reproducing the meaning of the original sentence as closely as possible. Translation requires creativity, since idioms, slang, and other language variations often do not have exact parallels in other languages. Capturing the meaning of the original sentence when translating it into English may result in using words that aren’t in the original sentence but whose English meanings are closer to that original idea.

The difference between transliteration and translation has a significant effect on TOEFL Speaking and Writing scores. Transliteration results in English-language sentences that are based on a non-English grammar system. Such writing and speech can be difficult to understand and do not display mastery of English. Translation often expresses ideas with more polish because these writers and speakers are paying close attention to grammar as well as to the content of what they’re writing or saying. TOEFL-takers who transliterate receive low scores in the Writing and Speaking sections, and those who translate receive higher scores.

The more you can translate your ideas into English, the better.


Categories: Speaking,TOEFL for Pharmacy,TOEFL for University,TOEFL Preparation,Writing

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