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Importance of translation in contemporary Ghana

Due to its colonial experience and the creation of artificial borders, Ghana finds itself face-to-face with a linguistic reality. The fact that the country is sandwiched between Francophone countries, namely Togo, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, has a lot of implications for economic, industrial, political and socio-religious activities.

In today’s world, where states dependso much on each other daily to carry out their business and other activities that involve not only movement across borders, but international communication in all forms, an obstacle emerges: the language barrier.


To remedy the problems created by this situation, linguistic professionals such as translators, interpreters, bilingual secretaries and similar professionals who, by their training, work as mediators between language barriers.

For the purpose of this article, I would like to limit our discussion to translators.

One of the simplest ways of defining translation is “rendering the meaning of a text into another language in the way that the author intended the text” (Newmark 1988).

This definition implies then that anybody, including a child, who is delivering a message, for example, from one language into another is involved in translation.

Thus, given the colonial experience that Africans have gone through and the linguistic legacy that has been bequeathed to them, their daily communication is dominated by the process of translation.

Qualifying as a translator

However, this linguistic reality only makes every African a translator to some extent. For an individual to practice translation as a profession, he/she needs to attain a level of linguistic competence and be well-grounded in the cultures and other practices of the languages involved.

This is because mere knowledge of the languages does not necessarily help in effectively mediating between them.

This is as simple as understanding that not all of us who can cook can be employed as chefs. The ability to mediate between two languages requires years of mastery of those languages and the cultures of those who use them as native speakers.

Even the translation of a serious and specialised text such as a contractual agreement between two different companies, for instance, requires not only the type of competence mentioned above but also the preparedness on the part of translators to carry out some research in the area involved and to consult known experts.

This is because a lot of work has gone into the preparation of the original text, giving it a special language in terms of vocabulary, expressions and neologisms. It is, therefore, expected that its translation would necessarily have to, as far as possible, reflect those factors.


Given the specialised nature of their profession, translators need to undergo special training programmes. The ideal translation training institution is the one that prepares language professionals for a Master’s programme in translation. Before one qualifies for such a programme, one must have pursued language or language-related programmes from second cycle level through to the tertiary level.

Of course there are translators training institutions which, right from the word go, introduce students to translation training programmes. A typical example is School of Translators, Ghana Institute of Languages, Accra, which runs a first degree course in translation.

Whether it is at the undergraduate level or the postgraduate level, the training programme should be very comprehensive to ensure that students finally come out as competent linguistic experts that can handle any complex language situation.

Translators that have undergone such a training should be able to translate texts on any subject, whether it is legal, economic or scientific. This is because they did principles of law, economics and science and technology as part of the translator’s course.

Mediating Between Cultures

At this stage, let’s not forget about one of the requirements of translators. Since they are mediators between two or more languages, they are dealing with different cultures. In fact a people’s culture is an integral part of their language.

One cannot successfully translate between French and English without mastering some of the cultural experiences shared between the users of the two languages. Such knowledge provides ammunition to deal with allusions, jokes, and other culturally bound vocabulary (including neologisms) and expressions that often pose problems in translation.

Ghana’s policy makers, including educational authorities, need to know that the country is sitting on a resource that is worth more than gold, diamond, oil and other valuable minerals that spark off controversies linked to the degradation of our environment.

Just imagine that a freelance translator/interpreter earns an average of US$400 a day for servicing a conference. Also, regional and international organisations such as Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS), African Union (AU) and UNO use the services of language professionals that include translators/interpreters whose monthly salaries are in thousands of US dollars.

It would not be out of place to make Ghana a centre for training and recruiting translators, interpreters, bilingual secretaries, tour guides and other language professionals.


The writer is a lecturer at University of Education, Winneba
Writer’s E-mail: [email protected]

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