Greater than 4 minutes, my friend!
The first tool that comes to your mind when you think translator is: bilingual dictionary
Bilingual dictionaries seem to be our salvation but in fact they are not and I will show you why I almost stopped consulting them at all.
First of all, bilingual dictionaries (at least paper ones) are not really what we commonly know as a dictionary but are more like a glossary. They have the word in language A and then another ‘equivalent’ word in language B with some details about the word (if it’s a noun, adjective, verb etc.). Sometimes you will find a sentence or two to give you an example of how to use this word. But that is mostly it. Traditional monolingual dictionaries have so much more information: details, class of the word, etymology, pronunciation, definition, examples, synonyms, etc.
So you will ask me: what is wrong with using dictionaries working as glossaries?
The problem is that we use them thinking they are dictionaries. Which means we think that the definition of both words are the same and consequently that the words are equivalent. And this is false!
One example found in wordreference.com for FR> ES:
“poisson [pwasÕ] m pez, pescado;’
The problem is that the concept of ‘poisson’ (fish) holds both concepts of ‘pez’ AND ‘pescado’ (‘pez’ is the fish alive, ‘pescado’ is the fish seen as a good or food), as shown above.
At the opposite, ‘pescado’ is only one part of the concept of ‘poisson’ and ‘pez’ is another part of the concept. So it is not possible to use ‘pez’ and ‘pescado’ as synonyms because in fact they are not!
This leads me to the second point: bilingual dictionaries don’t have any context or very few. In the case just seen above, the problem may have been resolved if there was at least some context (two or three phrases). As bilingual dictionaries usually lack of context sentences, it is very hard to know exactly how to use the word translated. They also lack explanations about which of the many words suggested you should use and they present them all as equivalent. In the best case scenario, you have a small context indication, usually between brackets such as: ‘régler: (payer) to pay’.
The third point is that it is quite common that none of the words suggested are correct in the context you want to use it.
Another example from wordreference.com for EN> FR:
|issue n||(problem, dispute)
|problème, objet de litige
Well, you may find better options for the word ‘issue’ in French. You could use ‘point, problématique, préoccupation, objet, thème, situation, enjeu’. But by giving only 3 possibilities, the bilingual dictionary ‘blocks’ or ‘focuses’ your mind only on these 3 words and you can’t see any more possibilities.
The fourth point is that bilingual dictionaries, as we just saw it, blocks your mind on one (or more) words. And we all know that translating is not about words but about ideas! When you translate a sentence you need to transmit an idea in another language and words are your tools not your target! So by focusing on these few words you lose your inspiration and you try possible sentences that only include these words instead of looking for a new and different way of saying it. Unfortunately sometimes saying it in a different way is the only solution to get out of a tricky sentence.
Fifth point: usually bilingual dictionaries are general dictionaries. Keep that in mind because when you are translating in a specialised field you might face a specialised term and not just a general word. In this case general dictionaries are of no use and can even lead you to big errors without even giving any hint that you are on the wrong path!
Point number 6, last but not least: when you make the effort to look up the word in the source language in a monolingual dictionary (still in source language), you read the definition and understand what the concept of source language is. By doing just that, you can already spot any differences in the concept between language A and B. Sometimes you know and just remember the word in target language as you are reading the definition, but usually you only guess more or less what it could be in your language. But then, how to find the term in your own language? Tricky question. You have to try to find it. Look up words that you feel could fill the definition you just read. Look in parallel corpora (like for example linguee). Try to find documents in your language talking about the field you are translating. You may struggle to find the right word that will fit in your sentence but I can assure you something: by struggling so much you will not forget that word and next time you face it you will remember the numerous possibilities you found in your previous research!
Why I tell you this? Because when I started my studies in translation at the University of Geneva, one of the first things they told us is to throw away our bilingual dictionaries. In fact, we can only use monolingual dictionaries during our exams!
In my experience, this advice has been of the best I’ve been given since I started and I have learnt many things and I understand better the ideas and the concepts I am translating.
Of course bilingual dictionaries are very convenient for usual everyday words you tend to forget and they can sometimes indicate the right word, I am not saying we should never use them. But as a colleague pointed out, it is our job as professionals translators to determine if the propositions given by the dictionary are acceptable for our case or not. For once consider translating a page or two without them apart from these small words and use the monolingual dictionaries.