There is a frequent statement directed towards translators by people who don’t understand how translating works and it goes something like this: “What’s the big deal, you just transfer every word into another language. Just use Google Translate and there you go!” Well, we could do that, if a client wants a poor-quality translation which does not sound natural or even make sense.
Speaking two languages is not the same as knowing how to translate. The process of translating is a lengthy one, with the translator really having to use their noggin. Join us through the journey of translating in order to reach the art of invisibility.
The thing is, regardless of the improvement of technology, high-quality translations are done by a person going through a text word by word, phrase by phrase, sentence by sentence, trying to find the perfect equivalent. More often than not, there are phrases that simply do not have a counterpart in the target language. This mostly happens with idioms, which can be quite bizarre:
British English: Bob’s your uncle!
Meaning: and there it is/there you have it, typically used to say “everything is alright” or when a result is reached.
Croatian: Vidjet ćemo čija majka crnu vunu plete.
Translation: We will see whose mother is spinning black wool.
Meaning: We will see who will end up badly.
Spanish: Tirar la case por la ventana.
Translation: To throw the house out the window.
Meaning: To spare no expenses.
For each of these, the translator needs to spend a certain amount of time to find the expression suitable to replace it in the target language. They try to understand the meaning as a whole and create a sentence which will sound natural. Even some simple expressions, such as “je m’appelle Josh” in French, cannot be literally translated as “I call myself Josh”, but as “my name is Josh”. And it makes a big difference. At least if you want a coherent translation.
It’s impossible to translate the text correctly if you don’t understand the author’s perspective. Who are they addressing, in what way and what is the point of the text are only some of the questions in need of answering before starting the translation process. It’s the translator’s job to adjust and create a translation which captures the spirit of the original text.
There are, however, situations when the client has specific demands and requires a different approach to the translation. This may vary, from using specific tools to using certain words and phrases. It’s a translator’s job to respect their client’s wishes.
This entire process leads to the creation of a superior translation. After stopping at all the aforesaid stations throughout this journey, it would be a shame if the translator broke the illusion of it actually being a translation. Since it’s a known thing that the best translation is the one which is read as if it were an original, being the invisible translator is what one should aspire to be. The irony of it all is that nobody notices the invisible translator. If a translation is read like an original, nobody will acknowledge the person creating it in such a way. In other words, the better the translation, the less likely the translator is to be remembered. People tend to recollect the poor translations and huge (sometimes funny) errors, and with it the person who made it such.
And that is the reality of translators. Crazy deadlines with no appreciation.
It’s a good thing we love what we do.
Starting something new requires knowledge and bravery. If that something comes from personal desire and intrinsic motivation, it becomes a much easier task to accomplish. Regardless, blindly undertaking such responsibility can be troublesome without proper advice from others.
Today, we are going to be focusing on facilitating the starting process of any young translator. Of course, there is a lot for individuals to learn on their own, but we’ll do our best to provide some guidance for new translators, and it will hopefully make the entire starting process somewhat easier.
First things first, learning the business is an important aspect of starting anything. When it comes to translating, there are several options for you which you must explore before going any further. You need to be aware of the risk/reward ratio of anything you would do and compare it to your professional capabilities and personal desires. Translating literature is not the same as translating technical texts and it does not require the same amount of work for the same profit. For example, translating literature is often not that cost-effective. If you enjoy translating literature, be ready for the fact that it will not always be sunshine and rainbows, since it can take up a lot of time and additional research. But, ultimately, enjoying what you’re doing is what matters most.
Furthermore, figure out the differences between working for an employee and being a freelancer. This one is important. There are many differences between those two and you should see what works best for you.
All in all, learn about yourself and your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and act accordingly.
Despite what you have chosen as your business direction, it will not be easy. Sure, some days will be easier than others, but there will be harder days too. If you are freelancing, you might think that you can wake up whenever you want and still have a lot of free time because you don’t have a 9-5 job. On the contrary. Depending on the amount of work, there will be days when you’ll be working from early in the morning to late in the evening (including weekends) and you’ll still be cutting it close. On the other hand, when working for a company, you have your office hours and then you’re done. But, approximately the same amount of work will be crammed into your normal working hours, and you’ll end up exhausted for the rest of the day. So, whatever you choose, be ready to give it your best.
When starting, don’t be too confident. Be aware that there are many things you can still learn and that you will learn every day when translating. Finding someone who can constructively criticize you is of the utmost importance. You also need to learn how to accept that criticism as something valuable to you, not as a personal blow. Translating means constant improvement and learning. It’s okay to make mistakes when you are a beginner, but it’s not okay not to learn from those mistakes.
As we said, it’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s your job as a translator to give your best and minimize them as much as possible. It’s obligatory to check everything at least twice, if there is time. Distractions lead to mistakes, which is fine, as long as you detect and correct them before sending the translation. Our advice is, if possible, to sleep on it, and then come back with a fresh mind to reread it.
And, of course, always use a spell checker.
These are only some of the most important advice to get you started, but make sure to further look into what is needed to be a good translator. There are many books that might interest you, such as Translation in Practice: A Symposium by Gill Paul or How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne McKay, among others. Make sure you network wisely, try out different translating tools to find the best one for you, set a realistic deadline when freelancing, and don’t shy away from a challenging project (within reason), because you will end up far more knowledgeable on the subject and you will be proud for doing it in the end.
Translating is hard as it is, but how do translators cope with non-existent terms like wizarding, an essential part of Harry Potter? Check out in our blog post.
For those of you who don't know, Harry Potter is the main protagonist in a series of fantasy novels written by J.K. Rowling. In a nutshell, he and his two best friends, Ron and Hermione, attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and every now and then they confront Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter's archenemy.
The increasing popularity of the book, increased the need for its translation all over the world. As you may know, the books are packed with invented names for spells, potions, alleys and basically everything connected to the wizarding world. But what you may not know, or even think about, is the difficulties most translators have with such non-existent terms, especially since there were no instructions given to the translators regarding Rowling's motives for each invented word. This lead to different takes and interpretations for each language, even in different editions of the same target-language.
The most obvious example for that is the fact that the original name Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in the UK turned into Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in the US. The reasoning for it might have more to do with the publishers and their opinion on what would be a more attractive title in the US, but it proves the point in the most obvious way.
We can see different takes in other languages as well, such as Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers (Harry Potter at the School of Wizards) in French, or Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen in German and Harry Potter i kamen mudraca in Croatian (both translated into Harry Potter and the Stone of the Wise Men). But that's just the title.
Harry Potter fans know that many characters from the series have names that reveal a lot about that character. For instance, Severus Snape. Severus has apparent connotations with strictness and severity, and Snape sounds like snake, and, of course, the alliteration is obvious. Therefore, you can see how it might represent a problem in translation. For that reason, the Italians opted for Severus Piton (Python), and the French for Severus Rogue (arrogant), both sacrificing alliteration for meaning. Most, however, stuck to the original, losing the meaning in the process.
The same happened with translating Moaning Myrtle, who, for example, became Plačljiva Myrtla (crying Myrtle) in Croatian, but some languages cleverly managed to maintain the alliteration, such as Mirtilla Malcontenta (unhappy Myrtle) in Italian or Hisztis Myrtle (hysterical Myrtle) in Hungarian.
The translators surely had an interesting time translating the real name of Lord Voldemort, Tom Marvolo Riddle, which eventually must create an anagram for "I am Lord Voldemort". So let's see several examples of the result:
- Tom Elvis Jedusor --> Je suis Voldemort (I am Voldemort), French
- Tom Rowle Denem --> Nevem Voldemort (My name is Voldemort), Hungarian
- Tom Rojvol Raddle --> Já, lord Voldemort (I, Lord Voldemort), Czech
Some versions, however, opted for the original name with a footnote explaining the anagram.
This is, naturally, only a brief analysis focused on names of characters, but the examples are endless for every edition. It's the translator's job to transfer the story into a target-language to the best of his/her abilities. But what can one do when there is no exact translation equivalent? Something must be sacrificed. Which means that every translated book is written at least twice; by the author and by the translator who must adapt it. It can make you wonder just how much of the source text remains lost in translation.
As we have already seen in our article Six Reasons to Learn a Foreign Language, learning a foreign language has many benefits. Besides the obvious ability to communicate with more people, there is also improved brain function, more employment opportunities, etc. That is why we have decided to offer some tips for learning a new language easier.
If you really want to learn another language quickly and well, it would be best to work on it every day. You do not have to spend hours learning vocabulary and numerous rules. It is enough to take a little bit of time and learn a couple of new words. Make it a part of your daily routine and you will expand your vocabulary in no time.
Try to speak the language you have decided to learn. It would be ideal to use it in oral communication, but you will benefit from written communication too. For example, you can find a native speaker and exchange messages, letters, etc. because the fastest way to learn a language is to use it.
Nowadays it is easy to find almost anything on the internet with minimal effort. There are various applications and sites where you can learn a foreign language and test your knowledge for free. Online dictionaries are a good option if you do not want to spend money on books. Since everyone today has smartphones, you can also always carry them with you.
It greatly helps to watch movies in a language you are trying to learn with a translation. Besides mostly listening to native speakers, you hear the foreign word and read a translation at the same time and learn while relaxing during your leisure time. Furthermore, one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary is reading books. Many bookshops and libraries offer literature in foreign languages that will make you search for new words in a dictionary and learn them in order to understand what you are reading.
This is one of the advantages of schools of foreign languages, but if you have decided to learn a new language by yourself, you can always find a friend to learn with. You will help and encourage each other that way as well as communicate and share the knowledge you gained through conversation. If you do not have anyone to learn with, one of the previous advice could help you so you could search various forums and find interested people. You can only benefit from learning a language in company.
If you are learning a foreign language, be ready to make mistakes in the beginning. We all know you can learn best from your own mistakes. The process of learning a new language is not different in that regard. If you write or pronounce a word wrong and then correct yourself, you will remember it better because you simply spent more time on it. This is why communication is key and it is good to have someone who can tell you when you are making a mistake and correct you. It is one of the reasons why we advise you to learn with other people and communicate in a foreign language regularly. Do not avoid conversations in a foreign language because of fear of making a mistake, it is a perfectly normal part of learning that should be taken advantage of and accepted.
The last thing we should mention is fun. It is key not to forget to have fun and enjoy the process of learning a foreign language. Learn in a way that suits you. Do not turn it into an effort that makes you dizzy when you think of it. Learn in a fun way. Take your time so you do not start to hate the very thought of the language you have chosen.
Nowadays, we are all interconnected and knowledge of foreign languages is more important than ever before. Encourage your friends to learn together because the feeling of communicating in another language with someone is priceless. Technology development offers many possibilities so it would be a shame not to use them and master new languages easily!