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.

And what about the names?

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.

Literary translation has always been considered one of the hardest forms of translation because of the complexity of the problems a translator can run into. The most complex form of translating literature is translating poetry which does not seem that hard at first. The American poet Robert Frost once said that “poetry is what gets lost in translation.“

What makes translating poetry challenging?

There are a lot of things one should pay attention to while translating poetry. For the poem to keep the original message and meaning, the translator needs to keep them all in mind which is not an easy task. We have chosen some of the key obstacles and challenges that translators will inevitably encounter in every poem:

We will briefly explain each point further in the text so you could gain a better understanding of what has to be done to get a quality poem translation in the end.

Poem structure

While reading every poem, it is easy to spot its structure, that is, how many lines it has, how many stanzas, is it written in free or structured verse, etc. Furthermore, various poets have specific styles they use and which make them recognizable. This is where the structure plays one of the key roles. For that reason, the translator has to keep the original poem structure in their translation. For example, if a line has ten syllables in the original poem, the translation should be the same.

Rhythm and rhyme

In the last paragraph, we mentioned free and structured verses. Free verses do not rhyme or have the same number of syllables, that is, there are no rules. The bigger problem for the translator are structured verses that are connected with rhyme and have specific number of syllables. A poet uses them to create a unique rhythm of the poem which gives it an additional meaning. It is already hard to come up with a rhyme that has a meaning in one language, but to translate it to another and keep the meaning is truly a daunting task. Translators should have an extremely large vocabulary and imagination. We can use the well-known Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare for comparison.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?Thou art more lovely and more temperate:

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date

Hoću li te s danom usporedit ljetnim?Ti si krasniji i blaži si od njega;

Svibanjske pupoljke stresu ljuti vjetri,

I prekratak rok imade ljetna žega.

Using metaphors

A metaphor is a figure of speech used for expressing a figurative meaning. It is one of the most used devices in literature and poetry is unimaginable without it. It is used to express comparison but without the actual comparison and using of the words “like” and “such as”. For example, when we say someone is “golden”, we do not want to say they are made of gold but that they popular and successful. “Temples” on our heads also have a metaphorical meaning. The problem is, of course, that the language construction determines the use of metaphors in it and we can almost never translate them literally. Some of the possible solutions are replacing the metaphor in source language with one of the metaphors in target language or translating the metaphor by describing it. Of course, when we take into account that we have to keep the same structure of the poem, translating metaphors becomes a much bigger problem.

Cultural differences

Culture specific terms are often used in poetry. That poses a problem because those cultural features get lost when translating into another language (another culture). In other words, they lose their meaning because they do not represent the same thing to people in a different culture. If you take a look at what various colors represent in different cultures, it will become clear why it is one of the important issues in translating poetry. For example, let us take the color white. In the Western culture it represents purity, peace, innocence and brides wear them to their weddings. However, in China and some other Asian countries, the color white represents death, sorrow and it is usually worn to funerals. From that it is clear that the translator would have to choose a different color when translating such a poem in order to convey the same meaning to the target audience.

Poetry is a very complicated artistic expression that comes from the soul of the poet and its aim is to leave a deep impression on the reader. Thus, the translators’ task is to convey those powerful emotions and images in another language so that they have the same effect in it. Of course, that is very difficult sometimes and now it became a bit clearer why Robert Frost made a statement we mentioned at the beginning of the article. However, with their efforts, the translators have to prove him wrong.

There are over seven thousand languages spread across more than seven billion people. Many people want to learn a new language, however, the very thought of how much effort they have to invest prevents them from doing it. We have chosen some of the reasons why it’s beneficial to learn a foreign language that we consider to be the most important and which may help you pick up a new language.

  1. Improve your employability

We are witnesses that more and more people are moving outside the boarders of their country in search of business opportunities, be it to a neighboring country or across the ocean. Furthermore, because of the global connectivity, new professions and jobs require knowledge of at least one foreign language. Companies do business with foreign clients and it is extremely important that their staff knows more languages so, if you want to improve your chances of being considered for a job, you should study hard and expand your knowledge.

  1. Enhance your brain functions

Many researches have been conducted to find out how learning a foreign language affects the brain. The conclusion was that studying a new language is, without a doubt, one of the best exercises for the brain. People who know more than one language have higher general intelligence, they are better at making decisions and planning, they have a better memory and are more creative and these are just some of the numerous advantages. If you take into account that learning a new language is one of the hardest thing a brain can do, it is logical that the prize is worth it.

  1. Explore new cultures

Learning a language will not only have a positive effect on your brain functionality or employability, but you will have a unique opportunity to explore a new culture, as well as their customs and traditions. Language and culture are certainly very intertwined so by learning a new language, you will inevitably „enter” a new culture. In addition to learning about another culture, you will have a chance to analyze your own from another perspective which will expand your knowledge as well.

  1. Make your trips easier

Everyone likes travelling, but many people are scared and have trouble with communicating outside of their own country. One thing is for sure – it will be much easier to communicate and find your way in Spain if you know Spanish than if you only speak, for example, Croatian. Learning just a few of the most important and common expressions is enough and on your next trip you will feel more comfortable and safer and you will be able to communicate with the natives with much more confidence.

  1. Make new friends

One of the best advantages of travelling and development of today’s technology is the possibility to get into contact with a person on the other side of the world at any given moment. Having knowledge of multiple foreign languages significantly improves the chance of meeting new friends and interesting people with even more interesting stories or even find the love of your life. In any case, a common language will be of great help.

  1. Reinforce the knowledge of your mother tongue

One of the good things about learning a foreign language that probably isn’t that obvious is the fact that, while learning a new one, you will reinforce the knowledge of your mother tongue as well. You see, people do not think about grammar, spelling and different constructions in their own language. However, while learning a new language, we learn its spelling and grammar rules and compare them to ours which automatically makes us pay more attention to our language and expand our knowledge.

There is simply no reason not to learn a new language. Maybe you already have a job so you have no use of easier employability, but you will surely feel good when you order food in a restaurant in a foreign country in their language. Learning a language does not have to be hard if you make it fun and the feeling of pride and fulfillment when you are able to use that knowledge is irreplaceable. In the end, do not forget, people say that as many languages you know, as many times you are a human being.