The Art of Invisibility

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.

Considering the Meaning

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.

Considering the Author

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.

Considering the Client

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.

You might be interested