Unless you are a translator, there are things you will never know about translation. Not that I expect you to know, but if you are someone who’s always trying to find new knowledge and read up on different topics, you might stumble on information intentionally or vice versa. Just like you have on this article.
We will look at some of the translation rules that you didn’t know existed.
- Don’t just read the text, listen to the voice in your head. When you are working on any project that needs your translation prowess, be sure to listen to the voice in your head. This will give you a different aspect and context in which the statement might have been written, which further makes it easy for you to do a great translation on the project. Listening to the voice in your head gives you a perspective that is important in translation.
- Work on the first sentence repeatedly till you think you’ve got the voice. During the translation of is very easy to get the voices on a file confused. This usually happens in literary translation where a writer tries to incorporate different voice styles. If you don’t get the voice of the file correctly, it means your whole translation will be out of context meaning you will have to re-do it. This is a very important rule in translation.
- Do your first draft quickly once you’ve got the writer’s voice. You won’t be able to hold it for long. On point number two, making sure you grasp the writer’s voice is very important because it sets the tone for the translation project. Once you note what voice is being used, be sure to jot it down because it is very easy to forget and get lost in translation more so when dealing with a really long write-up. This will help you remember as you go through with the translation.
- Don’t interrupt the flow to puzzle over difficulties in the text. Leave them in the original to go back to later. This reminds me of math exams in high school where I would leave the hard questions for later as I tried to make the best out of the easy ones. This always used to save me a lot of time that I would otherwise have used dealing with the hard questions and miss out on the easy one because either time ran out or something. As a translator concentrate on easy texts and come back to deal with difficult ones later. Concentrating on the hard ones might throw you off balance.
- Be faithful in the first draft. Reproduce the surface. Don’t be an editor. This is a hilarious rule because why are you trying to take on a job description that is not yours. On your first translation draft, be as raw as you can. Don’t leave out any information that would be of importance when the write-up is translated to the target language. Leave that to the editor who will do their job diligently if need be.
- Translate expressions literally the first time around, but leave nothing out. There is always this statement that translators are always made aware of when they start out as translators and that is that “Not all translations deserve a word-to-word translation”. This is very true because in translation you need to translate the meanings and not the words. That applies in such a scenario where you have to deal with expressions. Be sure to translate them literary and leave nothing out.
- Don’t look at the original text when doing the same second draft. This time, write it as though you were writing in the target language. Remember the point where I mentioned that the original translation draft should be as raw as possible? On this rule, you should be able to work on that raw draft and come up with amazing translations in the target language holding nothing back. Include all the possible knowledge that you have of the target language.
- Don’t interpret. Maintain all ambiguities and uncertainties. Translation and interpretation are two totally different processes. In translation works, you are not supposed to interpret anything but to only translate. Translation is changing content from one language to another whole interpretation is relaying information on a particular form of content, as per your understanding. In a translation project, it is very important to never feel the need to interpret.
- Let the second draft cool for a few months. Go back to it after a gap. It is always great to go back to the work you have done to just go through it and see where you might have gone wrong, what you did right, and what you didn’t. You will be surprised by how many things that you could do differently. This is why in translation it is advisable to go back and check your work to see how you are leveling up as time goes by.
- Be a jealous lover with the final draft. Question everything, stop to admire, get angry, be upset and fall in love with the original again through the translation. In translation, there is no room for mistakes because if there happens to any mistakes, they are usually screaming mistakes which one can’t miss. This is why it is important to go through the final draft thoroughly and make sure that you did the translation to the best of your ability. If you can, give your fellow translator to go through it and confirm if the quality is top-notch.
The above rules can be used to approach a translation project one way. We will briefly look at another set of rules that will help you approach translation in another way.
- Make sure before you start you are confident you can do the text justice. Confidence that you can deliver on a particular job is something that is very underrated. It’s one thing to be a translator, and it’s another thing being certain and confident that your level of experience gives you the range to translate a text and do it perfectly well. You should be sure about the text you are about to work on and that you can handle it.
- Check, double-check, then check again. This is very important because what you are trying to avoid is a surface level kind of translation that has no depth whatsoever. Be sure to check and double-check all aspects of your translation before you hand it to your client. Do whatever it takes to come up with a conclusive script.
- Don’t assume the author knows everything, check facts there too. It is very normal for authors to make mistakes in their writings and if you do translations on these mistakes, then the translated version of the text will also be full of mistakes. This is why you shouldn’t assume that the original text doesn’t have mistakes concluding that, that’s exactly how the author intended for it to be. If you notice mistakes do your due diligence and correct them.
- Don’t always translate every last word: leaving some untranslatable words or expressions that can add to the “local color” of the piece but are comprehensible in context can actually enhance the text. Not all texts are meant to be translated it is advisable to leave some words the same way they are in the source language. This is usually a great rule when the words hold a similar meaning in context when interacted within the target language. It goes a long way into enhancing the text.
- Challenge the reader. Never dumb down. Explain the culture just slightly if need be but only enough to keep the story moving. Challenge and impact the reader positively. Personally, I don’t like interacting with content that isn’t deep or the kind that I get to learn a thing or two and even go to an extent of researching so that I can get more information. This is because of a writer who felt the need to challenge me as a reader and that’s exactly what you should do with your translations.
- Print out one draft and correct it with a red pen. Mistakes and awkward passages jump off the page, they don’t jump off the screen to the same degree. Doing things practically will save you a lot of time and a lot of mistakes that you could have missed. This rule works every time to a translator’s advantage.
- Never more than five pages at a time, if possible, even when revising; take frequent breaks and do other things not related to words. Be sure to take rests from the translation after every five pages you translate. You need your mind to be fresh in order to do a good job. A clumped up and tired mind is no use in translation.
- Respect the register of language as well as the era, which means, for stories set in the past, checking to see if words were used then, and had the same meaning. This is where you should do translations while considering the cultural, linguistic, and technical aspects of different languages. This will help you in making sure that the quality of your translation is at par with the source language.
- Avoid looking at the source text for the second draft; correct it as if it were written in (bad) English. Once you are done drafting your translation file, don’t be referring to the original file, this is usually done for draft number one. Draft number two is you editing a draft that is already translated in the best way possible.
- Always respect the author’s intention, even if you don’t always respect the vocabulary, syntax, rhythm, etc. This point clashes with the one where I mentioned an author is not always right and be able to correct their mistakes if possible. There are aspects where it might seem like the author is wrong but be able to differentiate because that’s exactly what they meant to say.
Depending on what you are working on, both scenarios would help you in coming up with great translations for your projects.
All these points will definitely point you in the right direction. It gets really hard when you are starting out but when you get the feel of it and continue putting all these points into consideration, you will be surprised by how good your services become.