A word paints a thousand pictures


Translating is an art form (as far as I’m concerned anyway). Everyone thinks that translating is so easy and that all you need to do is speak a few languages and then fluidly alternate between English and German and French and Japanese. Gee, yes- that sounds like something I could do in my sleep, give me a real challenge.

God some people are ignorant! Firstly, that’s interpreting. And yes, there’s actually a difference between interpreting and translating, but that’s for another post/rant. Secondly, I’d like to see these people, who supposedly think that translating is a job any nit-wit could do, actually do it.

Yes, you there- the condescending person who believes being fluent in more than 2 languages is a fairly meager accomplishment; Step right up. The name of the game is “Is it still easy?” and here’s how it goes.

1. You read a text in your native tongue
2. You are given a target language, which you are then to translate the text into
3. You have to translate not just gist or rough ideas, but every word on the page
4. You will have to rephrase sentences so that they make sense in the target language
5. You must remember that grammar, syntax and tense are very important
6. You will more than likely have a deadline for this task (it is normally around the time when you slam your head down on the table)

Do you still want to play? …No? Didn’t think so!

I’m being jovial course, but I’m just trying to prove a point here. Translation -and the people who spend hours translating various products/documents/etc.- should be given credit where credit is due. It’s not something to be overlooked. I mean where would we be without the hard work of diligent translators, who enable discussions between different-speaking nations to take place; the translators who make sure that children (and probably grown-ups too) in China, Latvia, Spain and approximately 65 other countries can enjoy reading the Harry Potter books as well*; and the translators that provide accurate ingredient-lists for infinite foods, making sure you don’t have a reaction because you’re allergic to الفول السوداني (bet you didn’t know that was Arabic for ‘peanuts’; doesn’t exactly look like it now, does it?).

*I’ve just realized that that sounds like I enjoyed the Harry Potter books myself and I feel I should point out here that I did not. Well, it wasn’t even so much that I didn’t enjoy them… Just that they were coming to the cinema in film-form faster than I was reading the books, so there didn’t really seem much point!

Anyhoo, my point is (and yes there is a point nestled beneath all this aggressive Irishness!) that translating is not for the faint-hearted. It is a process which requires much skill, knowledge and patience on the part of the translator. It doesn’t take much to say something eloquently in your own language, but it takes a lot more to say phrase it just as poignantly in another.


All translators (nah, just Claire) 😉 xx


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. kuehnetranslates
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 12:19:25

    Right on! And just for a bit of translator trivia, Harry Potter was even translated for the US market.


  2. Zyriacus
    Mar 12, 2013 @ 12:30:26

    Absolutely correct. Reading a manual for a simple kitchen appliance “translated” from Japanese into German may drive you insane. At the end of the first paragraph you will have found out clearly that the translator may have had his focus on literature or lyric, but is unable to convey simple concepts of nuts, bolts, and washers. The simple knowledge of a language does not necessarily make you a good translator, but you have to have secondary knowledge in the different areas you will have to work in.


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