Polishing Your Translation Style-Part 1

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translation Techniques  »  Polishing Your Translation Style-Part 1

Polishing Your Translation Style-Part 1

By Ivan Vandermerwe | Published  08/11/2005 | Translation Techniques | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://arm.proz.com/doc/492

If you do not already have one, start by developing a translation methodology. A methodology, especially one that suits your work style, will enable you to translate more efficiently and accurately. For illustration purposes, I have included below the translation methodology that I use for Japanese to English translations.

  • Read the original carefully
  • Research the subject
  • Translate the work
  • Ask the questions
  • Compare with the original
  • Edit (proof) the translation
  • Sleep on the product

Read the Original
Wrap yourself around the translation. Read the original text thoroughly paying attention to the style of writing employed by the author. Is the author�s style light-hearted, heavy, positive, forceful, truthful, or sincere etcetera? To rephrase, determine where the author is �coming from.� Once you have successfully put yourself in the authors mind, emulate the author�s style in the translation.

This simple act will make your product an extension of the author�s works-you will be lending your linguistic skill to the author�s style. This, indeed, is professional translation. It is smooth, seamless and natural-it does not have that "This have been translated" hue.

Research the Subject
Not enough can be said about research-good research. Less than 60 minutes of research on the translation subject really does make all the difference to the finished product.

Use the internet extensively. You can quite literally find anything on the Internet, and it does not require a great amount of skill, either. Research free dictionaries, encyclopedias, informational sites, case studies and white papers. Look for recent articles on the translation subject you will be translating. Another great resource that should not be over looked is academic resources.

The added bonus of doing your home work at this crucial stage is that you will have the opportunity to resolve any issues you discovered in the source text while doing your research.

Of course, I would be remiss in my duties as a professional if I did not provide the obligatory warning. The Internet is the greatest resource since the invention of the library the world has ever know-with one flaw. Anyone can publish anything without the due process (authentication) that goes into publishing books. You need to use the internet wisely! Corroborate your research with multiple, trusted sources.

Do the research and you will be a good translator. But, you want to be in a class by yourself, right?

a) Research the author
Researching the translation subject will definitely go a long way to improving your style-researching the author will provide luster to your style. Get an insight to the author's life. Search for the author by name, research biographies or autobiographies, and research other work that has already been published by the author. Knowing your author will provide in-depth knowledge about his or her own private and personal feelings, reflections and experiences.

Sound like a lot of work? Yes, but trust me, it is well worth it. And, there may be a silver lining in all this for you. Many authors build on previous works, which, if you were to find a translated copy of, could make for easy going. Researching the author of a super computer translation project turned up 17 pages (total of 49 pages) of translated material that only required minor modifications. Easiest Japanese to English translation any body ever did! Moral of the story: Research the author.

b) Authoritative knowledge
Authoritative knowledge is the technical, or subject matter, expertise one possesses in a specific field. Specializing in specific fields in which you are genuinely an expert on terminology, in both languages, adds weight to your style.

Think for a moment. Have you ever tried to write about a topic that you had little or no knowledge of in your native language? Although you had no problem with the language, it was not easy, right? And the finished product probably lacked natural flow and conviction that comes with knowledge and experience. This is the power of authoritative knowledge.

Establish an authoritative translation style-limit yourself to your natural area of technical, or subject matter, expertise, and beef up on those fields where you want to be an expert.

Translate the Work
Finally, an easy task! Really, if you have followed step 1 and step 2, then translating is not only easy, it is enjoyable. Take your translating style to the next level by keeping these simple pieces of advice in the back of your mind when doing translation projects.

a) Translate into your Native language
Translating into a non-native language will generally suffer from deficiencies in style, and you will make more spelling and grammatical errors. Professional translators know this, and will never translate from their native language into a learned language. For example, I am bilingual having graduated from a Japanese university (economics), and have lived and worked in Japan for the last 15 years. I only do Japanese to English translations (never English to Japanese translation). That is, I only work into English.

Should you translate into your learned language, and have an educated native speaker of that language check your work? Two people doing one job-do the native thing!

b) Let Stalk Strine
Okay, where are we going with this, you ask? And what is this Strine, anyway? Strine was first documented by Afferbeck Lauder back in the 1960's. His groundbreaking work - Let Stalk Strine - highlighted the fact that Australians had not only developed their own idioms in English but had, in fact, developed a whole different language.

Regional variations within the same language need to be reflected in your translation work. American English is not the same as British English is not the same as Australian English, or South African English for that matter. Many other languages have regional variations: Spanish, Portuguese and Chinese. The difference is significant (from a translation point of view), but obviously not that great as to warrant a unique language classification. Professional translators make the effort to be aware of regional language differences.

c) Culture does factor into translation
A client who is a professor at a Japanese university in Tokyo commissioned me to translate a letter of recommendation to an American graduate school for one of his students. The source text was laden with cultural innuendos of modesty and self deprecation. An example line in the original text read "although this student has a limited breadth and depth of general knowledge, and is not the top student in the class, she is very hard working and makes friend easily." Well now, as a graduate assistant in the admissions department at an American graduate school, it was my job to screen such recommendation letters. I do not need to tell you that such a recommendation would not even make it through to the admissions review board.

Yes, culture definitely does matter. And if you need to alter a text significantly in translation, do it! Then explain to the client why you did what you did. Remember, language is defined by culture.

d) Know your limits
What does this mean? In step 2, I referred to authoritative knowledge. I mention it here again at the risk of being repetitive, but it really does merit repetition. Translation encompasses a huge field of subjects. If you think of all the material that requires translation you will soon realize that this encompasses the collective body of human knowledge. Some people are just incredibly gifted and seem to soak up whatever subject they are exposed to. This is not the case for the rest of us-so, play to your strengths.

e) Context is important
Disregard for translating �in context� has given rise to the expression "lost in translation." In your native language, most words have multiple meanings, so imagine what all the possibilities are when you have finished translating! Translating with an eye to "in context" is even more important when translating from a language that has relatively few words, such as English, to a language that has a large number of words such as Japanese. For example, the term "translation," which can mean moving information between languages or can mean rendering (data), is definitely a candidate for �lost in translation� translation (work).

f) Simple is best
Never has an adage been more applicable to the profession of translation-a simple translating style, like writing and just about everything else, is powerful and convincing.

Always use succinct, easily understood language that complements the author�s style of writing. Short, well formed sentences that adhere to the rules of grammar and are devoid of complex terms are better. Much better.

Slang and clich�s do not translate well between most languages. And, you run the risk of being offensive.

Adopting a vague translation style definitely does not make for simple translation. A �great show� may not mean "wonderful movie" when translated. Likewise, terms ending in an "ing" suffix can be ambiguous-is it a noun or an adjective? Maybe it is a gerund. I am sure you get the picture-use an alternative where possible.

g) What is not written is as important as what is written
That is right-read between the lines! Interestingly, this expression in Japanese translates as "read diagonally." Knowledge of the author and authoritative knowledge will provide you with the background information to see past the physical, or written, text. Admittedly, this is difficult, and being able to convey the hidden meaning without putting it in print is, well, the mark of an accomplished translator. To employ an analogy, it is akin to understanding a subtle joke in your learned language.

h) Give it natural flair
This is the most difficult part of writing style. If you have researched the author and acquired authoritative knowledge from step 2 above, you are well on your way to producing a convincing translation product that reads and sounds natural. Now, write the same text in your own words.

Ask the Questions
Knowing when to ask the right question contributes as much to your translation style as does your ability to do good research, or the strength of your writing style.

Clients know that professional translators literally analyze text from every conceivable angle; sentences are de-constructed and re-constructed countless times. If something in the original text does not sound right, seek clarification with a timely question. Questions at this phase of the translation process will be knowledgeable since you have already done the research and rough translation. Your client will appreciate your professionalism. Further, your question may facilitate an improvement in the original document-guess where your client will go for the next translation project?

Compare with the original
I know. At this stage of the translation process, you are quite ready to zip all your files and be done with it. Accuracy of your translation style happens in this phase.

When you have finished the translation, place the source text on the left and the target text on the right, side by side. Then, slowly and methodically, one line at a time, read over the source text and then the corresponding target text. By employing this methodology, you will easily be able to catch mistranslations and omissions. A variation to this is getting an assistant to read the original text while you following in the translated works.

Correct any discrepancy in the translation right away. You always miss required corrections when you revisit later.

Edit (proof) the translation
In the previous step you compared with the original for accuracy-mistranslations and omissions. In this step your focus should be on technical (grammatical) errors. The object of separating these steps is to create a methodical approach to polishing the product by process of elimination. Eliminate one group of errors at a time.

Professional language translators will have someone that is not too close to the project (i.e. someone that has not worked on the project at all) do the proofreading. If you do not have the luxury of an assistant, then distance yourself from the project for a while. Sleep on it!

Sleep on the product
Margaret Thatcher, while in office, once said that before making a big decision, she took a shot of Scottish whiskey, and slept on it. Choose your poison, but definitely sleep on it-you will be amazed at the clarity of mind with which you round off your translation project!

Now, put your thesaurus to work. Identify words in the translated text that can be replaced with alternative, better words. This is where you get to be bold (without going off into space, of course). Do not be afraid to use words and phrases that make the translated text sound human (i.e. moreover, further, incidentally etc). Where permitting, adopt a conversational style-it reads better.

This is also a good place to be creative. For example, when doing Japanese to English translations, I have often noticed that Japanese authors tend to stick with a limited repertoire of conjunctive adverbs (furthermore, therefore, however, moreover). This does not read well in translation-be creative!

Use the advice here to polish your translation style. Most of the advice is simply about making minor changes to your existing style, but, given consideration, will lead to improved results as seen from repeat requests for you translation skills.

About the Author:
Ivan Vandermerwe is the CEO of SAECULII YK (Tokyo Japan), the owner of SAECULII Japanese Translation Agency. Visit SAECULII for the latest professional articles and news on Japanese Translation Services

Copyright © 2005 SAECULII YK. All rights reserved. Reproduction of this article is permitted with inclusion of the "About the Author" reference as is (including text links), and this copyright information. Articles may not be altered without written permission from SAECULII YK.

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