Translating a book is a bit like writing a book. This means that the literary translator must be fully skilled in two relevant languages and be a great writer as well. It also requires creativity to make a book compatible with not just a language, but a culture as well. At the same time, the original author’s style, tone and meaning must be preserved. It’s definitely challenging, and those who undertake such translations are to be highly praised for their work. If you are charged with literary translation, whether fiction or non-fiction, here are eight tips and techniques that will stead you well.
1. Diversify Your Topic Areas
If you want to be a professional book translator, you must read, and read a lot. Sticking with just one type of book and one or two languages will not make you a living. As you master languages, start reading in them. Read all types of books. This will help you understand those subtleties and styles that come with cultural uniqueness.
2. You Must Develop Your Writing Skills
Begin in your own language. If you are a native English-speaker, then use a writing service to help. You can order original writing on topics that you are pursuing, or edit pieces that you craft for practice. You have to become a master in your native language first, and then master those other languages that you already know.
Write regularly and often in your native and in your other languages. It is only through practice that you will get better.
3. Do Your Research
If you're going to translate a book, remember this: this work has been written by an author with a specific style, tone, and delivery. Pull up other works by the same author and study them. Every author has a “personality.” You need to understand this if you intend to translate his/her work and retain the original intent.
At the same time, you must study the culture of the people into whose language you will be translating the literature. You cannot get an understanding of the nuances of language without cultural awareness.
4. Master Adaptation
The key to literary translation is to get the meaning across to a new audience that speaks a different language and that is a part of a different culture. Adapting language and expressions so that the author’s meaning is accurately conveyed may mean non-literal translations. Masters of literary translation, with practice and experience, will have the ability to do this.
5. Linguistic Substitution
Sometimes called amplification, this technique requires a bit of creativity and problem-solving on the part of the translator. There will often be words in the native language for which there will be no none in the target language. In these cases, target language phrases will have to be devised in order to retain the same meaning. When there is no target word, you must re-read the native section until you are certain you understand the author’s intent. Then, locate the right combination of target words or a phrase that will keep the meaning as pure as possible.
6. Learning to Compensate
Sometimes, in the original text, there will be some information or some type of literary device that will not make sense if it is placed in the same location as the original text. The translator must carefully review the native text and the target language uniqueness and determine where best to place the information or device. It’s called compensating, because the translator must “compensate” for the loss that the native text might suffer if it is kept in its original place, or, worse, left out entirely. A native language pun is a prime example of when this might be necessary.
This technique involves deliberately eliminating some passages or information in the translation process, for the purpose of condensing the text so that it makes sense in the target language. The expertise on the part of the translator is in making these types of decisions, again so that meaning is not lost. This is usually done to maintain the stylistic quality of the writing, and the removed portions in no way eliminate what is essential.
8. The Need to “Borrow”
This occurs when an expression, or even a single word, is commonplace enough that it is put into the translation as is. While this is often the case with translations of medical materials, it is also often the case in literary translation. Sometimes words and expressions in the native language need to be left as is. Sometimes, as well, an expression is just not able to be translated. Again, this is up to the translator, who must make wise decisions in this regard.
Literary translation, if done well, requires exceptional skill and attention to detail. But it goes beyond just that. A skilled translator must exhibit strengths in creative problem-solving and decision-making in the course of his/her work, making changes as necessary but always retaining the author’s style and meaning.
Pat Fredshaw is a passionate blogger and truly gifted writer. She works in the marketing arena, and spends the rest of her time writing her novel. You can visit her website here and follow Pat on Twitter and Facebook.