Wednesday, July 8

Royal Rantings #3: From One Language To Another


So many of you have asked for more discussion posts and as promised here I am, with a topic that is close to me: translation. In this post I'm going to talk about my experiences with translated books and about what can make a translated copy just as great as it was in the original language. Without further ado, let's start this discussion.

The idea for this post came to me when I found out about a cool translation software called Smartling. It is primarily used by businesses to translate the likes of websites, mobile apps and documents. What makes it awesome is that it translates accurately, without changing the meaning of the text, unlike Google Translate. Do check it out, if you're interested. 

As some of you might know, my native language is Hungarian but I've been reading in English for a couple of years now. Despite this, I didn't completely said my goodbyes to translated novels. Hungary is a small country where the demand for English literature is rather low, which means there are barely any places I can buy books in foreign languages. There's always the possibility of ordering from online, still from time to time I end up buying my books in Hungarian because sometimes they are cheaper and easier to get.

Unfortunately, not all translated books impress me. Sometimes the writing style gets lost in the translation process. The words are twisted until the point where they lose their meaning and start to take a completely different form than the author originally intended. What I hate the most is when a translations looks like something that was left unedited and uncorrected. The worst translations I've read contained misused and misinterpreted sayings that didn't make any sense. 

What do I call a well-translated book? The writing style is, of course, the most important aspect. I read a novel this year with a very common and lackluster writing style. Imagine my surprise when I did a little research on the internet and most people called the original writing poetic and gorgeous. I went back to the translated novel but it was still the same rough writing I remembered. I can't help wondering that I might have enjoyed the book more if not for the terrible translation. At the same time a translator has to change a few things, in my opinion. A very good example is that Hungarians don't use as much slang as Americans so when someone straightforward translates a contemporary the slang usually sounds over-used in my language. Not even mentioning that we don't have the same expressions as in English so many times contemporaries are filled with outdated slang and expressions that no one in their right mind would use.  

However many problems I had with translations, I haven't forgotten that there are still many people who don't give a hastily translated novel out of their hands. They work freaking hard to meet with the expectations of the readers and their publishers. Just imagine how grey and boring our world would be if translators haven't worked their asses off since the beginning of time, translating classics from Russian, French, German and more authors, whose works were published and cherished in countless countries. Without translators the bond between readers all around the world would cease to exist. Shout out to all translators who, to this day, work hard to recreate the stories of our favorite authors. 

What is your take on this topic? Do share with me your opinion. :) 

10 comments:

  1. I respect translators so much; they are like proper authors but among them, there are ones who do their job better than others which is indeed a shame. I remember picking up City of Bones in Spanish and oh my goodness I almost kill myself. It was horrible and I basically read the series in English because I was not willing to read them in Spanish. I also had troubles reading the translated editions of Stardust, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Princess Bride.... funny enough, all those books were translated by the same publishing house. Coincidence? I think not and sadly, I've avoided buying books from them.

    However, there are other examples when the translation is as outstanding as the original text, an example for me is The Song of Ice and Fire series. The woman, who has the humongous task of translating those books, does an impeccable job. It's amazing really.
    The most important part for me is not translating literally. I understand there are some word games and expressions unique to each language but the job of the translator is trying to adjust the text to the language it's been translated into without losing the original meaning. When that happens, you get a perfect translation. However, it is true that some languages are easier to translate than others in my opinion, especially if they proceed from the same root if you know what I mean.

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    1. It was exactly the same for me, just with The Selection series. Those books are so poorly translated to Hungarian that I couldn't read them. I think it's "great" that we at least know which publishing houses we should avoid completely. It'd kill me if I had to take a risk every single time I buy a book.

      Many translators are so talented, a few times when the translated book was actually better than the original. It makes me so angry that mostly I hear about bad translations, people rarely seem to point out the good ones. I know what you mean. While writing this post I was wondering how hard it might be to translate a Hungarian book to English, or Spanish for that matter. Our tenses our so different from both languages.

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  2. With English as my sole language, I've honestly never given much thought to translations. I think I've read a few books that were translated from Italian, German and French, but besides that, my experience has mostly been limited to Japanese manga translated to English. I remember reading the translation notes in one of those books though, and they said that often the translation could go a couple of different ways, so they have to decide which one is closer to the original meaning. It's like it's more of an art form than a science. I totally believe that because each language has it's own unique aspects that probably doesn't translate well to other languages.

    That being said, I admire translators so much because it can't be easy. In truth, I send a lot of respect out to people like you too, Veronika, who learn a second language - because I want to, but I'm also a very lazy procrastinator - and well enough that I'd never suspect English WASN'T their first language. Nice topic and I'm definitely excited to see you doing discussion posts.

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    1. Translating really isn't written in stone. A translator has to be a sort of writer as well and I swear to you, some translators can re-create an author's words in a better way than it originally was. This makes me wonder. What if a translator is given the task of translating a very poorly written book? For example with full of short or on the contrary very long sentences and with the same words repeating again and again. What should he do, translate it the exact way it is, and stay true to the author, or rather change it for the better, without changing the meaning of course? I'd be a sucky as hell translator because I can't make decision AL ALL haha. Thank you. :)

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  3. I'm not a native English speaker like you and I've been reading English since many years ago. I don't do any translation of novels but I've worked as a freelance translator for documents. And since they're not the same thing, I can't really say anything about book translation. I only know certainly that translating novels is much harder than translating documents. I'd love to learn Hungarian.

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    1. That's not something every person says haha, I hope you'll be able to pick up Hungarian, or any other language you'd like to learn. :)

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  4. Being an English speaker, I don't have much experience with translations.
    However, I have read one book called The Princess and the Captain which was translated from French to English by Anthea Bell. It one of my favourite novels of all time, so that says something for the translator!
    Anthea Bell has also translated the Ruby Red books and the Inkheart books, but I haven't read those yet.
    I've never really given thought to how difficult it must be to translate a novel, especially common phrases and slang, so thanks for this discussion post!

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    1. I read the Ruby Red trilogy in Hungarian but I haven't heard anyone complaining about the English translation so I think it must be as good as the other book you've read by this translator. Btw, The Princess and the Captain sounds really great, so thanks for mentioning it because I haven't heard of it before. Glad you enjoyed the discussion. :)

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  5. I had to get a document translated for my boss, and I sent it out to get translated into more than one language. This is a very simple process that made me look really good, and now we go back to this service every time we have to get something else done. Translation like this is so much better than other stuff I have used.

    Sean @ Excel Translations

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    1. Definitely have to agree with you, Sean.

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