The translation process is more than finding one-to-one equivalents between two different languages.
Instead, it’s a two-step process:
- Find a target language equivalent for source language content
- Make the target language content sound as natural as possible
For most translators, the first step is easy.
That’s what you studied and that’s what you’ve wanted to be.
You’ve worked on improving your target language and can easily translate ideas from one language to another.
You’ve also improved your source language and feel just as comfortable in either your first or second language.
However, it’s the second step of the translation process that sometimes keeps translators from providing the best product possible.
Why can this be so difficult?
Translators can get too focused on translations
to notice any language awkwardness.
It’s just like anything we do where we expend a lot of time and concentration to accomplish a task.
We can focus so much on making sure every detail is perfect that we forget the effect all those details together can have on the appearance of the whole.
I would do this in high school, especially in English.
I remember a semester-end paper I did on the 1993 Atlanta Braves pitching rotation.
These guys were my idols back in the day. I was a huge Braves fan and when we were given the option to write on any topic we wanted, I knew what I would choose.
The paper ended up being 10 pages. I couldn’t believe I could ever write a paper that long. But I did. But I never checked it over after I had written it.
I wrote it in one pass and then never looked at it again.
I was so overwhelmed with the whole thing that I didn’t want to look at it again. So it was probably a pretty terrible paper.
I got a good grade on it, but it could have been so much better had I gone back and done some real editing and proofreading and made everything sound better.
But forget that. I just wanted to finish writing it and turn it in because I was tired of working on it.
Do translators do this?
Do you work really hard on the initial translation of a document and then breeze through the proofreading and editing?
If so, you need to rethink your translation process to make sure you provide the best product you can.
The last thing you want to do as a translator is put out an inferior product because it will eventually come back to bite you if you do.
There are a ton of different ways to improve
your final translated output and make it sound
more natural in the target language.
Sure, you can put aside your “finished” translations for a set period of time before going back to read it.
You can be more meticulous in your initial translation as you come up with the perfect way to say something in the target language.
But have you ever thought of ways you can improve your ability to make that language more natural?
I hadn’t until I went to the movies this past weekend.
I was out of town and didn’t have anything to do on a Saturday so I decided to head to the movies.
The only choices were Creed and Spectre. I couldn’t watch Creed because my fatherly duty dictates that I only watch Sylvester Stallone movies with my boys.
And I couldn’t watch Spectre because my wife was waiting for me to come back home so I could watch it with her.
Well, that didn’t leave too many choices.
That’s right, Bengal Tiger.
I’d seen a couple of Bollywood movies before, but this was my first foray into the world known as Tolllywood. If you’ve never heard of Tollywood, here’s your introduction:
The cinema of Andhra Pradesh, also referred to as Telugu Cinema or Tollywood, is the Telugu film industry in India. The Telugu language film industry of Andhra Pradesh is one India’s largest film industries in terms of films produced yearly.
I love watching foreign movies with subtitles and so this was a perfect show to watch at the movies.
I had seen foreign movies before, and the one thing that has always struck me is various levels of subtitling in English that different movies have.
Some movies, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon have excellent subtitling. Now, when I talk about subtitling, I’m not necessarily talking about the level of translation fidelity.
Instead, I’m referring to how natural the English subtitles are.
Take this example:
The character played by Chow Yun Fat (Li Mu Bai) utters these words towards the end of the movie:
I’ve already wasted my whole life. I want to tell you with my last breath that I have always loved you. I would rather be a ghost, drifting by your side as a condemned soul, than enter heaven without you. Because of your love, I will never be a lonely spirit.
How beautiful is that!
That’s poetry right there. It’s a great subtitling job, for sure.
Now, let’s look at the other end of the scale and go back to the movie I just watched, Bengal Tiger.
The budget for this movie was nowhere near that of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon had a very modest production budget of around $17 million, while the budget for Bengal Tiger was around 250 million rupees, or just under $4 million.
With lower budgets for foreign films, one of the first things to get slashed is subtitling.
And it shows in Bengal Tiger.
The main star of the film, Ravi Teja, says the following in a short teaser:
ఫ్రెండ్స్ మహారాజ్ అంటారు, పబ్లిక్ మాస్ అంటారు! ఇక నే చొన్వెనిఎంత్ అబ్బాయ్! నువ్వు ఎలా కావాలంటే అల పిలుచుకొ
The dialogue in English is basically Google translated and comes out something like this:
Maharaj is known to friends, is a public Mass! The longer the pampered convenient! How do you prefer to call the wave
I don’t remember what the exact English phrasing was, but needless to say it wasn’t much better than the Google translated version above.
But the interesting thing was because the English subtitling was not very good, I really had to concentrate to the context in the movie to decipher what was actually being said and meant by the speakers.
Understanding meta-linguistic clues about what is happening in the world around you (whether in a movie or in real life) is a great way to improve your natural language.
During the movie, I found myself trying to piece together the poor English subtitling with what my understanding was of what was happening in the movie to come up with not only natural sounding dialogue in my brain but plausible actions being taken in the movie.
And as I thought about it, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to do this. Nearly every time I watch a foreign film that is subtitled into English, I find that I am editing the dialogue in my brain in real-time to come up with more natural sounding language.
I’m not translating the dialogue because I don’t know Chinese or Korean or Telugu. Instead, I’m focused on the English output.
Something that we as translators should be doing on a consistent basis before we submit our translations to clients as finished products.
So, here’s a quick suggestion.
Next time you feel like watching a movie, consider watching a foreign film with English subtitles.
Pay attention to how natural the subtitled language sounds and note how you edit the language in your head to sound more natural.
Then use that same process the next time you translate.
You might be surprised at how your ability to recognize and produce natural sounding language has increased.