Learning "artistic" translation
Thread poster: kipruss3

+ ...
Mar 5, 2007

Hi, all.

Most of my translation so far, has been very simplistic and business/techinical oriented. But after reading the recent contest, I wanted to push myself to start to learn to translate
tone, mood, artistic impression, etc., and thought poetry or song lyrics might be a fun place to start.

How do those of you who enjoy this kind of translation, start? do you make literal translations first? Do you focus on rhyme over meaning? rhythm over rhyme? What liberties do you allow yourself. Do you take the meaning, then write your own poetry/lyrics?

I'm just looking for brain storms here, to help me push myself into new areas, even if i totally SUCK at them. icon_wink.gif



Evi Wollinger  Identity Verified
Local time: 23:00
Member (2003)
English to German
+ ...
I translate poetry for fun... Mar 5, 2007

Sometimes, after translating a 40 page contract for example, I like to unwind by translating poetry or even writing my own and then translating it into the other language, just to see if I can get the same "feel" for the words.

It's not too often I get to pick my source text, yet I truly enjoy translating, so I really enjoy this "exercise". And the "training material" out there has no limits!
Often you will be able to find other translations of the same poem or text online, then you can compare them to your own...

Just have fun - but I would not "practise" on real clients!

[Edited at 2007-03-05 19:24]


Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:00
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
Do what the customer wants Mar 5, 2007

I am at present translating some song lyrics, the first time I have ever done such a thing as paid work. Generally speaking I would try to follow the rhyme and metre of the original as far as possible. But in this case, I have often made my version rhyme and scan where his does not. I always submit my version very tentatively, because I am never sure whether it will fit his music, but so far he has been happy with my versions other than one or two isolated words and phrases which we have discussed until reaching a satisfactory conclusion about them.
I do usually make a literal translation first, and then try to knock it into some sort of shape. The translation can never really totally follow the original, but I try to stick as close to it as I can within reason. I think just taking the basic idea and then writing your own poem or lyric around it is going too far.

[Edited at 2007-03-05 21:42]


+ ...
Fun with words Mar 5, 2007

Evi Wollinger wrote:

Just have fun - but I would not "practise" on real clients!

[Edited at 2007-03-05 19:24]

LOL. never! I'm no where near skilled enough in straight translation to do more than "me like you come to US to learn english with I". icon_wink.gif Or personal translations for anime, academic interviews from lakota, or other non-standard media, etc.

but poetry/songs allow for such fun with words, plays on word order, that you can't get in something techinal or for that matter, paid. icon_smile.gif

Jack, i am reminded of the "partnership" of Jacques Brel and ... grr... ok, who wrote "if you go away" for Ne M'quitte pas. anyhow, they did much like you did. felt mood, literal translation, then tried to reframe with lots of "touching base". I understand they went both ways in their friendships and songs. Now, if only i can remember the names.icon_smile.gif

Thanks both of you !


servien  Identity Verified

Local time: 16:00
English to Chinese
+ ...
re Mar 6, 2007

I would say that I prefer to do some elementary works first. For example, I will read poems both in Chinese and English as much as possible, one is my source language, the other is my target language.

secondly, I will read some books of poems have been translated by some chinese masters. They will provider some certain proper nouns for the names of plants, birds, etc.

I will divide the translation focuses into

title, rhym, metaphor, symbolism ( chinese feature), form, and my own feeling when I read it.

Poems are written to unknown addressers who will share the same feeling with the author.


Veronica Coquard
Local time: 23:00
French to English
Just for fun... and to share Mar 8, 2007

As a music lover, I sometimes translate songs just for fun (and to share my version with non-English-speaking friends), and it's GREAT FUN!! You can break all the rules of professional translation (work in pairs that you wouldn't usually dare to, change the gist if you feel like it) and sometimes come up with better lyrics than the original! It's very satisfying to come up with a verse whose rhythm and rhyme fit just right in the music.

Luckily, this work, though self-imposed, can be shared with millions of people who can't understand the words themselves but who are burning to know what they mean... Through the magic of the Internet.

Just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about:


On this site sometimes several translators will submit their versions of the same song, and in comparing them, you will learn a lot about the techniques that they use (and to what extent interpretation is a slippery fish).

One last thing... I cringe to hear you use that "s" word. Please don't belittle yourself... And go wash your mouth out with soap!icon_smile.gif

[Edited at 2007-03-08 14:47]


susina  Identity Verified
Local time: 14:00
Italian to English
+ ...
Understanding of music a "must" for translating lyrics Apr 4, 2007

I love the challenge of translating lyrics and poetry. I find poetry to be the easier of the two. I try to read the poem over to get the general idea of it and then, whenever possible, translate line-for-line the essence of the words. I at least try to get all of the main ideas to follow the original order. Most important to me, however, is to express my translation in a beautiful way: one that evokes emotions and mental "pictures" of what the words are saying.

If you want to translate lyrics, it is crucial that you have the music to look at, and then to understand what you're seeing. If you need help to know where the accents fall in the music, maybe you could ask a friend to show you examples.

As a musician (I taught music in Italy, and did some paid translating of music), I have seen both children and adults laugh at translations whose accent doesn't match the natural flow of the music. The result can be very awkward--and sometimes lead to confusion about the original intent of the song.

My advice to you is to go for it! It sounds like you have the first prerequisites mastered already: love for poetic writing and a passion for translating.

Buona fortuna!



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