How close to the original text?
Thread poster: Sylvia Smith
Sylvia Smith  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:51
French to English
Sep 24, 2005

Hello all,

I realize this is a very grey area and a lot of you will say it depends on the context, but let's just say for texts that are not highly technical...

I was wondering if anyone could give some advice on how closely to match the orginal wording and phrasing - especially for new clients. After I have been working with a client for a while I can get a feel for their expectations, but I struggle with every first assignment. (For example, I usually do financial reports and statments which are fairly straightforward, but when I am asked to do a magazine article I am hesitant...)

Should I follow the vocabularly, phrase sequence, etc. as closely as possible or change it to sound more natural to a native ear?

Thanks for your suggestions!

Kind regards,
Sylvia


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Sarah Downing  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:51
German to English
+ ...
Consider both Context and Purpose Sep 24, 2005

If I were translating a technical manual, I would probably stick more closely to the original than if I were, say, translating a marketing piece. Marketing/Advertising, in my opinion, requires you to have the courage to stray from the original otherwise you'll get a piece that ends up sounding stilted and unnatural. It is possible to retain the original meaning and still stray a little. In a technical manual it is the exact meaning which is important; in a marketing piece it is often not so much the meaning but the impact it has on the reader.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be translating a technical manual because that's not my speciality. I find that if I stick to things that are my speciality, I feel more confident about straying because I understand the original meaning better in the first place.

I do a lot of marketing/advertising translations and we are mostly specifically asked to adapt these because a lot of times you simply can't adapt a slogan one-to-one and a lot of this kind of material has cultural references which can't always be translated.

I have also heard people say that the translators who tend to stick to the original are often beginners, but then that, of course, is a matter of opinion - I say tomato, you say tomato, I say potato, you say potato (if you get my drift ...)

Good luck!

Sarah


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Jianjun Zhang  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 10:51
English to Chinese
+ ...
Good piece Sep 24, 2005

Sarah wrote a good piece. Don't stick to the surface, stick to the meaning.

I enjoy doing marketing jobs, because while I'm doing those I feel alive and full of power. My creativity juice is running through my whole body. I don't mean we can freely change the content. Just find dynamically equivalent expressions to reflect the original meaning.

You may freely choose from a set of similar words the one sounds best, crisp and fresh, but never change the meaning.

For technical manuals, brochures, etc. Stick to the register, while at the same time make them as natural as what you would expect from a manual in your own language.



Sarah Downing wrote:

If I were translating a technical manual, I would probably stick more closely to the original than if I were, say, translating a marketing piece. Marketing/Advertising, in my opinion, requires you to have the courage to stray from the original otherwise you'll get a piece that ends up sounding stilted and unnatural. It is possible to retain the original meaning and still stray a little. In a technical manual it is the exact meaning which is important; in a marketing piece it is often not so much the meaning but the impact it has on the reader.

On the other hand, I wouldn't be translating a technical manual because that's not my speciality. I find that if I stick to things that are my speciality, I feel more confident about straying because I understand the original meaning better in the first place.

I do a lot of marketing/advertising translations and we are mostly specifically asked to adapt these because a lot of times you simply can't adapt a slogan one-to-one and a lot of this kind of material has cultural references which can't always be translated.

I have also heard people say that the translators who tend to stick to the original are often beginners, but then that, of course, is a matter of opinion - I say tomato, you say tomato, I say potato, you say potato (if you get my drift ...)

Good luck!

Sarah


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 03:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Beauty and Faithfulness Sep 24, 2005

Both Sarah and Zhang have given great advice, and I might put this forth also:

"A translation is like a woman, if it is beautiful it is not faithful, and if it is faithful it is not beautiful".

I've never believed it. It's a matter of your own skill and adjusting to the specific demands of each job. Beauty and faithfulness are not mutually exlusive. In fact, they go together.

Rather, I would say that words should be your slaves and ideas your master. If you forget the words and go straight to the idea then you can get both beauty and faithfulness with any text. Beauty, after all, consists of communicating ideas in the clearest, most precise and most natural way in the target language. Anything less means that the translation is only half done.

Once you get used to straying from the literal and wondering what your clients might think about it you can make real progress as a translator. However, make sure you are able to logically defend the choices you make and explain why you made them. Even if the occasion never arises (it seldom will), you will be assuring yourself that you made the right choice every time.


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Heinrich Pesch  Identity Verified
Finland
Local time: 12:51
Member (2003)
Finnish to German
+ ...
It depends how well you understand the subject Sep 24, 2005

If you are not a real specialist you'll probably stick to the original. But if you know the subject also practically, not only as a translator, you can improve on the original. Exceptions from this rule are contracts and other legal documents and literal translations.
One often gets English documents, that have been written by non-natives. Then one has first to guess, what the guy really meant in the first place and after that one is hopefully able to be much more precise in the target language.


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 02:51
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Right on the mark Sep 24, 2005

Henry Hinds wrote:



Rather, I would say that words should be your slaves and ideas your master.




I don't think you can express it better than this.


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Tsu Dho Nimh
Local time: 03:51
English
Make it sound good, keep it faithful to the meaning Sep 26, 2005

Sylvia Smith wrote:

Should I follow the vocabularly, phrase sequence, etc. as closely as possible or change it to sound more natural to a native ear?



I would recommend that you translate the source into a good representative of the target language. If your target language doesn't use a certain linguistic construct, do whatever you have to to keep the meaning and make it sound good.

If you use the phrase sequencing of English for Spanish, it often becomes Spanglish.

Vocabulary is harder to advise you about: the author of the source probably had a good reason for using the words they used. You might ask about a word that seems strange: it might be a mistake, it might also be an uncommon word or an idiomatic phrase with no good translation.


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Maria Cossani
Argentina
Local time: 06:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
with your reader in mind Oct 4, 2005

Imagine how you would feel if you read something that is not smooth, not natural. Would you like it? Would you understand it?
I think that what the client wants is that the readers of the translation understand the text and enjoy it in some way. That's our job. If you stick to much to the original text, your translation will be neither smooth nor natural. Keep the meaning, and change the structure if its necessary.


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