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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Literature and Poetry  »  Translating Literature and Poetry: Useful Tips

Translating Literature and Poetry: Useful Tips

By carelessmoose | Published  06/3/2016 | Literature and Poetry | Recommendation:
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United States
English Middle (ca.1100-1500) to Russian translator

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Literature and poetry contain very sensitive material and context within the simple text, and translating one is a story of its own. However, inexperienced translators sometimes forget about it, which sometimes brings hilarious or unintelligible paragraphs of text. However, that is not the desirable result of the hard work, and it only damages the translation and credibility of the translator and publisher (unless editor fixes these mistakes in time).
However, if you know these tips, then you have nothing to worry about, since every professional translator knows this and so should you.

1. Read through the material.
First of all, you need to read through the material, whether it’s a book or a poem. Read it carefully, line by line, paragraph by paragraph. Try to enjoy it as an average book you would read, except pay closer attention to the content. Take notes whenever you find something that needs additional research and reading, especially subjects you’re unfamiliar with.
Don’t rush it, and make sure you won’t miss anything. Enjoy it as a reader, but keep an eye out for any potential issues. If possible, try to contact the author in case you’ll need any additional details regarding the material — usually authors are eager to consult on the matter when it comes to translating their hard work.
2. Research the material.
Once you’re done reading the material, take a look at your notes now. All of this material should be researched before you start translating the actual book or poem. Start looking for information you need. For example, if it’s a novel about events set medieval times, you need to brush up on your knowledge of history, if it’s a book about science, then you need to learn more about the subject, etc.
Make sure you cover that ground properly before moving on, as every bit of information here will be invaluable to you in the nearest future. But if you’re still having trouble understanding something, you should consider contacting the author or a specialist in the field.
3. Evaluate the style.
Different kinds of writing have different writing styles, and you must find out what style the original text uses and how it well it transforms into the same style in your mother tongue. Take notes on what things seem off — it’ll help you to critically analyze the results later, right after you make the first draft of the translation.
Make sure you have the grasp of the author’s style in order to make sure the translation makes a better impression.
4. Make the first draft.
Start the translation by quickly translating the text the way you usually do. Mark every area that proves to be hard to translate so you can get back to it later. Evaluate the process of translation while doing the first draft in order to see whether you need to do more research.
First drafts are necessary during translations, because it allows to quickly double check what is required to perform the translation and take necessary measures to ensure the translator is up to the task.
5. Evaluate the first draft.
Once you’re done with the first draft, you need to ensure that every issue has a proper solution. Go over the draft again and every time you notice even a single issue, fix it and re-read it. You need to make sure you solve these issues beforehand or at least get the idea on how to avoid the biggest issues.
This step is not really necessary, but making sure you have no mistakes in understanding the material and translating it means the rest of the translation will most likely go smoother and you’ll have more fun knowing that with additional effort you might make a more or less flawless translation.
6. Do the translation.
Now when you’ve done the first draft and evaluated it thoroughly, fixed and researched the present issues, familiarized yourself with the subject and prepared to make the next step — start translating the material as if this version is going to be final. Don’t worry, it won’t be the final version yet, but you since you’ve been preparing all this time to face the final translation, then give it all your effort.
Keep in mind that this version shouldn’t be “close to the final version”, it should read and feel as “the final version”. It means you should adhere to the quality standards set for translators and try to do it as best you can. Avoid making annoying mistakes which could make potential readers close the book and never open it back.
7. Check the flow.
Once you’re done with the translation, there are multiple things you need to do in order to ensure that the in the very end the final result will be absolutely fantastic to read. Start by looking over the original and then translated material. Read closely and try to see if it feels similar to the original and feels natural to read. Look for ways to make it flow — sometimes simple paraphrasing can do wonders for you. Make necessary steps to make sure it feels like genuine writing.
However, if you’re dealing with poetry, the rhythm, structure and rhyming should not be really different than the original. That’s part of the charm and hardships related to translating the poetry. Unfortunately, it’s impossible without some heavy changes, so you should be prepared to use all of your creativity to recreate the carefully crafted poetry in another language. While it sounds hard, in reality it’s enjoyable once you fully understand the concepts.
8. Consult with a native language speaker.
It takes almost the entire lifetime for someone to learn his own culture by heart, and unfortunately, finding every necessary detail about someone else’s culture on your own is not always an option. However, you can always consult with a native language speaker and discuss the matter over and over until you know every detail on what you can do to improve the final results even further. Native language speakers usually offer superior language consulting if they are also proficient in both languages, so you shouldn’t be afraid to ask about details which are bothering you. Also, if you don’t have any familiar native language speakers check the, maybe you’ll find them there.
You can send him a copy of your translation for proofreading before submitting it to the editor. It’s important, because he might notice something that neither you, nor your editor would notice due to different cultures and your best efforts could be misrepresented or misinterpreted within the material. Listen closely to what he has to say about it, since you won’t get the same kind of expertise and evaluation from anyone else.
9. Listen to your editor.
Once you have finished consulting with the native language speaker and made all necessary changes to your translation, you’re ready to make the final step — submit the finalized translation to the editor and prepare to fix even the smallest and most unnoticeable mistakes as soon as he asks you to do it.
This is the final steps of making a translation, and you must forget about taking too much pride in your work — translations require skill and patience, but if you’ll show your ego too much when you’re asked to revise your work and make a few changes, you might have trouble finding a job in the future or getting along with your editor. At worst, the editor will fix any issues himself and you might not be satisfied with his way of handling translations.
10. Have fun.
Translation as a job might get a little bit too hard from time to time, but if you genuinely enjoy translations as an activity you would do for a living, then all these hardships are only for the best — after all, if it would be an easy job that wouldn’t require any kind of effort, you would definitely end up getting bored sooner or later and dropping this kind of work. So try to have fun while you’re at it and have patience to go through when the hard and boring projects arise.

Stay tuned for more useful articles and tips about translations and language-related work!

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