How do you want your text translated?


What are the two kinds of translation you can ask your translation service provider for?

Zwei rote Bleistifte vor schwarzem Hintergrund

Photo credit: Michał Grosicki (photo modified)

A translation is a translation is a translation, right?

Not exactly.

Did you know that when you contact your translation agency, you can ask for a specific style of translation? Arming yourself with this knowledge will ensure you get exactly the translation you need.

The task of transporting a text from one language, the source, into another, the target, is not an exact science. Put simply, most translation styles can be reduced to two approaches. As this rather crass saying describes: “a translation is like a lover: it can be either faithful or beautiful, but it cannot be both.” Sure, whoever came up with this gem was jaded. But the unfortunate nature of this simile aside, there’s some truth in this dichotomy. This blog will explore these two distinct styles of translation.

1) Faithful: the translator translates the individual words and structures of the source language as literally as they can into the target language. When people read this kind of translation, it may feel “wooden” or “translated” to them. They will encounter formulations that feel unusual to them and will jar the natural flow of reading. But readers may also gain a sense of the original language behind the translation. They will have a feel for how the source text “feels”. Yet, even when translating faithfully, translators still need to avoid source text interference. This means that, for example, the translator must either explain metaphors or replace them in the target language.

2) Readable: the translator aims to transport the message of the source into the target language with as much finesse as possible. The translator reworks the target language’s sentence structures so they are closer to the target language’s linguistic patterns. Readers will experience this text as if it had been written in the target language. They will read it with ease, with no clues pointing to the fact that this text was first written in a foreign language. (For more on a tool for improving readability, see our post on the Hemingway Editor.)

Good translation agencies should be able to produce either kind of translation, depending on what your company needs. But how do you know what your company needs? Which situations are best for which kind of translations?

Readability for message and clarity
Texts written to convince and entertain work best when translated with readability in mind. Marketing texts and corporate communications fit this bill. You want to engage your readers and keep them reading, not have them stumbling over words and long structures. Similarly, texts written to instruct should be translated for readability, so that they are clear and easy to understand. Examples? Guidelines and manuals. In all cases, you want the reader to focus on the overall message, not the individual words.

Faithfulness for documentation
Texts which aim to document and provide evidence function best when translated faithfully. Examples include meeting notes, financial records, interview transcripts and legal texts. While the reader might stumble over a sentence or two, it is imperative that the exact language of the source text carries over to the target language. Court transcripts, for example, should be completely faithful to the original, with every single “Um…” and “Ahhh…” accounted for.

Contact EB Translation and don’t forget that, if you like, you can tell us what kind of translation style you’d prefer.

By Mara T.