10 translating tips for beginners

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Translating is not just what I do, it is also my passion. Deciphering a message and encoding it into another language is fun and exciting. If you’re considering a career in Translation or you already made up your mind to become one of us, these tips will help you get started:

1) Try to dedicate a bit of your time to research

Even when you’re sure to know your subject very well there’s always something new you can learn. If you won’t need it now, you may use it on your next translation task (or to win at Trivia quizzes…).

2) Never underestimate the power of fellowship

Translating is a very solitary profession, but don’t think you’re all alone in there. There’s a community that’s behind us and there are many fellow translators who may give you a hand in times of need.

3) Read

Everything. Everywhere. All the time. If you want to be a good writer, you first have to be a good reader. There’s no other way.

4) Practice your languages

Especially your native language. Trust me in this one – with all those languages you’re juggling, forgetting your own language is not impossible.

5) Respect the text, but most importantly, respect the culture the text belongs to

Think of yourself as an ambassador – your mission is to mediate between two different cultures with faithfulness and accuracy.

6) However, do not be strict

Respecting the text does not mean that you have to be literal to it. Sometimes, you will need to give yourself more freedom in order to render the message.

7) Do not believe in impossible translations

They do not exist: everything can be translated. If you can’t get an equivalent, you will have to go around it and use other translation techniques (amplification, neutralization, cultural equivalent, and so on).

8) Read your text aloud

It seems funny but you won’t really know how your text sounds like until you read it aloud. It should sound smooth and natural, as if it had been written originally in your language.

9) Let it go

Edit, edit, edit. And then stop. If you’re a perfectionist like me, you will never be sure if the text is already finished, but at some point you’ll have to trust your skills and move on.

10) Do it with passion

All the other tips are great but they will be meaningless unless you follow this one. I know it’s hard to be passionate when you’re translating the instruction manual of a brand new vacuum cleaner, but think about it in this way – passion is contagious. If your passion shows in your writing, everyone will be able to see it.

Which is your favourite tip? And what other tips do you follow?

Luisa is a literary translator with a very particular agenda: she has challenged herself to translate a children’s book from every country in the world. In her blog “Translating for Children” she writes about this project and about everything related to diversity in children’s literature. This post originally appear on her blog

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  1. I was chatting with Ragnar Jónasson yesterday at the launch party of his new Dark Iceland novel, Rupture (published by Orenda Books). Ragnar speaks fluent English, but he works with translator Quentin Bates for his English-language editions from the original Icelandic.

    I asked him about this. Ragnar simply said that native speakers have an in-built 100% knowledge of how their mother-tongue language works, so that were he to translate his own work it would not read seamlessly.

    This goes for screenplays, too. His Dark Iceland series is being filmed for English television. Ragnar is not writing the screenplays.

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