Category: Translation

Small independent presses

Small independent presses: interview with Cécile Menon

Tomorrow evening (Wednesday 16th May), a group of BookMachine-goers will be joining the TLS in London for an event which focuses on small, independent presses and the current trend which has seen a 79% increase in sales by sixty of the UK’s smallest publishers. Here Norah Myers interviews one of the panellists Cécile Menon. Cécile is a translator between French and English, and the joint-laureate, with Natasha Lehrer, of the 2016 Scott Moncrieff Prize for Translation from the French, Cécile is also a publisher and an editor. 

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Translation tips for beginners

Have you ever heard the term “lost in translation”? What this commonly used phrase essentially means is that there aren’t specific words to describe the feeling, emotion, or sensation when you’re trying to translate it into another language. (It’s also a really great Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson indie film.) Although a lot of language is universal, some language is cultural and can be difficult to translate.

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What makes a good translator?

You’re in search of a translator – someone utterly reliable, preferably with a small spark of genius, to work on a manuscript (fiction or non-fiction), a cover blurb or marketing materials. You have a short list of names, including referrals from colleagues and a couple of translators whose websites look good. How do you choose? Here are some criteria to keep in mind.

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Writing for international audiences

Writing has a huge potential audience now as we have many ways to access the written word. If not done well, though, writing for a global audience will not reach some readers.

Who is the audience?

When writers are writing, they may not automatically have their worldwide audience at the front of their mind, or that their words may be used in translation.

For example, it is natural for a writer to focus on an English-speaking audience if that is the language they speak, read and write in. While native English speakers often read in phrases, international readers often tackle a sentence word by word.  The potential for confusion increases with longer sentences. If writers take this into account as they write, their text will be accessible to more readers.

How do writers do this?

Plain Language and Global English can help meet the needs of the target audience.

Plain Language and Global English have a lot of key areas in common. Recommended points include:

  • Use short and complete sentences
  • Use active voice or passive voice appropriately
  • Be consistent in spelling, capitalization and formatting
  • Use a common list of approved words
  • Prefer strong direct statements
  • Cut out unnecessary words and repetition
  • Be aware that humour does not always travel well
  • Proofread before sending out for translation, to avoid costly mistakes.

The idea is not to ‘dumb down’ but to be clear and concise and to explain any phrases or words that could be new to the reader. This can occur in surprising places, and we also need to watch for regionalisms and cultural references which may have different meanings, or nothing comparable once translated. For example, these show that a writer is being considerate of a larger audience:

  • Looking out for seasonal references, particularly when working for Northern to Southern hemisphere projects.
  • Being aware of nouns that are vague e.g. ‘local’ or ‘in our area’ unless the location is clear.

Reading through content on screen, on paper and even reading content out loud can highlight areas that are not clear.

Things to be aware of

Many international style guides use American English as the default option. British audiences do not usually take issue with this, but it does not always work the other way around. A quick visit to some internet writing or editing forums, or Amazon reviews, will reveal British English speakers being told by American English speakers that they have made spelling or grammatical errors in their books! Also, some cultures consider the active voice to be rude or condescending, and others find the passive voice to be impersonal and awkward. A favourite read on language and culture is The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod, who used to be a researcher on the quiz show, QI.  (

What about translation?

Giving your translators the tools and permission to adapt to the target audience can help better reach that audience. Good feedback with the author can speed the translation process up and lead to better terms (and it can lead to smoother work on future projects).

A text can expand in translation, sometimes by up to 30%. Keep this in mind because it can significantly alter costings of a project and it can make formatting for webpages a bit of a headache.

Consider giving the translators a credit. This helps develop a good relationship with your translators. And, just as important, it makes it clear to readers that the content has been adapted and sets the expectations of the international reader.

Why bother?

Clear writing with well chosen words is a delight, and can aid communication and understanding.

Writing for an international audience is not vastly different from any other editorial task, and becomes natural after a while, if you consider it to be a normal part of quality control.

Mara Livingstone-McPhail was a bookseller, reviewed books on BBC radio and organized a book events in inner-city schools before being lured to London by the team who now run Chicken House Books.  A freelance editor, proofreader and writer, she reads every day for as long as she can keep her eyes open.

10 translating tips for beginners

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

The adaptation of books

One of the best experiences I get whilst doing the Translating the World Project is the little surprises that appear along the way. That’s the case of the Finnish book I am translating: the Polish version is a rhymed text but the original book wasn’t written in verse! Yet children’s books are rich in literary devices such as rhyme. The texts include songs, chants, alternations of prose and verse, popular sayings, etc. That is why the fact that the Polish translator decided to adapt the original book into a rhymed version is not so shocking. However, it is very interesting in terms of translation methods and techniques.

Pieni suuri tarina huomisesta (in English, “The Little Big Story about Tomorrow”) by Réka Király is a lovely story that deals with a very philosophical topic: time. It’s a concept that has always puzzled young readers and audiences because, until they are 5 or 6 years old, children have a very abstract understanding of “time”. At ages 3 and 4 they can recognize what it means that an event happens before or after another but until ages 5 and 6 they won’t fully get the meaning of time connected with specific events in the day. It’s actually the concept of “future” that children have a hard time to comprehend. Children are the representatives of the present time. They like to know what they are going to do today and they do not care about plans for the future – that’s the adult territory.

The owl in this story wants to understand what tomorrow means. The answer it gets from the other animal friends are all based on actions (yesterday I DID that, today I DO this and tomorrow I will…). It gets really funny when the animals start to believe that tomorrow is a living being that “is coming”. Finally – spoiler alert! – they will get the concept of tomorrow by getting invited to a party.

Now, as I have said earlier, the Polish version of the book has been translated in verse. Without knowing the reasons behind that decision it occurs to me that it’s not such a crazy idea. The Polish children are used to rhymed stories, it’s part of the Polish culture, it has been like that for many generations and it’s still fashionable these days amongst young readers. The volumes of rhymed stories fill many shelves in any Polish bookstore. It’s something that comes naturally. The philosophical approach of the story provides the perfect conditions for a rhymed version. The text has been adapted to a form that the Polish children, who are the target audience, will find natural. And that must have been the ultimate motivation of the Polish translator, Dorota Kyntäjä.

So even when the form of the text has been shaped to rhyme, the content of the story is pretty similar, with the obliged differences that the adaptation requires to be able to rhyme the text. The result is a fine collection of verses that read well and that do justice to the wonderful story created originally by Réka Király.

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

On translation techniques or impossible translations

One of my favourite things to check on the internet are the so-called “untranslatable words” (or expressions) from different languages, where you can find many different foreign sayings that don’t exist in the rest of the cultures, so they are accompanied by a description of their meaning, such as this:

Caption from Huffington Post
Caption from Huffington Post, read the whole article HERE

It’s nice to see how different countries use words for things that they experience daily that the rest of people do not experience in such a way that you need a word for it. You’re not just learning about languages, you are learning about perspectives too.

I was always sceptical about the use of the word “untranslatable”, though. If we think of it, every word can be translated one way or another. Take the example above, the description of the word is in itself a translation of it. The technique used in that case is called neutralization (through a description) and it is normally applied when you have a concept from a source culture that do not exist in the target culture and therefore you need to explain the meaning in order to make the word understandable to the readers.

So by explaining the meaning we are translating the word into a meaningful expression. But neutralization is not the only technique possible, of course. There is no consensus about a proper taxonomy for translation techniques, which means that scholars use different names to refer to the same techniques. I would like to introduce you to the main techniques in a way that is, according to my personal experience, understandable and efficient. The classification was done taking into account the taxonomies of Marco (2003, 2004) and Martí Ferriol (2006, 2010):

Borrowing: consists in using the same word that the original text used in the target text, on purpose. This happens generally when there is no direct translation of the word in the target language and there is no place to explain or describe the word, or because it’s a universal word accepted by the majority of people. Take for instance the case of technological vocabulary such as “software”. It is also frequent in corporation language, when people overuse the business English expressions in different languages (“Vamos al meeting” – “Let’s go to the meeting”). The borrowing can be “pure” when you leave the word untouched, or “naturalized” when you apply the target language rules to change the orthography of the word (meeting – mitin/mitín).

Literal translation/calque: It’s the word-by-word translation of an expression. Often, the translation is not appropriate because they sound artificial. Example: translating the expression “like father, like son” in Spanish as “como el padre, como el hijo” (instead of its cultural equivalent “de tal palo, tal astilla” – roughly translated as “from that stick, that splinter”).

Translation equivalent: It’s basically a translation recognized by the dictionaries, such as house – casa (English – Spanish). That means that both cultures share the concept that is coined by the expression and it’s therefore understandable for both source and target cultures.

Omission: just as it sounds, the omission consists of eliminating the expression from the source text in the target text. It’s a very bold move that is generally used in cases where the elimination of the concept does not alter the meaning of the original sentence or it is not relevant for its understanding.

Compression: This is a kind of omission but of only part of the expression (for instance, when you eliminate a filler in a sentence such as “so”, “then”, “hmm”).

Transposition: This technique consists in a grammatical change (from a verb into a noun) or the use of the opposite voice (passive/active), generally to make the expression sound more natural in the target language. English, for instance, used the passive voice very often, but it’s not such a natural choice in Spanish, so transpositions are very common when translating these languages.

Neutralization: with this technique you can describe the concept from the source text as an explanation; also you can make a generalization (from some specific concept to a general one) or a particularization (the opposite). Example:

Creation: Consists in adding a word or expression that did not appear in the source text.

Amplification: With this technique we add information about a foreign concept to explain it, be it with a paraphrases or description, or with a footnote, for instance.

Modulation: We use it when we need a change in the point of view or category, for instance, when we change a formal reference into an informal one (You informal – You formal)

Intra-cultural adaptation: When we exchange a not so well-known cultural reference from a culture into a more famous reference from the same culture. An example would be to change the name of a French painter that is not so popular for a name of a famous French painter (same culture, different notoriety).

Cultural equivalent: (or inter-cultural adaptation) would consist in the substitution of a term from the source culture into a term from the target culture that is more or less equivalent. If we take the previous case as an example, the cultural equivalent technique would involve changing the name of the French painter for a Spanish painter one (in the case of French to Spanish translation).

Discursive creation: It refers to equivalents that would only work in that specific situation. We can find clear examples of this technique in the translation of movie titles. The American movie “Some Like it Hot” was translated as “Con faldas y a lo loco” in Spanish (this translation wouldn’t work in any other situation).

So this is one of the possible taxonomies of translation techniques; there are other more specific and some of them have different names depending on the scholars who classified them, but you can get the idea from this list of all the possibilities to translate a cultural concept.

It is indeed not impossible.

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

Translated literature: Is the buzz to be believed?

Jonathan Ruppin is Literary Director at digital start-up Orson & Co and the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club. He was a bookseller for 18 years, including 13 at Foyles’ flagship branch on Charing Cross Road.

Translated literature is having a moment, the press has being claiming of late. It’s being said by the sort of journalists who have previously claimed that short stories or novellas or enormous doorstop novels are having a moment.

The press, of course, is always keen to portray itself as a keen trendspotter and constantly makes assertions based on having received three vaguely similar books in the post lately or perhaps just one particularly cut-n’-pastable press release.

The facts are these

According to Literature Across Frontiers, translated fiction currently makes up 4.5% of UK sales, up from 3% at the turn of the century. This compares with almost a third in Germany and around half in Italy. Discount unrepeatable phenomena such as Elena Ferrante and Stieg Larsson and the increase is negligible.

If translated literature was really what everyone is buying, it would be reflected in what chain bookshops were putting in front and centre, in bestseller lists, in the pages of magazines as well as literary journals. And it’s not.

Translated literature, as the Twitterati smugly proclaim, is not a genre

To yoke books together on the grounds of their not being originally written in English is arbitrary and senseless.

Except… consider, for example, a novel set in ancient Rome and another in revolutionary France sitting side-by-side on a table of historical fiction: many readers adore exploring the past by reading fiction and plenty of them are interested in more than one era.

Similarly, readers travel the world vicariously through novels. An interest in Italy is unlikely to correlate with a passion for China but, in both cases, the reader is exhibiting curiosity about other cultures. A table of translated literature, therefore, makes perfect sense. Mostly importantly, it works: when I was at Foyles, we had one almost permanently, with an ever-changing selection, and it consistently outsold almost every other themed display.

It’s all very well dreaming of a world where readers are language-blind, but hoping that we’ll get there by leaving translated books to fend for themselves in the run from A to Z is wishful thinking. Positive discrimination is needed, just as we need to highlight female, working class and BAME writers, to avoid the cultural default of just waiting for the new one from Ian McEwan.

There are some major issues with exactly what does get translated into English

Safer choices by publishers lead to a preponderance of male writers. The lack of languages among British publishers means that Western Europe dominates. A lack of familiar cultural references in commercial fiction or British perspectives in non-fiction apparently makes anything other than English-language titles in these areas too problematic to consider. Credit for the translator is often buried somewhere discreet, as well as remaining largely absent from reviews. Random House even removed the diacritic from the name of Jo Nesbø lest such exoticism startle fragile crime fans (although Simon & Schuster have more faith in the child readers of his Doctor Proctor books and kept it).

We chose Senegal as the first destination in Africa for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, but were soon stymied: even names of global import such as Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène and Fatou Diome are out of print in the UK. (Literature from any African nation can, incidentally, most often be identified by the hackneyed image of a sunset behind an acacia tree on the cover.)

The indies

We can only be grateful to the independent publishing sector, who have stepped in to cater for this vastly untapped market. Istros Books, for example, specialise in books from the Balkans. The main focus of Tilted Axis is books from Asia and Africa. And Other Stories and Peirene Press have achieved the sort of brand recognition that the big houses have long craved, signing up subscribers with a guarantee of literary intrepidity.

This is being mirrored by independent bookshops, who have capitalised on the millions of readers in search of something other than the cosily familiar. Globalisation of every aspect of life on Earth is happening now, whatever the Brexiteers may think of that, and Anglophone literature can only be enriched by embracing the remarkable variety the rest of the world has to offer.

Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 

skills for publishing

Getting found in translation

In 2015 there was a much needed push for works in translation. In October Amazon announced it was making a $10m (£6.5m) investment in AmazonCrossing as a “commitment over the next five years to increase the number and diversity of its books in translation”.

According to an article in the Guardian late last year, ‘How Amazon came to dominate fiction in translation’, 2016 will see AmazonCrossing publishing Pierced by the Sun, the new novel from the Mexican author of Like Water for Chocolate, Laura Esquivel, as well as Jesper Bugge Kold’s Danish Book Forum Debut prize–nominated Winter Men. Plus the award-winning Polish crime writer Zygmunt Miloszewski’s Rage, the 2014 winner of the Glass Key for Scandinavian crime fiction Gard Sveen’s The Last Pilgrim, and a number of Indonesian writers, including Abidah El Khalieqy, Nukila Amal and Laksmi Pamuntjak. It has also translated fiction into German for the last three years, started translating fiction into French earlier this year, and has recently announced its first translations into Italian.

This reflects some positive strides within the translations market and, from our experience here at IPR License, we are seeing more and more international publishers both eager to sell their existing works for translation and secure the rights to relevant titles.

A question we are often asked by smaller publishing houses, enticed by the idea of this particular market, is where and how do other publishers discover such works.

Well, this can happen in a variety of ways.

It could be by word of mouth, a conversation or observation at a book fair, a tip off from a translator, a glance across an international bookshelf or from an online platform showcasing works from around the world.

Finding an interesting title is only the beginning. There are then a number of relevant conversations at be had and questions to be asked, such as:

  • Is the title available in my language/market of choice?
  • Has it already been translated into any other languages and was it successful?
  • Could I source a suitable translator?
  • Where can I secure the rights?
  • Can we sell it?

These questions illustrate that acquiring works for translation isn’t always straightforward, and that’s even before the sales process. However, thanks to technological advances it has got easier. Challenges do remain but there is growing evidence that 2016 will be a year in which more works in translation will come to fore.

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Why Americans Don’t Read Foreign Fiction [Discussion]

This is a guest post from Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License.

Before Christmas I wrote about some of the issues surrounding books in translation, especially within the English Language markets. I will not go any further into my Hasselhoff effect theory but will many challenges remaining for international publishers to break down these boundaries it was with great interest that I stumbled across a recent article entitled – ‘Why Americans Don’t Read Foreign Fiction’.

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skills for publishing

Finding gold in the backlist

Many will know I have an unashamed love for Haruki Murakami. So when I heard that his debut work, which is almost impossible to find in English, will be translated and re-released next year my heart missed a beat.

Hear the Wind Sing was first published in Japanese in 1979 and released in English eight years later, translated by Alfred Birnbaum. It is no longer in print, and copies of the novella are said to be changing hands for huge sums online.

Of course the Murakami phenomenon is in itself a pretty rare thing in the publishing world. A writer who has become an actual celebrity in their own right is neigh on a miracle these days, forgive me J.K., especially when you see bestseller lists dominated by ‘celebrities’ turned ‘writers’ week after week.

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Authors Need to Know Their Rights

When it comes to working in the rights and licensing field it’s not uncommon to be bombarded with questions, especially from indie and self-published authors. In fairness these haven’t always been the simplest of areas to get to grips with and, whilst this is undoubtedly improving, there remains a worrying lack of understanding surrounding the importance of various books rights and licensing. Especially when it comes to markets overseas.

Of course authors want to create the best work possible. And the vast majority want to sell as many copies of their work as possible. Then why is it that so many indie/self-published authors still dedicate 90% of their efforts to the writing and only 10% to the rights/licensing/marketing/promoting/selling? Not all authors’ prime motivation is sales but imagine the pride in seeing their book on bookshelves around the world in a host of different languages – no matter what level of riches this might also offer.

The international market remains an impossible dream for many authors but the reality is that it really doesn’t have to be. I’m not saying it’s easy to break into any old territory because it isn’t. However, advances in technology and a range of communication tools have made them far more accessible for savvy, business-minded authors. And there are a number of available routes. Authors could engage a rights-agent. They could embark upon building a network of contacts themselves and market their book directly to potential publishing partners across a number of territories. Or they could utilise a global platform such as IPR License to showcase their work on a global scale.

Translations are also a good potential route. I now hark back to my earlier comment about fielding questions and one of the most interesting ones lately has been regarding proactive translations from a particularly rights savvy self-published author.

Now the first thing to say is that it’s great to see authors embracing the potential of international rights and licensing, but it’s also prudent to always tread a little carefully when targeting any new market or initiative.

In terms of translations my advice would first be to source an interested and respected publisher in the territory of choice – by any or all of the methods mentioned – and work with them throughout the translation process. Generally speaking a publisher will work with a trusted translator so may be privy to better rates and know the quality of their work. Grants may also be available within some territories which publishers know about and can take advantage of. So, generally speaking, getting work translated with a view to licensing is, more often than not, a waste of time and money without an agreement or offer firmly in place.

It is important to underline that foreign translation rights remain a highly rewarding aspect of the publishing process when done in an effective manner. They create valuable additional revenue streams for publishers and authors and certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. But, as with anything rights or licensing related, publishers and authors need to make sure they do their homework and work with a trusted and knowledgeable partner to get the best result possible when exploring any international marketplace.

Tom Chalmers is Managing Director of IPR License –

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