Archive for the ‘The Translator's Mind’ Category

Changing Reality

February 22, 2012

Some people tend to see only one side of the coin. They believe what is right and that it is right what they believe. Their own reality. It does not occur to them that other people’s realities might look, feel or sound totally different.

Now, this is probably sufficient for some applications, activities or professions.

It is an absolute no go for translators.

As a translator you must be flexible enough to open your mind to other people’s ideas. You must be ready and willing to get to the other side.

For those who need specifics, the other side in this case is the reader’s mind.

Of course, translators who work this way best work for clients who are equally open to walk new and innovative paths. Both must be aware that their messages shape the reader’s reality. And translators are well advised to shape their readers’ realities in the interest of their clients…

Cross the road


1::1 Approx.

August 30, 2011

the Illusion of Verbatim Translations

Translation always is an approximation. Even between languages with a very similar cultural and linguistic background some concepts remain simply untranslatable.

Therefore, the traditional idea to mirror a text word by word in a target language – i.e. what most people have been forced to do at school – does not work in the real world, especially in business reality.

If there is no exact match for a certain concept expressed in one language in the other language, what does a translator do? Well, s/he must find a way to make the situation clear to the reader in the translation. This can be done through comments, with added descriptive explanations, or by finding a similar concept in the target language.

What really matters is to evoke the same emotional and/or intellectual response to the text in the reader.

Simple word-by-word match-writing is not suitable for a professional text.

make every word matter

Translation Strategies

November 16, 2010

Over the past 20 years of my translation work I have discovered that there are the following strategies* to convert a text from one language into another:

Literal Translation
This is what most of us had to do in school, where we sat with our dictionaries, looking up every other word and getting increasingly frustrated. Never mind. Real translation doesn’t work like that. Results of this approach are texts copied word by word, which are not at all idiomatic in the target language. Such texts lack fluency and are generally eyed with suspicion by most professional translators. Besides, they will be immediately recognized as translations by native speakers of the target language.

You can forget this strategy right away. No one should have to suffer under literal translation.

Exact Translation (One-on-One Translation)
Well, one could point out that every translation should be exact. Yes, but how do we define exact in this case? Think about it!


The Translator’s Mind – Part IV, The Mind Reader

June 8, 2010

Don’t worry. Translators usually don’t exhibit special telepathic abilities. Nor do they go about reading other people’s thoughts. Although the latter might really help some times.

When translating, it is necessary to know the final recipients of the target text, the reader. Therefore, in some way or other, most translators have some kind of alter ego by which they effectively simulate this person. This happens much in the same way as authors envision their readers, or as journalists write with a certain type of audience in their minds.

Likewise, experienced translators always remember that there will be an actual person, who will read, try to make sense of, use, and perhaps act upon the translation in a certain way.

Every text is written to be read

The Translator’s Mind – Part III, Translation Training

February 11, 2010

What do translators learn? How is translation education different from other types of language study, such as e.g. a study of linguistics? Why does it make a difference, whether someone with proper translation training translates a text or someone without such education?

I will try to find some answers to these questions in this new addition to the Translator’s Mind series of blog entries…


The Translator’s Mind – Part II, Best of Both Worlds

November 3, 2009

A translator while working has to switch constantly between two mindsets: The author’s world and the reader’s reality. Therefore, s/he must be able to simulate the author while at the same time anticipating the author’s intended audience.

When simulating the author, a translator must consider the following aspects:

  • The author’s intention
  • The author’s mindset and reality
  • The author’s know-how in the subject matter
  • The author’s writing skills

In an ideal situation, a translator can contact the author and ask questions. If this is not possible, the translator must try to infer all relevant information from the text at hand.

The other world, the readers’ reality, also has two important aspects to consider:

  • The readers’ knowledge of the subject matter
  • The readers’ situation, environment and mindset while reading the text

In some cases, the text may have to be genuinely re-written in the target language to get the message across.

Thanks for all the words

The Translator’s Mind – Part I, The Context

September 24, 2009

I sometimes get the impression that most non-translators consider the act of translating to be a kind of simple language conversion: One language in, the other language out. “Please, can you type this in English”, says the German-speaking boss to the secretary.

Contrary to this belief, in order to get a viable translation result rather complex cognitive processes must be invoked. Actually, translating is very much like writing itself, only the basic initial idea has been someone else’s. In translating, the entire context of the text must be considered so that its full meaning and the meaning of each individual sentence is grasped. And, the more experience a translater has, the more efficient and versatile these processes will be.