I watched this video this morning and it really spoke to me. This girl is awesome, she’s a Dutch girl who reviews books and has studied translation, and she loves translation as much as I do. You should check her out. I am very lucky in that I have a frickin’ awesome job translating really amazing things that I feel passionate about – and what’s more I can be creative. I thought that I’d write a little bit about what it’s like to be a translator.
So people quite often say to me “you’re a translator! I guess your job will be taken over by computers in the near future!”
…Yeah, because we all know how great google translate is, right?
Translation of things that are creative – literature, poems, songs, video games – need a real human brain. One that has a very deep understanding of both the original culture and the target culture.
For example – when I was in a film subtitle workshop last year we had to write a translation for a Japanese movie clip where a woman was on a date with a guy. They are both Japanese. The guy has his hair bleached blond. She says “oh wow, I’ve never been on a date with someone who has dyed their hair before”.
What would you translate that as? Exactly as it stands, with the blonde hair? People who know Japanese culture well will know that dying your hair in Japan is not just dying your hair. It’s a sign that you are a rebel – that you don’t give a flying monkey about society and its rules. Being on a date with a guy like this could end up with you lying in a ditch covered in your own blood. THIS is what she’s really saying. But how do you say that, in English words, to people who might not understand Japanese culture?
There are very different approaches when it comes to creative translation. Some people like to fit every. single. detail. of the original in their translation. Some people (I fall more into this category) look at the original, take its meaning and then create new text. Depending on what you’re doing, who the author is and who your target audience is, you may need to switch between the two.
One extra challenge we have in video game translation is that you need to fit your translations into the limitations. So, for example, you are in the desert and a talking camel gives you some water. This water needs a special, catchy name and it needs to be no longer than 10 letters long.
I came to my job having never properly translated anything beyond homework at uni. I’ve learnt everything I know about it from failing and trying again. One thing as a translator that you need to have is the ability to have your work ripped apart right in front of you. When you write something creative, you often put your heart and soul into it – that genius pun you made, that cultural insight you put in – and then someone validates you and just doesn’t get it and changes it. The truth is that language and culture are different from person to person, even when you’re from the same place. What you consider to be the way to phrase something might not be the most natural thing to the next person. And we have to accept that, because at the end of the day we want as many people as possible to enjoy the thing that we’re translating. It’s better to have a more normal sentence which everyone thinks is mildly amusing than to have a really obscure reference to something hilarious that only 1 in 10 people would get.
But the downside to being a translator is that you become critical about loads of things. Subtitles in movies. The way people use your native language in media. I went to the cinema last night and I had to keep pointing out all the plot holes, and where the scene was cut too late and it was just awkward and ugly.
I understand that I’m lucky to be in the job that I have, so if anyone would like to ask any *translation* (read: NOT Nintendo…) questions then I’d love to answer them! Fire away!