As we often need to translate some contents, we came up with some guidelines for professional or personal translations, based on our research and experiences. This article is not meant to be an extensive technical list. Our goal is to share a good selection of recommended practices for those who are venturing on this new field.
By Marcos Fabbron and Samantha Rosa.
Guidelines for translation
Here we present some hacks on translation. You do not necessarily need to follow them in a specific order. Try them and let us know what you think.
- Get the point: make sure you understand the message you are translating;
- Audience: keep in mind who you are translating to;
- Tools: select reliable tools to support this process;
- Style: be loyal to the original text, tone and its nuances;
- Meaning: be aware of cultural aspects and expressions;
- Keep reading: read it, take a break, read it again and proofread it;
- Fill in the gaps: build bridges to tell the story and deliver the message;
- Ask a local: invite a native speaker to read it and give you feedback;
- Go pro: search for professional help;
- Flow: focus on details is important, but remember the big picture;
1. Get the point
Get the message right before you start translating into another language. Reading the whole material in order to become familiar with it is top priority. It will make you feel more confident and able to deal with the challenges of the translation. You can even try to reach out to the author or ask a specialist in the topic at hand, to get a better understanding of expressions and technical terms.
Answering the following question is crucial: who are you translating to? Researching and understanding your target audience, and how they will use the content you are translating, will keep you on the right track.
Adapting the content to young kids about fairy tales is completely different from writing to scholars on the importance of some technical topics. The amount of time and attention span to consume the content you are translating will differ dramatically from one to the other. Knowing that in advance will help you pick the right tools and word choices.
Translating is about reproducing the message from one language into another. In order to do this effectively, you need to select and learn how to handle the proper tools.
You can rely on free online dictionaries, glossaries and corpora. A great advantage of them is that they are constantly updated and reflect the contemporary English usage.
Check some of our choices of tools for English/Portuguese translation:
- Cambridge Dictionary: reliable information on standard English.
- Word Reference: quick reference for translation between two languages.
- Linguee: check real usage of words and expressions.
- Urban Dictionary: informal English and slang dictionary.
You may have to meet standards such as vocabulary and layout when translating contracts or official documents. So, it is useful to use models and templates that will serve as a reference. It will help you keep your translation natural according to the required conventions.
Since you are not creating new content, but translating, it is essential to be loyal to the original text and its nuances. Mind the level of formality and the writing style of the author. These are essential elements which express the meaning of the content, so focus on recognizing the author’s style. Is it formal or informal? Are they being uplifting or melancholic? Analytical or descriptive?
Translating goes beyond mechanically transforming words from one language into another. You are in charge of explaining concepts that may be confusing to your target audience due to cultural or linguistic differences. Therefore, expressions can and should be adapted in order to make people get the point too.
A good example that comes to our minds when translating from English into Portuguese is from the animated movie ‘Robots’:
In the English version, one of the characters says ‘It’s a fusion of jazz and funk, it’s called junk!’ when he refers to bad music playing. In Portuguese, the word junk has no meaning, but it would be something like garbage (lixo).
To keep the phrase almost exactly as the original, the translators found a very nice way to deal with the situation which ended up translated into Portuguese as ‘É uma mistura de jazz e bossa, se chama jossa’. In Portuguese we refer to ‘joça’ as something that is not good, even badly assembled. Great job!
Culture and idiomatic expressions can get in the way and mess the meaning of the content. The heart of the question is recognizing these situations and being able to come up with creative solutions that keep the original meaning.
6. Keep reading
Have you read your translation enough? Are you sure? Think twice! Take some time to proofread it, which means reading carefully for spotting mistakes and checking if you are getting your message across.
You can always do this in a pairing session, by translating alongside someone else. Ask a friend or a colleague to do it with you, and you will be able to have a second perspective on it and get it done faster with higher quality.
7. Fill in the gaps
Sometimes you will need to build bridges so that people can understand the author’s original ideas in your translation.
When you translate something literally, the message may be a bit blurry for some readers, either because it is their first time reading about this, or the original text took for granted that the readers are familiar with the topic.
Do not hesitate to add links for content that is not self-explanatory and add some words that will make it clearer. Your goal is to bring words to life and make sure that the reader will get the point.
8. Ask a local
Ask a local is an expression that we chose on purpose to make our point. This is a common term used in travel experiences, when you ask a question to someone who lives in the place you are visiting.
After you are done with the first draft, in order to review your translation, we recommend that you ask for feedback from a couple of native speakers of the language you are translating into — and that are part of your target audience.
You can even ask them to answer some questions to check their understanding and encourage them to make suggestions, besides making sure that they have learned something from it.
9. Go pro
If you ever feel overwhelmed or get stuck in the translation, consider asking for professional help to guide you over the process. Whether you are looking for tips, proofreading or a final revision, someone who does it professionally can help you sharpen your content.
Make sure that your text sounds natural to the reader, that it does not feel too formulaic (unless that was the author’s intention).
Remember to look at the bigger picture, this is key to getting the best text flow. Do not get stuck on the ‘word by word’ process.
Are you ready for translating?
These are some of the tips that we use when we are translating and we thought that other people would appreciate to have it at hand. We hope that it will help you become more productive.
Leave a comment if you have any suggestions, examples, questions or feedback for us. This article is open for anyone to translate into a different language. Let us know if you are interested in doing that.