Lost in translation

Words are spinning around in my head. I am living and breathing equivalents, false cognates, brilliant translation techniques like compensation even when I put a script down. Currently submerged in two translation projects with two different target languages, I’m in translation mode!

I inherited the one video dubbing project, with a horribly clunky translation. We’re talking 30% too long to fit into the video time codes. Pity the voice over, out of breath, racing to record the text. Think Cinderella’s grotesque step-sisters’ feet being shoved into her cute little glass slipper. Both are technically feet you can walk on, but the one picture of bunions stuffed into dainty high heels ain’t pretty.

I was actively thinking of ways to improve the translated script I was given as I dropped the hubs off, on the other side of Lake Geneva. On our way back to my parents’ place in France, the kids at last fell asleep in the back seat and I needed a break from translation woes. So, I switched on an expat radio station. As if haunted by the ghost of translations gone wrong, my ears suffered through a poorly translated advertisement for patio furniture. You could make sense of the words, but it was so painfully awkward, I wondered which volunteer had been awarded the project. You see, there is such an art and a responsibility in translating. How do you maintain the target text length, translate meaning and not only words, find the right register and style and create a beautifully natural text in your target language without taking too many liberties?

Ok, so I virtually see your eyes glazing over. So, to preserve the identity of the poor souls laboring over the initial dubbing draft, cause God only knows how hard it actually is, let’s instead bash the dilapidated ad I heard in the car. It went something like this:

“You are going to love our sturdy patio furniture. Honey yellow or cherry red, they will be a delight in your home.”

The words are certainly English but tragically, all oomph, urgency and product unique selling point have been lost in translation.  In fact, I know that something got lost in translation without even having access to the original source text (which sounds like it may well have been in a far more factual language like German).

What might it sound like in an English-speaking ad, you ask? How about:
“Discover our contemporary, high-quality, durable outdoor patio. Available now in honey yellow or cherry red.”

I don’t have the source text so it cannot be perfect, but it’s modern. Concise. Skillfully punchy.

With this example in mind, I had a new spring in my step, enough to finalize the dubbing project at midnight last night. My mission: to stay as close to the meaning, register and style as possible, mimic the English length but use French style of sentence structure, French idiomatic expressions and so on. I put it to bed shortly after putting one of the kids to bed. You know, before the other one woke up.

Beautiful translation is bloomin’ hard and I can’t blame the dubbing team for their clunky translation. If they don’t have access to the author and aren’t aware of how much liberty they can take, it is absolutely their responsibility to be as loyal and close to text as they can. I just got lucky enough to consult the author.

Similarly, I sent a translation sample to the creators of my second mammoth project: a juice cleanse start up website and all their marketing collateral. Their feedback breathed life to the static words sitting on my virtual pages. As a translator, I am no longer handcuffed to the word but instead I am empowered to, in turn, breathe life into the translated text so that the passion of the message isn’t lost in translation…

One thought on “Lost in translation

  1. It’s like the man on the stage. He has five dinner plates that are spinning on poles. He’s adding umph to each pole to keep the process spinning. Now add to this picture a cat and a dog that are unleashed on the stage, nipping at the spinner’s jeans bottoms. This is Esther doing 3 translations that are time sensitive. Two kids. The analogy breaks down when we add that one of the two kids is being breast fed–that is where a cat and dog on stage seem mild. Oh, yes, visitors come over, very special people, who need time to sit with. All the while, Esther is looking at and working on 3 translations. Ayo spots a cat. Mommy, mommy!! Baby Joy needs changing. Meal times. Bath and bed times, and a lot of love for Grandpa and Grandma. They love more and more time with the pole spinner. She is, fortunately, not a guy that does, too often, only ONE thing at a time. Esther has easily a dozen or two people she could visit, but where is the time? Dad is glad she is young and capable, but this is monumental work, spinning the poles. She’s my daughter!!


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