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Top challenges translating in your pair

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Vova    1150

I’m preparing an article about the top challenges translating in different language pairs.

So I was going to ask you guys:

What problems do you usually face when translating in your primary language pair?

Note that the quotes in the article will include direct links to your Smartcat profiles ;) 

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Vova    1150

Let me take the lead.

For instance, in Russian noun phrases are much more common than in English. So when translating to English you constantly have to get rid of stuff like “We specialize in the development and implementation of software projects,” turning it into a simple “We build and implement software.”

Of course, it can be argued that the author should have edited the original text before submitting it to translation. But the reality is that 90% of companies write in this dreadful bureaucratese.

When translating to Russian, the problem is in the contrary. There are a lot of smart neologisms in English that do not have a direct translation in Russian, so you keep finding yourself between a rock and a hard place: (1) Using a “Russified” form of the original term, or (2) Using several Russian words, inevitably making the narration heavier and sometimes losing some important nuance the original term had.

For instance, you can “friend” someone on a social network. In Russian, you can either say “dobavit’ v druzya” (“add to friends”), which is much longer, or just “zafrendit'” (a calque), none of which is exactly satisfying.

I wonder if it’s also the case in other languages?

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Otávio Banffy    365

Portuguese has an even more bureaucratic way of speaking and writing, depending on who you are, so English is somewhat fitting with it in this regard. :P

What can be complicated when working to Brazilian Portuguese translations is that Brazil is a large country, and it has various states, each state with its own way of thinking and speaking. All of them follow a similar structure, but the choice of words and the momentum can vary considerably.

When you are translating materials from enterprises, there is a generic tone of voice you can use no matter what. It speaks the common tongue in a semi-bureaucratic level with the use of some fanciness and some clarity. However, the best translations, the ones that really stand out and make a company feel unique and alive is to let the translator add his own (or the one he established for the company) tone of voice, which involves using modern expressions, a liberty in speech and word use, a naturalness instead of rigidly by the book.

It can sound counter-intuitive to say that something which wasn't written in proper Portuguese would sound better to the audience than popular Portuguese, but it's exactly the opposite, in Brazil, specifically. A lot of people, and I mean a lot, are way more comfortable in reading and listening to a conversational tone from a serious and large company than its straight-and-narrow counterpart. The difference between them is similar to the use of common jargon and legal jargon in most languages.

And when it comes to transcreation, or the translation of entertainment material, that difference is even more accentuated. The difficulty lies, for the translator, to find the proper tone of voice for each character and audience, and there is no hard rule... But the interesting part is: finding the right way of writing (rather, typing) Brazilian Portuguese.

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Peter    98
4 hours ago, Vova said:

For instance, in Russian noun phrases are much more common than in English. So when translating to English you constantly have to get rid of stuff like “We specialize in the development and implementation of software projects,” turning it into a simple “We build and implement software.”

Very interesting, @Vova. This actually touches on a subtle yet worrying gut feeling I have about the trend in English in favour of this kind of bureaucratese :52_fearful:

You need only Google "We specialize in the production/delivery/distribution/implementation/etc + about us" in order to see how widespread this kind of usage is.

I understand this isn't exactly something new. Many companies (and individuals) have been jumping at the chance to use this kind of verbose, self-aggrandising language for decades. But the trend I'm talking about isn't in how it's used, rather in how it's seen by readers in English.

It's my impression that this kind of bureaucratese was originally viewed by the wider public as a warning sign and something to be suspicious of; perhaps an attempt to con individuals into buying a company's products/believing a politician's pitch/etc.

It seems like this usage then transitioned into a phase where it began to be treated with apathy, or at best, ambivalence for many years. It was no longer necessarily associated with a dishonest company/individual, just an annoying communication style that was so prevalent, especially in the corporate world. The general approach here was to take it all with a grain of salt.

But it seems to me that, through sheer volume, the once-despised bureaucratese is now almost seen as some kind of indicator of quality and trust. The frightening implication is that if a company/individual is brazen enough to use simple, clear and direct language then they must somehow be reckless cowboys, unconcerned with developing a carefully cultivated public image which appeals to as many people as possible.

Perhaps individuals have come around to empathising with certain business practices as a result of increased time spent cultivating our own public images and personal brands online, i.e. social media - something which many increasingly treat like running a business. Indeed, many individuals' social profiles and content are legitimate businesses in their own right. 

Anyway, I could definitely be wrong about this trend (I certainly hope so). Like I said, it's just a gut feeling I have about how bureaucratese is being seen in English. By now you can probably tell my personal view about it. But as translators, since we need to ensure our work satisfies the client and sends the appropriate message to the wider public, I also find this particular example quite a challenge in this day and age.

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yujie    10

It's interesting to read the discussions above. Bureaucratic writing and bureaucratic translating also exist in English-Chinese pair. We call it "translationese" which means the translation reads unnaturally and awkwardly in the target language that readers know immediately that they are reading a translated text.
When I think about problems I face when translating in EN-ZH, I can think of many. For example, we don't have uppercase and lowercase in Chinese, but in English, it often uses uppercase to differentiate a specific term apart from the rest of the sentence, e.g. "Implements a Circle Function implements a circle in the diagram". In Chinese, it will read "implements a circle function implements a circle in the diagram" which is obviously very unfriendly to users.  To solve this we usually put quotation marks around the uppercase name, but sometimes Chinese quotation marks can introduce errors in the software and we have to use English quotation marks instead or just accept the inconvenience that might brought to users. 
Another example is that in Chinese we must place a measure word in a " number + noun" phrase like "3 (measure word) birds" and "3 (measure word) people". The measure words vary depending on the nouns they describe. This poses a problem when a noun placeholder is used in segments with numbers. 
For example: You need 2 %s to install the driver.
The measure words have to vary when %s refers to "screws" or "screwdrivers". It is nearly impossible to translate it if %s will be replaced with different nouns that use different measure word in the actual UI.
The above examples are just some specific problems I meet in the IT field I mainly work in. I believe there are many other challenges in other subject matters such as marketing and law translation. But I think many of them can be solved if communication among clients, project managers and translators is effective. Clients with large quantity translation requests usually provide translation guides or style guides for different languages before translation begins and modify those guides when problems emerge during translation. In this way, consistency is achieved between documentation iterations as well as among different translators. It is also important that the translators could reach PMs easily when they have questions during translation and get responses quickly. It is hard to do that through emails. In that sense, I think SmartCAT really does a good job by providing Chat and Comment in projects, and Vova is really the most responsive PM I ever met (no exaggeration);)

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Peter    98

Wow... @yujie. It's fascinating to hear about some of those technical challenges that come up in English to Chinese translation. I have to admit that I hadn't really thought about it before, but there must be several such situations which come up regularly. It must be pretty frustrating at times, but like you said, sometimes you just have no other choice but to accept some reader inconvenience.

5 hours ago, yujie said:

But I think many of them can be solved if communication among clients, project managers and translators is effective.

I agree 100% :100_pray:. In my experience, as long as you have this solid communication, almost any issue can be resolved.

And yeah, you're right about Vova's responsiveness bordering on the unbelievable.

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Virginia Monti    307

When translating in my pair (EN-ES), a common problem is the use of gerunds. While it is widespread in English, we cannot always use them in Spanish, not only because they result in heavy syntax and rhythm, but also because they’re agrammatical in certain contexts. In such cases we need to resort to paraphrases with subordinate clauses, noun phrases or infinitives. For example, it is normal to find a gerund with the meaning of posteriority in English, but this is agrammatical in Spanish:

“He made an unfriendly remark adding to everyone’s uneasiness”

Instead of a gerund, in Spanish we need something like: “con lo cual...”

Another common example is the use of “including” to introduce an enumeration. It is wrong to use “incluyendo” in Spanish. In this case, we need to use a past participle “incluido” or a different expression altogether, such as “entre ellos...”.

There’s an vast classification of gerunds in Spanish based on shades of meaning and they just cannot be used at will.

Same as with Russian, there’s quite often a lack of one-to-one correspondence for smart neologisms in English. Another example I can think of is the verb “like”, widely used in social media. In Spanish there is no other way but to use a verb phrase or the even more Baroque “hacer clic en Me gusta”.

Even though Spanish has earned an infamous reputation for being wordy (in fact, when translating from English into Spanish the resulting text can be up to 25% longer), sometimes, especially when explaining procedures, English sentences are phrased in a manner that would sound redundant to the Spanish ear if translated verbatim. Avoiding such redundancies can frequently imply making major changes and struggling with syntax for a while.

Wordiness in Spanish also means that translating texts in graphs, tables or in Powerpoint presentations, where space and character restrictions play a role, can be a complete nightmare.

Regardless of this inherent and unavoidable wordiness, Spanish also suffers from the ailment of bureaucratese. :P If only that meant good rhetoric... The issue is not only far-fetchedness and flamboyance, but also that in most cases complexity in expression results in lack of grammaticality and obscurity of meaning. And business speak is one good example indeed.

I presume this is not a characteristic inherent to any language in particular but to language users, trying to put a psychological (maybe?) distance between them and their interlocutors. I don’t believe jargon is something good or bad in itself, it is only natural that fields of knowledge have their own specific set of expressions. The problem is overuse or becoming too euphemistic when circumstances do not merit it.

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Aleksandra    91

I'm working mostly with EN-RU and with literary texts, and one of my biggest problems is adequate translation of "you" in speech. In Russian there's ты and there's вы which are not just singular and plural pronouns, but a way to address a person. And it makes a big difference whether someone says ты or вы to another person, depending on status of both characters, on the situations they are in, on the intentions of the speaker (for instance, if one says ты to someone whome they should call вы it can be a grave insult). So, first of all, it's a challenge to find a right tone in every instance. And then to keep track of who sais what to whome (real doozy if it's a novel). And then sometimes relations between characters change and this ты-вы should change accordingly. And logically. And then there's a question of epoque, because there were times when everybody was saying вы, even husbands and wives (at least in "learned circles"). And some words just don't go with certain pronoun, so couple of times I actually had to change big chunks of text exactly because the tone was all wrong. (BTW, there's no such problem in French, they have tu and vous, but I don't get that much FR-RU literary translations.)

And second problem is the way speech is marked in the text. In English direct speach of a character can be mixed in with author's remarks and even with other character's speech. In Russian you have to start speech of each caracter with a new paragraph. So, this is a big part of my final rereads - to find and edit all these speeches. Again, quite a task if it's a novel.

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Thanks Vova for starting such an intriguing topic. It’s very interesting to read about the challenges other translators face.

When translating from English to German I must consider how to address a person/group of people. Whilst in English only “you” is being used, German allows either a formal (“Sie”) or informal (“Du”) way of addressing. Of course, I can request my client to decide, but he/she might be monolingual and doesn’t have a clue at all. In this case, I choose based on the context. When it’s a legal text or a document used in a b2b environment I go for the formal one. But it might become more complicated when translating marketing material. Who is the client targeting, younger folks, retired people or maybe all age groups? The decision I make has an impact on the appeal of the text and finally on the client’s sales.

4 hours ago, Virginia Monti said:

Even though Spanish has earned an infamous reputation for being wordy (in fact, when translating from English into Spanish the resulting text can be up to 25% longer)

Same issue in German. Although, I read text can be up to 35 % longer - and I regularly experience it! This is a huge problem when character limits apply. For example, when translating strings for mobile Apps or any kind of software, banners and Google Ads. One way to solve this is to change the layout (increase button size, adjust column width of a table, add another page to a manual). Obviously, clients usually don’t prefer this approach because it’s time-consuming and requires additional work (and money). Creativity is the key: looking for shorter expressions and using abbreviations without sacrificing context or the meaning.

When translating technical content, I come across special terminology a lot. Not all terms can be simply translated. In some cases, I can either describe the term (resulting in longer sentences), use a verbatim translation (if any) or leave it in English. It requires intensive research before I can make an informed decision. By the end of the day, the person reading my translation (who is likely to be a professional in his/her field) shouldn’t be confused by awkwardly sounding terminology translations (“Webhook” – “Netzhaken”) or English terms, provided that an appropriate translation exists and is being used widely in other text (“Fulfilment” – “Auftragsabwicklung”).

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Granted there are so many grammatical challenges when translating a text from EN to JA, like not having definite or indefinite articles, not having a future tense, not having pre-positions similar to English etc, I personally find translating nuances and the tone of the source texts more challenging. 

Often times, I have to consider if it's a man or a woman speaking, if they are younger or older than the audience, if their societal position is higher or lower, or if it is a casual or formal context.  I translate mobile/computer games as my main field and the amount of time I have to question my client to give me more details about the particular character and his or her position in the game (especially if the game is set in a town/group/planet etc) is ridiculously high. At the same time, the amount of time they have no idea or do not respond to my questions are high too (which is unfortunate and frustrating). 

Like @yujie mentioned, measure words are also my problem often.  For example;

A simple blurb in a game like "He's got 3%s as a reward!" can take a back-and-forth with my client before I can finally decide which measure word is going in the sentence. Is it a tangible object? Is it a paper or a fabric? Is it a bird or a cat? OH, the possibilities!

I second (third?) Vova's responsiveness! to the point, he needs a day or two away from the desk :P But no, the hell will probably break if that happens! Thank you for your hard work - it makes us translators do our very best easily :)

 

Edited by Emma Momoko Tanaka
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Gil    12

There are many words in English that look and sound the same than in French but don't mean exactly the same thing.

It's a big problem especially for beginner translators because for most of those words you wouldn't think about using a dictionary to check a correcter meaning. I guess you can have the same problem translating from Czech to Russian :)

Examples : opportunity, stupid, occupation, education, excited, pot,

Also some words that don't have a translation but often come back in short formulas. The most horrible one being « Successful » (there is no easy translation in French for “a successful business”).

Then the issue that French takes a lot more letters than most languages for a given number of sounds. Which is a problem when you need to translate stuff for buttons. Of course, Russian also has long words, but the difference is that in Russian there are no useless letters. For example « Buy now » – « Acheter maintenant », contains only 9 sounds, 4 vowels, 5 consonants (“аште мэ̃тна̃” in Russian transcriptions), but requires 17 letters to write. In comparison English takes 6 letters for 6 sounds. Spanish takes 11 letters for 10 sounds. Russian takes 12 letters for 11 sounds. Sometimes we get customers who really want us to remove letters but it's impossible.

 

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