Good translation has always been important, but it’s a craft that’s widely unappreciated, even in areas where it’s important; even literary awards have only recently begun giving translation its due, awarding translators as well as writers for novels. But what does translation entail, exactly? How much of it is science? How much of it is art?
Why Does it Matter?
We’ve talked before about how important it is that a person handle translation, as technology is still decades away from being at all reliable. Cultural sensitivities and common sense are one thing, but what really sets a good translator from something run-of-the-mill—and certainly from an algorithm—is nuance.
In a very real way, a good translator needs to be a good writer first, and often have specialized knowledge.
- A marketing campaign can’t roll out if the copy doesn’t speak to customers equally well in every language chosen. In Jordan, that often means concurrent English and Arabic campaigns. In Europe, it can mean as many as seven or eight languages. Translators have to not only write good, catchy copy that wholly adheres to the original text—they have to make sure it fits within the design.
And very often that means changing the copy but retaining its spirit. A great example of this was from KFC, where the original slogan (“Finger-Lickin’ Good”) needed to be changed to something comprehensible in Arabic; in Arabic, it became “You’ll Eat Your Fingers After”. It sounds morbid in English, but makes perfect sense in Arabic.
- Localizing and translating a product can be difficult, too, as anyone who’s ever translated a film for MBC or Netflix will tell you. Subtitles need to account for context, subtext, and references, as pop cultural references especially don’t translate.
- Most importantly, a translator needs to know subtle differences in wording. You cannot mix a word like “economic” with “economical,” “nuance” with “facet,” or “slim” with “slender,” and when the subject matter is esoteric—financial, legal, or business—a mistake can have very real consequences.
But is Translation an Art?
If a translator is an artist, carefully choosing words to both match the original text and render its spirit in a new language, then translation is an art. Even famous literature can be translated poetically or plainly, depending on the skill of the translator; Edmond Rostond’s Cyrano de Bergerac, written in verse, could be translated to retain meter or rhyme. In essence a translator has to be a poet to be able to properly translate such a play, and the credit goes entirely to the original author.
Even Business and Financial Translation are an Art
To some degree, business translation is (if you’ll excuse the pun) by-the-numbers, but even that requires artistry. Branding needs to retain its tone and pacing, and everything else requires complete accuracy and readability. That includes, but is not limited to:
- Staff and financial reports.
- Project update reports.
- Legal documentation, including minutes, transcripts, and official citations.
- Websites and brochures.
- Social media posts.
- Marketing campaigns.
- Specialized texts, including financial, economic, technical, legal, standardized, and governmental material.
In each of these cases, by-the-numbers translation can be catastrophic. A textbook can be rendered dry and unreadable, and a legal document can become incomprehensible or overly-verbose. A good translator, like a good writer, has to finely-tuned to flow. It takes an erudite ear and a lot of practice.
At Gibran, we work to match the right translators to the right material, pitting esoteric wordsmiths who take joy in writing text accurately and properly with the text that’ll inspire them to do so.
As such, we consider translation both a profession and art.
Gibran is an award-winning translation and localization company, made-up of international, credited and professional team that delivers highest quality language services. If you’d like translation with peace of mind, get in touch today; your copy will be in safe hands. Gibran provides translation, arabization and localization services to companies across various industries.