The power of translation


Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


You are a writer. You have written an awesome book, published it. Your readers love it. This doesn’t only sound great – it is a real achievement. People love it, write about it and suddenly you are in need of a translation.

Your next step is obviously to start looking for a translator…

Not every university graduate in linguistics is the right one for your book; not every non-graduate translator is the wrong one for your book.

This is important:

  • How much and what has your translator done so far, do the subjects fit? If the translator’s work up to now consisted of translating articles on economy, this might not do for your epic story.
  • Does your translator know about your topics and/or genre(s)? A medical translator might not be right for your young adult series.
  • Is your translator open-minded and creative, without changing your style? A translator isn’t there to rewrite your book in another language.
  • Is your translator aware of the responsibility? A bad translation doesn’t sell and can be the source of bad reviews.
  • Are there references for your translator’s translation qualities? A translator needs to be as safe as houses in both languages, the original and the mother tongue.

As a university graduate in Germany, there were lots of different topics to cover – not only for the exam:

  • A third language as a sideline.
  • Translations in both directions – general.
  • Translations in both directions – special topics.
  • Culture and society of both countries.
  • Writing essays in both languages, focusing on different types of readers and topics. (to also graduate as technical author)
  • Debating on general and special topics in both languages.
  • Interpreting in both directions.

On graduating, I (personally) swore an oath to always translate with utmost care.

A hint was given to us in one of our last semesters: ‘Do not read translations, do not trust anyone else’s translation.’ We were shocked.

I respect this hint and read originals (English, German, Spanish, French, Portuguese). In case of other languages, I read the English version. Throughout the years, I was very disappointed in how some translators ruined a book title. The English translations (once from Swedish to English, once from French to English) were correct, the German versions lacked sense and/or accuracy. Some potential readers refrained from reading the books as they were repelled by the titles. The translation from Swedish to German showed a lack of knowledge of German culture and society. Very sad.  😦

There is a very positive example I’d like to mention here:

I just finished reading ‘O Próximo Alvo’ by Marcel Trigueiro. An awesome book – my review is coming in March. You may ask yourselves, why I do not publish my review right now. I glimpsed at the translation, and liked what I saw. Therefore, I decided to read the English version translated by Leiah Cooper as well. I already started, am thrilled about the fine quality of this translation. I need to read and review some other books first, however.

Marcel Trigueiro and Leiah Cooper: Please accept my standing ovations!  ⭐


11 thoughts on “The power of translation

  1. Very interesting to know Karen. It isn’t enough we edit our works so it should be a pleasurable reading experience for others, but we’d have to also worry about the state of our words after translation – especially if we don’t speak the language. 🙂

    • A quite frightening thought: What is going to happen to my work?
      Translations per se are often pretty good. It’s depressing that the book titles are not handled as carefully. It’s helpful to at least know if the title is done right. Imagine a beautiful translation and nobody buys the book as the title is awful…

  2. I’m always skeptical of reading translations. Of course I’ve read them anyway and hoped the translator got it right. Sometimes I read a review of the translation first! Never thought of having my own books translated…and I’m wondering what is the most popular language to translate? My publisher has an agreement with a Japanese publisher but my books have not been chosen for that program yet…

    • There are lots of awesome translators out there. Few black sheep can ruin the translating profession’s reputation. 😦
      English should be one of the most popular languages. Pretty popular are Spanish, German and Russian translations. Another important factor for the number of translations is the genre; different cultures prioritise genres according to their respective needs and/or favourites.

  3. I know very little about self-publishing since I’ve chosen the traditional path. Therefore, I had no idea that you’d even need a translator! Crazy, I know. I just figured Amazon did this for you. This post has opened my eyes. Thank you!

    • I cannot tell if Amazon does translations and/or starts a translation process. I know that mediocre translations can do harm, though. As you write in English, you cover a huge span of readers. Scandinavian, Hungarian, and writers from many other countries need translations to be read in other parts of the world as well.

    • Thank you very much, Craig. It is important to get a great translation. I once nearly dismissed a movie because of its title. Despite that I read the blurb, realising it was a very good one – with an inappropriate title.

      • These articles are pretty valuable – right from the start. Translations are something to consider a little later. And then it is important to make the right choice…

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