Some thoughts on translation


Translation is a three-player game. The players are: (1) the author, who wants to have their ideas or messages translated into another language as accurately as possible; (2) the reader, who wants to know what’s written in a foreign language as seamlessly as possible; and (3) the translator, who is always torn between the author’s intent and the reader’s desire.


The professional translator, by definition, translates texts assigned by somebody called “client”. When the client is the author, the translator tries to translate the source text as accurately as possible, even at the expense of readability. When the client is the reader, the translator tries to translate so that the end product is as readable as possible, even at the expense of word-for-word accuracy. So the translator is always a slave, either of the author or of the reader. Is that how it should be? I don’t think so.


The translator should be a go-between, or an agent that connects the author with the reader. The translator receives the source text, interprets it, and expresses it in the language most effectively understood by the target reader. Sometimes the translator has to read between the lines to get the meaning hidden beneath what the author was saying. Sometimes the translator cuts a phrase or two (or even a sentence) to make the end product sound most natural without sacrificing the intention of the author. The translator is encouraged to be creative in a way that adds value to the original text and the reader’s time.


Good translation enhances the value of your international communication.