Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (2023)

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Stephanie Allen studied Classics and English at St Hugh's College, Oxford and is currently doing her PhD in Modern Academic Drama at the University of Freiburg.
Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (1)

As anyone who has studied Latin knows, translating written language into a language is often one of the most difficult and daunting exercises of all: it requires a thorough understanding of the language's grammatical structure and a sense of comfort and ease with its vocabulary.
But if you don't have them, don't worry: just read our written translation guide and become a translator right away.bilingual star.


1. Read your piece carefully before you begin

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (2)

Before you start translating anything, make sure you read the piece several times and firstly understand exactly what the author is trying to say, and secondly understand precisely.andthey try to say it. Think of it almost as if you were writing a literary commentary on it: Pay attention to every word and phrase: the purpose of your text, its tone (style and tone), and the kind of stylistic tricks the author employs. Don't be afraid to scribble all over the article – take notes on anything that seems remarkable, and highlight anything you think will be difficult to translate. Finally, if possible, look for idioms or even just ideas in the passage that you don't fully understand.

2. Prepare your tools

A good bilingual dictionary is an indispensable tool for any translation. Even if you think you know a direct translation of an important word, look it up and consider all the options, and think of the one that best fits the spirit and style of the original.

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Interestingly, the English language containsmany more wordsthan either the Romance languages ​​(for example, French, Italian, or Spanish) or the Germanic languages ​​(for example, German or Dutch). The reason for this has to do with the medieval history of England. Originally, English was a Germanic language, similar to German and Dutch, and therefore shares much of its basic grammatical structure with those languages. But after it was conquered by the French in 1066, Norman French became the language of the rulers and heavily influenced the mother tongue. Likewise, many words from Latin, the language of the church and scholars, leaked into colloquial English. Modern English is made up of these three influences and often contains synonymous words that everyone can identify. For example, English has countless ways to express the emotion of anger; of these, "Zorn" and "Zorn" trace back to Old Germanic and Norse roots, but "Zorn" and "Zorn" come from the Latin wordsImiVaya.All of this affects your work as a translator because it makes it difficult to keep things simple.Match words between languages: There are often many different options to choose from in English, and it's your job to make sure you choose the best one. If you learn new words along the way, write them down and save them in your vocabulary for later.
Before translating, make sure you have all the necessary grammatical materials to ensure technical accuracy, and make sure verb forms and endings or syntax are in place. Of course, a good understanding of the grammatical rules for translation is essential, but you can consolidate your own knowledge with written tables, lists, and books. Eliminatelittle mistakescheck everything carefully: in really polished and good work,spelling, spellingor grammatical errors will stand out and spoil the whole piece, so be sure to correct them so your translation sounds like a dream!

Choose your words well

3. Translate theMeaning, not theWords

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (3)

Some of the funniest translation mishaps occur when people offer literal interpretations of theWordsin a sentence and not its meaning, even if those words do not make sense in the language into which they are translated. For example, if a native Spanish speaker says to you, "For another dog with that bone!", you might be forgiven for thinking that he has gone completely crazy (barking). Of course, they would really only translate the Spanish phrase "To another dog with that bone" - a figurative way of saying "you pull my leg" - literally: but the meaning of the phrase is lost in translation (if you'll excuse the awful secondRetruecanin one episode). Here are some other phrases from around the world (Spanish has hundreds of them) that produce mysterious and hilarious results when translated into English:
I'm sad
Literally "to have the cockroach" in French, this phrase means to be in the dump.
I don't mind
"Das ist mir wurst": a German expression meaning the speaker doesn't care.
I know you're a cod, even if he comes in disguise.
'I know you, cod, even though you're in disguise.' Another wildly figurative Spanish phrase that means something like "I know your game!".
it's the end of the bean
"This is the end of the bean" - or in English "these are curtains for us."
One butter foams another butter
“Ass rubs ass” means that people of similar character get along.
We were few and the grandmother gave birth.
"We were few, and then the grandmother gave birth." No, a miracle did not happen: it means "I had problems, and then that happened", similar to the German "it never rains, but it pours".
And, of course, there are also non-idiomatic examples. The literal translation of the Spanish wordwe obtainis "get", but often "get" is just as good and sounds less muffled.
All of this may initially contradict my fourth translation tip:

4. ...But stick to the stylistic techniques

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (4)

Stylistic techniques are not just for decoration; They are an important vehicle for writers to create meaning. Therefore, whenever possible, reflect the surface language of each passage you are translating. If you read a play before translating it, read it and think about the effects the author uses: write down any sayings, slang, highly stylized phrases, verbal rhymes, or rhythms. The frequency and use of these techniques will, of course, depend on the type of text you are working with: for example, a poem in verse may be more elaborate than a formal letter. See if you can come up with subtle ways to render these effects in English - the most elegant translations mimic the style without sacrificing the naturalness of your version. Returning to my earlier example, you could translate the Spanish phrase "To another dog with that bone" as "You pull my leg," retaining both the meaning of the phrase and its distinctive identity as a proverb. And on another note, but again related:

5. Stick to the original record

It sounds obvious, but this is an area where students often make mistakes. When translating short, formal-sounding text, mimic their tone and register: use appropriate words and a similar style. If you translate a bit more informal and chatty, you'll find words that capture the feel of the original.

6. Know your audience

A final consideration when choosing your words is the target audience for your work. Of course, when you translate a play for a language class, your audience has exactly one person: your teacher. Still, it's a useful exercise to think about who the original document is intended for and moderate your language accordingly: if it's a poster aimed at young people, you'll probably choose different English words than when translating articles from an adult newspaper.

7. I don't understandAlsotangled in details

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (5)

When producing your written translations, your teacher assumes a certain level of English proficiency: he has decided that you understand the basic grammatical concepts of the language (and can memorize some of them) and that you can quickly recall the rules and some vocabulary. It is of course important to show that you really have these skills by getting your vocabulary and grammar correct as described above, but remember that the exercise is designed to test you and your knowledge, not what is in your textbook, and think about in the confidence to follow your intuition. Don't complicate the exercise by becoming so obsessed with details that it takes time and becomes confusing; Make sure the end result looks natural and easy and not labor intensive.

Practical considerations

8. Take your time

With the pressure of translating an entire page or even pages of words into a new language, it can be tempting to rush and try to get everything down on paper as quickly as possible. It's a bit of a different exercise, but I often make the mistake of beginning Latin translations this way: covering entire pages with crude scribbles and omitting entire sentences or words that seem too complicated to bother me. Try to resist this urge: a less-than-perfect job on the site will create an anxious feeling that there's still a lot to do, and later, when you're dying to end the day thinking about something other than words, you'll probably forget about it. small nuances you've noticed before, and insert phrases into your final draft that were only meant to be placeholders. Instead, take a deep breath, take it easy, and try to think each word slowly, methodically, and even creatively. It's better to have four really solid sentences written than three pages that need to be repeated.

9. Read it again and make it flow

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (6)

Take a break after the first draft - the longer, the better. If you have enough time to drop off the piece and come back the next day, that's ideal. When you return to your translation, read it for minor spelling and grammatical errors, but also pay attention to style. Is it elegant and fluid? Is the register and pitch consistent throughout? Does it capture the meaning and spirit of the original? If you can, have a native speaker read it to you and point out where you need to improve. Pay attention to anything with awkward or confusing wording, or anything you desperately gave up on the day before - now that you have a complete draft and the pressure of completing the entire piece is gone, it's time to work on the small details.

10. ...And read again

Take another break and reread your work after tweaking it just to check that you didn't make any silly mistakes by changing things up.

11. Learn from your mistakes

Top 11 translation tips for learners of English as a foreign language (7)

No one is good at written translation on the first try: it's one of the hardest parts of language learning and requires you to be sufficiently familiar with and have the grammar of the language you're translating into.vocabulary large enoughto get the basics on the page. Plus, it's a whole new, easy-to-fake exercise that requires different skills than listening or reading a language and much more precision and sophistication than speaking. So don't be discouraged if you don't get it the first time: practice really does make perfect, and every time you try a written translation you'll learn a lot of new words, even if practice prompts you. crazy and strengthen your understanding of English grammar tootrivialike spelling.
If you work for hours on your translation and are still not satisfied with the result,Make sureThey make that work worth your while: Learn the meaning and spelling of every new word you find in a dictionary or online, and learn and practice the grammar rules that were hard for you this time.

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