What is Translation, and how do I approach it?

What is Translation?

Translation, or Uebersetzung, is quite simply the art of rewriting a source text (ie, an original piece of writing in one language) into a piece of text that can be read in the target language (ie another language which you are translating the piece of work into). Translation is important, as despite the large number of english-speakers, there are many who cannot communicate in a lingua franca, and so must have important pieces of text translated for them. This is particularly useful, for example, in the world of business, but also has other daily applications (fans of The Bridge will appreciate the English subtitles, which have been translated from Danish).

How do I approach a translation?

Often, translated works can be too literal, to the extent that they will not make sense. Thus attention must be paid to the appropriate 'degree of freedom' for the task. This means that you should beware to ensure that the translated text sounds fluid in the target language, whilst still retaining the key information from the source text.

There are five main degrees of freedom: Literal (the most similar degree of freedom to the source text), Faithful, Balanced, Idiomatic, and Free (the least similar degree of freedom to the source text). It is important to pay attention to the brief when translating, taking care to select the appropriate degree of freedom. For example, if you were translating a piece of scientific work from German to English, you would not want to use a 'Free' degree of freedom, as you would lose the meaning and vital information.

Here is an example of a German sentence, and how it would look with some different degrees of freedom.

Es regnet in Stroemen.

Literal: It rains in streams.

Faithful: It rains in sheets.

Balanced: The rain is pouring down.

Idiomatic/Free: It's raining buckets!/It's raining cats and dogs!

All these translations are fine to use, it is purely dependent on the circumstance and brief of the task, as to which one is the most suitable. This is what translation is about, and if you read the brief carefully, then you will be able to unlock the top marks and create the best translation.

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