Translators are constantly honing their skills. Both in their source and target languages. As such, it is important for any translator to read a lot.
Reading can expose us to new ways of thinking, new information, new language in multiple languages and changes in culture. The news, blogs, novels, non-fiction, opinion pieces, articles and other texts are all rich in information.
A wide variety of texts are essential but arguably high quality writing is even more important.
I speak from the perspective of a Japanese to English translator, but this can be applied to any language.
When We Read Poor Quality Writing
When we read any kind of writing we tend to pick up wording, grammar and style choices the writer has made.
This means that when we read poor quality writing we can pick up bad habits. Of course it might not be conscious that we pick up these bad habits. If a novice translator hasn’t been exposed to a lot of writing in the field they work in, they might think it’s “supposed” to sound that way.
Manga is a good example for this. Manga is often translated by fans and available online. These fan-translations are done by people who don’t have much training or practice, or sometimes lack knowledge in Japanese. They are often created by fans of fan-translation, creating a circle of awkward sounding English and mistranslations.
Fan-translations aren’t the only place where a person can be exposed to bad English. Video games, even official ones, can fall prey to bad English. Just look at Legend of Localization’s This Be Bad Game Translation Series for a huge list of examples of how not to translate. Or rather, how not to compose English texts.
People with no knowledge of Japanese who read these poor quality translations often expect that level of translation and often say “awkward English sounds better“. This can lead to novices thinking that the “best” way to translate is a very wooden, stilted, direct translation.
When We Read High Quality Writing
High quality writing can come in all forms. Books, articles, comics, video games. Not just translations but texts originally written in your dominant language are fantastic for improving native-level fluency.
Reading texts in the fields we translate in exposes us to a wide variety of vocabulary and different ways to express the same information.
If we read a lot of high quality texts in a more technical field with a set structure, then we’re exposed to what is considered a standard in terms of language. It may even expose us to new information/news that is being introduced into a particular field and what language is being used for it.
Of course reading high quality writing in translation is important too.
Reading a text in your second language and a high quality translation of it can show us new approaches to translation. Each translator takes a different approach and has a different style. Reading their translations can help shape your translation style into something you’re proud of. Especially if you pick up tips and tricks from other translations.
At the end of the day, that’s arguably one of the most important things about translating. To hone your skills. Find your personal style by exposing yourself to great writing and great translations.
How Can We Find High Quality Writing?
You may work alone but other translators are still your colleagues. We support each other and share knowledge. In this way Twitter is fantastic for networking, but there are other places translators interact. Such as language/field specific forums.
Asking other translators in your field for some things they worked on, or translations they particularly enjoyed. As well as suggestions for texts written in your dominant language.
Translation and writing awards can also be a wealth of high quality texts. This is a little more difficult in more technical fields, but there are some writing and translation competitions for non-literary texts.
Read Well to Translate Well
The more we read the more knowledge we gain. Not just in different fields, but in writing techniques and expanding our own vocabulary.
Reading translated texts can also expose us to new approaches and styles of translation. This is particularly useful for literary translation where there is a wide variety of ways to interpret and represent a text.
Likewise reading poor quality writing can impact us negatively. So it’s important to ask other translators and creators in our field for recommendations. This not only exposes you to new resources but is a great way to make more personal connections with others in your field.
Other Useful Articles
- Education for Literary Translators
- What a Course in Translation Should Include
- Come for the Sights, Stay for the Poetry – Pikes Market’s Japanese Book Store