Conceptual Translations?

I came across this post about, whether a conceptual translation of e.g. the book “Sports” is thinkable. The post is in Danish, so for those of you, who don’t understand Danish, I’ll sum up the main points.

Kan man forestille sig en konceptuel oversættelse?

Mr. Vinum asks, what do you do, when the central of what is to be translated, isn’t printed in writing, but instead is the context that surrounds it? You can find this problems in the literature branch: conceptual literature, which pertains to articles or books, where the author gives his opinion/expertise/theories/ideas on, what is good or bad.

Vinum here refers to the american author Kenneth Goldsmith, who is known for his many books that all have in common that they are transcribed radio transmissions or copied text. Vinum especially thinks of the book “Sports” from 2006, which is one of the three books in Goldsmith’s radio trilogy. The other two being “The Weather” and “Traffic”.

Sports is a radio transmission of an entire baseball match between New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. Sports is according to Vinum a captivating novel about baseball, american sport culture and its commercialization – in addition to the constant interrupting commercials, you also find a special american way of advertising, as the commentators merge the sponsors into their speech  All of which would be transferable in an ordinary translation.

But what isn’t transferable is the direct transcription of the immediate radio language to the books written permanent language, which inevitably is one of the books main points. The problem lies in, that the translator takes the text and removes it from its original context and hence dissolves the concept.

Vinum suggest that instead of translating the text, then the concept is to be translated, namely to maintain the point of the book. In my opinion, then it could be argued, whether the book was translated or not, or if the translator instead becomes an author, writing a whole new book copying Goldsmith’s style. As the translator would be taking a German, Danish or French (depending on language) sport event, transcribing the radio transmission and creating a book following Goldsmith’s style.

If the concept was to be translated to Danish, then Baseball would have to be replaced by football, as Baseball is more or less non existing  in Denmark (it might be played by some, but not a sport that unites as many as football does). This will cause an even larger step away from the original book – if it was to be translated conceptual!

Vinum has a good point though, a word, sentence or meaning translation isn’t always the sufficient to transfer the concept, which makes translating an interesting topic, which can always be debated.


Localization: yes or no?

Translating cultural and humorous elements

Back in 2007, when I worked on my final paper, I came across this question – whether to localize  cultural and humorous elements in subtitles (in this case the Danish comedy “Flickering Lights”).

It can be hard to decide, whether to localize a text or not – in some cases its advisable and others not. If you read a book that you know has its setup in a certain country – then localization of places, persons and so on would be wrong in most cases. Instead you should try adding a small explanatory text, which helps the reader understand and leaves him/her with the attended meaning.

In cases like “Flickering Lights” (Blinkende Lygter)  and subtitles you do not have the option to add extra information, due to the certain restrictions and rules that are to subtitling. Here its advisable to actually find a good translation that carries over the meaning of the words.

Especially when it comes to translating humor – then a localization is a ‘must’ otherwise your audience won’t get the same experience as is intended by the author.

In this case for instance (Flickering Lights) – a well-know Danish author “Tove Ditlevsen” and some well-known amusement parks “Bakken” & “Tivoli” were referred to – well-known for Danes that is – but for Americans for instance these wouldn’t be recognized. Why a localization is necessary to carry over the meaning.

The two amusement parks stands for two different values and feelings – which needed to be carried over in the translation, why the translator had found two amusements parks in USA, which stood for the same values and feelings.

One must always take in to consideration, every time starting on a new text, whether to localize a text or not and be consistent throughout the text.


Right or Left?

In Denmark we usually say “we drive on the “right” side of the road”  – here referring to the double meaning of the word “right” – to be right and the right hand side! After having lived/visited several countries with left-hand driving I started to wonder, why we don’t drive on the same side of the road all over the world.

I found this homepage, which gave me a good explanation of, why we drive on either left or right!

So if you ever wondered – have a quick read through this!


Keeping one eye on the horizon and the other on the screen!

Saying “yes” to translating a book!

The last couple of month have been very busy, which is the result of me accepting an offer to translate a book “Standing on the shoulders of giants” in 10 weeks (well knowing that I would be on holiday 2 of the weeks!).

The offer came out of the blue, but it was a golden opportunity to try something new and face a challenge. The topic in question was football (soccer)! Yes I know, I’m female and “women don’t know anything about football” men often say – in Denmark we even have an ad making fool of women’s lack of sport knowledge. Never the less, I accepted!


The first text I had to translate was a try-out-test approx. 2 pages long, to see whether the editor and publisher gave green light – the thing was that I was going to translate from Danish in English – that is from my first in my second language.

Green light

The green light was given and I was given 20 chapters + introduction, thanks and epilogue. All in all 90.000 words, which I had to translate before deadline.

Before accepting the challenge, some thoughts ran through my head – I was quite sure that I was going to make it before the deadline (finished 10 days before deadline) – but when it’s the first time for anything – one often starts to wonder, whether you do it well enough, as you don’t want to disappoint the employer and/or in this case the real author.

Preparing and gaining knowledge

Before starting out I had to be sure of all the English football terms – the Danish were in place (Am not married to a football fan for nothing)! As I proceeded with the translation I often ran into other topics, which has nothing to do with the actual sport – why I regularly researched and gained knowledge of other topics as well. It was not just English words, which I added to my “head” dictionary – I also ran across a lot of Danish adjectives, which I normally don’t use or only know the synonyms to.

We all learn as long as we live!


To keep track of source and target text I used a translation tool called Trados – Trados consists of several windows, which allowed me to see both source and target text at the same time – so I didn’t have to switch back and forth between texts or writing in the same document. Another good feature is that you can save terms to a database as you go and every time starting to write an already written (and saved in the database) word it pops up and you don’t have to retype for example football. You simply save time! Another good feature is that, when opening the text in Trados – the program divides the text into sequences and removes all layout. Meaning you get a great focus point and can keep track of, how far you have come.

After I finished a chapter, I saved the target text and recreated the layout (or Trados did), allowing me to see the whole text and layout. First then I started my proofreading, as I became a better view of the whole text.


After finishing each chapter they were send of to the editor, who then made sure that the English was comprehensible. If there was a problem the text was send back for revision. I was lucky to be working with a great editor, who was easy to communicate with.


Now 10 weeks later I look back at a busy period (as I was also having my regular job next to this), but I feel more confident and wiser, both on the topic and how to “attack” such a big project. All in all a good experience, which I any time again would accept. 

What you always have to remember, when translating such a big project, is to let your self have some time off  once in a while – otherwise you get something mixed up!

Do you find your self translating the same thing over and over again??

If you do translation part/full time it might be worth looking for a CAT-tool! A CAT-tool is the translators third-hand, it keeps track of translations and saves text, so that you don’t have to translate the same sentences again and again. You don’t just save time, but you get more time to focus on other parts of your translation.

There are several free CAT-tools on the market, just to mention a few: Across, Wordfast, kiwi and memoq. Personally I find Across easy to use, it even comes with a visual step-by-step instructions manual. The difference of the tools often vary in, how much memory each program can store.

If you work with a translations agency you might have to invest in a licensed CAT-tool, as not all of the CAT-tools are compatible with each other. The only licensed CAT-tool I’ve been working with is Trados (2011). Which I find easy to use, if you have a problem, you just go to the “help” button and search for the answer.  Or even look online for the answer!

Hope this was helpfull. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me or leave a comment.