Translation & translation strategy

What is translation and translation strategy?

Let’s start with defining translation. Where does the word come from and what does it actually mean?

The Latin word for translation is ‘translatio’, which means to carry across or to bring across. In this sense you therefore bring/carry across the text, word etc. from the source language (SL) to the target language (TL).

The Greek word for translation is μετάφρασις (metaphrasis), which means a speaking across. Metaphrasis or metaphase, as it’s called in English, means literal or word-for-word translation. The contrast to μετάφρασις (metaphrasis ) is παράφρασις (paraphrasis), meaning a saying in other words. Today the two terms are parallel to the English terms; formal equivalence (literal) and functional equivalence (meaning).

The definition of translation in Oxford’s dictionary is, [mass noun] the process of translating words or text from one language into another. [count noun] a written or spoken rendering of the meaning of a word or text in another language.” (

From this we can conclude that a translation is a process, where the SL is carried across in the TL, either formal or functional. But what else is there to know about translation?

Interlingual vs. Intralingual

A translation of a text can either be interlingual, which means that the text is translated from one language in another language or intralingual, which is translations within one language e.g. translation of ‘legal language’ to ‘general language’ or from a ‘dialect’ to ‘general language etc.

But does a translation always have to be done on word or text basis? No, you can also translate e.g. spoken language, signs, sign language, gestures, context etc.

Translation strategy

Moving on to a more practice orientated level of translating. We have established that translating is a process, but how do we come from SL to TL? And which strategy should we choose – a literal or a functional?

When translating, there are many factors to take into consideration. First of all it’s important to identify, what the purpose (skopos) of the translation is, why is it being translated? Then the translation situation must be analyzed; who is the text for (target audience – TA) and where is it being published (target place –TP). In continuation hereof the source text (ST) must be analyzed; what is the purpose of the text, which genre are we dealing with, how is the structure, which language instruments have been used etc.? And finally it’s time to consider, which strategy you want to use. When deciding on a strategy, following aspects can be considered; is the purpose directly transferable, is the genre and language instruments to be directly transferred and does the TA have the same knowledge as the source audience (SA) – if not, do we need to change something in order to maintain the meaning (see also: or do we need to add extra information? And last but not least, are we (the translators) to concentrate on the text’s form or purpose? (

Translation stages:

To give you an overview of the process I’ve divided it into stages:

1: Communication situation & Target audience

–          Who is the sender

–          Who is the receiver

–          What’s the purpose of the text (general)

2: Source text

–          Read all of the text*

–          Analyze it

–          What’s the purpose of the text

–          What’s the genre

–          Which language instruments are used

–          How is the text structured

–          Which knowledge is presupposed by the reader of the ST

3: Translation strategy

–           Is the purpose of the ST to be transferred directly

–          Are the genre/language instruments to be transferred directly

–          Can the same knowledge be presupposed by the target text (TT)

–          Should you focus on the form or the meaning of the text

–          Should the translation be close to the ST or not: e.g. B-menneske (Danish)= a) B-person or b) late riser (English)

4: The actual translation and proofingProofing

–         The translation starts

–         When proofing, remember to check up on terms, names etc. are they consistent or not.

–         A good idea is to write down everything you need to check up on later or make a clear comment in your text, so you don’t forget it later.


* You might not always have time to read the entire text, especially if it’s a book translation that has a certain time frame – then other strategies must be considered.

All depending of the genre there are different strategies to consider, as I just mentioned, if you are to translate a book, you don’t have time to read the book, but you still have to familiarize yourself with the genre, theme(s), style, person gallery etc. If you are translating legal document make sure to be close to the text, whereas other genres such as commercials, sales letters etc. can be freer, as the main goal is to transfer the meaning of message. Not too free though, if it changes the style of the original writer.

Have fun translating



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.


If it doesn’t feel right, it probably can be better….

The other day I was translating a text from English to Danish. I found my self translating a paragraph, which I afterwards wasn’t too happy about. I defiantly would sound better, if I changed the order of the text, but I wasn’t sure of how much I was allowed to change.

The reply to my questions was: Change it as much as needed for it to be right in Danish and selling, but don’t change the meaning of the sentence. It doesn’t matter if you end up with 3 sentences instead of 2.

My advice, always ask, if you are in doubt. And If you are using a CAT-Tool, make sure to see the text in its original layout and in full, this way you get a better feeling of, whether the text is coherent or not.


Copy writing

How to start…

I recently had to create text for two new homepages: Knau and Adelberg. I had a month to finish the project, which at first seemed to be plenty of time. Before I could get going on the actual writing, I had to do some research about the two brands and about white goods, to get the wordings and information right. Luckily I had the resources on hand to gather information from. Another important point to remember is finding a common thread in one’s work to make the text coherent and of cause to remember the target audience.

You always have to modify the text for the target audience. If you want to sell a product, for example a car, you must keep in mind: what is special about my car, who am I communication to, what does this  group have in common and what is important for X.

The writing process

When writing it is often a good idea to start out writing, without worrying to much about the content, just to get going. Afterwards you can become more critical and focused on the content. As I was creating text on basis of few headwords and some background information, I was bound to be creative. My first couple of attempts to create the text lacked flattering adjectives and volume. But after getting the skeleton in place, I started working on the smaller details and getting some volume in the text.

As the homepage consisted of more pages, this was an ongoing process. As well as making sure the pages didn’t overlap too much information.

The hard part was to create around 10 small similar texts describing fridges and refrigerators, so that the text differed.

The next step: Translation

After completing the text it had to be translated into English and German. Most of the text was easily translated, but you always have to take cultural differences into account. And pay attention to, how for instance a German would express him selves.

Again, remember to do research about the topic in the language you are translation into. You might know a lot in your own language, but maybe the target language has another way of expressing a certain mechanism. Plus it is always good to get the wordings right, which is best done by finding similar text.

It can also be recommended creating a corpus within the field of work. This way you have 5-10 text to compare and to get an idea, how the structure and wordings are.

Finishing up

After creating the text for one homepage in three languages I started all over on the second homepage. After doing the first homepage the second was easier to get started with. You just have to get into the way of thinking and the working process gets easier and you more efficient.

The last thing to do, before pronouncing it finished, is to proofread. It’s also recommendable to get another pair of eyes on you work, before making it public.

Of course there are more aspects to discuss, when doing copy writing and translation. Why I’ll try to get around it in the future. You are always welcome to leave a comment either about this post or if you have a good idea for a new post/topic.