Original vs Translated Literature | An Ideal Translation


Literature and language mean a lot to us. They are the way we communicate, a means of expressing our thoughts and feelings. What we cannot convey by words, we convey with our emotions. The most optimal way to experience a story in a different language would, of course, be to learn the language and read the original version. Unfortunately, there are way too many languages, and so little time, so we cannot master each one, bringing us back to the start—not being able to absorb and understand exactly what the author is trying to say.

Language plays a vital role in literature. We connect to the familiar words, the familiar language when we connect to the characters. Perhaps it’s just because we know it’s been altered, but somehow, translated works feel different and strange. They lose their natural vibe, in a way, as the words are shifted from tongue to tongue.

There is a lot to consider when we read a translated work: the prose has changed, the words might have lost their charm, the phrases might not mean the same thing as the original. In my opinion, these are some of the most important areas that translators need to focus on. If in one language, the phrase is “The sunlight danced off the window and the shadows created pools of darkness in the corner”, the translation should not be demoted  and reduced to “The sunlight glinted off the window and the shadows made spots in the corner”. There is something beautiful in imagery, and that should definitely be kept untouched.

When I’m reading a translated piece of literature, I always wonder if everything is accurate. The plot is the same, and so are the events in the story, but maybe there’s a feeling that the author wants to express, or a thought he/she wants to illustrate? What if I dislike the book because I can’t connect with the characters—maybe the original work had more depth to it, more feeling?

In short, to be an (almost) accurate piece, a translation should be able to retain the same vibe, properly convey the author’s message to the readers, and perfectly depict the beautiful imagery. I understand that all languages are not the same, and have very different vocabulary and ideas, but an ideal translation should be at its best, and as close to the true one as possible.

Smartling, a type of language translation website, offers this to the world. It’s a great option for those of us who don’t have the time to master a foreign language and wade in its rough waters. Easy access to different worlds and new ideas is possible.

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7 thoughts on “Original vs Translated Literature | An Ideal Translation

  1. I totally agree with what you are saying. Sometimes a very beautiful sentence in the original work that is meant to be a metaphor, in translation they take it literaly. Or they misunderstand the purpose of any other sentence. That is why I started reading books in the other language I know (english, of course) and realized that pretty much a big part of novels’ beauty is lost in translation. Great post! 😀

    • Yes! You’re right—metaphors are often lost in translations and can sometimes hinder the effect of the book. I’m trying to learn as many languages as I can so I can have access to a wide variety of different texts 🙂

  2. great post and great points. I study languages and I find this particularly interesting. I was also approached by Smartling to write on the topic. I’ll be posting some time next week 😀

  3. Great point! I can’t remember where I heard this, but I’m pretty sure translations of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain use the formal versions of that language meaning the slang is lost in translation. Since I heard this I’ve always wondered what was lost in translation from translated books I’ve read. So many books rely on metaphors and words that sound similar to each other. I guess translators need to decide how to deal with this which is why they get paid. 🙂

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