Translation Round Up: Tips for Translators, How Google Translate Works

Arabic Literature (in English) has been running a series of interviews with translators about what one should and shouldn’t do. The translators translate from more than just Arabic, but also Spanish, and poetry. It is a great feature. I found the one for about Spanish translations fascinating, in part because one of the translators has already translated works by María Shua who I just discovered the other day. Read the full interview here.

from Lisa Carter

1. Love the work

You are about to spend an inordinate amount of time with any literary translation, so make sure you love it. You can love the text itself, the style, the author, the opportunity the project presents, the editor, the publisher, any number of things. Just remember that initial attraction to the work as the weeks and months pass, when the challenge becomes daunting, when you doubt yourself or your ability. Remember to love the work.


from Andrea G. Labinger

5. For Spanish translators or others whose source language has many regional variations: Find good regional dictionaries, including lexicons of slang. In my arsenal, for example, are: El diccionario etimológico del lunfardo (Argentine slang) by Oscar Conde, Francisco J. Santamaría’s Diccionario de mejicanismos [sic] and a number of country-specific online dictionaries.

You can find a few more articles here about poetry , picture books, and Arabic translations.


David Bellos had an interesting article in the Independent about how Google Translate works: it use translations made by people. As someone who once seriously considered studding computational linguistics, it is both fascinating and disappointing. In some ways the machine can’t really do it. And that’s especially obvious when it tries to translate the indirect object pronoun of the romance languages. (via Scott)

The corpus it can scan includes all the paper put out since 1957 by the EU in two dozen languages, everything the UN and its agencies have ever done in writing in six official languages, and huge amounts of other material, from the records of international tribunals to company reports and all the articles and books in bilingual form that have been put up on the web by individuals, libraries, booksellers, authors and academic departments.


A good number of English-language detective novels, for example, have probably been translated into both Icelandic and Farsi. They thus provide ample material for finding matches between sentences in the two foreign languages; whereas Persian classics translated into Icelandic are surely far fewer, even including those works that have themselves made the journey by way of a pivot such as French or German. This means that John Grisham makes a bigger contribution to the quality of GT’s Icelandic-Farsi translation device than Rumi or Halldór Laxness ever will. And the real wizardry of Harry Potter may well lie in his hidden power to support translation from Hebrew into Chinese. GT-generated translations themselves go up on the web and become part of the corpus that GT scans, producing a feedback loop that reinforces the probability that the original GT translation was acceptable. But it also feeds on human translators, since it always asks users to suggest a better translation than the one it provides – a loop pulling in the opposite direction, towards greater refinement. It’s an extraordinarily clever device. I’ve used it myself to check I had understood a Swedish sentence more or less correctly, for example, and it is used automatically as a webpage translator whenever you use a search engine.