The Challenge of Translating Children’s Stories

January 4th, 2016

Faithfully translating children’s stories can be very challenging.

The Challenge of Translating Children’s Stories | One Hour Translation

To those people not familiar with the translation industry, one could assume that translating a highly technical text in the medical field would be very complicated and require a certain depth of knowledge; not only of the medical field but also of the target language. And of course this assumption would be true. However, one might also assume that, when a text appears simple, like a children’s story with simple grammar and vocabulary, it would not present any complications at all. In fact, faithfully translating children’s stories can be very challenging.

Same Game - Different Languages - Different Expressions

An example of this is translating a set of instructions for a simple outdoor game played by children. Let’s use the game of tag as our example. The game of tag is very well known, but when translating into Spanish the translator has several options for expressing it into Spanish; for example, pilla, corre que te pillo, tenta, la mancha, and several others - all depending entirely on the region in the Spanish-speaking world where this game will be played.

Translating Characters’ Names in Children’s Books

Translating the names of characters in children’s books can also be challenging. For example, would a five-year-old child in Mexico identify with someone named Peter or Henry: perhaps it would be more appropriate to change these names to Luisito or Carlitos, which are much closer to their everyday reality. We know that children are better able to retain aspects that are closer to their daily life and their own culture. An example of this is when, in a recent study, someone was eating a watercress and the translator changed it to something more familiar – cheese - because watercress is not a common food in Spain.

Good Communication Is Required between the Translator and the Client

So, as you can see, translators must be very careful when working on this type of translation, which means that good communication must exist between the client and the translator in order to exchange ideas on the best choices. Children are entitled to read a story and enjoy it completely, without any foreign-sounding aspects that might be confusing to them.

Some Helpful Tips for Successfully Translating Children’s Books

  • Ideally, the translator will also be a writer;
  • If at all possible, meet the author. It will help with your translation work if you can learn more about the context and setting in which the story was created;
  • Read, and then reread the text as many times as necessary before you start your translation;
  • If you get stuck on a meaning during translation, and you know the word or phrase is right there, then just take a short break. When you return to your work you’ll find that the word/s will come to you;
  • When editing, read your translation out loud: it must flow smoothly to your ear;
  • If you have a bad text, then refuse the translation project. It’s very difficult as a writer to work with bad text because you’ll want to edit it while translating, and this is not generally in your scope;
  • Take a break from the text for a few days, if at all possible, then look at it again;
  • The names of characters should be preserved – don’t try to domesticate the text;
  • Continue editing the text right up until the last minute;
  • At all times you must preserve the book’s original soul, meaning you should find an equivalent meaning in the target language.

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