There’s no doubt that film translation can be a harsh and challenging job. When done well, film translation has the potential to attract the attention of critics and film technicians all over the world; but when poorly executed, film translation can make a comedy out of a serious drama. And though film translation has all the typical challenges faced by translators, there are other aspects of this type of work that make it even harder. Most translators will be familiar with these problems, and will have faced some of them.
The use of slang is possibly the most difficult aspect of translating films. In the best of circumstances, cultural insinuations can be tough to describe - even in the same language - but these difficulties increase exponentially when translating into a different language. It would probably be easier to translate slang from Dutch to English than to translate from Russian to English; the reason being that the Dutch and English languages are both part of the West Germanic family of languages. Besides, these two cultures have developed in parallel due to their geographic proximity. Therefore, it can be easier to convert Dutch slang into the English equivalent; but not always, because there are expressions that simply won’t make any sense at all if translated literally into English. For your amusement, let’s consider this Dutch saying: ‘Da’s kloten van de bok.' It’s typically translated to be ‘that’s very bad’ or ‘that’s rotten’, but the literal translation is actually ‘that’s testicles of the goat’, which, when taken out of context, makes absolutely no sense at all in English!
So, it’s because of these cultural differences that translators often take liberties when interpreting the meanings of certain phrases and words. Obviously, a translator’s ultimate goal is to convey the same idea, so, depending on the context in question, a number of phrases could be used to convey the same meaning.
Film translators often find nicknames to be a tough aspect of translation because of the behavioral and cultural connotations involved. When we have a character known as ‘sticky fingers’ we would automatically assume it means that person is a kleptomaniac, while the Dutch version of ‘plakkerige vingers’ could fall very flat indeed. Some translators in cases like this simply use the original in the translated version, and while this is an easy solution, it’s not necessarily more effective than a literal translation. Film translators’ real challenge arises when it comes to nicknames in movies about organized crime or gangs, where almost every movie character has a name that’s been carefully crafted to describe their passion, predilection, or propensity. Perhaps the safest approach here is to take the use-it-as-it-is approach, which means that the translator maintains the integrity of the character’s name. Much less stress for the translator!