The art of translation

Posted 4 November 2020 by Agence Rinaldi in Our experts

In six questions, Charlène, our translator and copy editor, sheds light on the invisible work that is translation, as well as its importance in advertising.

What is translation?

I really don’t think I’ll be teaching anyone something new by explaining that translation is the art of taking something written in a certain language (the source language) and rewriting it in another language (the target language). I do however feel it is important to stress that translation is not just taking a word and replacing it by its equivalent in another tongue. What should be translated is the meaning, not the words.

How would you label translation?

Essential, captivating and… invisible – in theory, at least. What I mean by that is that a translation should never tell on itself. A good translation should always make the reader feel like they are reading the text in its original version.

How does one become a translator?

There are many possibilities. Many translators here have a bachelor’s degree in translation, but quite a few turn to this field for a change of career, in which case they often opt to undertake one or two certificates in this discipline.

But first and foremost, you have to love languages, and you must have a solid mastery of the target language. Many people seem to think that any bilingual person can be a translator, but that’s just not the case. After all, being fluent in a language does not necessarily mean that you grasp all its nuances, are aware of all its traps and are good at writing in it. All this can be learned, of course, but these lessons often require a good dose of humility, as it often pushes you to re-examine some linguistics habits and preconceptions you hadn’t ever given any real thought to.

How important is translation in advertising?

It’s crucial, especially in a context as unique as Québec’s. French-speaking Québécois not only want to be spoken to in their native tongue, but they want to feel respected and appreciated. They can’t be courted with messages quickly “translated” through apps like Google’s.  Many businesses thought they could cut corners this way, and the ensuing uproar certainly made them think twice about doing it again.

National and international businesses who wish to sell their goods and services in our province have to do it en bon français and must use quality translations done by professionals. Bad translations are at best fodder for jokes (see Protégez-vous’s “Hein?” section if you feel like having a good laugh), and at worst scorned, when the public feels the brand is showing contempt for Québec’s official language. 

What are some of the challenges associated with translating an advertisement?

 When in the source language, the ad is built around a pun or an untranslatable joke. That’s when you have to go beyond translation, and into the realm of adaptation or transcreation. That’s not always easy, especially when the visual elements are fixed and you have no choice but to work with them. The translator will sometimes have to bend over backwards to find an adaptation that works and that is as catchy as the original version. It’s a challenge, for sure, but a wonderful one!

Then there’s also the whole character limit issue for online or social media content. When you have no choice but to cut out some info in order to respect the character limit in the target language, you sometimes have to get real creative in order to still convey the message clearly.

Finally, what is the difference between translation for marketing material and other types of translation?

The creative dimension, for sure. Translating legal or medical documents presents its own set of challenges and requires a very specific type of knowledge. Translating a marketing campaign often requires thinking outside the box to make sure that the end result is still impactful, which is the exact opposite of what is expected of you when you translate content related to a field where the devil is in the details…

Translation for marketing purposes allows you to truly have fun with the language, in all its richness and flexibility.

Charlène Côté | translator and copy editor