Novelists know all about the challenges of writing prose in their native tongue. So much effort goes into creating a book that is engaging to the intended audience that most writers don’t have the energy to attempt to recreate their work in another language. However, there is a committed group of authors—some of them very well-known— who have managed to do this brilliantly. Exophonic writers like Jack Kerouac, Kahlil Gibran and, more recently, Dom Cutrupi, didn’t let the hurdles of translation stop them from conveying their words in other languages, and nor should you. In this article, we’ll talk about how writing your novel with the intention of translating it into another tongue can not only broaden your readership but become an exciting new adventure.
Start with Translation in Mind
If you hope to translate your work into another language, you must begin your project with this in mind. According to a professional translator, this knowledge will allow you to take a different approach from the outset. As your work takes shape, each version of the novel will likely influence the other, and your words will adapt to style changes as you go along. This is true whether you are a bilingual author who is going to translate the novel yourself, or you plan to use literary translation services to assist you in your endeavor.
Even as a bilingual, you may face obstacles when you attempt a translation of your work into a new language. While you may have no difficulty at all speaking it, writing an entire book in another language is a whole different ballgame. Your own personal style may be heavily influenced by years of writing only in your native tongue while translating it might require you to adapt to a new style. French, for example, requires a relatively formal tone compared to English, with longer sentences and more clauses. Russian, on the other hand, requires far fewer words than English to convey the same meaning, and the sentence structure is brief and uncomplicated.
A simple way to begin is to start writing a few pages at a time, simultaneously translating your work as you go along. This will give you an idea of the scope of the project and whether or not it is likely to exceed your translation limits. It will also provide you with the chance to learn as you work. If the work begins to feel too overwhelming, partnering with someone who can provide professional translation services can be extremely helpful. Just be sure you find a translator who is a native speaker and writer of the second language. They will offer valuable insights into the stylistic changes that will need to be made in order to retain the meaning of the words in your native language.
Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind When Working on Your Book Translation
Like most authors, you want your translation to be brilliant. The best way to ensure you turn out the highest quality book translation is to follow some simple tips to keep you on track.
- Improve your grammar skills
You don’t need to be an expert (after all, that’s what proofreaders are for) but you do need to understand the rules of grammar for the language you’re writing in. This is another reason why writing with translation in mind when you begin is helpful. If your grammar skills need a little work, be sure to improve before you get too far along in the literary translation process.
- Keep it simple
Focus on writing short, simple sentences. This will help you avoid becoming overwhelmed and making translation mistakes. While your work may not be as complex as you would like at first, you can go back and add more flourish (in either language!) once you’ve developed confidence in your ability to accurately translate your words.
- Ask for help
There are plenty of foreign language forums and online groups where you can go if you get stuck with a word or phrase in your translation. Having the perspective of a native speaker is invaluable, and most people will be happy to help. If you are really struggling, hiring a professional translator may be a good move.
How Translation Will Influence the Style of Your Novel
As a matter of course, when you’re writing with translation in mind from the beginning of your project, the style of your writing will change. You may need to address cultural references or leave them out entirely. Idioms that you would normally use may need to be dropped, especially if they don’t make sense once you’ve translated them.
A translation company will have staff members that specialize in book translation and localization services. If you don’t feel qualified to go it alone, these professionals are native to the language of your translation and can provide the extra help you need to convey your story without drastically changing it.
While the idea of changing your literary style to accommodate the differences between two different languages and audiences may not seem advantageous at first, there are many good reasons to undertake a literary translation. Not only can doing so enrich your content and vocabulary, but it provides a unique opportunity to bridge the gap between the two cultures.
Louise Taylor is the head of content for Tomedes, a translation agency specializing in literary translation. A professional freelance writer who has always been fascinated with language, she holds qualifications in French, German, Latin, and Spanish, as well as her native English.
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