This trimester, I had the unexpected opportunity to work with Jasami Publishing Ltd. as a translation intern. They recently decided to expand their market and, in order to do so, were looking for students whose first language was not English in order to translate their publications. The project began with two Children’s books. I started with the assumption that this genre would be the easiest to translate and work on simply because picture books and children’s books are smaller and have fewer words than say young-adult fiction or non-fiction books for example.

 I was wrong. Our first translation work was Bernie the Bear, a small picture book about a small bear who wanders through both the city and the forest and finds himself going on fun adventures. Michele, Managing Director at Jasami, warned us straight away; this is going to be the most difficult text we would be working on. 

At first glance, it seemed like a straightforward job, and I started my work quite confidently. But it became clear quickly enough that it would be trickier than I thought. The book in its original language is written in rhymes. I know it is nothing compared to poetry, but as my first translation, it sure was not an easy task. I slowly worked my way through a first draft of the translation. 

As my work progressed, it became clear that the translation of a book was more than translating each word and putting them in the correct order. Finding the right idioms whilst remaining faithful to the original meaning of the text takes a lot of time, especially because there are some cultural differences that simply cannot be ignored. Then, on top of that, there was the problem of finding words with the same meaning as their English counterparts that rhymed. 

Once I had finished the first draft, I assumed the worse was behind me. And to be honest, most of it was. But then I tried to read my translation aloud. Some parts just did not work; the words were not flowing as nicely, and the rhythm was off… It did not sound good. The second phase of my work began, I had to go back to all those parts that did not sound right and change them, sometimes at the expense of the rhymes that were so lovely in the source text. After a chat with Michele and the other translators, it became clear that I was not the only one struggling with those rhymes. It did not work in other languages either. We ultimately agreed on one thing: the core meaning of the text comes first, structural subtleties second. The main attraction of the book was Bernie and his reactions to different environments, and if features such as rhymes had to be sacrificed from time to time, then so be it. 

The core meaning of the text comes first, structural subtleties second.

From this first translation work, I learned to prioritize the most important things in a text and how to strip down a piece of writing to its most basic and simple meaning before building it up again in another language. It was an amazing experience for which I am grateful. The skills I learned during this placement are some that I know for sure will be a great asset in the future.