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Thread: Translating for children

  1. #1
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    Default Translating for children

    I am translating a children's book and have noticed how conscious of the vocabulary you become as a translator. I reckon this book is pitched at a readership between maybe 8 and 11 years of age, so while you shouldn't use unnecessarily difficult words, such as "concomitant", "prestidigitatory" or "wherewithal", you must also avoid nannying your readers too much by avoiding every single long word. Otherwise children will never develop their vocabulary as they progress (or regress!) towards adolescence.

    At about that age, I read an awful lot of Biggles books and I wonder whether the attitude to children's vocabulary, and the awareness of children's authors, has changed from half a century ago. I get the feeling that when I was young, children went straight over from children's books to adult books, without the stepping-stone of books for "young adults" with lots of randy teenagers moping about in school corridors and having crushes or bullying their classmates.

    The charm of translating for children is that you can, when necessary stick to straightforward words and expressions, and after translating the convoluted sentences of Jaan Kross, I have found this children's book is pleasant relief.

    I have not translated much for children before, but translating children's literature is growing on me.

  2. #2

    Default Re: Translating for children

    Children's books are a world of their own and I do enjoy translating picture books for prereaders and books for young readers. Word choice is one of those parameters that I have had to think about a lot while translating, since at times a word is simple and familiar in one language and culture, while it is abstract or difficult in the target culture.

    Another thing to think about is the limited knowledge about the world that young prereaders and readers have. I think I had mentioned my magpie issue somewhere here in the forum - once I translated a story about a magpie, and though these birds are all over CEE Europe, I think they aren't very common in the US. So children in the US may not know that magpies are known to steal shiny objects etc., while that is common knowledge where the story is set.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Translating for children

    Yes, RamonaQ, I remember that discussion about magpies. I have never been to North America in my life, so I, a Briton, would automatically assume that it is magpies that steal shiny objects. Even in the Estonian novel I translated recently, there were magpies picking at shiny fish scales, with the added food benefit of doing so.

    I've never tackled anything for very young children, but there you have to be even more stringent with your choice of words. Most things in this book for 8-11-year-olds that I'm translating could perhaps be found in Britain, so there are not many typically local things. Pirates, ghosts, and beaches are all pretty familiar to British readers. (Though how many readers have actually seen a ghost is another matter entirely.)

  4. #4

    Default Re: Translating for children

    a new question: how to translate the ways children address adults in different cultures? For instance it is common for all adults to be addressed as 'aunt' or 'unlce' here in Croatia. Even if a child goes to buy a lollipop at the local store, the store clerk to that child would be addressed in that way. Daycare and preschool professionals are known as 'aunts' and 'uncles' here, while in elementary school they are addressed as 'teacher'. So when translating a novel for children where there are a whole lot of aunts and uncles everywhere that are not actual blood relatives, what to do?
    I personally prefer just using Mr., Miss, Mrs. etc. But I noticed in one translation of a story for children, aunt and uncle were used without any prior explanation. To me, that may cause confusion for the young readers.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Translating for children

    As I am translating into English I would go to The English Bookshop here in town and leaf through a book or two from the appropriate age group to see how untranslated works written in English do it. Because to a small extent in British English, children will call a frequent visitor to the house "auntie" or "uncle" (no diminutive) even if they are not a blood relation or one by marriage. But I wouldn't know if children call their minders or teachers such words in a kindergarten or crèche.

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    Default Re: Translating for children

    I've nearly finished translating the children's book I'm doing now, with its pirates, dumb-waiter, ghosts, and a former hotel. I have deliberately not read right to the end, as I expect the ending will be happy, and the anticipation keeps the translator on his toes. I really hope that it will appear in English, because it has fascinated me, even though I'm about fifty years too old to be included among the normal readership.

    I have found that with care you need not dumb down the book with regard to vocabulary, but have to really concentrate on getting English idioms right, not only where they differ a lot, but where they are exactly the same. The translator should not over-compensate by throwing them out.

  7. #7

    Default Re: Translating for children

    Have done rather a lot of children's lit. Pricing it can be interesting--the immense importance of word choice makes a realistic price seem outlandish in relation to the actual number of words. Serious professionals get it, but I'm always a tad nervous when I hit send on a bid.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Translating for children

    For most things involving normal prose, for adults or children, I tend to stick to the usual British recommended fee of £87 per one thousand words translated which, conveniently, comes out to almost exactly 100 euros. (At least that was the case a couple of weeks ago, according to exchange rate tables. Luckily, we are not living in a Weimar Republic situation regarding inflation.)

    But obviously if you are translating a book for the under-fives where the choice of words is crucial, but the text is very sparse, you have to be paid by some other yardstick than number of words. Being paid by the hour is one solution. So if you have to agonise for one hour over one particular sentence, you are paid for the effort and time involved, not the seven words of that sentence.

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