Lost in Translation: A Tempting Catchphrase
The Secret World of Arietty came out in the US in the end of February, nearly two years after its Japanese release. Naturally, the release was accompanied by a flurry of reviews and, here at TranSenz, the ones that caught our eye- or rather, or newscrawler’s eye- were the ones with the word “translation.” Specifically, a handful of them (ab)used the phrase “Lost in Translation.” I get it. It was a big movie a few years back, with some A-list stars, and name dropping it will spice up an otherwise not-quite-mediocre article. But before you yield to the temptation, think about what you’re really saying. Is the translator truly at fault? Or was the original equally bad?
Translation is a GIGO Process- Sort Of
I may be dating myself, but I remember when GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) was a vogue phrase to retort to people who blamed computers for not solving their problems. With a computer, the quality of your output cannot exceed the quality of your input. Translation is a little less straightforward. If you use an automatic translator, like google, to go back and forth from English to Japanese, your translation will be scrambled and lost, without a doubt. If you use a non-native speaker of the target language, there’s a good chance that complex phrases and idioms will still lose their meaning- and we’re not even getting into grammar errors and word selection. If, however, you rely on a professional translator, like TranSenz, for your translation, you may end up with a product that not only carries your meaning perfectly between Japanese and English, but also improves your original.
A Translator is also a Free Proofreader
The first job of a translator is to make sure they completely understand the source material. By default, this means the translator is proofreading your original document for any logical inconsistencies, grammar errors and, if it’s Japanese, kanji errors, that interfere with the meaning. A reliable translator should not carry over errors into the target language, he or she should relay those errors back to you, the author, for clarification. If you haven’t published your source material yet, you’re getting a free extra proofread out of the process. And who doesn’t like free?
Outsource Translations for Maximum Benefit
It can be very difficult for an in-house translator to go back to the original author and recommend improvements to the source text. If you give an in-house translator, usually a contract employee, a text that originated from a senior manager, or at least passed through layers of bureaucratic review, they’re less likely to want to point out their superiors’ errors because they have their job to protect. An outside translator, on the other hand, has only their reputation at stake, so they are more likely to mention any necessary corrections, without regard for ruffled feathers.
In the Secret World of Arietty, the translation followed the original by nearly two years, which eliminates any positive effect it might have had on the original. By all responsible accounts, the translated script did an excellent job of conveying the meaning while keeping true to the characters’ mouth movements. Not an easy task! Sadly, no translation can make up for the lack of story in the original. When your name is Studio Ghibli, we expect you deliver magic, not just prettily animated pictures. The magic was definitely missing from Arietty, and no translation could bring it back.