Losing Yourself In A Translation

As a German author who wrote her first book in English and is now translating it into her native language I find there are many difficulties in doing so.


First of all, even as a native speaker I think German is a rather difficult and complex language. I’m not saying that English is easy and that it doesn’t take much effort to write or speak in the language. Yet, compared to German it’s fairly easy. Of course, there are different tenses like Simple Present and Present Progressive, Simple Past and Past Progressive. And, of course, there are different rules of grammar. Yet still, English isn’t as difficult or, for that matter, as fickle as German.


In German you have the different rules about the placement of commas. You cannot just leave it out because you’re unsure about it or because you don’t find it necessary for the sentence. There is no way you can write properly if you neglect the rules and the different kinds of terms connected to them. In English you might be able to write a whole sentence which consists out of many smaller ones without a single comma – as you can see in the sentence right here. Only a few commas are actually necessary, for example when you’re addressing somebody or when you list certain things. In German, on the other hand, every comma counts. It’s not about whether you feel like using one or whether you find it necessary for your sentence. If your sentence fits the terms and if there is a rule about it, you have to use at least one comma or maybe even more. Sometimes you find yourself writing sentences with up to seven – yes, actually seven – commas, even if the content of the sentence doesn’t seem to need that many. Surely you can place quite the amount of commas in an English sentence as well, but you have to ask yourself one thing: are they really necessary in my language?


Another thing I find quite challenging about translating my own work into my mother language is the fact that, although we have many different sayings as well, there are certain sayings and phrases you simply cannot translate from English into German, at least not word by word. You may think ‘This is great!’ as you’re writing it down in English. But as soon as you decide to translate your work into German or as soon as somebody else starts translating it, there will be problems. While the phrase may sound great in one language, it might not make any sense in the other. And although there are many different phrases which mean the same, some simply can’t be translated into another language. They’re content and the idea behind it simply doesn’t add up with the ideas and beliefs of the other language, the other nationality. But it’s not only like this when you’re translating English into German but also when you’re doing it the other way around. For example the German saying ‘Ich glaube, ich spinne!’ would be translated as ‘I think, I spider!’. Yet it means ‘I think, I’m going crazy!’. Or the saying ‘Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof’ which would be translated as ‘I only understand train station’ but actually means ‘I don’t understand a thing’. Funny, isn’t it?


Last but not least, there are many grammatical figures which cannot be translated from English into German word by word because it simply doesn’t sound right. A sentence might sound beautiful and almost poetic in English due to the order of words or the usage of the progressive form. Translated into German, though, that same sentence might not sound so beautiful after all. Sometimes you’ll have to change the sentence slightly in order for it to sound nice and make sense in German. Other times you’ll have to add a word or two so it is grammatically correct. Either way, there are words and sentences which simply cannot be translated word by word from one language into another.



In the end, although it may be difficult at times and although German is a difficult and complex language, translating something you love dearly can still be a lot of fun. It may take a while to find fitting phrases and words, but should you ever get lost in your translation you can always take a step back and have a look at phrases used in your own language which sound rather funny in the other.

Write a comment

Comments: 0