Tips for Translators
Makalah John H. McGlynn dalam seminar “Road to Frankfurt: How Translation Travels.”
(Especially for translating from Bahasa Indonesia to foreign languages.)
Before Beginning to Translate a Work:
- Ascertain the potential value of the work in the target language (irrespective of what it’s value is in the source language). Why should that particular work be translated? Who will be its audience?
- Contact the author (or copyright holder) before beginning work and obtain from him or her written permission to translate the work.
- Ask the copyright holder if anyone else has requested to translate the work. If no one has, request that you be given a “zone of exclusivity,” a certain amount of time in which you will have to complete your work — one year, for instance — without worry that someone else might translate the text before you
- If possible, obtain from the author a copy of his/her contract with the text’s publisher. Are there any restrictions, geographical and so on? What about royalties?
- If the author has an agent, contact the agent as well.
- Especially for longer works, before investing months of time in translating a text, try to obtain a contract for its publication with a publisher. (Here again, ask yourself who your target audience is and where you want to publish the translation: in an academic journal, a daily newspaper or magazine, or with a commercial publisher? The answer to that will, in some measure, determine (at the very least) the format of your translation.
- Prepare a precis of the work, giving a synopsis of the story. Mention its importance in the source language and its potential importance in the target language.
- Provide a sample translation, several pages of one chapter, for instance.
- If in the pre-publication stage a publisher accepts the (unfinished) translation for publication, secure a contract! If possible, request an advance.
- Whatever publisher is chosen, learn if the publisher has an in-house style book. Obtain and make use of it. If not, use one of the major style books available, The Chicago Manual of Style or another.
During the Translation Process:
- Translate, write and rewrite. Rarely, is a good translation produced during the first-draft stage of translation. (In my experience, at least three drafts are necessary.)
- Always keep in mind that translation is treason and that it is impossible to recreate in the target language the “same” work as the original. Thus, while paying honor to the form, content and spirit of the original work, also remember that you are creating what is, in a sense, a new work for a new audience. Your first loyalty must be to the semantic and stylistic rules of the target language. Do not bastardize the target language (unless that is what the author did in the original!).
- A “good” translation should reflect not just the strengths but also the weaknesses of the original. It is not your task as a translator to “fix” a story —though often that is what translators are called on to do! If you find problems in the original, discuss them with the author. (Often authors will loosely quote or paraphase — if not plagiarize — another source. If you know that is what he/she is doing, insist that credit be given to the original source. Credit for songs and other copyrighted material should be obtained.)
- If you are forced to “correct” something or take more liberties than would be normal in translating a work, ask the author’s permission and be willing to forgo further work on the translation if the author will not accept your suggestion. If your suggested changes are substantive, obtain written permission to make them.
- If the author is fluent in the target language, make use of his/her skill. Ask the author for help on sections you’re unsure of. Give him copies of your drafts to read. His advice might prove to be invaluable. (At the same time beware that his knowledge of the target language is not or might not be as good as yours and that the final decision about a particular problem must be yours.)
- Give yourself enough time to do a good job. After you have produced a draft translation, put it away and try to forget about it so that you’ll have “new eyes” when you resume your work.
- Once you have checked your translation to ascertain its felicity, throw away the original work and stop referring to it. Often times, the grammatical structure of the original will have an unconscious influence on how you translate the text into the target language.
- Once you have produced a near final draft, read your work aloud. Often, when you find yourself stumbling in the target language it is an indication of a problem in the text.
- Have another native speaker — one who likes to read! — read and evaluate your work. Especially important is the advice of people who have no knowledge of the source language.
Submitting your Work for Publication:
- If you have not secured a publishing contract before completing your work, when considering submitting your publication to a publisher, first find out whether the publisher accepts unsolicitated manuscripts. If not, don’t bother.
- When inquiring of a prospective publisher whether he/she would consider publishing your translation, make it easy for him/her to decide. Send to him via post (not via email), the following:
- A precis (as mentioned above);
- A letter of permission from the author;
- A printed manuscript that conforms with the publisher’s style.
- If a publisher accepts your MS for publication, be willing to take criticism and listen to advice. Respect the publisher’s or editor’s opinion. Argue if necessary about substantive matters but make yourself easy to work with. Respect schedules and deadlines.