Aside from all the other work I’m currently doing, I’m also in the process of translating my first novel, Awoken Dragon, into Finnish. I have to admit it isn’t quite as easy as I thought it would.
Finnish is my native language and I’ve been studying English for around 15 years now, so I’d say I’m quite fluent in both of them. However, translating something is almost its own form of art. It wasn’t that long ago when I heard a speech by a translator/interpreter student where she talked about how difficult and versatile that field is, but I don’t think I really believed her. Until now, that is!
Obviously, I’ve been translating things between Finnish and English for the whole time I’ve been studying the latter. Sentences, words, idioms etc. were all just another day at school. Translating fiction wasn’t on the agenda and while I have written a couple of stories in both languages, a novel is a whole other thing. There’s so much I didn’t even consider. The Finnish sentence structure is somewhat unique (I’m sure there’s a language out there that shares this but I haven’t yet found it) in the sense that, more often than not, the words can be arranged in a number of different ways without it becoming incomprehensible. The meaning might change slightly but everyone will understand. Despite this I find sentence structures one of the hardest things to translate.
I tend to use long sentences in my stories. In English they sound good to me but in Finnish… not so much. Words need to be placed differently. Commas need to be added and certain sections will have to become their own independent clauses. And I might still have to switch some verbs and adjectives around. Then there’s the matter of speech patterns and gender pronouns. In English there’s obviously he and she, but in Finnish it’s always “hän,” which makes it a little less easy to keep track of who’s speaking.
But the most important thing I’ve noticed is that you can rarely translate something word to word. Sometimes it works, but usually either some original notion will be lost or the result is just clunky. I don’t want readers to stop at a sentence and go “well, that sounds awkward.”
Perhaps I should look into some kind of translating courses or admit defeat and delegate it to someone professional. The down side of this is that I can’t really afford it. Besides, these translated copies will most likely be for my family only. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want the novel to reflect my best work, it just means that whatever money I’d use for the translation, I’d never get back. If the end result is terribly horrible, I might ditch it. But at least it gives me some practice, and any words written are better than no words written.
I really admire those who translate fiction for a living, though. It’s definitely not as easy as one might think.
Have you translated fiction, either for yourself or as a job? What did you like/didn’t like about it?