The true Art of Translation

Dena Falken

To quote , though Chukovskii (1984:93) does not take translation into consideration as a science when he confirms that, “translation is not only an art, but a high art.”

I could not agree more! Especially when dealing with technical translations, be they scientific, medical or legal.

There are some general translation principles which are relevant to all types of translation.

Actual meaning

The translation should reflect accurately the meaning of the original text. Nothing should be arbitrarily added or removed, though occsionally part of the meaning can be transposed. There is the expression however ” garbage in, garbage out” If the original work is not correct a translation can only reflect the original.


The ordering of words and ideas in the translation should match the original as closely as possible. This is particularly important in translating legal documents, guarantees, contracts, etc. Differences in language structure often require changes in the order of words and the format. When in doubt, underline in the original text the words on which the main stress lies.

Languages often differ greatly in their levels of formality in a given context, for example, the business letter. To resolve these differences, the translator must distinguish between formal or fixed expressions and personal expressions, in . The tone of the original work must be assessed and followed.

Language influence of the source

One of the most frequent criticism of translation is that it does not sound natural. This is because the translator’s thoughts and choice of words are too strongly moulded by the original text. A good way of shaking off the source language influence is to set the text aside and translate a few sentences aloud, from memory. This will suggest natural patterns of thought in the first language, which may not come to mind when the eye is fixed on the source language text.


The translator should not change the style of the original. If the text is sloppily written, or full of tedious repetitions, the translator may, for the reader’s sake, correct the defects.

Idioms and expressions

Idiomatic expressions are notoriously untranslatable. These include similes, metaphors, proverbs and sayings, jargon, legal jargon, slang, and colloquialisms and ( in English ) phrasal verbs. If the expressions cannot be directly translated, try any of the following.

Chose the concept of the idiom and try to align it to the closest concept in your translation. If that does not work, you may have to leave it out.

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Legal-Ease International The World Leader in Legal English Founder Dena Falken