Monthly Archives: November 2012

Translating Video Games and the Power of a Fan Base

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Crowdsourcing translations can be a powerful, but risky way of translating your product.  Crowdsourcing is outsourcing a task to the general public or “crowd.”  This could be anyone on the internet, but it will usually just be your fans or supporters, those people who have some sort of stake, emotional or otherwise, in your product or service.  There are many benefits to crowdsourcing a translation, including increased customer engagement, a more tailored translation (the customers did it themselves), and it can (in some cases) be more cost effective.  It isn’t totally free as translations are, or really ought to be, professionally edited before they are implemented.

While crowdsourcing has become more popular in recent years on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, a related concept, fan translations has been around for much longer.  Video game fans have long translated dialogue and user interfaces from Japanese to English.  These fans wanted their English speaking friends to be able to enjoy the Japanese games that had not been officially localized for a North American audience.  The first recorded fan translation was back in 1993.

These translations of course not professionally done, but there is some benefit to that.  We talk almost endlessly about how important context and a deeper understanding of the culture that surrounds the translation.  The fans have this understanding and it is unlikely that professionally trained translators would.  This is of course a double edged sword as fan translations can actually be too “inside-baseball” and alienate less hard-core fans.  But chances are if you’re getting a fan translation then you are also pretty hard-core.

Fan translations have been in the news lately as it seems that an official rerelease of the 1998 video game “Baldur’s Gate” will include a fan translation.  The game is a dialogue heavy “role-playing game” and reportedly contained 1.2 million words.  Fans have been working on the translation into a variety of languages since its release in 1998.

Bicultural Translators

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A good translator must be bicultural as well as bilingual.  This means that the translator not only has an excellent grasp of the source and target languages, but also of the source and target cultures.  As we’ve discussed before a good translation can take into account the idiomatic phrases and references that make language beautiful.  In order to do this you need to know more than grammar and terms, you need to have lived the language.

We’ve mentioned previously that the biggest competitor AZ World has is not Google translate but is cheaper oversees translators.  A good translator isn’t just trained and educated, they need to have lived in the two cultures they are communicating with.  They need to understand the two worlds they are joining. An outsourced translator may be well trained, but chances are they lack the cultural eye necessary for effective translation.

So consider what your goal is the next time you need translation.  Are you trying to join two worlds so as to better understand a potential business partner? Are you trying to facilitate effective transfer of vital information, information that is loaded with connotations and nuances?  If so then you need a well trained and culturally aware translator.  You need an AZ World translator and we welcome you to request a quote here.

What Reverse Translations Tells Us About Google Translate

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Google Translate recently updated their tool to allow for easy reverse translations.  A reverse translation is way to check the accuracy of a translation.  It is done by translating the new translation back into the original language to compare.  This may show problems or mistranslations.

Consider an example.  One of the first things I learnt in French back in Grade 5 was how to tell someone your name.  In French this would be “Je m’appelle John.”  Google Translate is getting smarter so this is now translated from French to English as “I’m John.”  But when we translate “I’m John” from English into French, we get “Je suis John.” This is reverse translation.

Doing reverse translation in machine translators will often reveal large errors in grammar or awkward phrasing.  This does not necessarily mean that the translation contains these same errors as they could have occurred in the translating back instead of the original translation.  The main thing reverse translation will reveal are improper homonyms resulting from a lack of context.

But reverse translation will not always show you these mistakes.  Think about the word “story” while this usually means a tale or recounting of events, it may be used to refer to the floors of a building.  The sentence “I was on the 18th story” is translated into French as “J’étais sur l’histoire 18.” Translated back into English it means “I was on story 18.”  While a bit awkward this is not necessarily incorrect.  But the French translation is.  “L’histoire” refers to a recounting of events not the floors of a building.

Of course, the best way to avoid these problems is to simply use a human translator.  Translators understand the challenges of context and can resolve these problems well.

Translating Humour

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The New York Times has an interesting piece by Jascha Hoffman up regarding the challenges of translating humour.  It offers a good break down of the issues translators face and some amusing examples.  The key problems seem to be about cultural references and turns of phrase or wordplay.  And translators often find creative ways of getting around these roadblocks.  For cultural references they are often left alone, or perhaps footnotes explaining the reference are added.  But footnotes are an inelegant solution and can become too much.  And we all know that explaining the joke won’t make it funny.  Sometimes to translate idiomatic words, whole new words are created.  This can lead to new levels of humour not found in the source text.  Check out this excerpt from the piece.

Might some funny bits actually get funnier in translation? In the title story of George Saunders’s “Pastoralia,” a character is paid to impersonate a cave man at a theme park, his employers providing a freshly-killed goat to roast daily, until one morning he goes to the usual spot and finds it “goatless.” Among the many possible renderings of this made-up word, Saunders’s German translator chose ziegenleer, a lofty-sounding melding of “goat” and “void” with no exact equivalent in English.

“The German translation is accurate, but the word combination tickles some kind of orthographical, sound-receptive funny bone,” explained the Latvian translator Kaija Straumanis, the editorial director for Open Letter Books, the University of Rochester’s literature in translation press and one of the conference organizers. “The more high-minded you make it sound in your head, the funnier it gets, implying a rusted-out box into which this man is staring and seeing a severe and disconcerting lack of goat.”

Quite clever, but it is risky for the translator to add something that the author did not explicitly intend.  I highly recommend you read the whole article, it is amusing and educating: