Overcoming translation issues by Sue Irving 14th June 2015

“We thank the goalkeepers for helping us to climb Kilimanjaro and our brother-in-law for suggesting a different sentence.”

Google had translated the 134 pages of our book from English into German in less than 5 minutes, but the results were a comedy of errors. Porters had turned into goalkeepers and equipment into a sentence. Our message got lost because Google could not know our hearts and minds.

There was no getting away from it, if I wanted my relatives and school friends to be able to enjoy our book, I would have to revisit my mountain – this time in my mother tongue. I have been thinking and even dreaming in English for more than two decades, so my German vocabulary is not exactly up-to-date and readily available. However, last month I was finally able to e-mail out the German draft of our book.

I have learned some valuable lessons along the way:

1)      It is our job as the authors to convey our message clearly to our readers. At first I had expected my school friends to brush up on their school English, but quickly realised that I would lose my intended readers at the start of the expedition. They would never learn what it was like to climb a mountain if I turned reading from a pleasure into a hard slog.

2)      Break down a project into manageable steps. I learned to think in chapters and pages. It is much less daunting to tell yourself that you are going to translate 1 page today than a whole book.  I decided to use my twice-weekly commute to London to work on the translation. The rule was that I was not allowed to read or distract myself with other projects on the way to work. Once I picked up my pen the project usually flowed. It took 4 months to finish a handwritten draft.

3)      It is easier to translate your own story than someone else’s. I had greater freedom in translating my part of the story, as I know how I thought and what I felt. It was harder to translate John’s story, as I don’t live in his head and his way of seeing and being is at times alien to me.

4)      The challenge got me thinking about the lengths God went through to communicate with us. We can look at nature to learn about God, but there are things that nature cannot convey. We can know biblical stories by heart and still misinterpret the heart of the Creator. However, Jesus as the Word of God is so intimately connected with God that His words and deeds reveal God’s character and heart without translation issues.

About the author:
Sue Irving is the co-ordinator for the Creative Communicators in Petersfield. She has co-written a book with John about their experiences when climbing Kilimanjaro. How to conquer a mountain: Kilimanjaro lessons is available as a paperback and an e-book on Amazon, with all proceeds going to charity.  She hopes to bring out a Kindle version in German in the future.