The translation of words

We like to watch Anime in my house. A lot of it. (incidentally that may be where Forget Me Nots Anamae found her name) Anyway, on the weekend I was sitting with the family watching Howl’s Moving Castle (which is a little weird) and the version we watched hadn’t been dubbed in English, but rather had English subtitles. Now, if I didn’t speak Japanese I wouldn’t have noticed that some of the translations were slightly off. Not the translators fault, some Japanese phrases simply don’t have English equivalents.  It got me to thinking about books and translation, as things are no doubt even trickier when it comes to the written word. Especially because there is no image on screen to help convey what the dialogue can’t.

When it comes to the written word, I also wonder how or even if a writer’s voice is maintained in translation. Because surely the process dries out the entire feel or rather, the way words are uniquely pieced together, making those words more text book and less voice in style. At least one would assume so. Take Facebook … I have a good friend who is Mexican, and I’ve noticed that when she posts in Spanish rather than English, FB translates for me. I get the gist of what the comment was, and sometimes it sounds like her, but sometimes it doesn’t. In fact, sometimes it sounds really strange and stilted and even a little Pigeon English-like. So maybe … when it comes to literature translation voice is something that gets lost. Having never read a book in two languages I’m not sure.

Regardless of this, I wouldn’t want publishers to not translate their books for fear of the words not being right. I’ve read some fabulous books that weren’t originally written in English. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and Homer’s The Illiad, for starters. Even back in high school when studying Chaucer, we had to translate the works from Middle English to Modern English to better understand them. Some of those tales were so fabulous that years later I remember them clearly. What a loss it would be for all involved if literature translation wasn’t a thing.

Hello translated in a few international languages. (image: Bigstock)

Anyway, that’s my early morning philosophical thoughts for today. Maybe I’ll download some translation software and test it out. Are any of you bilingual? Have you ever read the same book in two different languages and noticed the differences? If not … what would you be worried would be lost in the translation of your favourite book? Let’s discuss this!


Stacey NashStacey Nash is the proud author of four published books, which she’d love to see translated into Pig Latin. To find out more about her books find her at, twitter or facebook.


  1. Yes! I have! Bahasa Indonesia was my first language until I moved to Sydney when I was 15; these days, I’m more comfortable with English. I read The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata in both Bahasa Indonesia (500+ pg) and then the English translation (just over 300 pg). Yes, the translated work is very much shorter and some nuances just do not come across between languages but most key events were there and it was still a fairly good read.
    I’ve written a review of this:



      1. I’ve got one listed to read soon that is also a translation though I’ve not got the Indonesian copy yet so I hope I can get my hands on one 🙂
        If you’re interested it’s called Man Tiger: A Novel by Eka Kurniawan


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