A skilled translator injects a healthy dose of creativity into their task. The act of translating and the creative process are virtually inseparable, a fact that is especially true in literary translations.
Why do translators need to be creative?
Creativity is the key by which a skilled translator deals with some of the most common problems in translating. Often, a translator will hesitate between representing form versus content.
Creativity is the thing that can find a harmonious balance between the two, and the whole process becomes more art than science. In addition, translations should not be literal. Rather, they need to convey the full meaning of the original text, which includes cultural context. Some languages have idioms and sayings that don’t exist in other languages. Many of these find their roots in cultural cues which may not even exist in the culture of the target language.
What is the right amount of “creative”?
There are many degrees of creativity. Too little or too much can lead to undesirable outcomes. Too little creativity can cause a bland translation that is possibly inaccurate in tone while too much creativity risks losing the original intent of the text and replacing it with the translator’s own intent. An ideal translation would use the “Goldilocks Effect”. Which means not too much creativity and not too little, but just the right amount. Pulling this off successfully requires mastery of the target language and the superb knowledge of the source language.
In addition, it requires an excellent understanding of the culture associated with both languages. Therefore, when you are translating, keep in mind it isn’t just about the words. A masterful translator needs to both translate the word and also interpret the cultural context.
There are several levels of creativity in translation
1. Personal translation style
Translators will always instill something personal in their work. The outcome directly links to the person who produced it. Each translator approaches a text differently. Should several translators work on the same text, then we would witness over several translation versions.
Creativity is inherently personal and through a personal translation style, translators manifest their creative approach.
2. Ability to connect the dots
In a translation, there are many dots to connect before the translator achieves the best result. The tools (dots) translators inadvertently mix span from a feel of the language, translation and writing skills, in-depth understanding of the cultural context in play, the ability to read between the lines to the more technical aspects of their work such as CAT tools, glossaries, resources.
3. Copywriting skills
Translators often provide copywriting services to diversify and as a natural extension to translation. Translators are brilliant copywriters. Because they can approach texts from a “translator’s perspective”, focusing on clarity and precision avoiding wording that can cause misinterpretation.
4. Artistic personality
The profession of a translation demands this worker be creative. Why? Because they need to support any topic, the particularity of their jobs demands them to know much. And this gives arguments why not every person, knowing the language, can be a translator?
There are many translators who are also artists, in the true sense of the word. A tad of research has revealed a creative “alias” for quite a few linguists who, besides their main professional activity, are engaged (either as a hobby or on a professional level) in creative activities:
- a photographer,
- a hard rock singer,
- a designer of book covers,
- a branding expert,
- an Italian tenor,
- a singer with studies in vocal music,
- a poet/baroque trombonist,
- a novelist,
- a painter and more.
Art is an outlet, a way to express emotions and concerns. An artistic activity has something in common with the translating psyche which elaborates, adapts and metamorphoses information, a “source”, into something else, a “target” or in the language of an artist: a painting, a photograph, a novel.
Art is (also) about translating feelings. And, highly qualified linguists can be remarkable at drawing or playing the violin and still be sought-after professionals just like anybody else.
5. Creatively perceptive
Translators do not read superficially. They assimilate and elaborate information as part of their work process. Knowledge inspires. The more you know, the more you want to explore. The language stimulates to create and find solutions. Translators are creative because they soak up the knowledge in the world.
6. Motivated by a language as a creative tool
Language is indisputably creative. Like an artist who uses colors, mixing them in combinations that serve the purpose of an art project, translators will similarly use language as a tool with which to produce their work.
That translators know at least two languages, stimulates their creativity even more. The languages enrich them and they know how to complement possible “voids” in one language with information from another. Creativity is more likely to surface when speaking over one language.
7. Excellent branding skills
The success of a marketing campaign depends on how a potential customer receives the persuasive message – will the arguments used by us be accepted? Will the slogan make them laugh/upset/annoyed? Will it trigger emotions which will induce them to buy?
In marketing, branding is the par excellence paradigm of translators’ creativity (branding usually applies to freelance translators/business owners and not all translators). Through the creation of a brand, translators connect those dots that will help communicate their message to clients and prospects.
Their ability to translate the essence of their services into a brand name, design, colors, marketing copy is admirable.
Translators’ creativity is obvious on many levels and it requires more attention and appreciation, first, and foremost by translators themselves, so they can firmly and confidently enrich not just their own world of possibilities, but the message they give out to the world.
Translators are creators.