Tuesday, 19 March 2013

On Good Books and Difficult Translations

"We're Going on a Bear Hunt" by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury is on of my favourite books for the babelkids. (I might have mentioned it before.) All three of them like it and BK3 (now 2.5yo) wants to see and hear it pretty much every night currently.


We managed to get three versions of the book: English, French and German.

Now I fully get that translating is a difficult job. Especially for a book that comes with a rythm and all.


(Btw: BK3 has seen this video a couple of times a lot and demands that I do the same routine.)

So how do the French and German version fare? Honestly: sub-par.

The French translation tries to stay close to the text. That works in a sense, because if you know the original, you can read from the French version in English, i.e. translate on the fly. I'm sorry, but the French just doesn't work.

The German version, though, is absolutely abysmal. The translation is trying to stay closer to the pattern, but it does so in a stupidly funny way that I think really doesn't do the book any justice. At all. As in: do NOT buy that.

Yes, I do understand that translating is difficult. Maybe for some really good books it just shouldn't be done at all.

Nochmal auf Deutsch, weil es wichtig ist: Die Deutsche Version ist wirklich schlecht. Lieber die Englische kaufen und ein paar Wörter lernen.

13 comments:

  1. I agree, what is the point of translating if it doesn't convey the culture, rhyme, or whatever matters to the story?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do you know Goodnight Moon? It's perhaps the most well-loved picture book in English--gentle, cozy, rhyming--and the French translation is clunky and imperfectly rhymed. Completely loses the magic of the original.

      Delete
    2. I hadn't heard of that book so far. Will change that.

      Delete
  2. Lovely for the kids to see the same book in different languages, though a shame the translations aren't good. My kids have a few books in multiple languages and I think it helps them appreciate that ideas can be expressed in several ways.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was the idea, but as Annabelle says: what's the point if it's awful?

      Any hints for books that work in all of our 4 languages?

      Delete
  3. This is one of the books we do in our bilingual storytime. It works well, but it's because we cut parts of it out...and actually the parents (more than the kids) like the hear the differences between the sounds.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The French version is also a lot better than the German one. If you did German/English story time, you would probably NOT use this book.

      Delete
  4. Hello,

    I’ve reached your blog from the link on Bringing up Baby Bilingual. Since your blog has non-native speaking parents as subject, I’d like to invite you to share your blog post links on the the community we are starting: http://www.nnsparents.com, which is a forum and social network for non-native speaking parents from all over the world. Since it’s so hard to find someone else doing the same (and talking about the same) I hope we can talk about this subject there and about posts promoted from bloggers. The community is small and has just started, but we are already having some great discussions.

    I hope to see you there :)

    Mario Ishikawa

    ReplyDelete
  5. We love this book so hard!

    About the onu book I have read in English which captures the Japanese essence is Guri and Gura. I would love to know other good kids books translations.

    I recently reviewed a book where an author used the illustrations from a Farsi book but didnt even look at the original Farsi story. It was successful and I wonder if that might not work in other cases as well

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like that idea of not using the text at all.

      I guess in such a case, it would not be a translation and the new author would actually be the creator of the (new) story in their language. Which is why it could work.

      Delete
    2. "My Friends" by Taro Gomi is translated from Japanese (I think) and is a lovely picture book about a little girl who shows us what she has learned to do from her "friends" (animals, books, teachers, and a "friend like you"). It's sweet and understated and a little surprising.

      I don't know enough about Japanese culture to say if it accurately portrays the country--but the illustrations seem to, and the ideas are universal.

      Delete
  6. This is a very interesting post. We don't have two versions of the same book yet, but we do have books originally published in English but translated into Portuguese.

    I have half made a promise to myself never to buy a translated book again as they lose out on aspects such as rhythm, rhyme and word play. I might go and buy the English versions of the translated books just to check up on them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm almost thinking "don't", because you might well be disappointed...

      Delete