5 Common Challenges of Book Translation Jobs

Book translation is a booming business, with high demand for books in reader’s native languages. Services like Babelcube that connect freelance translators with self-published authors are helping to address the growing demand for more reading material in more languages.

Freelance translation work is a great way to build an income, but just like writing an original book, translating ebooks can be a challenging process. If you can overcome these challenges, it can be both a lucrative and rewarding career.

Here are five common challenges you might face as a freelance book translator.

1: Finding the Right Word

Sometimes, especially in technical material, the target language does not have a suitable equivalent for a word in the source language. If you’re lucky, it will be an inconsequential word with an easy way to convey the same message or sentiment in other words.

If it’s an essential word for the book, you will face the challenge of finding a way around the problem. The simplest, and most common, remedy when there is no equivalent word is to ‘borrow’ the word and leave it in the source language.

It’s not just singular words that can be a challenge. Idioms and certain phrases don’t carry across well. For example, a student character “hitting the books” would look insane instead of studious, if it were translated literally. Identify the sentiment and meaning behind the idiom or phrase – and try to represent that in your choice of words from the target language.

2: Local Language Differences

It seems simple on the surface. You have a self-published author with a book in American English, and they want it translating to Spanish. Easy, right? Except that there can be different versions of a language. For example, European Spanish has various differences to Latin American Spanish.

These issues are common across several languages. For example, Brazilian Portuguese has some different wording and grammar than European Portuguese. Canadian French and European French also have distinct differences.

You’ll need to understand the differences, know which local market the author wants to target most heavily and avoid any words that could cause confusion.

3: Humour and Cultural Contexts

If there are puns, jokes, and pop culture references in the original work, you’ll need to understand if the context and the humor carry across to the target language.

Puns and semantic humor are almost impossible to carry across well into another language. They may have to be sacrificed if you cannot find a suitable equivalent that doesn’t detract from the original intention.

Cultural context is just as tricky as humor. When translators encounter this, they can choose to remove the material that won’t translate if it’s not important to the text. Or they can adapt the material and replace it with cultural connotations that are familiar to the readers of the translated text.

4: Translating Books with Accents or Colloquial Language

If the original material for the book translation job contains colloquial language or characters with strong accents, then these may not translate across well.

For example, in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series there are numerous characters with accents that are often meaningful to British readers, but don’t carry across to other languages well. So, Hagrid’s British West Country accent isn’t mirrored in translated versions as there are no local equivalents to it.  Instead the translations stick to simple, uncomplicated words in his speech, keeping Hagrid true to character.

By contrast, in the same series, Fleur’s French accent is easily translatable across most languages. As she is a native French speaker, the translator simply writes her accent as a French speaker might pronounce the target language. The experience of a French person speaking German is easily relatable to German readers, whereas the experience of a local British accent is probably not.

Your role as a book translator is to understand how important these aspects of the book are to the story and character, or the book’s overall message. If they’re important, then you’ll need to find a way to signpost them in the source language.

5: Keeping the Essence of the Original Text

Translation is about more than carrying across words. You also need to be able to bring across feelings, thoughts, and sentiments. In order to do that you’ll need to have an excellent understanding of both the source text and what the author intends to portray.

The style and literary devices the author uses can be crucial to the essence of the text. These will be most common in fiction but watch out for them in memoirs and some non-fiction titles too. In non-fiction, there tend to be fewer literary techniques used and so it may be easier to carry the idea across with very few adaptations.

Identify how the author portrays the essence of the book, and then replicate that in a way that works well with the target language.

Conclusion

These challenges can all be overcome with a strong understanding of both the source and target language, open and honest communication with the original author, and determination to produce the best translation possible.

If you’re up to the challenge and are looking to put your freelance translation skills to good use, Babelcube has hundreds of book translation projects that you can do as home translation jobs ready and waiting for a freelance translator.


Babelcube offers freelance translators the opportunity to pick books to translate, define their project timeline, and share in the royalties of book sales.

Babelcube is the easiest way to translate and sell a book in multiple languages. Book publishers and self-published authors team up with translators. The translated books are sold through 100s of retailers.

Check it out at Babelcube.

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Babelcube offers freelance translators the opportunity to pick books to translate, define their project timeline, and share in the royalties of book sales.

Babelcube is the easiest way to translate and sell a book in multiple languages. Book publishers and self-published authors team up with translators. The translated books are sold through 100s of retailers.

Check it out at Babelcube.

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