Book Translation How-To

Today, more than ever, we can talk about translation as a work of art. This practice requires an outstanding knowledge of both languages that are being translated from and into as well as a creative mind and creative writing skills.

And why is that, do you ask? Let us take poems, for example. A poem was thought of and designed by the poet to sound good in its original language. A word that has three syllables, ends in the letter „t” and rhymes with the one from the next line will, most probably, be impossible to translate and still follow all these criteria in another language. How can you keep the same meaning intended by the author when the English idiom „to kick the bucket”, for example, has no meaning when translated word by word in another language?

Throughout this complicated and strenuous process, the person doing the translation has to put himself in the original author’s shoes and start to create a new version of the poem.

But do not let yourselves be scared of this aspect: translating and creating, if fully understood and done right, can be really fun and relaxing to do. And to make it even more easy and accessible, in this article we will have a quick look at some of the most important principles – the pillars of book translation and how to do it as good as it can be done.

Know Your Mother Tongue

You would be surprised to read this, but the first step in mastering the art of translation lays in mastering your mother tongue.

In most cases, you will have to work and translate texts which have been written or that need to be translated in your native tongue. In order to facilitate this process, you need to make sure that you are one hundred percent sure of basic grammar rules and spellings as well as idioms and sayings that cannot be translated word by word.

In short, you need to have a good knowledge of linguistics with all its subfields from lexicology, semantics, phonetics, phonology, and syntax.

Foreign Languages for the Win

After you have assessed your knowledge of your own mother tongue, you need to be able to speak, read, write and think like a native of the desired foreign language.

Let’s say that your mother tongue is Spanish, and you want to translate a book from Spanish into English. From that moment on, you need to start thinking and creating in English. Translating word by word is not going to be enough if you are looking to sound as fluent and natural as possible.

Spanish is known to have many reflexive phrases which have no direct correspondence in English. For this, you would need to know that a native speaker of English would use a passive construction to represent the same meaning. So, to keep the authenticity of the text as much as possible and to deliver high-quality translation services, an advanced level of foreign language usage is mandatory.

Stick to the Things You Know Best

Books have various genres. From sci-fi, culinary, science, romance, tech books and up until sports, travel, leisure, DIY – they cover every domain you could possibly think of. And because we are all different and we are good at different things, not every translator would be able to take a book that talks about business and translate it without having the slightest background in this field.

It is better to work on translating books that were written in your area of interest and knowledge. The more you know about the subject in question, the more you will be able to deliver an accurate translation.

Imagine what it would be like for someone who has studied Spanish literature but has to translate a book about Science. Most probably, the mission would be impossible since the content is not fully understood. Just like we have previously mentioned, semantics, semiotics and understanding the context play a big part in creating an accurate and academically suitable translation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

An outstanding degree of speaking and understanding a foreign language as well as your native language is a must, but this doesn’t mean that you are a walking dictionary who knows everything and has the answer for every question.

On the contrary – it can happen from time to time to encounter an unknown word or phrase. Don’t get discouraged. Try to look it up in a dictionary, search online for its origins and its usage, ask someone who might know it. Just do everything you can to understand and master the word. Next time you will encounter it, you will know from the beginning how to use it.


To sum everything up, translating is indeed an action that requires intensive practice in order to master it, but it is also an act of art. In case you are looking into translating books in the future, now you know how and what it takes to do it.

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