Translating into your native language: Does it sound or appear stilted, or not quite fluent?

I understand German reasonably well, especially if written, but also spoken, particularly when spoken in a clear “radio station” voice. And obviously I have no problem with English.

But when I translate German into English, the result gives the impression that I’m not a native speaker of English. This is especially true when making a verbal translation, e.g., explaining to someone in English what a German news article is saying. But it also happens in writing.

Does anyone else notice this in their own translations?

I think it depends on your level of fluency. I read French passably well, but when I’m trying to read something/ explain something to my husband who does not read French, I tend to go word by word or phrase by phrase, and it definitely lacks a certain fluency. My younger brother, who is majoring in French, has spent time in France, and both reads and speaks at a higher level of comprehension than I, seems to translate a full sentence or complete thought at a time, which lends itself to a much more fluid English version.

The problem is that the structure of each language differs, so if you attempt a direct translation it will always sound somewhat “off” compared to a text written from scratch in one language. You can almost always tell which text was the original, and which is the translation.

I deal a lot with translations between English and Spanish. I translate from Spanish into English; and I’ve also had things I’ve written translated into Spanish. (I wouldn’t attempt the latter myself because I’m not close to being bilingual enough.)

If I do a “quick and dirty” translation from Spanish to English, it won’t sound very natural. It takes a lot more time to do a natural sounding translation, because you have to rethink the way everything is said.

In an ideal translation, you wouldn’t be able to tell which language was the original. But that is seldom achieved.

I’m a professional translator (Hebrew to English) and roughly half of my job is avoiding this.

There must be something in this, because my English translations from German run very close to how Germans tend to speak English, when they are not quite fluent.

No, as I didnt notice. My English is relatively near my French language. I am often confused for Angloman.

Unless I can do it in writing, where in that case I can take time to reformulate and reorganize words/structure to make it French, it does sounds stilted.
I’m thinking about when I translate from English a news article verbally on the spot for my boyfriend.

I translate into bad English all the time, for I care more about conveying an understanding of the original rather than putting it into good English

Why would those two ends ever be mutually exclusive? If you really want to convey an understanding of an original which is well-expressed, then you will want to make the English version well-expressed, too, to reflect that. That’s what translating and interpreting is all about.

Iunno. Maybe I’m not the best example the OP was looking for. Mostly I read Latin and Greek, and I only translate it for other people in class who also can read it. Or I translate for a test, and it is a test of Latin grammar, not English, so I want to show that I am actually understanding what the Latin says. And we have certain conventions of bad English that represent certain phrases in other languages, so we know what it means. Plenty of times I can understand something without putting it into good English, so I don’t see a reason to bother figuring out the good English phrasing. Sure I could if I were trying to make it elegant, or if I were trying to translate for someone who doesn’t understand the grammar of the original language. I can read some German too and I think that that usually is easier to put into good English. Partly because of similarities between English and German, partly because I process German differently than Latin, since it is a spoken language and I learned it differently.

The number of Bible translations belies that. Almost certainly the better expressed versions are also the least like the original, and thus less accurate.

Yes, if I am doing it on the fly. Like BleizDu, unless I have time to formulate it into words, of course it will come out stilted. Hindi is technically my native language, however even though English was a second language I speak English far better, so given some time I can do quite well.

This is why I think translation is a real linguistic skill, way beyond being fluent. Translators are really copywriters in their own right, as they have to take a foreign language piece and assign what they think an author is trying to convey but in the way the target audience would phrase it. There’s a reason that translators get prominent billing on translated books, and why a ‘new translation’ by a translator of repute of a famous work is often much trumpeted by a publisher.

Also, translating ‘on the spot’ requires a bit of mental gymnastics. A dutch friend says that she finds she is much more fluent and colloquial in her English when she’s thinking in English, rather than translating from Dutch.

Yes, I do notice it. I’m a native German speaker, but surprisingly I’m usually more satisfied with my translations from German to English than conversely. And it’s exactly the stiltedness of the translations that bugs me. Also, I find it easier to freely write a text in English than translating from German.

I’m a professional translator (lots of languages to English), and the ability to master this problem is one of the hallmarks of a true translator. Always striven for, rarely achieved perfectly. There are so many things going into it: Perfect understanding of each expression in the source language. Taking context into account. Thorough acquaintance with idiomatic phrases that need special translations into completely different idiomatic phrases on the gross level, and the possible nuances that influence translation on the subtler levels. And one thing that’s crucial but too often neglected: Good writing skill in your target (native) language. If one can’t write good copy in English, one’s translation will suck too. Seems obvious, but this is too often forgotten. The real mastery comes with first thoroughly understanding the material, then knowing just the right equivalents in the target language, then finally producing polished copy the way it would look if written originally in the target language. And make it all look perfectly effortless!

Professional jargon, after a fashion. Not for the uninitiated.

If you are putting it into bad English, then you are not really conveying an understanding of what the original text means.

Depends on what you mean by “accurate.” The ones that sound better may not be translated word-by-word but still convey the actual meaning better.

I wasn’t talking about “accuracy” at all, whatever one means by that. I was talking about adherence to and expression of the full scope of meaning and cultural reference in the original–as much as that is possible. PSXer seemed to be saying that he was more concerned with doing a “correct” translation than a good one. :confused:

There are just some things that don’t translate well into English. There is a Hindi word called “nakhre”. What this means, essentially, is all of the 1001 and mannerisms a girl will take on to tell you she likes you, she doesn’t like you, she’s flirtatious, she’s playing hard-to-get, she’s batting her lashes at you, she’s pretending you don’t exist - all of those endearing little traits that are charming in fiction and not so much in real life. That’s one word that covers a thousand aspects of a woman’s demeanor. So it’s not so easy to translate.

How about “lara-lappa”? A punjabi phrase that means the girl neither goes away nor comes to you, but keeps you on a string - never says yes nor no.

“Adi tappa” means when she picks quarrels with you for no reason. All a part of Hindi/Punjabi poetry but difficult to translate directly into English - these phrases come with a lot of cultural baggage, too.

German to English can get very tricky - especially due to most of the German verbs landing at the end of sentences, and then trying to re-place them in correct order in English.
There are also quite a few idioms that don’t translate directly, and you need to improvise with an equivalent English idiom.
On the fly - translating word for word - German to English is odd; you have to wait until the entire German sentence is finished before you can begin to speak. So while you are now working on that sentence, the speaker is on to the next!
It is far easier to translate written text - taking your time to set everything up correctly.

Of course, if it is simple conversational German - shorter sentences - it isn’t too much of a problem. But trying to translate some political speech, or philosophical theory while the person is speaking, it makes my head hurt.