What is a ‘good’ translation?


Translation Approaches

What surprised me when I first started translating is the difference in expectations. While I was an undergraduate, translation was simply expressing the meaning of the source text using target language ‘equivalents’, and it always had to sound as fluent as possible. This emphasis on fluency and domestication has long been the norm for translations into the English language, and while Venuti (1995) is known for promoting a more foreignising approach to translation, these sorts of approaches are often condemned.

Yet when I began translating commercially, different clients had different expectations, and it was clear that translation isn’t as simple as it seems. Most wanted the freer approach, naturalising the target text to the target language and culture, but there were others who wanted a literal, word for word translation. With Japanese being so different to English, a literal translation often resulted in a very awkward sentence which can render the meaning unclear. Why would anyone want this? Yet to those clients, a closer rendition was considered the best translation.

So what exactly is a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ translation? There are a wide variety of approaches available to a translator, and just like any other type of writing, it is not only subjective but also dependent on the actual purpose of the text. Sometimes it is even necessary to step away from the original content and localise it to the new target audience in order to achieve the goals that prompted the translation.

In the end, a ‘good’ translation depends on the unique factors surrounding the project, including target audience, aims and text type. This is why I will always discuss my translation approach with the client, so we can tailor the translation approach to each specific project and achieve the best results.

Venuti, Lawrence (1995) Translator’s Invisibility: A history of translation, London: Routledge.