3 Tools Literary Translators Use to Facilitate Their Work 

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Modern-day translators have a myriad of tools at their fingertips to make their work easier, more consistent, and more precise. Can you even imagine what it was like a few thousand years ago, when the first literary translators started rendering texts from one language into another? Since they relied entirely on their own knowledge and energy, literary translation work would have taken way longer and been far more prone to inaccuracies. 

Technology has simplified and therefore amplified translation work—it’s become easier than ever to translate most kinds of content into a different language with no more than a few clicks. However, as wonderful a tool as machine translation is, its blazing speed is offset by its imprecision. That may be okay in some domains, but translating literature is not one of them. 

Literary translation requires a specialized set of creative and academic skills that many other types of translation don’t, and those skills can only be learned by a human being. Machines still can’t get to the soul of a literary text—they can’t adequately convey the beauty of the imagery or permeate a sentence with deep emotions. They’re also stumped by puns, wordplay, and literary devices such as rhyme or alliteration, which are important to preserve in a literary text. Then there are the cultural references, which automated translation can only stumble through awkwardly. 

That’s not to say literary translators haven’t greatly benefited from technology; in fact, it has provided a great boon to these professionals.

When it comes to translating literature, there are still questions about how much of the work should be automated and how much done by a human because the translated work must not only clearly convey the author’s message but also imbue the writing with their background and intention—elements that can easily get lost in translation. 

When done skillfully, literary translation can transport readers to other worlds and significantly grow an author’s audience and sales. An effective literary translation must always be carefully evaluated for accuracy, quality, and faithfulness to the source text, no matter how much technology has aided in the translation process.

If you’re an emerging or self-published author considering a translation of your book, check out our literary translation services and take the next step in growing your international fanbase. 

Let’s now take a look at how technology has changed literary translation. 

1. Machine translation tools and AI

The most significant development in modern translation has been the invention of machine translation tools. You most likely have one installed on your phone, but as you’ve probably discovered, they aren’t entirely reliable. It depends on the app and the language pair, but no digital tool can rival an experienced human translator, especially when it comes to the intricacies of literary translation.

Automated translation is improving every day thanks largely to aggregated user data, which helps the artificial intelligence (AI) engine learn the correct connotations and denotations of specific words. Nevertheless, it’s far from perfect. There’s still a vast information gap when it comes to cultural context, subtext, humor, and slang, making the majority of free tools out there unreliable for most professional endeavors, especially literary translation. 

Machine translation is great when you require an instant approximation of a text in another language or need to quickly deliver the gist of a message to someone else, but it doesn’t work for literature, which requires meticulous care to ensure the level of quality is preserved in the translated work.

Although there are professional translation tools that are much more accurate and reliable, they cannot replace the knowledge and experience a bilingual person has when it comes to rendering a story—its context, characters, narrative arc, voice, style, and themes—from one language (and culture) into another. Automated translation software can speed up the work of human translators, but it’s still the people doing the heavy lifting. Although translators working on more technical texts can take advantage of these tools, which aid with consistency and terminology, the work of a literary translator cannot be outsourced to a machine. 

2. Online dictionaries and thesauruses

Dictionaries and thesauruses have always been indispensable for translators. So, what exactly has technology changed? Mainly, it’s that you can now carry the contents of these heavy, bulky books everywhere you go without breaking a sweat. These days, translators have instant access to any dictionary they want.

Besides the difference in weight, the benefits of online dictionaries include continuous updates, easy search, usage tips and example sentences, and referrals to similar words and phrases. Moreover, most of them come with an integrated thesaurus and often an encyclopedia. Finding the meaning of words is generally as easy as typing them in the search box, and translators can be directed to the most recent information about a given word, eliminating the need to purchase new dictionaries after the ones they own become outdated.

The importance of dictionaries and thesauruses in translation cannot be overstated, and that includes literary translation. No matter how impressive a translator’s vocabulary is in both the source and target languages, it can’t compete with the knowledge contained within an online dictionary or thesaurus. Even the foremost literary translation experts may lean on an online dictionary to confirm the usage or applicability of a given word.

We believe every writer and translator will agree that this is one tool technology has only improved.

3. Online translation networks

If a translator feels stuck on a concept or a word, it’s likely they’re not the first to encounter that particular issue, which is why translation communities and networks are essential tools for professionals. 

Translating can be a lonely job—it’s just you, your documents, and your tools—and having a community to run things by, ask questions to, and discuss problems with can only help a translator get better at their job. Besides, a fresh perspective is sometimes exactly what you need when you’re stuck on a problem—other people can help you see things you kept overlooking.

Offline translation communities were much bigger before online networks became ubiquitous, but they provided something the internet can’t: human contact. Just being around other people interested in the same things can be inspiring and motivating and can usually lead to resolving work-related issues you haven’t been able to handle on your own. Of course, these days it’s easier to jump into an online forum to ask your questions, so there are definitely pros and cons to both formats. If you live in a rural area with a scarcity of translators, it’s likely you won’t find a professional community nearby, but the internet makes connecting with fellow translators possible.

It’s undeniable that translation as a whole has benefited greatly from technology, but literary translation will always require the human touch to produce a clear and faithful version of a literary work in a foreign language. If you want to have your book translated by a professional, check out our literary translation services and start working with our team of experts to make your story available to readers anywhere in the world!

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