October 25, 2017

Like a Fairy Tale: Literary Translation – what’s it all about?

In this blog post we continue our investigation into different types of translation.  We take a look at what is meant by literary translation, what kinds of methods it uses, why you might like to consider a career in literary translation – and how to get started in it if you would like to. We think you will agree, literary translation is quite different from machine translation, which we looked at in a previous post!

What is literary translation?

Literary translation is a type of specialist translation that consists in translating novels, poetry, and other works of literature into another language, keeping the literary style.  “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes,” said Günter Grass.  However, no two translations of the same literary text are likely to be the same.  This is because translating literature is an interpretative act and literary translators are individuals.  As literature is a creative art, translating it should be too!  As an author’s identity can come out in their writing, so can a literary translator’s identity come out in their creative translation.

A literary translation should keep the feel and style of the work of literature.  It might change the original in terms of literal meaning, because this is sometimes needed to make something understandable to a reader from a different culture.  This might mean using a different metaphor or a different comparison.  When this happens, something may be lost but something else may be gained.  But loss is not necessarily the most important thing, says Daniel Hahn, director of the British Centre for Literary Translation in this interview about literary translation.    According to Hahn, the keys to translation are very close, careful and thoughtful reading and precise, careful and thoughtful writing.  It is likely that the author has chosen a specific word for a specific reason, and thoughtful reading can help the literary translator work out why the writer chose that word, and what is the best word (or what are the best words) to put in its place.  According to Urdu language translator Fahmida Riaz, literary translators have to find a way to convey something that is obvious to original readers because of the culture they are familiar with to those who are unfamiliar with that culture and unlikely to recognise cultural references.  Literary translators usually translate into their native language, which is an advantage from a the perspective the cultural, historical and geographical references in the text.


Why is literary translation important?

The book trade is becoming increasingly global, and as such the role of the literary translator has never been more important to make sure that the book industry keeps up with the rate at which new, high quality titles are published in other languages.  Literary translation helps authors achieve global recognition and allows audiences to experience a richer variety of literature – and experience that echoes the global connectedness of today’s world.

Why become a literary translator?

Literary translation is an enjoyable exercise and allows literature lovers to get close to the literature they love.  It is a flexible job that you can do anytime, anywhere and freelance translation can be combined with other jobs (which may also be necessary).  It is also a career that you can begin at any time in your life.

How can I learn to be a literary translator?

It is not essential to have studied literary translation to be a literary translator, and translators’ abilities are usually judged by a sample text.  That said, many literary translators do take courses to improve their abilities as translators and to learn more about the world of literary translation.  A common course of study is an MA in Literary Translation.  This type of course gives you practical experience of literary translation.  According to this author, having an MA in Literary Translation can also help translators get a job, including with firms specialising in technical or commercial translation.  It is also a mark of approval that helps freelance translators get recognised.  You can find a list of some MA Translation courses in this blog post.  You might want to look into the PETRA-E Network, a European network of institutions dedicated to the education and training of literary translators.  If you are unable to do a whole MA course or you wish to brush up your skills on a specific aspect of literary translation; the British Centre for Literary Translation runs a summer school.  They also have a Mentorship Scheme that can help new literary translators develop their skills.  Mentoring can also be informal and you could ask an established literary translator for help.  You can also do co-translations with more experienced translators to gain insight into how the translation business works and how to communicate with editors, authors, and other people involved in the publishing process.

How do I find work as a literary translator?

This blog author believes that it is relatively easy to become known in the literary translation world as there are many platforms to join and meet others in the profession.  These include the Emerging Translators Network, Literature Across Frontiers, the Literary Translation Centre at the London Book Fair and the Translators Association. You can also make contacts by taking part in debates and attending translation events.  Prepare a sample of your work and submit it to publishers.  You can make a name for yourself by entering literary translation competitions, and develop an online presence to advertise your skills.  You will need to keep up with what is being published and keep searching for contacts. What appears to be less easy is making vast amounts of money straight away from literary translation!

Is now a good time to be a literary translator?

According to the London Book Fair, a barrier preventing the flow of titles from one country to another is that not many titles are translated into English.  However, good existing translators and up-and-coming talent are working towards making a change in literary translation, and literature in translation is becoming ever more popular and mainstream in the UK.  Also, Daniel Hahn assures us that it is a really good time to be a literary translator into English, especially in the UK.  There is more literature in translation in English than there used to be, even if it is still not as prevalent as it is in other languages.   Hahn also feels that there is excitement around literary translation and a dynamism to the profession and to literature as a whole in the UK today. There is new and fresh talent in literary translation which is being recognised.

Where can I learn more?

If you are interested in knowing more about literary translation, there are several places you can find information on it.  The British Centre for Literary Translation has a lot of information about literary translation and a lot of very useful links. This interview gives a good summary of what can be expected from literary translation and what linguists wanting to get into literary translation can expect. This blog post gives you an idea of what it feels like to start out as a literary translator, and how to go about it if it is something you want to do.  This one gives the view of a seasoned literary translator who still enjoys what she does. Finally, this post gives an overview of the whole process of translating a book.

If you decide that literary translation is the career for you, we wish you good luck and lots of reading pleasure!

Written by Suzannah Young

October 18, 2017

Travelling Corner: Breathtaking Views in a Croatian National Park (photo blog)

I visited The Krka National Park during my travels to Croatia this autumn. I was planning to go to Pltvice National Park too, but on the day I had planned to go there were a series of storms, so I’ve postponed it until next time I’m in Croatia. The Krka National Park was created by the most beautiful waterfalls (you can even swim in one of them!). You can walk or take a boat to the main waterfall and then walk to the upper areas of the park. You can then take another boat or walk even higher. It’s worth having a day or even two days to explore the park and embrace its natural beauty. Below you’ll find my photos from the Krka National Park (I have to admit the nature is much prettier in reality!). Enjoy!

Have you visited the Krka National Park? What were you impressions? Please share your experience in the comments below.

Written by Kinga Macalla

October 11, 2017

Travelling Corner: Croatia through my Eyes: 7 Curiosities you won’t find in a Travel Guide!

What makes Croatia special? I gathered my memories, impressions, fascinations and surprises throughout my stay there last autumn. Below are my 7 favourite curiosities about Croatia (all very subjective!):

1 No iPhones everywhere

Yes, Croatians actually talk to each other! Even when they commute, travel or queue. People (all of them!) sit in a café and enjoy their time talking and drinking coffee. What a beautiful sight.

2 Figs

I couldn’t not write about figs. OMG, they’re delicious and cheap and fresh and green. My favourite!

3 Driving

Driving can be wild in Croatia, let’s face it. Speed limits often change, but this doesn’t mean anything to Croatians who still drive very fast. There are tolls on the motorways, but on the other hand, you can find free-of-charge parking in some city centres such as in Zadar.

4 Kindness

Croatians don’t look the kindest, but they truly are. They’ll give you goods for free, praise your child or apologise. Imagine: we’re on a beach in Split, we’ve just arrived in this beautiful city and we’re relaxing on the sand when all of the sudden somebody starts screaming and shouting at us that we’re blocking a pedestrian’s path (he’s actually gesticulating and saying this in Croatian). We’re completely shocked. We then realise that we are indeed sitting on this path, so we move our towels further away. After half an hour, this man is back and he starts APOLOGISING in beautiful English that he’s sorry; he was nervous and overreacted, as he shouldn’t have behaved like that. WOW! Can you imagine that? Strange, but beautiful at the same time.

5 International & local

Croatia is a very touristy place. People travel there from many different countries: Germany, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, France Belgium, the Netherlands and many more. If you want to practise European languages, it’s definitely the place to go and improve your linguistic skills. Even though there are so many travellers, Croatia still remains local and friendly. This simultaneous feeling of global and local might be the Balkan/Central European influence as well.

6 Non-commercial country

Croatia seems to be “resisting the new” (as Cody Brown wrote in his book on Croatia).* The country is westernised and there is a clear influence of Italian culture, yet it has its own kind, generous and real identity (in various forms: from human to nature).

7 Nature

Oh wow, the nature is amazing! From beautiful islands and coast to breath-taking natural parks and animals (rabbits, wild ducks, flamingoes, herons, tortoises, pheasants, beetles and many more). It looks, smells and feels just wonderful.

These are my curiosities from Croatia. It’s a very beautiful place which I intend to explore even more. Have you been to Croatia? What surprised or amazed you there? Please share your observations in the comments below.

*Cody McClain Brown, Chasing a Croatian Girl. A Survivor’s Tale, Milton Keyenes, 2015.

Written by Kinga Macalla

October 4, 2017

On Languages: Japanese

Japanese (日本語 [nihõŋɡo]) is the ninth most widely spoken language in the world.  It is the official language of Japan, which has a population of over 125 million people.  There are also around 2.5 million people of Japanese origin, many of whom speak Japanese as their first language, living in the Americas, particularly Brazil and the United States (Hawaii).  There is also an expatriate presence in major cities such as London, New York and Paris.  Japan is one of the world’s leading industrial powers and Japanese language services have become extremely important in social and business settings.

Much about the roots of the Japanese language is unclear.  There are debates about which other languages Japanese is related to and it only seems certain that it is a member of the Japonic language family, which includes the Japanese language spoken on the main islands of Japan and the Ryukyuan languages spoken in the Ryukyu Islands.  Little is known of the language’s prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Japanese words, but longer texts did not appear until the 8th century.  Old Japanese vocabulary was influenced by Chinese.  Late Middle Japanese (1185–1600) saw changes brought it closer to the modern language, as well as the first appearance of European loanwords.  Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish words, such as “pan” (bread) and “igirisu” (the UK), from the Portuguese “po” and “ingles” arrived during the 16th and 17th centuries, when missionaries and merchants started to visit the country.  Following the end in 1853 of Japan’s self-imposed isolation, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased, especially English loanwords. These include “teburu” (table), “biru” (beer), “gurasu” (glass), “aisu” (ice), “takushi” (taxi) and “hoteru” (hotel).

How Japanese works

Word order in Japanese is normally subject–object–verb.  Sentence structure starts with the topic and then gives a comment about the topic.  It uses particles (small words) to mark the grammatical function of words, such as ‘wa’ (topic marker), ‘ga’ (new information).  This means they function like cases in other languages.  For example, これは本です。(‘kore wa hon desu’) = ‘This is a book’.  A longer example is 私はブリストル に 住んでいます (‘Watashi wa Bristol (Burisutoru) ni sundeimasu’).  A literal translation into English would be ‘I (topic) Bristol (in) reside’).  Thus Japanese, like many other Asian languages, is often called a topic-prominent language, which means it has a strong tendency to indicate the topic separately from the subject, and that the two do not always coincide. The sentence Zō wa hana ga nagai (象は鼻が長い) literally means, “As for elephant(s), (the) nose(s) (is/are) long”. The topic is zō “elephant”, and the subject is hana “nose”.

Particles are used at the end of sentences to add impact (‘ne’), or make questions (‘ka’) as well.  Questions can have the same structure as statements, but with intonation rising at the end.  In the formal register, the question particle -ka is added. For example, ii desu (いいです) “It is OK” becomes ii desu-ka (いいですか。) “Is it OK?”.

Nouns do not change with number or gender, and there are no articles (‘the’ or ‘a/an’).  Verbs do change with the tense, of which there are two: past and present (or non-past), which is used for the present and the future.  For verbs that represent an ongoing process, the -te iru form indicates a continuous (or progressive) aspect, similar to the suffix ing in English.  Verb conjugations are also used for voice (active or passive), but not the person the verb is are referring to.

Japanese has a grammatical system to express politeness and formality. Broadly speaking, there are three main politeness levels in spoken Japanese: the plain form (“kudaketa”), the simple polite form (“teinei”) and the advanced polite form (“keigo”).  It also has a system of honorific language, where verbs and vocabulary change to indicate the relative status of the speaker, listener and persons mentioned.  Their status is determined by a variety of factors including job and age.  The person in the lower position is expected to use a polite form of speech, whereas the other might use a more plain form.  Japanese people often use titles of the person referred to where pronouns would be used in English. For example, when speaking to one’s teacher, it is appropriate to use sensei (先生, teacher), but inappropriate to use ‘anata’ (‘you’). This is because ‘anata’ is used to refer to people of equal or lower status, and one’s teacher has higher status.  Strangers in Japan will speak to each other politely.  Most nouns in the Japanese language may be made polite by the addition of o- or go- as a prefix. o- is generally used for words of native Japanese origin, whereas go- is affixed to words of Chinese derivation. In some cases, the prefix has become a fixed part of the word, and is included even in regular speech, such as gohan ‘cooked rice; meal.’ Such a construction often indicates deference to either the item’s owner or to the object itself.  Even if you don’t have the language skills, a softening of the voice, a discreet awareness of the other person’s personal space and undemonstrative body language go a long way when it comes to courtesy and showing respect.  Read more about honorific speech here.

Writing Japanese

The Japanese writing system has three different sets of character: Kanji (several thousand Chinese characters) and Hiragana and Katakana (syllabaries with 46 characters each).  The adaptation of Chinese characters during the sixth to ninth centuries A.D. developed the language. By the 12th century, hiragana and katakana were created out of kanji, providing the Japanese new freedom in writing their native language.  Today, Japanese is written with a mixture of the three.  Hiragana are used for words without kanji representation, for words no longer written in kanji, and also following kanji to show conjugational endings.  Katakana, like hiragana, are a syllabary; katakana are primarily used to write foreign words, plant and animal names, and for emphasis. For example, “Australia” has been adapted as Ōsutoraria (オーストラリア), and “supermarket” has been adapted and shortened into sūpā (スーパー).  Japanese texts can be written in horizontal rows left to right, or in traditional Japanese style, i.e. in vertical columns from the right to the left side of the page.

Can I learn Japanese?

Japanese is considered a difficult language to learn for speakers of European languages.  Some difficulties are learning to master the Japanese writing system.  Unless you are already familiar with Chinese characters (kanji), many years of study are necessary to achieve complete literacy.  Japanese students learn about 2000 kanji until the end of junior high school and continue to learn more until the end of their school careers. The two syllabaries Hiragana and Katakana (together about 100 signs), however, can be memorized quickly time.  Another difficulty can be the existence of honorific speech: the fact that a person’s speech can vary depending on the situation and the person. A student of Japanese has to become familiar with Japanese society and customs in order to understand the detailed rules of the different levels of speech.

However, compared to many European languages, basic Japanese grammar is relatively simple. There are not the complicating factors of gender articles and plurals, and conjugation rules for verbs and adjectives are almost entirely free of exceptions.  Nouns are not declined at all, but always appear in the same form.  This makes the language relatively easy for students starting out.

You may also have a head start when learning Japanese because it has a lot of foreign loan words, especially from English.  (外来語 [gairaigo] – ‘words from outside’ are not limited to nouns, they can be adjectives too.  The word for ‘TV’ is テレビ [terebi], サンドイッチ [sandoitchi] is ‘sandwich’, ‘bread’ is パン [pan] from the Portuguese word ‘pão’ and part-time worker is アルバイト [arubaito], from the German ‘Arbeit’, work.  You have probably heard a lot of Japanese words aleady too.  A lot of Japanese words have been absorbed into English.  See how many of these words you recognise (many thanks to An Idiot Lost in Japan for these!):




























Where can I learn Japanese?

You can learn Japanese at Bristol Language School.  We offer group and one-to-one lessons at all levels.

There is also a lot of information about learning Japanese on the Bristol Japan Club website.  There are also teaching and learning resources on the Japan Foundation website.  This kanji dictionary with sound can help you learn to recognise and write Japanese characters.  If you want to listen to Japanese, you can try these Japanese podcast lessons from the Japan Broadcasting Corporation, NHK.  To practice reading, you can go to, one of Japan’s leading newspapers.

You can also find out where to buy books for learning Japanese here.  You can find websites to help you with learning Japanese and other Online Resources here.  Nihongo o Narau – Learn Japanese is a free online Japanese course.  Digital Dialects’ Japanese Games are interactive games for learning the Japanese language.  There are also Mobile Apps for iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets.  If you want to learn for travel, use this guide to Japanese Phrases for Travellers, with a pronunciation guide.  Plus, this Glossary for Learners is a quick reference guide to the essential elements of Japanese.

In the United Kingdom, study of the Japanese language is supported by the British Association for Japanese Studies.  The Japanese government provides standardized tests to measure spoken and written comprehension of Japanese for second language learners; the most prominent is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which features five levels of exams.  The JLPT is offered twice a year.

Good luck!

Written by Suzannah Young