Learning Languages – 2 : Learning from Translator

You may wish to read Part 1 first. It can be found here : Learn Languages by listening

Last time I discussed some of my experiences on how one can learn a language to some extent by improving listening skills. In this post I will discuss something even more important; choosing the right translator. Obviously none of the translators out there will give you something absolutely wrong. The problem lies in contextual meanings where literal translation ceases to be of any use. If you want to have experience on how difficult job translation can be then try contributing to some of the open source projects (I for instance have translated some content of Duckduckgo search engine in Marathi), they always thrive for localization. There you actually understand the difference between speaking a language and being fluent with. In such projects typically you are asked to leave some notes after your translations. Such translations are the best.

Now just so that I can give examples I will continue with Japanese for this post but I will try to switch to some other language next time. Another reason to continue with Japanese is there are tons of translations available for Manga, Japanese comics and they most of the times include translator notes. Translator notes give you very important clues about the language. It often deals with the culture of the community speaking that language so it also makes it easier to understand the language.

Example 1 – Zenigeva. This word can be found in the manga Berserk. Now this word is almost impossible to find in dictionaries (both English and Japanese) because it is a made up word. So I go to translator notes to understand what exactly was the translator thinking to keep the word like that, is it a name or something? What is it? So the note then explains that it is actually a very clever wordplay. Zeni is old Japanese word for money and geva comes from gewalt, which is not Japanese but rather German. Gewalt means violence in German. So violence for money or someone who will be ready to get violent in money related matters in other words a shrewd business man. This no one can teach you apart from a very, very clever translator.

Example 2 – Espada (十刃 or エスパダ). In the famous manga Bleach, Tite Kubo uses this wordplay to denote a group of 10 arrancars (some villains in the story). Espada means sword in Spanish, that much anyone can tell with the help of google translate. But since you are reading the translation you are not seeing the original text. Author spells the word differently at places. While the second spelling is pronounced Espada (Esupada to be precise) first spelling comes out as Toha. It means 10 blades/swords in Japanese; number corresponding with the group strength. In such cases the translator is forced to choose between 10 swords or Espada and he/she must go with flashier translation keeping with the theme of the story. But then chance to learn the word Toha and to embrace the quality of writing is missed. Again analyzing this Toha gives us the chance that it is actually two words joined together Ju and Ha. It also means that the Japanese grammar has some kind of rule which sometimes changes pronunciation when two word are joined together. (This is similar to सन्धि in Sanskrit, reiterating the fact that how Sanskrit grammar is helpful in deducing such things 🙂 ) Also extending the logic means Ju must mean 10 and Ha must mean blade/sword. Even further when translator is giving preference to the meaning blade means that Ha is more commonly used to denote blade of the sword rather than denoting entire sword.

Now where to find such examples? Best place would be translations of comedy books. Comedy, in my opinion, is the hardest genre to translate. Leave aside the physical comedy or facial comedy because that anyway we can see with our eyes and at least get that something funny is happening. When someone is creating comedy by wordplay it is extremely difficult to understand at times if you are not fluent with the language. Many times you are good enough to get the superficial meaning but by understanding such jokes you start mastering the language. This way we cover one of the advanced aspect of language learning.

Translator notes is a powerful tool. It is also brilliant one as translator has already done the job of verification for you. So once you choose the right translator you have discovered yourself a treasure chest.



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