Literary translation is the translation of creative and dramatic prose and poetry into other languages. This includes thetranslation of literature from ancient languages and the translation of fictionso that it can be read by a wider audience.

So why is literary translation important?

Literary translation is hugely important. It helps shape our understanding of the world around us in so many ways. Reading Homer and Sophocles as part of a classical school education helps develop an understanding of history, politics, philosophy and much more. In addition, reading contemporary translations provides a fascinating insight into life in other cultures and countries. In a fast-paced world so plagued with misunderstanding and confusion, such efforts to share knowledge and experiences across cultural boundaries are to be applauded.

Poems are written with incredible attention to detail. While the words and phrases are important, so are the number of syllables and the entire rhythm of the poem. The literary translation of these texts into a single language is a real challenge. The challenge becomes even greater when it comes to recreating the work of a poet through a translation.

As literary translators will attest, almost every single word can be extremely troublesome. The author of a novel has chosen that word for good reason, so the translator must ensure that they have accurately conveyedthis in the target language. However, what if there is no direct translation available?

What skills does a literary translator need?

Literary translation requires a very particular skill set. Literature translation is a much more creative art than many other areas of translation. When translating an information leaflet for a pharmaceutical product, for example, it is essential to provide text that is a word-for-word interpretation of the original. However, for prose and poetry translation, creative writing skills are just as important as language skills.

Confidence in their ability is critical. While there is no problem in taking time to think about how to truly represent the meaning of a sentence, or even a single word, a translator also needs to know when it is time to decide and move on.

The ability to offer continuity is also essential, especially in long novels. Remembering facts (like the minor character mentioned a long time ago being related to the hero by marriage rather than by blood) will save the user having to go back and forth to check the facts.

Rocío González

Author Rocío González

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