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  • Writer's pictureSarah Hudson

My favourite translation projects

I have been a freelance translator for twelve years and during this time I've had the opportunity to work on some very interesting projects. Here is a rundown of the ones I enjoyed the most:

1. Aldi's Kevin

Kevin the Carrot has become a popular feature of Christmas TV advertisements in the UK. People queue for hours to buy the plush version of the vegetable character. One December a few years ago, I was given the task of translating into English a poem about Kevin. It was fun and challenging to capture the same charm of the original whilst ensuring that the text rhymed. The final translation was used to guide the UK marketing teams.

2. The film Wolkenbruch

Wolkenbruch (The Awakening of Motti Wolkenbruch) is a Swiss film that follows the story of a young Orthodox Jewish man named Motti, who defies his conservative upbringing by falling in love with a non-Jewish woman, leading to a clash between tradition and personal desires. The film explores themes of identity, culture and the struggle to balance individuality with family expectations.

I was assigned the task of translating the DVD cover and film summary into English. Unfortunately, I was unable to watch the film because it hadn’t been released yet, however, the trailers and early reviews were available to guide me. I was delighted to finally watch the film when it was released on Netflix. It was as charming and amusing as I had expected.

3. The book Unfog Your Mind by Leander Greitemann

I spent a couple of months working with author Leander Greitemann on his fascinating book Unfog Your Mind. In the book, he draws on themes from philosophy and psychology to provide practical tips to help readers live calmer and more purposeful lives. Leander was a joy to work with. His passion for his subject was infectious and he used language in an incredibly creative way.

4. Kleinwalsertal Tourism

I was lucky to have the chance to work on a variety of tourism brochures and magazines for the Kleinwalsertal Tourism Office. While working on the texts, I would be transported away to a snowy mountainside on a snowshoe hike or an alpine hut where hikers are sipping mulled wine and eating Käsknöpfle, delicious dumplings covered in grated cheese and onions – yum!

5. Hamburg Museum of Ethnology

A few years ago, I was given the task of translating exhibit labels for an exhibition at the Hamburg Museum of Ethnology about indigenous ethnic groups living in the tundra and Arctic regions. I was fascinated to learn how these people survived in such harsh conditions and about their customs and superstitions.

6. Swiss pop singer Zian

I was responsible for translating press releases about the Swiss pop singer Zian and the inspiration behind his music. Press releases are tricky to translate as the language is often very flowery in German and you have to ensure the messages do not sound too exaggerated or overblown in English.

7. Beautiful alpine flowers

I was pleased to have the chance to use my knowledge of botany that I acquired from completing a general course in horticulture many years ago. The project involved post-editing descriptions of alpine flora for a visitor guide. The translations had been run through a machine translation tool like Google Translate. The machine translations were very poor and needed a lot of careful editing, especially when it came to handling botanical terms such as Griffel (styles), Staubbeutel (stamen) and kalkarm (calcareous). The MT engine translated Griffel as pencils and Staubbeutel as dustbags! There were some other comical results. For example, one of the plant names Alpen Risengras was translated as Alpine Panic Grass (the correct name is Alpine Meadow-Grass) – maybe the machine was panicking when it couldn’t think of a solution!

You definitely cannot rely on machine translation to do a good job of these kinds of specialised texts. It was necessary to determine official common names based on the botanical names. Where an official common name couldn’t be found (which was often the case for plants indigenous to the Alps), it was also necessary to provide an accurate descriptive name and provide a disclaimer explaining that the name has been provided for descriptive purposes and to differentiate it from other species. In these cases, the translator can sometimes become involved in inventing common names, which is quite a thrill.

8. Stand-up comedy

Translating comedy is extremely challenging due to the cultural and linguistic nuances that underlie humour, as what may be funny in one language or culture might not resonate the same way in another. Wordplay, puns and culturally specific jokes often do not have direct equivalents and require creative adaptation to evoke laughter effectively in the target language.

I was assigned the task of translating extracts from a number of stand-up comedy sets. Thankfully, the humour wasn’t too difficult to translate as the comedians talked about universal themes such as wedding etiquette, the older generation not understanding technology and going to the toilet in public restrooms. I had a lot of fun tweaking the language to ensure it sounded natural and followed the same rhythm. In comedy timing is everything.


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