What Did You Say?

Translating what you say takes a lot more than pushing a button.

Our hound asked us, “How do you feel about having one of your novels translated into another language? Is there a particular nationality of reader that you think would enjoy your novels more than others?” 

I’ve known several authors who’ve experienced the excitement of having a book released in another country. When a publisher goes to the trouble of having your book translated, it shows confidence in your story. And your name and words will be available to more people than before. So I’m sure I would be excited to learn that a book of mine has been selected to go through this process.

But as much as I’d be honored and excited, I’d have concerns. People with these translated editions wouldn’t be reading my words, but rather someone else’s understanding of what I’d written. And unless your translator is totally familiar with both languages as well as both cultures, that can lead to other problems:

  • Phrases don’t translate well. In a recent social media post, I shared a photo of my handsome husband with the caption “He still cleans up pretty well.” Most Americans understand that I meant he still looks good, especially when dressed up, but my Japanese cousins, who used an online translator, couldn’t understand why I would tell the world that my husband was still beautiful when he’s cleaning. Even titles are subject to changes when translating. Author Diana Lloyd, who was a guest here with her regency romances, recently discovered her book How to Train a Baron will be translated into German, but the title there is Ein Baron fur die Lady, (A Baron for the Lady). My friend was quite concerned about the title change until a German-speaking friend of hers explained that to literally translate her original title would require a lot more space on the cover.
  • What seems amusing to us wouldn’t be to others. To use another example with my cousins overseas, a scene in which a child (or an absent-minded adult) tracks mud all over a clean floor would be much worse to my aunts and cousins than to us, since wearing shoes indoors simply isn’t done. 
  • Certain situations wouldn’t be understood. There are things that are a common part of American life that may not be understood by those in other countries. Of course, this is true about any local tradition when explaining it to someone in another part of the world. It’s not truly understood without being there. I’m sure that some of my overseas family think it’s odd that we celebrate Christmas by bringing a tree indoors (or purchasing a fake one) and decorate it, BUT they do understand the importance of family gatherings, especially for special days. So they would probably put more emphasis on that.

Conclusion: My stories were aimed for a particular audience, using situations, and language with which we are familiar. Even when writing about characters, settings, and time periods that may not be familiar to many, they are written in a way that appeal to well-known emotions and problems that most of us face. However, the way I portray them may not appeal to people in other countries, and I have to hope that the translator, as well as the person reading the translated version, is understanding of the differences between us. To answer the second of the hound’s questions, I guess places in which the culture is closest to our in the US would probably understand and enjoy my stories best. As much as I wish my relatives could read my stories, I’m pretty sure they’d be confused by them.


About Patricia Kiyono

During her first career, Patricia Kiyono taught elementary music, computer classes, elementary classrooms, and junior high social studies. She now teaches music education at the university level. She lives in southwest Michigan with her husband, not far from her five children, nine grandchildren (so far), and great-granddaughters. Current interests, aside from writing, include sewing, crocheting, scrapbooking, and music. A love of travel and an interest in faraway people inspires her to create stories about different cultures. Check out her sweet historical contemporary romances at her Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Kiyono/e/B0067PSM5C/
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8 Responses to What Did You Say?

  1. Excellent answers, Patty! There are many times when I see foreign phrases that I know are translated into subtitles in movies that really have nothing to do with what was actually said.
    Taking social and cultural differences into consideration can be truly problematic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      Yes, it can. Still, I guess I probably wouldn’t complain too much if a book of mine WERE to hit foreign shelves.


  2. Jeff Salter says:

    Once again we have a topic for which I believe the Monday Fox has perfectly expressed a cogent response. All I’d need would be to change a few words, substitute different cousins, and swap the specific wording.
    So if you see Patricia’s column posted again on Hound Day, you’ll understand!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. diana-lloyd says:

    It was an absolute THRILL to have a book translated into another language. I just wish I was fluent in that language so I could judge how well it translated. I may have to translate some of the reviews.


    • Patricia Kiyono says:

      I’m so thrilled for you! I’m sure people in Germany would understand your regency romance a lot more than people in many other countries.


  4. I can see how cultural differences could make things a little different for readers from other countries. There are so many things that don’t translate well, you would really need an excellent translator.


  5. Elaine Cantrell says:

    All valid areas for concern.


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