What Are The Rules For Translating A Book?

What Are The Rules For Translating A Book?

The English word “translation” is derived from “translation,” which means “to carry across.” So a translator is basically carrying the writing from the source language to a target language. Translating books between languages is not a new concept.

Translated works have been around for several millennia. The earliest evidence found of translation is that of a Sumerian poem translated between the era of 3100 BC and 539 BC.

What are the basic rules of translation?

The translation is a form of art where the translator needs creativity, problem-solving skills, and knowledge to ensure that the translated works retain the original style, tone, and meaning. Translating a book is challenging because every language is different and consists of subtle and distinctive features that can influence the translation to move away from its original meaning if the translator is not skillful.

This is why translators must understand the basic rules of translation. This will help translators understand how to translate while minimizing the chances of mistakes that can adversely affect the translation. Some of these rules can apply to some languages, while others may apply to other specific languages.

1) Leave proper names as they are

Proper names like the name of a person, company, or institution should not be translated so that the meaning is retained. However, sometimes there are exceptions where you can translate the term and write it in parentheses the first time they appear in the text. Names of people should be preserved as they are in the original text.

2) Be careful with false cognates

You need to look for pairs of words that seem to be related due to their similar meaning and sound, but they possess different etymologies. False cognates can be found within the same language, same family of languages, or from different languages. People who are not fluent in the languages can find these words similar. For example:

  • The English word “exit” sounds similar to the Spanish word “exito,” which means success,
  • Or the English word “actual” is similar to the Spanish word “actual,” which means current.
  • The Portuguese word “apelido” means nickname sounds similar to the Spanish word “apellido,” which means family name.
  • Similarly, the Italian word “burro,” meaning butter, is similar to the Spanish word “burro,” meaning donkey.

So it’s a crucial rule to know and be aware of the false cognates to prevent confusion and wrong interpretation of the text. You should make use of dictionaries, reference materials, and other important tools to ensure the accuracy of the work.

3) Literal translation cannot be used everywhere

Most of the words and phrases in one language have equivalent words and phrases in the other language. But sometimes, there are some words or phrases that do not have any equivalent words or phrases and thus cannot be literally translated.

This type of text may need several words or phrases to convey the original meaning and intent of the author in another language. While some words cannot be translated in any case.

These basic rules should be well understood by translators if they want to succeed as a good book translator. In addition to these, there are many more complicated rules that will only be mastered through practice and hard work.

Book translation is a demanding job that requires more than the knowledge and expertise of a language. If you truly want to work in this field, then patience and constant learning will be required to polish your skills and move ahead. Let’s look at some translation techniques and tips that will help you improve the quality of translation.

Is there any fixed formula for translation?

No, there is no standard formula that can be used by translators. The translation is a work that uses a combination of numerous techniques and the skills of the translator to get the job done accurately. These techniques include the following:

1) Direct translation

Direct translation is used when the original text’s basic elements and concepts can be used and conveyed into the target language. The techniques within direct translation include:

a)       Calque

This is a linguistic technique where a word-for-word translation is made from the source language to the target language.

b)      Borrowing

This technique literally borrows words from the source language and uses them exactly in the target language without translating or changing them.

c)       Literal translation

In this, every word is translated directly. The translated text should retain the same style, meaning, and word order as the original text. Since there can be a loss of distinctive features of the source language with this technique of translation, it should only be employed with languages and cultures that are close together.

2) Indirect or Oblique translation

Indirect or oblique techniques can be used when the original text’s basic elements and concepts need to be changed to ensure the nuance and meaning of the text are preserved.

a)       Transposition

This linguistic technique consists of shifting the sequence of parts of speech while still retaining the meaning.

b)      Reformulation

This technique uses different equivalent expressions in the target language to convey the same meaning of the original expression, proverb, or name.

c)       Adaptation

This technique is also known as cultural substitution, where cultural elements of the original text are replaced with similar cultural elements in the target language.

d)      Modulation

Similar to reformulation, this involves changing the perspective by using a different phrase from the original text that conveys the same idea and meaning.

Tips to keep in mind when translating a book

Use software or tools where needed

Install software and tools like spelling checkers and grammar correctors to prevent grammatical errors and typos.

Keep a close eye on the language rules

When you are translating the text and correcting punctuation, it is imperative to apply the rules and practices of the target language. Similarly, to improve the accuracy of translated work, paying attention to adjectives and adverbs that may seem little but, if not used properly, can be a way of leading the reader’s thoughts in a different direction.

Also, ensure that prepositions are connected with the verb or noun that follows them or comes before them. You should also take care of the tense used because the wrong tense can alter the meaning.

Understand your readers

It’s important to know who your readers will be. This will help you understand their cultural uniqueness and thus allow you to do the job accurately.

Follow the original text closely

Translate your work in accordance with the source text. You should not change the theme, storyline, and overall message of the original book. Follow the original text very closely to ensure integrity.

However, there are always exceptions, so it’s essential you know what to do to ensure the translation does not deviate from the original meaning. Keep comparing your translation with the original text to ensure that the style, tone, and meaning are the same.

Zealously read the original text

To better understand the style the author uses, you need to go through the original book as many times as you can. This way, you can determine the style, tone, and context used by the author. And thus, you will be able to better interpret the meanings and translate the text.

Keep translation simple and concise

Make use of short sentences that are clear and concise, and this gets the message across to readers. Simple translations are easier to read and thus more enjoyable than complicated translations.

Re-read your translated word

Read your translation as many times as you can before submitting it to the editor. This will help you identify errors and mistakes that may have gone unnoticed. It will help you check whether the words, sentences, and paragraphs are used and placed appropriately and harmoniously together.


There are no hard and fast rules and formulas to follow when it comes to translating a book. If you want to become a good translator, you need to practice the above-mentioned techniques and tips and work hard to improve your skills.

David John