Dr Bittner Business English

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Presenting you the most interesting translation solutions


Why Like-Blog? Now, first of all, this blog is a blog that you should like (and read regularly) – at least, if you are interested in translation. Then, the topic discussed here is one in which the meaningful likeness between a text and its translation in the language pair English-German plays a key role. On this page, I will take a close look at some interesting translation solutions that I have come across in the course of my work as a translator and translation scholar.

A translation solution is only as good as the arguments that support it. This means that any translation criticism, whether positive or negative, needs to be justified. The quality of a translation solution shows only when we compare it to other possible translation solutions in a given translation situation. Therefore, a translation critic should not only say why a translation solution is bad, but also demonstrate what a better solution might look like. I will try to stick to these principles of translation criticism. So if you have any questions regarding my line of argument or if you disagree, please, let me know your opinion by phone at +49 4171 6086525 or by e-mail to bittner@businessenglish-hamburg.de. So much for the introduction. I hope you'll enjoy reading this blog!

If it were not for the context (July 2019)

Some seven or eight years ago, I came across the following sentence: At OLT we know that communication is crucial to the success and future growth of our business. When translating this sentence into German, the following solution seems to be obvious: Wir bei OLT wissen, dass Kommunikation für den Erfolg und das zukünftige Wachstum unseres Unternehmens von entscheidender Bedeutung ist. This solution would be a viable alternative if the English sentence had been taken from the introduction to a quarterly report. However, it was taken from the homepage of the website of an online translation agency. Against this backdrop, the translation needs to be improved in three respects.

Why improve the translation? After all, the German target text is a very precise rendering of the English source text. And, what is more, the German is perfectly idiomatic. This is true – however, the first criterion is irrelevant and the second insufficient. This is so, because the homepage of the website of an online translation agency, first and foremost, serves promotional purposes: it wants to address readers as prospective clients. Whether or not the German version agrees with the English version is totally irrelevant to the reader. What is important, though, is that the translation capture the promotional purpose of the homepage in the best possible way, presenting to the reader what he or she would have expected.

You may have noticed that, in the above example, the original is not as good as it should have been. The biggest blunder occurs at the end of the sentence, with a small typo wreaking havoc on the overall meaning. In the introductory sentence of the homepage, not the company owning the website (OLT) but the prospective client should be the focus of attention: instead of “our business” it should be “your business”. The main clause (“At OLT we know”), while also featuring an inappropriate emphasis on OLT, is altogether redundant: what OLT know will easily be recognised by the fact that it shows in writing on OLT's homepage. Finally, promotional texts should state what they state in a straightforward and concise manner. In the given context, there is no need for the adjective “future”.

Considering these arguments, the source text might run: Communication is crucial for the success and growth of your business. This sentence could then be translated into German as follows: Kommunikation ist für den Erfolg und das Wachstum Ihres Unternehmens von entscheidender Bedeutung. Yet, may a translator simply ignore the literal meaning of the original and come up with a different target text? Well, a good translator may not only do so but should do so. For, in this case, the text of the original is at odds with its promotional purpose; with the improved rendering, the translator merely readjusts the focus of the text. Of course, the translator will inform the client of the translation procedure, pointing out the various problems in the source text. The client will be grateful.

That was it for this month.