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How to translate your website from or into Russian?

Back in November a colleague sent me a link to an article called "How to translate a Russian website to English?" The article was published on the website http://www.translationblog.co.uk/. The author of the article presumably is a specialist who oversees the Russian translations in that agency. I clicked the link again while preparing this post and realized that it's no longer working. So I am feeling relieved. Why? Because, as a professional translator, I couldn't agree with a big part of it. In fact, I was quite shocked by some of the things written there. And I immediately posted my reply to it in my Russian blog for any clients who are looking for a way to translate their websites from Russian to another language. I didn't have time to argue with the agency, so I tried to minimize the harm by talking directly to potential translation buyers. I meant to translate and post my reply here as well, but since I was pretty busy I am doing it only now. Part of me wishes you could read the original "masterpiece", but a bigger (and better) part of me is happy it is no longer there. The website still googles, but you get an error message when you click any links there.

However, I am still publishing this post because there are a lot of business people out there looking for the best way to translate their websites, brochures and other documents either from or into Russian. Let's examine some of the options you may be thinking about. To be honest, I couldn't possibly imagine some of them, but since they were mentioned in that article, then maybe there are some people who can think about them, too.

By the way, this post is a translation of an original reply in my Russian blog. So if you can read Russian, welcome there :)

If you are a serious business owner, then your only real choice is to trust a professional to do the translation. But I know that not everybody will agree with me. I have met quite a few people who think they can do everything by themselves. So let's look at some of the ways you can try to translate your website by yourself.

1. You can use a dictionary to make the translation from Russian to English (or any other language).
Since there are literally lots of people in Russia who think they know English because they studied it at high school, a few of my clients tried this method. Some of them (the least "advanced" ones) tried using old paper dictionaries published in 1960-1970s. The more advanced ones knew about Lingvo and Multitran.ru. But can you really make a good translation just by using a dictionary if you don't know the language?

Sorry if I have to disappoint you. Even a simple Russian word "стол" can be translated as table, bureau, desk, office, meal, diet, kitchen, spread, bench, knee, and the list goes on. How would a person who doesn't speak excellent (preferably native) English know which equivalent to choose? All right, we can come down to a group of three or four possible translations just by using human logic. But it's such an easy example, while in reality we often talk about idioms, various set expressions, and not each and every one of them is that obvious at first glance. At the same time, you do want the translation to flow naturally, don't you? So, that's one thing to take into consideration.

2. The second thing the author of that article suggested is transliterate Russian words and write them down in Latin letters... Hmm, all right, let's transliterate the same word "стол" and write it down as "stol". Does it make it a table? Or a desk? Or a bureau? Strange suggestion.

3. The next option the author suggested is quite popular. It is machine translation: Google translate, Bing translator, Babylon translator etc. But even the most perfect translation software can't possibly understand all the different shades of meaning and word connotations. Moreover, such programs often have issues even with grammar. Machine translation is normally used when we want to get an overall understanding of what the text is about. But if you need an excellent result, it is not your method. By the way, if you post a text into Google translate it gets saved in Google's database. So if, let's say, you want to translate a confidential document (not a public website) and you post it in Google translate to see what it is about, guess what happens? You break the confidentiality. It's important to remember that.

At the end of this quite controversial article the author made some points that I absolutely agree with: (here I wish the article was still available. I'd use the author's wording. But now you have to put up with mine :)
  • Only an expert translator can understand the context and the purpose of the translation and do the work accordingly.
  • A professional translator understands the client's motives and expectations and translates the website accordingly.
  • The issue of translation quality includes the understanding of such linguistic phenomena as lexical gaps, local idioms, using the right terminology etc. As a result, a professional translator doesn't make a word for word translation, but rather translates the real meaning of the text.
  • In order to make an effective translation of a website it's important to know the political, social and cultural background of the end users. Only then can a translator produce the result that will be correct not only in a cultural, but also in a specific social context.
  • Professional translation excludes vagueness, ambiguity and literalness, compared to the result produced by machine translation.
I think this quote would make a good conclusion for today's post: "There are many ways to translate a book, but the best way is to give it to a translator." (Dmitry Pashkov)
The quote is about translating books since its author is a writer, but I hope you understand that in this case it doesn't matter ;)

Have a great day!

Olga Arakelyan, Your Professional Translator.

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