Differences between literature translations for children and for adults, Guest Post by Aleksandra Milcic Radovanovic

Today is “guest post exchange day” on the Wordcount Blogathon, so I am pleased to welcome translator Aleksandra Milcic Radovanovic and her thoughts on the differences between translating for children and for adults. Do you agree? Let us know in the comments – we’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, you can find a post from me over at her blog: linguistblog.com

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There are maybe topics that can be discussed about literary translation, but they are rarely related to translation of children’s literature. If we accept the fact that children’s literature is a separate genre in its own right, than we must ask whether translation problems in texts written for kids and adults are the same and, if they’re not, in which respects they differ.

During the last few years, translators have seemed to agree that the translation problems in texts for adults and for children are, essentially, the same. In translation theory, they can be described using the same concepts and can be arranged in the same groups. However, some important features of children’s literature must not be ignored. First, the communicative nature of this literary genre requires an imaginative and creative translator who is always aware how special the audience is. Something else is also important: a translator of children’s literature must overcome concepts of disculturality and conculturality. Unlike translators of literature for adults, translators of children’s literature must constantly consider how far their readers can digest the experience of foreign cultures and other unknown facts. This struggle between keeping most of the original sense and regard for the intended readers is a fundamental concern and one of the greatest obstacles in creating high quality translation. In order to produce a final translation of a children’s book that will serve its purpose, translators must define characteristic of their target audience: their knowledge, level of experience, stage of emotional development, ability to adapt and learn new things. The translator’s role is to stay faithful to the original work, but also to incorporate additional adjustments while keeping the writer’s form and idea.

Most children’s literature translators stress that they are allowed (and sometimes even expected) to recreate the original text so it can easily fit in with the literary requirements of the readers’ country. That means that  it’s the translator’s job to deliver highly acceptable translations, because children will not tolerate as much strange and unknown facts as adults. Despite the fact that being able to alter a text makes the translation of a children’s book look simple, it is not an easy job. We must not forget the demands made by intermediary groups, such as parents or publishers. Of course, the translator must respect the standards of translation theory, linguistic rules, follow the main story line correctly and make sure that everything that was said was sufficiently precise and to the point because of children’s shorter concentration span.

In translation of adult literature, the translator can play with words and expressions, looking for the best way to convey the original message. In translation of children’s literature, translators must not be too free as they must keep the original tone and writer’s intention. Moreover, we must remember that children’s literature translators cannot follow Peter Pan’s advice and just think lovely wonderful thoughts that can lift them up in the air helping them to choose the best possible translation equivalents to describe  Neverland.

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AleksAleksandra Milcic Radovanovic lives in Belgrade, Serbia. She has a BA in South Slavic languages and literature and an MA in Translation. She is currently working on her PhD thesis in Forensic Linguistics. She also works as an English to Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian freelance translator specialized in technical and medical translation. You can find her at her blog (linguistblog.com) and on Twitter as @_AleksM.

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About forwardtranslations

I'm a freelance literary translator from German and French to English. The title of my blog comes from Mary Schmich's description of reading: it struck home with me, and seems especially apt for translated fiction. Here are some of my musings on what I'm reading, re-reading, reading to my children, and translating.
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7 Responses to Differences between literature translations for children and for adults, Guest Post by Aleksandra Milcic Radovanovic

  1. Fips says:

    Certainly a challenging topic, more so in some respects to adult fiction given the more limited frame of reference. A friend of mine is currently writing a thesis on the use of picture books for introducing cultural elements into the EFL classroom, and the differences, although not always profound, can provoke quite interesting reactions.

    (Quick note: the link to your guest post is broken).

  2. Lydia says:

    “Unlike translators of literature for adults, translators of children’s literature must constantly consider how far their readers can digest the experience of foreign cultures and other unknown facts.”
    “That means that it’s the translator’s job to deliver highly acceptable translations, because children will not tolerate as much strange and unknown facts as adults.”

    I’m not sure about either of these statements. Firstly, I think translators of literature for adults are also constantly thinking about how much foreign-ness their audience can tolerate – translation theory certainly addresses this idea in detail. Secondly, surely children tolerate huge numbers of strange and unknown facts every day, purely because so much of the world is new to them, and so they might be *more* likely than adults to embrace a foreignised translation (and, indeed, might not even realise that it was foreignised)?

    I do agree with your next point, though, about the important role played by the adults who have the purchasing power: if adults believe that children can’t cope with ‘foreign elements’ in their books then they will avoid buying them. Fear of this might lead to children’s books in translation being heavily domesticated, but I think this has less to do with the children’s opinions and capabilities than with adult perceptions of those capabilities.

    Disclaimer: I spend very little time with children. I’d be interested to hear whether anybody who does spend time with children agrees with me!

    • Thanks for commenting, Lydia. I think those are both good points.

    • Fips says:

      Just on the question of the books children themselves choose, I know that research has shown that children in the foreign language classroom, when given the opportunity, choose books that the teachers would otherwise have considered far too demanding on the basis of language and ‘foreignness’. And I think you’re right, children are probably far more open to new and strange ideas than their overprotective parents!

  3. _AleksM says:

    Fips, thank you for the comment. I would like to read your friend’s thesis, sounds like an interesting research.

    Lydia, thank you for sharing your point of view. I didn’t want by any means to undermine significance of adult literature translator. I just wanted to point out that children’s literature translators must put a lot of effort in their work and that children can be tough audience because of their short attention span. I also believe that children are more open to new things, but only if they can understand them, at least in their own special way. I used to work at public library and have seen several children’s books translated to Serbian with too many original (US) cultural references (regular expressions, sayings, name of the bands…). Kids who borrowed them said that they didn’t like those books because “they were written for some other people, not for us”. The main challenge for translator is to discover the fine line between new exotic thing and incomprehensible confusing element. Again, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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