Publications Translating ... in practice
Translating ... in practice PDF Print E-mail
This Article includes lectures on Modality
And Strategies in Practical Translation


As I have done in the previous articles on interpreting, I’m not going to put forward theories or quotations from reference books or literary works. I’m going to have a conversation with you on Translating in Practice.

 A translation may be defined as a presentation of a message in a language other than that in which it was originally written. The word “written” should be stressed, since it distinguishes translating from interpreting.

Translation is a concept and a process of dynamic equivalence with a focus on the meaning for receptors.

When you, the translator, comprehend the intent of the writer fully, you, being a professionally successful translator, should wear the personality of the original writer so much so that your translation would seem to have been written by you.

A translator does not replace a word in the SL (source Language) for a word in the TL (Target Language), but it is a transfer of a meaning into another language.
What are the criteria for a good translation?

Three principles: translation has to be "Faithful, Fluent, and Beautiful".
What are the requisites in good translators?

            A) Professional ethics

            *  Mouthpiece or “middleman” and “No more, no less”                                                      

            B) Language competence.

            *  Bilingual - a good command of both the source and target languages. 
            C) Comprehension and Understanding of text.

            *  A key to translating is knowing the meaning of all the written signs and even the significance of what is not written. Especially in English what is not said counts heavily.

            D) Knowledge of cultures and subject matters

            * Bicultural: is to have an intimate knowledge of both cultures in question.

            E) Practice makes perfect.

            *  To be a qualified translator, one needs to acquire sufficient skills and an highly effective use of language - through years of practice.

What are the signs of a poor translation?
  • Too free a translation - unjustified additions/omissions or fabrication
  • Too literal a translation - word for word renderings
  • Stilted grammatical and rampant syntactical errors
  • Mistranslation or distortion of messages
  • Non-idiomatic or inaccurate usage of the language
  • Unjustifiable omission of expressions, ideas or idioms
  • Poor attention to the layout or appearance of the translated text
What should you pay attention to in translating a text?

 Primarily as a good translator you’ll have to focus on the message, the idea not the word.

 As a good translator you should pay attention to modality, especially when you are translating from and to English.

 You should also pay attention to some specific skills and strategies that will have to be polished continuously.

 I’ll talk about these two aspects here in the following sections.



In Interpreting & Translating


Modality: is the use of preposition and other parts of speech to create a mood. These parts of speech include: can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would, ought to.


EXAMPLES:     (1) Said is in his office.

                         (2) Said must  be in his office.

                         (3) Said must  go to his office.

No. 1 : is assertion

            No. 2 & 3 : modal utterance


English Language  is a Modal Verbs Language......but it has the following also:


            Adverb             (4) Probably  Said is in his office.

            Adjective         (5) It is possible that Said is in his office.

            Nouns              (6) There is a possibility  of Said being in his office.



Levels of Modality in English


Less Probable                          Would

Probable                                  Will

Less Possible                           Might (could….question)

Possible                                   May (can…question)

Less Certain                             Should, Ought to (Could not…question)

Certain                                     Must (can not)





1] That will/would be the TV Repairer.

2] My uncle may/might be on holiday.

3] Can/could the road be blocked?

4] This poem should/ ought to/ must be by Poet Laureate  Ahmad Shawqi.



Modality in Arabic Language


يجب يلزم يتوجب يتحتم يتعين من الواجب لابد من ينبغى يمكن من الممكن بالامكان قد يستطيع يقدر باستطاعته بمستطاعه فى وسعه بميسوره بمقدوره يحتمل من المحتمل يرجح يجزم من الجائز من المرجح ربما لعل لا شك لاريب دون شك لا محالة أغلب الظن.


Verbal forms expressing modality are rare. The basic modals are non-verbal

1. VERBS:               يرجّــح  -  يحتمـل  -  يمــكن - يجــزم

2. PREPOSITIONAL PHRASES:   من المرجح  -  من المحتمل  -  من الممكن  -  من الجائز

3. ADVERBS:                            ربمـــا  -  لعـــل

4. NEGATIVE NOMINAL EXPRESSIONS:    لا شــك  -  لا ريــب  -  دون شــك  - لا محــالة

5. COMPARATIVE EXPRESSIONS:                  الأرجـــح  -  أغلــب الظــن

6. ARTICLES: [ أداة / حرف ]                        قـــد    


Levels of  Modality  in Arabic


يرجح - من المرجح - الأرجح


أغلب الظن

More Probable

يحتمل - يمكن - يجوز - من المحتمل - من الممكن - من الجائز - ربما - لعل قد



لا شك - لاريب - دون شك - دون ريب

Less Certain

لابد - لامحالة - يجب





Comparative Modality in English & Arabic






Degree of Modality







Less Probable



يرجح - من المرجح - الأرجح



أغلب الظن


More Probable

عســـى - يســـع

Might (could)

Less Possible

يحتمل - يمكن - يجوز - من المحتمل - من الممكن - من الجائز - ربما - لعل - قد

May (can)


لاشك - لاريب - دون شك - دون ريب

Should - Ought to (could not)

Less Certain

لابد - لامحالة - يجب

Must (can not)




Skills & Strategies in Translating



Most translators I know assert that they go through 3-stage process before they present their final product.


A] Stage One:


                        الفهم والإستيعاب................................. Comprehension Or Decoding


This is the stage when you have to understand and comprehend the message intended by the writer of the SL. It is the stage of decoding the written symbols or deciphering the linguistic code of the SL text. Briefly it is understanding the meaning related to the references of concepts and cognitive and semantic content.


It is the comprehension of each and every word, phrase, expression or idiom, and this is achieved in 4 steps:


1- Linguistic Meaning                                                                 المعنى اللغوى

2- Reference / Connotation Meaning                                            ألمعنى البلاغى

3- Rhetoric Meaning                                                                   المعنى الخاص بدلالة المفاهيم

4- Socio-cultural Meaning                                                           المعنى الإجتماعى الثقافى



B] Stage Two


                        النقل الدلالى .............................. Semantic Transfer Or Analyzing  

This is the stage when you analyze the parts of the SL text and reduce it to bits and pieces so that you may be able to fully comprehend the intent of the writer. Then set up a strategy to put them all together.



C] Stage Three


                        التعبيـر ………………..…............. Expression Or Encoding

This is the stage of encoding, re-composing or re-assembling “ re-authoring”  it into the TL language. The choice of correct vocabulary, phrases, idioms and expressions 


A translator here does two-fold job; he/she is a reader of a message written by somebody else in the SL and, at the same time, he/she is a second writer of the same message into the TL. Both messages have to be identical or at least similar at the semantic level.


Stage one is said to be the cornerstone upon which the two subsequent stages are based. That is because the translator plays the role of the reader in decoding the text in order to understand it; understanding/comprehending means perceiving the meaning ( implicit or explicit ) of each word, phrase or idiom.






How actually does a translator do it?


In his environment, whether it is at his work office or at home in his study-room, a translator has in front of him his PC and his printer ready for action. Imagine yourself that translator. You're sitting by your PC getting ready for action, and you may want to ask me:


How would I start the translating process?


The majority of veteran translators I know of agree to the following:-


1)       Your objective is to produce a translation that fulfills the concepts discussed earlier i.e. your rendition should be " Faithful, Fluent and Beautiful " .


2)       Now, read the SL text twice; the first time to get the feel and to make sense of the subject matter. The second reading is to get the author's intent ( message or idea) from the discourse.



3)       At this point in time put the text aside [ having in mind that it is in a hard copy format]. By doing that your mind would still be active munching over what you've just read. At this stage you're unconsciously focusing your faculties of translating  and mental stamina into the direction of what we call the 'Decoding, Analysing and Encoding' , process, getting your mind opened to and ready for the real action.


4)       Now, look again at the SL text, this time  to find if there are ambiguous terms, phrases, idioms or vague titles. If you have ( and you should have) glossaries and mono-lingual dictionaries check them out  and use your logical abilities of COINAGE . If it is a stand-alone terms say ( medical, legal or technical …etc ) you may use a print or an electronic bi-lingual dictionary to look them up . If you can't find logical equivalent you may work out the meaning through the discourse i.e. eliciting the meaning from contents of the sentence or the paragraph around them. If you're are still unable  you may search the matter by:


A] Ask a colleague.

B]  Ask a firm/ organisation that deals with the subject matter to which the term relates

C] Surf the internet or use the electronic encyclopedia.


5)  Now you have the Intent of the writer ( Ideas/massages) and you have the ambiguities, linguistics and semantics cleared up.


What would you extract from the SL text upon which you build your translation?


1)       The message ( intents/ideas) i.e. what it is all about?.


2)       The register ( Formal, Informal or Intimate)… Example:

a)       I would like to see you in my office. [ Formal ]

b)       Could you come in here a minute. [ Informal ]

c)       Come on in for a while [ Intimate ]


3)       The written para-linguistic features i.e. " punctuations, capitals, bold effects, italic features, underlines, abbreviations, acronyms, numbers, addresses, titles and names…etc" because they speak different language on their own and add to the text some kind of accentuation and attenuation, which, in turn, affect the message.


4)       By now you have on hand the three aspects you're required to elicit and possess before you set out to translate. The process of translating requires you to re-write the message given in the SL text in a different language ( SL text). To do that you have to leave behind the tapestry of the SL text and create a new one by using what I term " the ability of weaving & molding" . You leave behind the SL words, but hang on the ideas only. Weave and mould a new tapestry of your own with new vocabulary, grammar, syntax, semantics, idioms; weave them all together and mould them into a new text (TL) that appeals in its features, style, structure and cultural component to the reader of the TL language.  


You should never produce an English text that sounds (in reading) or flows like Arabic or vice versa.


5)       During the process of "molding & weaving" you may start your sentence with an expression the original of which (in the SL text) is placed at the end of the SL sentence. You may change tenses. You may change a nominal sentence in the SL text into a verbal sentence in the TL text. You may change a sentence into a phrase or vice versa. It is quite OK if the TL language allows for that.


6) To proceed further with your translation you're advised to follow the stages cited in this article under the title "Skills & strategies in Translating"  as well as the items cited below under the title  " What actually happens inside a translator’s mind?"


Now you are in the process of translating a text, but first:-


What kind of a translator are you?


-          There are three kinds of translators:


-          Those who are still attached to a paper and pen. They still prefer to hand-write their translation on paper first before they transfer it into their word-processor. This category of translators is becoming smaller everyday.


-          And those who after reading the SL text, they form a picture of their rendition into the TL text, then they start typing. This category includes the majority of translators.


-          The third category is very small, it includes many of the translators who are professional interpreters as well. This category is small because, by the nature of things, not too many translators are trained professional interpreters. Translators of this category use their expertise in Sight Translation ( oral translation of a written text) and their confidence that they always do it right first time  ( even if it is not always completely right) in converting a written text quickly into the TL text. They read the text aloud to themselves directly in the TL language and touch type it on the PC all at once.



-          Years of experience in sight translating by a translator makes him/her able to get his rendition right 85% to 95% first time.


-          The advantage of this is: (1) it is a good time saver. (2) a huge psychological relief is always gained.


-          A translator feels that by pouring his first impression of the whole text into the TL a big chunk of the translating work is already done. He/she gets the feeling that his translation is over and done with and that all it needs is some formatting and corrections. That particular feeling cuts the adrenaline rush to the minimum of levels because he/she gets the relief of a finished work.


-          Whichever way you do your translation … I do not care as long as you do it OK.


Finalizing your product:


-          Now that you have finished  your draft (TL text), turn off your PC, leave your desk, relax, listen to some soft music and have a cup of coffee.


-          Go back to your desk. Read the SL text again, go deep into its hidden meanings if any.


-          Boot your PC, open your TL document. As you scan each separate paragraph of the SL text, look at your rendition on the screen to see if it needs any modification. Do some editing if need be.


-          You might need to look up few word or terms in your electronic or print dictionary or glossary. Or you might need to do some research on the subject matter of the text….do that now


-          Now you may use the formatting style tools provided by your software, or manually format the text yourself.


-          Now concentrate on the layout/ appearance of your TL; punctuations, underlining, bold and italic typing, capital letters or special symbols. This step is vital especially in formal texts like legal documents or international relations documents. These effects speak a language on their own… this refers to what I said earlier “what is not written in the text” is important.


-          Now read your TL text thoroughly, see that it READS and FLOWS as required by the language you wrote it in. Make the necessary changes that makes the reader of your text feels that it is written in his/her own language.


-          You may be able now to print your text out. Turn off your PC. Read your text as a reviewer or a checker. Mark any changes or modifications. When you feel everything is OK, turn on your PC, open your document, make the final changes if any. Read it again on the screen.


-          If you are happy Email it to your client with your invoice.


Suggested Techniques for handling a document:


I do not know how you actually set yourself up to translate a document. Each translator  is different. However, let me suggest the following:


All depends on how you receive the translation assignment. 1) by ordinary mail as a hard copy. 2) A CD or DVD by ordinary post 3) by Email attachment. From my Experience I found out that around 75% of work would reach you through Email attachments. Let us concentrate on this method.


It would be advisable to ask your client to send the translation job in a MS Word Format, rather than PDF format as the latter is usually bigger to download and many translators have not got the full capacity Adobe Acrobat Writer that can be manipulated for editing. The other reason is that MS Word ( like other great word processors) has the ability to count the words so you may be able to quote the right charges for your client.


Now you have the translation assignment arrived as an attachment with your email and you copied it onto your Hard Disk and you opened MS Word. What will you do? I found out that most of the great translators do the following:


1] open up a new page

2] click on "insert Table" and click on 2  horizontal cells


If the text you received ( SL ) is in English, place it in the left cell

If the text you received ( TL ) is in Arabic, place it in the right cell


This way you'll have your SL text ( say English) in a cell while the opposite cell is ready for your rendition.


Now you start translating inside the left cell into Arabic.


Having the two texts side by side cuts translating time, editing time and checking time to the bare minimum.


When you've finished the final product as discussed earlier, you may highlight each text and copy each on a new page without the table cells.


Check your rendition again for layout and presentation. If you are happy with it Email it to your client, or send it in any way they require.


What actually happens inside a translator’s mind?


When we translate we usually unwittingly go through few steps before we have the final product ready. These steps are quoted from many theorists and practitioners in the field.:


q                   Skimming the text quickly to determine its genre typologically.


q                   Putting your finger on the objective the text aim to achieve.


q                   Making use of the information provided by the text. Information that has a    direct bearing on the subject matter.


q                   Use skimming strategy to highlight the important content/message overlooking the insignificant parts. Then use scanning to determine the deep meanings of  words. This way you’ll get an overall impression about the text. 


q                     Discourse analysis would help you get to know what the vocabulary means through cognitive references. This way you’ll be able to encapsulate sentences into brief phrases or compact forms.


q                   Assess the content in its entirety to determine conformity between SL and the TL texts.


q                   Checking, proof-reading and reviewing comprehension from time to time 


q                   Secure inferences, deductions and find out their appropriateness by focusing on comprehending the text in its entirety.


Some quick Translation Concepts:




THE FIRST CONCEPT: is to replace one foreign word for an Arabic one or visa versa.

By the way; the literal or sound replacement is called Transliteration.


Example: Telephone     تليفون  -  Radar    رادار  -  Radio    راديو


THE SECOND CONCEPT: is less accurate than the above. It means writing in Arabic and making Arabic the language of education, administration and culture




The unfaithful translation is the one in which the message or the intent of the original writer is undervalued and diluted. It is the one where the choice of vocabulary and its nuances are so poor that the text looks muddled and incohesive and does not flow freely and pauses difficulty in reading.


The more the translation appears to be written originally in the language the TL reader understands, the more successful a translator becomes.




It is vital to understand that translating skills involve deciphering nuances, cognitive references and cultural meaning of words


Here are some examples:


1] Conceptual Terms                                                             مفردات مرتبطة بمفاهيم تصورية

  Ablution                                                                                  وضوء

  Felicity                                                                                    صفو

  Brightness / glow                                                                     ضياء - بريق


2] Words connected with taste concepts:


 Example: " هذا طعام لا يسمن ولا يغنى عن جوع"      

It is impossible to say : "This food neither makes me fat nor satisfies one's hunger"

It is much better to describe food as follows: "This food neither nourishes, nor satisfies hunger"       


3] Colours & shades of meaning:


"White coffee" should not be translated as :                                قهوة بيضاء             

But should be translated not literally as:                          قهوة باللبن 

"Green with envy" should not be translated literally as:    إخضر وجهه حسداً

But should be translated correctly as:                                         إسود وجهه حسداً 


4] Translating concepts different to the translator's attitudes:


"Mohammad was born in Mecca" could be translated in two ways:

1- If the translator is a practicing Muslim:           ولد محمد –صلى الله عليه وسلم (صلعم) –فى مكّة

2- If the translator is no:                                    ولد محمد فى مكّة


5] Translating Idiomatic Expressions:


The Arabic expression  " ولسان حاله يقول"

It is not correct to translate as: " The tongue of his state says" , this senseless and meaningless translation

The correct translation will be: "He seems to be saying" or "as if he was saying".


The Arabic expression:  "قرة العين"

The correct translation will be: "Darling"


The Arabic expression:  "رياح القدر"         

It is correctly translated as:  "The wheels of fortune"      

The wrong translation would be: "The winds of destiny"


6] Translating statements connected with kinship:


Example:  My aunt

Is it : "عمّة" أو "خالة"  ?

The expression: "إخوان لوط" = Brethren

The expression: "وإلى عاد أخاهم" = Brethren

The expression:  "اخوان الشياطين" = The cohorts of the devils.


7] Translating tenses:


Expressing tenses differs from one language to anther, because tenses usually come coloured with the culture it is born from. English uses the past tense in positions where you expect it to be in present tense.


Look at this sentence: "Could you help me, please?" ….it is apparently in the past tense. While it translation into Arabic would be: "رجاءً ، هل يمكنك ان تساعدنى " as you can see the correct translation placed the tense in the present. Here is then , two modalities; the possibility of something ( can) and a tentative request in the past tense. For the wrong translation of the above expression would be "هل امكنك مساعدتى من فضلك "


8] Past Tense in Arabic is translated into Present Tense in English:


Usually tenses are connected with the modality of the speaker. Arabic prefers the past tense to signify assertion and absolute certainty. While English tends to sideline the absolute certainty. The past tense weakens the impact of certainty, that is why English language prefers to use what is called “ Disengaged Form”  - "الصيغ المنسحبة" .



It is not unnatural so…and…so

It is not unreasonable to do so…and…so

The Arabic sentence : قالت الأعراب آمنا" "

Its translation will be: " The Arabian Bedouins say 'we believe'


9] The present Tense in Arabic is translated in the conditional form in English:



The Arabic sentence: " وترى الشمس إذا طلعت"  

Its translation into English will be: "you would have seen the sun when it rises"

The Arabic sentence: هل تعلم ان الطماطم صنفاً من اصناف الفاكهة؟""

Its translation into English will be: "Did you know  that tomato is a fruit?"


10] Spatial preposition ( ظرف المكان) may change, in translation, into something different:


in an advertisement in a British paper  in the Island of "Jersey" we read the following:

"Jersey: Near to France…..Closer to Home"

Its correct translation would be: "جيرسى: قد تكون اقرب إلى فرنسا... ولكنها أوثق صلة بالوطن"


11] The language structure may reflect an attitude; political or otherwise:


Look at these English Examples:

The Israeli-occupied territories



The Israeli occupied territories


Translations that would reflect a special attitude would look like these:

1-                                                                       الأراضى المحتلّة (من قبل اسرائيل)"

2-                                                                       الأراضى الإسرائيلية المحتلة (من طرف اسرائيل)"

3-                                                                       "الأراضى الإسرائيلية المحتلة ( من طرف الفلسطينيين)"

4-                                                                       "الأراضى الإسرائيلية المحتلة"



More Aspects of Professional Translating


A Note on Translating Commercials & Advertisement:


Translating Advertisements for TV ,  Movies or Bill-Posts is tricky. You are not translating language per se , you are translating cultural concepts that lie deep in the sub-consciousness of people. Most advertisers use what is called subliminal effects. You have to be keen on learning some psychology. You have to know the psychological effects of sound, light and pictures on people’s minds. When you fully learn that you:


-          form the language, in the TL text that alludes with indirect references. Short but effective allegorical style most of the time.


-          Put the message in a completely different set of words that appeals to the reader of the TL text where his culture, knowledge and frame of references are the main target. Put it together in an interesting way so that the reader of your text gets the same feeling the reader of the SL text gets. You need finesse and flamboyance, the ability to enthrall, to shock or entertain.


-          Have a look at this example;   "…..Have a date with Cadbury…! "


-          It is wrong to believe that date means ( تمر أو بلح  ) . this word in the western culture means a romantic rendezvous  ( موعد غرامى  ) and Cadbury is known world-wide to be a brand of English chocolate. So translation into Arabic would be wrong if you say (خذ تمرة مع كادبورى  ) but the correct translation would be ( إنعم/تمتع بموعد غرامى مع شوكولاتة كادبورى)


-          The above is but one example. Look out for my article on Samples of Translated texts coming soon.




A Note on Translating TV & Movie Reviews and Clips:


-          For a start translating a movie is a Voice Translation as opposed to Sight Translation.


-          You have to have some knowledge of film-making technologically.


-          You have to know, at least, how a sub-titling and dubbing lab works.


-          This is the most time consuming translating process. Your knowledge of cultures (at least the two cultures of SL & TL has to exceed all other genres of interpreting and translating)


-          You have to really know the language of a scientist, a soldier, a comedian, a lawyer, a king, an artist, a sportsman, a prostitute, a street vendor, the language of jokes and the reference of puns, because one film might include all of the above together. One does not know what one expects in a movie from the loftiest of languages to the filthiest and the coarsest as well.


-          Translators of this genré  have to have a database full of resource centres from which they can get support, knowledge and information in every branch of knowledge… from cooking recipes to DNA engineering. Because we recognise that translators do no know everything.


How Translators do film sub-titles?


-          It is different from one country to the other depending on the automation, facility and the level of technology  in each country. However, the basic idea is the same. And here I’m giving you the basic idea.


-          The main aspect that constrains a translator is the time factor. A translator has to choose words, idioms and expressions that run in tandem with the time a scene is run on the screen, A subtitle that runs over to the next scene is a big No No.  


-          PREVIEWS: a translator (sub-titler) is given a video of the film needing subtitling. The main aim at this stage is for the translator to come to grips with the theme, the characters as well as the diction ( clichés, jargon, colloquial utterances, vernaculars …etc.).


-          TRANSLATING  the movie ( Voice Translation ): A translator then handles the movie (Film) scene by scene, using dashes to indicate dialogues. As I mentioned before the choice of words, idioms or expressions has to correspond with the length of running the scene on the screen. You use either a pad for hand-written translation or direct word-processing:


-          FORMATTING : Punctuation marks are essential, and text layout is also vital as these features have a language of their own. A translator is instructed to leave out a line after each utterance, dialogue or soliloquy …etc.


-          PROOF-READING: When translating has finished, a proofreader is given the video-film and the completed translation. He/she would view the video and check the accuracy of the completed translation, paying special attention to any idiomatic usage, nuances..etc


-          FURTHER PROOF-READING: The translated text goes through anther round of proofreading. This time at the hands of a senior proofreader who usually possesses an high level of competence and long years of experience as well as “ legal precision”.


-          PRINTING  SUBTITLES ON THE ACTUAL FILM: By using a specially designed computer with special software, subtitles are printed at the bottom of each scene of the film.


-          PROCESSING THE SUBTITLES TECHNICALLY: On the monitors of these specially designed computers, a little red triangle that appears at the bottom if a subtitle (translation) takes longer time than that allowed for the scene to run. This means that a translation has to be modified as to shorten reading time without changing the meaning or the content. This takes some effort and time and thinking of logical alternatives. Once this has been done, a little green square replaces the little red triangle to give the green light for moving on to the next scene.


-           When all that is done, the film (movie) is ready to be screened.

A Note on Translating Religious Books:


In this field you, the translator, have to be very professional and very experienced. Any misunderstanding of meaning will create problems and will anger many religious people.


-          Translators in this field have unwritten agreement to use the old English Language; “thou, thy, wilt ….etc.”  in English and Al-Fusha in Arabic.


-          Before trying your hand in translating a religious scripture you’ll have to read a lot about hidden meanings. That is because all religious scriptures were written in times different from ours, different in language, culture, and frame of reference.


-          You, as a professional translator, should not let your personal feeling or attitudes interfere with your translation.


-          If you’re translating into Arabic study the language of the Quran. If you’re translating into English study the language of Shakespeare.


-          I strongly advise you to liaise with different religious scholars on the matter. Beware of the fakes, pretenders and the self-appointed ones.


-          Translating a religious scripture requires utmost accuracy and sensitivity. Here below is an example:


إنك لا تهدى من أحببت ولكن الله يَهدى من يشاء وهو اعلم بالمُهتدين.

It is true thou wilt not be able to guide everyone whom thou lovest: but Allah guides those whom He will: And He knows best those who receive guidance.


-          In this genre of translation you will resort to using assonance, reverse order, poetic structure, double-entendre…all the features of a lofty poetic and rhythmic language.




A Note on Translating Poetry:


-           In this genre of translation you will resort to using assonance, reverse order, poetic structure, metaphors, double-entendre…all the features of a lofty poetic and rhythmic language. You’ll have to know the nature and essence of versification.


-          Poets are a very special breed. They are a cut above the rest. They are sensitive … in tune with nature, people, romance and feelings at a level ordinary people can not reach. Because of that they are given a Poetic license where they are allowed to stretch, shorten, change, modify and mould the language structure to suite the mood and the music.


-          That is why most of the translated poetry does not come out in a music and rhythm that appeals to the reader of the TL poem since the translator is not a poet himself.


-          A translator has to have the music in him. He/she has to read a lot of poetry and to enjoy what he reads. Look at the following example:


فانك شمس والملوك كواكب    إذا طلعت  لم يبد منهن كوكب

For you are (as) a sun, and the other (kings) are stars, when (your sun) rises, not one star appears amongst them.


-You notice that the translator might have translated the words and the meaning, but was short on music, melody and rhythm. That is because the two languages are completely different from each other in all their linguistic features plus the fact that the translator is not a poet by nature.



A Note on The Use Of Dictionaries:


-          As a translator, you should not flinch from using dictionaries and glossaries. A translator uses research and as such he/she has to avail himself with these references. References are some of the Tools of the trade. You will have to use dictionaries on : collocation, abbreviations, synonyms and antonyms, on idioms , on foreign phrases, mono-lingual and multi-lingual dictionaries. Most important of all is the use of glossaries. Glossaries are usually a field-specific, that is why they are more informative and much more updated than dictionaries.


-          I usually advise all my students to use mono-lingual dictionaries from which they may be able to illicit all shades of meanings, and through their power of COINAGE they should be able to coin an expression. Then and only then use the bilingual for verification.


-          Over the last few decades, I personally compiled my own dictionary. I started when I was very young. I collected every translated word, idiom, sentence or paragraph I laid my hands on. As a result I have hundreds of thousands of items of translated and proofread texts. I classified them under categories and sub-categories in every field of knowledge. I put them all in a special folder that I can click and open any subject I want from inside any document. This personal database is updated regularly.


-          The use of electronic dictionaries is good but not enough. The best thing is the use of glossaries, your own compiled dictionary, then at last the usual dictionaries ( mono-lingual.





A Note on Translation Checking (Proof-Reading):


-          Checking or proof-reading is comparing a TL text with the SL text for the express purpose of checking accuracy and eliminating errors and oversight on the part of the translator.


-          Usually a checker focuses on the TL text and uses the SL text for confirmation of the message.


-          A translation may require more than one checking. No matter how good a translator you are, checking/proofreading is vital, because no matter what you do a different set of eyes (of another person) would find something that needs correction.


-          A checker or a proofreader is the final authority on the translated text, because he/she gets it type-set ( Camera ) ready. He/she on the other hand usually advise the translator to take some different direction. This creates some frictions sometimes




-          What would you do as a checker ?


-          You’ll Eliminate errors and mistakes that are made unwittingly.

-          You’ll make sure that the meanings and abbreviations are correct.

-          You’ll try to straighten up sentence structure and improve on it if possible.

-        You’ll make sure that terms, idioms, expressions, names, title and numbers are correct.


-          What a  checker should not do:


-          Making a mistake when correcting an error.

-          Overlooking an error.

-          Mutilating the style of the translator.

-          Providing unnecessary changes just for the sake of showing off.

-        Changing a style with another similar one. This would affect the feelings of the original translator.







If you happen to have a checking/proof-reading assignment, you’ll need to provide the source that provided you with the assignment with a Checking Report. In case you do not have one I have provided herein a checking report form I devised and developed a long time ago and many national and international establishment use it.


Here it is: (You may use the item below as a template for yourself)





How to use this checking report


1.     Compare the translation  with the  source language document in order to assess the quality of the translation for linguistic and cultural appropriateness. Please feel free to provide overall appraisal of the translation in the “Comments Field” . Please limit your suggestions to the essential elements rather than what suits your own style.

2.     Put a number in RED against the text to be changed in the original document .

3.     Record the number, the change and summarised reasons in English e.g. spelling; terminology; structure etc.  on the report below.     

4.     This report can be completed by hand in your language (reasons in English).

5.        Complete a separate report for each document.





Message to original translator:

The suggested changes below have been provided in the spirit of professional team work. They are not intended to unduly criticise your original product. Please consider them to be a useful part of the overall translation process.


DOCUMENT TITLE: …………………………………………………………….



Suggested Changes

































Name of Checker:                                                        State/Country:

Date:                                                                            Signature:




A Note On Free/Logical Translation:


I personally prefer to call it a logical translation. The word free indicates a limitless activity, but logic reflects the bases of any translation, as a matter of fact the bases of all languages. Language and thought are by their very nature are limited by logic. So the more logical the writing, the more understandable it becomes.


This type of translation requires flexibility. You may add, extend, stretch, or shrink a sentence in order to present your rendition in a logical and understandable manner. If you do not do that you may get what I term as a chaotic translation, in other words literal translation.


As a translator you get the source text, strip the outside package ( words, expressions…etc.) until you reach the core ( the message/content and ideas ).


You go through all the steps I’ve mentioned in the section called ( what actually happens in the translator’s mind ) until you make sure you got the translation right. By that I mean when you feel the reader of your translated text understands it exactly as the original source text intended it.


Here below are some examples to show you that logical/free translation is essential.


1-       He is down in the dumps. 

If you translate it without regard to logic and culture where this expression came from you’ll have a fatal mistake. So the correct translation will be:

فى حزن عميق/ فى كآبة شديدة

2-       I could sleep on a clothes-line.

The wrong translation will be : بامكانى التوم على حبل تنشير الغسيل

However, the logical translation derived from the culture itself will be like this:

من شدة تعبى باستطاعتى النوم فى أى مكان

3-       To spill the beans.

It is wrong to translate it as : سكب الفاصوليا الخضراء

However, the correct translation will be like this:

يفشى بالسر




A Sample of translated terms and expressions.. [free & literal translation]:


The following group of words, idioms and expressions from various fields of knowledge are quoted to show you what a Logical/Free translation would look like as opposed to Literal/chaotic translation. Most of these are used by respected and well qualified world translators. I put them down here to help the translators do better job.



Notice how logical/free translation has served the purpose and helped convey the accurate message from the SL language into the TL language. Try yourself to translate each example literally and see the chaos you will come up with in most cases.


إن الترجمة الحرفية عادة  تخل بالغرض المنشود. تذكر هذا دائماً



Ah….do not bug me.

آه لا تضايقنى

Foreign Minister

Secretary of State

Foreign Secretary

Minister of Foreign Affairs

وزير الخارجية ( أستراليا)

وزير الخارجية ( ألولايات المتحدة)

وزير الخارجية (بريطانيا)

وزير الخارجية ( معظم الدول الأخرى)

His uncle kicked the bucket at the hospital last night

لقد فارق الحياة/توفى عمه بالمستشفى مساء أمس

To take the cake

يستحق التكريم

To let the cat out of the bag

يفشى بالسر دون دراية منه

To have a chip on one’s shoulder

يبدى غضبه لشعوره بالنقص

A drowning man will catch at a straw

يمسك الغريق بقشة

To fish for compliments

يسعى للمديح

To strain one’s ears for sounds of birds

يصيخ السمع لالتقاط أصوات الطيور

To beg leave of His Majesty to resign his office

يستسمح جلالة الملك فى الاستقالة من منصبه

She was already a long way on the road to being a professional translator

كانت قد قطعت شوطا كبيرا لتصبح مترجمة محترفة

With a view to extending the holiday period

بغية تمديد فترة العطلة

All you have to do is make them do the job

كل ما عليك أن تفعله هو حملهم على القيام بالعمل

I turned to see another horse behind the first

ما ان التفت حتى رأيت فرساً آخر وراء الأول

To nid-dod

أخفق برأسه نعاساً


ثرثرة دردشة

A man of talent

لوذعى نابغة

It is like talking to a stonewall

..كما لو كنت تتحدث إلى حجرة صماء

The would-be president

ألرئيس المرتقب

Development of local industrial entrepreneurship and indigenization

تنمية الطاقات المحلية فى مجال تنظيم المشاريع الصناعية وتعزيز القدرات الأهلية

To ask for help


A plot against the head of state

مؤامرة تستهدف الإطاحة برئيس الدولة

If the world Rugby games rained out

إذا ألغيت مباريات الرجبى الدولية بسبب المطر

We were served out with clean sheets

وزعت علينا شراشف نظيفة

He sketched out a plot

حبك خطة

To puzzle out the meaning of a sentence

فك لغز جملة ما

This language is dying out

هذه اللغة آخذة فى الاندثار

He went up to the file room

قصد إلى غرفة الملفات

I must think up a suitable title for my book

لابد لى من أن أبتكر عنواناً ملائما لكتابى

The funds soon dried up

سرعان ما انفقت الأموال

Too level up salaries

يرفع الرواتب/المرتبات

The explanations were drawn out and unconvincing

كانت الشروح مسهبة وغير مقنعة

He undertook the tasks of the Ministry/Department “in Australia

نهض بأعباء الوزارة





A Note on Translation Layout/Appearance:


The text formatting effects are essential in the sense that they speak their own language i.e. they highlight and accentuate meanings not written in words.


-          Layout/Appearance refers to the way how a translated text looks. Generally speaking this relates to indentation, paragraphing, capitalization, italic-typing, underlining and bold typing.


-          The above features are sometimes determined by language constraints. For example, initial capital letters are necessity in English, in beginning a sentence, names of countries, mountain oceans, organizations, acronyms, proper names and a host of other things…etc.. Such rules do not exist in Arabic. And because they, strictly speaking, are language-specific they have no bearing on the translating process.


-          Choice of the wrong commas or stops creates serious problems in the cohesion of the text, especially in the case of legal texts and international relation texts.


-          These layout properties have vital significance in the text. Because, as I mentioned before, their use would affect the meaning of the text. From this point of view they are relevant to the process of translating.


-          A translator has to pay much attention to this feature for if he did not do so the cohesion of his/her translation would be mutilated. Here is an example: THE WHITE HOUSE. If you  come across this word in a text and mistook it for meaning ( ألبيت الابيض ) only you’ll miss on the fact that being in capitals it means something else. It means ( دار إقامة رئيس الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية  ).  that is why I always said that A TRANSLATOR MIGHT SOMETIMES TRANSLATE WHAT IS NOT THERE!




A Note on Extract Translation:


I did not want to finish this article without a word about this popular form of translating.


q                   Extract Translation : means you, the translator, extract pieces of information from one document and translate them into another language. The reason for this is that the other language (TL) requires minimum info., not all what is given in the SL text. The info. You choose to translate meet the requirements preferred by the authorities where the TL text is going to.


q                   You use such translating form when you are required to handle certificates, I.D. cards, statement of academic degrees, specific reports…etc.


q                   Most of the western countries like to encapsulate pieces of information in forms that are designed to be brief, clear and to the point and without breaching the privacy and confidentiality of the individual. While other countries (especially those amongst the 3rd world countries) do not entertain that attitude. The result is that their information publications come in a lengthy, elaborate language that is un-necessary as it does not benefit the purpose the publication intends to serve.


q                   Your job, as a translator, is to extract the information necessary to make your TL text readable and useable by the authority the TL text is addressed to.


q                   Most of such extracted information revolve around figures, numbers, names, addresses, acronyms and abbreviations, but elaborate and flowery language praising heavenly bodies or deities are not required at all.



Do’s and Don’ts:


q              Be as brief as you can.


q              Be ultra accurate in copying figures and numbers. A wrong figure may lead to disputes and perhaps imprisonment.


q              Make your text clear and understandable.


q              When proper names are translated into English, you have to ensure that your spelling is as exactly as the spelling in another English I.D. that the client carries on him/her, i.e. a passport, a birth-certificate…etc. For example Mohammad is written in a various different forms; Muhammed, Mahamed, Mehmet, Muhamed and Muhamad …etc. So you have to find out if there is any other official document with the client’s name on it in English before you take up the job.


q              Names of cities, countries or establishment are to be translated as they are unless there are equivalent in English, i.e. do not translate the capital of Egypt as “Al-Qahera”  or “The Vanquished” because it is known as “Cairo” .


q              Always use fine papers and fine print quality. Do not use elaborate, complicated and unknown fonts. Be simple and clear.


q              If you have to post a hard-copy to your client, choose decent A4 size envelope. Place your document in a TDP ( transparent document protector) and slip it into the envelope.


q              Print the address of your client on the envelope, or use labeling software to printout a good-looking address label and stick it onto the envelope.


q              Always stick to the deadline you agreed upon.


q              If you have to electronically send your file to your client (an agency or otherwise) make sure that you have word-processed your translation using a widely-used software      ( i.e. MS Word or Word-perfect) otherwise use “ Adobe Acrobat Writer “  to convert your document then send it on. In this case you’ll have to make sure that your client runs that software as well.


q              Before sending your document Virus scan it so that you do not infect the receptor’s hardware.




How do you know the requirements for documents/forms in other countries?


q                  Few years back it was very hard, you almost worked in the dark. Now, however, you are able to download forms of different nature from the internet.


q                  If not available, do the following: as a part of translating research contact as many Embassies as possible (in your country of residence) and ask for copies of certificates and forms of different variety that their countries have. Foreign Embassies of developed countries are usually very obliging and they are ready to direct you to where you may be able to access them.


q                  Now you have to design a page or a form on your own to include the requirements you have already collected from each specific country and style them all into templates.


q                  Design a simple but impressive template, not overly done. If you want me to help you out, herein you’ll have a simple model of such template.


 In This HEADER: create your own letterhead logo. Put down your name, credentials, address, phone/fax numbers and Email address.

Also in the header section place a legal disclaimer as follows:
 The Translator gives no warrant as to the authenticity or  other wise of the original document


 The above disclaimer may be placed in the FOOTER section instead, if you like


Now go to the main document area and in the centre write this:


EXTRACT TRANSLATION OF A “ Birth Certificate …etc.”


Under that, in the body of the document, write the following “ supposing that it is a Driver’s License”




Date of this Translation:                                               02/01/2002

Translated From:                                                         Arabic


First Name:                                                                  Mr. XXXXXXXX

Middle Name:                                                              XXXXXXXXXX

Family Name:                                                              XXXXXXXXXX

Date Of Birth:                                                               XX / XX / XXXX

Place of Birth: {country & town)                                     XXXX  XXXX  XXXX   XXXXX

Sex:                                                                             XXXX


License Number:                                                         XXXXXXXXXXX

Issued On:                                                                    XX / XX  XXXX

Valid Until:                                                                   XX / XX / XXXX

Issuing Authority:                                                         XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX XXXX

Place of Issue:                                                             XXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXX XX


Additional Information:

such as type of vehicle the holder is allowed to drive – auto. or manual vehicle – holder allowed to use eye-glasses or contact lenses – holder is not allowed to drive by night…etc.”



q                   Always have a space set aside for your stamp of authority/endorsement. Never clutter your page with messy stamps and signatures. Never obliterate any part of the written information on the page, this is a sign of poor professionalism and poor organisation.


q                   For males always use Mr. And for females always use Ms.


q                   My top advice to you here is: accuracy…accuracy and accuracy. I’ve seen many translators who were taken to court because of a missing figure or a wrong date…etc.


This form of translating is considered a good grounding experience for the novice and the newly comers into the world of translating. Once they have gained the necessary experience they may be able to move up to full translation assignments.




The above is my view of what translating is all about. I hope some people would find it interesting or of some value to them   



References :


1.                   M. P. Williams – Turjuman,1992,1 (1),p.75-94

2.                   Dr. Kara – The Problems encountered by English Speakers in Learning Arabic

3.                   Hatim, B. and Mason – Discourse and the Translator, Longman 1990

4.                   Henderson – personality and The Linguist 1987

5.                   Al-Didawi – Translation, between Theory and Practice, 1992