Lost In Translation
I speak four languages, two fluently—English and Hebrew.
Languages are very different, even if they have similar roots. Several variables make languages unique and tiny nuances are often very challenging to translate. However, I find it’s the culture and the slang that significantly influence a language. Without an adept understanding of these two, a person will always fall behind. If you cannot understand humor in a language, then you are not yet fluent. It’s the play-on-words, the jokes, and the political rhetoric, that makes a language fully useable.
It was early this morning, completely out of the blue, when I felt the need to write in Hebrew. At first, I was a bit reluctant, thinking I’m too far removed from the culture and the slang. But, once I started typing it, I was able to overcome that fear. I shared a story about an old friend of mine, who is not only Israeli, but also Zionist—exactly the person that Israelis like—not someone like me, who made “Aliya” in the opposite direction. While many of my old friends forgot about me, she worked on keeping up with our friendship. What made our friendship unique was the absence of critique and judgment, neither of us was envious of the other—it was just always fun to be together.
For the past two years, she has been nagging me to translate my book to Hebrew. She believes Israeli people will love it.
Finally, about two months ago, I gave in and contacted two different professional translators. I asked for sample and a quote—it’s a common step in the editing and translation profession. Why? For two main reasons: one, it’s extremely costly, so you would want to make sure the quality and the style are what you are looking for. And two, it’s not easy to give your manuscript to a stranger and trust that they will serve your best interests.
Ten days later I received the two quotes along with the samples. After recovering from the expensive quote, I read the samples. That’s when I got nauseous—not so much from the prices, but more from what I read.
I’ll admit, I’m kind of picky and, when someone takes my baby and abuses it, I start to panic.
Although the two sections I selected were not easy to translate, they were both a good cross representation from the book—one from the Labor and Delivery room in an Israeli hospital, and the second one a sex scene.
A few days later, I started thinking that translating my book might be too big of a challenge. When it comes to sex, the Hebrew language kills it. Sex doesn’t sound attractive in Hebrew. It sounds more like something that would turn you off. And in regards to the Labor and Delivery room scene, well these two translators do not have a suitable vocabulary in this field.
If not for the graphic sex scenes in my novel, Pinnacle Lust, I would probably consider taking on the challenge and translate the book. But the sex just doesn’t work, at least not in Hebrew.
I ended my post by asking if anyone knew a magician who could translate sex into Hebrew and keep it classic, so that it would remind a person of his greatest love, an unforgettable, sensual moment, and sweet memories that leave us longing for more… please send such a translator my way.
As I said, languages are not the same. Translation isn’t just a matter of substituting one word for another—what sounds good in one language might turn into a disaster in another language.
How many languages do you speak? Do you come across situations where what you say in one language doesn’t sound right in another language?