In the previous article on Russian text issues, I discussed the shortcomings of computers when it comes to translating Russian text. Luckily there’s a few tricks we can use when going from English to Russian text. First:
Keep it simple.
English has far more tenses than Russian does, and they cause difficulty even for human translators. “I had been considering buying a new car, but then thought better of it.” That’s a nice sentence in English, but it’s tough for translating programs. Simplifying, you can still get across a similar message: “I was considering buying a new car, but I decided not to get one.” Even that will cause problems, but it will be clearer. (The problem is with the final word “one.” You and I know that ‘one’ refers to a car. The computer has no idea.)
Along with simplifying, try to avoid idioms at all costs. True, idioms liven up a language and can add deep meaning in a few words, but they lose all the deep meaning in translation. If someone asks you what you think of your new teacher, Ms. Hamilton, and you say, “Man, she sucks!”…think of the literal ramifications of this response. It changes from an innocent, idiomatic complaint into an R rated statement about Ms. Hamilton’s private life.
Mind you, it’s hard to avoid idiomatic speech. It’s ubiquitous and natural. Speaking without it makes you sound robotic…
…the very kind of text that computers are decent at working with.
The way to avoid idioms is to ask if any of the words in a phrase have more than one meaning. If yes, you might be using an idiom. If a word indeed has two or more meanings, be aware that it will most likely be translated with the first dictionary meaning. If Ms. Hamilton is a bad teacher, try to avoid saying that, “As a teacher, she stinks!” Inevitably, the translation will ascribe to our beleaguered Ms. Hamilton as having a foul stench.
So, if it’s vital you get your message across – and when isn’t it? – then try writing like a first grader. Before you put your English text into Russian using a translation program, imitate this kind of grade-school writing:
This is my teacher, Ms. Hamilton. She is nice. She makes lots of cookies. Can you come to her class on Monday?
Following this style, we can write a business letter to our Russian colleague:
This is my business proposal, Pipeline Retrofitting. It is ready. We will make lots of money. Can you sign the contract on Monday?
That’s the trick to working with translating programs. In a perfect world, you’d use a human translator, but keeping things simple and idiom free is the best way to work with translation programs.