Apparently it is possible to work as a translator without any knowledge of foreign languages. As absurd as it sounds there was a Chinese man who translated Western classics into Chinese without being able to understand the original texts. Although he spoke only Chinese, Lin Shu has managed to collect all the credits and honour of being a valued translator.
Lin Shu worked as a translator in China in early 20th century. Originally he was tricked to do translation work by his friends. Work was their way to distract his mind from grieving the death of his wife.
Lin Shu’s translation method was undeniable genius. He knew people who understood different languages and he let them interpret the foreign texts to him. Lin Shu just listened and wrote down what he had heard. This is really a great example of specialization and outsourcing. Lin Shu did what he knew best (Chinese) and others offered the key to understand the key messages of the original literature.
Lin Shu is said to be the one who introduced Western literature to the Chinese people. Not a bad title to a man who couldn’t read a word in any of the Western languages.
This case proves that an excellent translator needs more than just language and translator skills. Translator should be able to catch the core message into his or her text. A great translation is more than just a translation.
Translating any commercial material can be much more difficult task than it seems to be beforehand. There are at least two important dimensions to take into account: (1) the translation should communicate the wanted message, and (2) it should be “catchy” from marketing point of view. Any word-by-word translation won’t most likely meet both of these criteria.
An example of successful translation projects is the localization of Coca-Cola brand into Chinese markets. Coca-Cola is called Kekou-Kele in China. If you try to pronounce that name, you’ll probably find out that it sounds quite a lot like the original brand. My Chinese skills are nonexistent, but this article reveals that also the message of the Chinese brand name, which can be translated into “tasty soft drink” or “to be happy with the tasty”, is favorable to the company. Likewise Pepsi-Cola has done a nice job in that same market with its Chinese name: Bai Shi Kele means something like “everything laughable” or “to be happy with everything”. Both companies have discovered very positive translations to their brands.
One could even argue that in these cases the Chinese translations are much better than the original brand names. The name Coca-Cola refers to coca leafs and kola nuts, and Pepsi-Cola is argued to be named after the digestive enzyme pepsin and kola nuts. Today neither of these brand names tell much about the product or arouse especially positive images when thinking only about the names; not the whole brand image. The Chinese names sound nice and positive even if you don’t know what’s inside the can.
What is the best product name translation which you have seen?
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