The value of a good translation: “meander your way through”

The truth of this struck me on a recent visit to my home town of Hanover, when I picked up the English version of a tourist leaflet on the “Royal Gardens of Herrenhausen“.

I absolutely love our jewel (albeit small) of a formal baroque garden with fountains, cut hedges and trees, a favourite too of the Electress Sophie, a Stuart, sister of Prince Rupert of the Rhine and mother of George I. My collection of leaflets about the place goes back quite a few decades, with a bright orange map particularly striking.

Us Hanoverians are proud of our British connections, of course, and all the more with last year’s 300th anniversary of George I arriving in London to become king and, in due course, ancestor of the current Queen. And in Hanover last year this was big news, with a host of events, exhibitions and celebrations.


Herrenhausen, Hannover

So, I was particularly intrigued to find that the standard of translation in brochures clearly published for the international visitor interested in our splendid heritage has not improved much over the years. Ironic, I thought, considering too that much was made of a visit by Prince Andrew and his daughters that year, including to Herrenhausen – with its newly re-built stately home (no longer used as such but partly museum, partly welcome and conference centre).

Interestingly, while there are some real mistakes (e.g. “to wonder in the Berggarten” – I do think they mean “wander”), what struck me is the strangely disconcerting effect of expressions that are just not idiomatic. I realised this when a friend asked me what was wrong – it wasn’t always, but simply didn’t read right.

That’s when I also realised that to translate well, I (at least) have to absorb the meaning of the original and then re-think it in the target language, rather than literally translate it. My New Year’s resolution then should perhaps be to get in touch with the City of Hanover and offer them my services for future publications… Who knows who’ll be coming to visit next?!



3 responses to “The value of a good translation: “meander your way through”

  1. Agreed. The connotations behind a term can be more important than the term itself. For the Spanish “mañana” (morning) means “up to lunch time”. Since Spaniards don’t usually eat until at least 2pm the term covers a lot more hours of the day than “morning” in English. I’m forever arguing with customers that you can’t put a sign on your museum saying “Morning opening hours: 9:00 – 14:00”.

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