Fun With Translations – Bad Translations

Hey guys, it’s been a long time since a fun with translations post! This is going to be a special one that I’ve planned for months (literally), and this is as good a time as any. Note; this is NOT aimed at any person or translator in specific, despite a bit of recent drama!

First, a bit of backstory; months ago, a good friend of mine decided to try and see if he could get a paid translation service from a Chinese translation company. He actually paid a couple hundred dollars US for ten or twenty (I forget the number) chapters to be translated by this Chinese company, and then worked with some people to get it edited. Before taking it live, he asked me to give a once over to review and see which edited verson was ‘best’. I glanced at the English, and to be honest, the story seemed flat and poorly written. I also felt there were a few things that seemed off or weird, so I thought I’d check the source. What I found in the first few paragraphs alone…really stunned me. The prose in Chinese was perfectly fine, but the English translation not only butchered it, it had also left out many details that would be critical! I pretty much went apesh*t. I retranslated a few paragraphs of the first chapter for him to compare…and he was similarly shocked and outraged. Alas, I don’t think he ever got his money back, and he eventually dropped the idea. Before he did, he asked a Malaysian Chinese translation agency to try a translation as well…and the results were even worse. Take a look at https://www.diffchecker.com/ejaulcif for the Malaysian Chinese version translation. The original Chinese version translation is below.

This is one of the reasons why it seems to many casual readers that many translators are overly touchy about ‘machine translation’ (or bad translations); because while with clever editing, it can be made so that non-translators are unable to tell how many mistakes as made, but when WE look at it, we can tell what butcher’s work has been done. Below the jump, you’ll see the version provided by the Chinese translation company, and the version that I provided. And that’s just for a third of the first chapter!  EDIT – For those who are curious, I added in the Chinese as well below.

Whether as a ‘fan translation’ or as a ‘professional translation’, I have always felt that when we are working with a novel, it is a sacred duty for us to maintain fidelity and quality, because when you don’t, you are desecrating the work of the original author. It is even worse if you are taking donations for providing substandard quality; then you are desecrating the original work, AND defrauding the readers of their chance to read what might be a truly awesome work. For the dedicated translator, nothing offends as much as shoddy work. I think it’s pretty obvious that I have no problems whatsoever with donation-fueled translations…but I always encourage and promote that translators respect the original work and the audience enough to produce translations of quality and care. That’s one of the standards for WW, and honestly, I’m really honored to be surrounded by so many people who feel the same way! 🙂


Paid version:

On the top of Wudang Mountain gigantic black storm clouds were at last drifting away.

Wudang’s Master Zhang’s practice was nearly complete. For several hundreds of years no one had been able to master this practice. The last one had been Master Liu, and since his time the spirituality of the world had slowly declined. Master Zhang’s sudden achievement had undoubtedly stunned and amazed his colleagues.

After a few hundred years of practice Master Zhang had finally reached the level to let him ascend to Heaven. He was already a well-known and respected figure by his colleagues, or feared by his competitors, who were now deeply depressed that he had reached such a stage.

Zhang Sanfeng was the most legendary figure of the last few centuries. After the failures of or countless predecessors, he was about to take the step that numerous people had hoped and striven for; he was about to enter into Heaven: a world without death.

Heaven is just one step apart.

Once he had taken this step he would ascend to a divinely beautiful world, a world of immortality.

This was the moment that Zhang and his colleagues had waited so long for.

The weather in contrast to such a rare event was rather ordinary. Clear skies marred by a few drifting clouds, the surface of the surrounding water still and calm. Zhang Sanfeng unhurriedly completed his last step and stepped off of the mountain. He was walking on the sky as if it were solid ground. He slowly made his way step by step to a rift of fluctuating space, suspended in the sky.

The onlookers all caught their breath, eagerly taking in every detail of an event that hadn’t happened for thousands of years. A thousand year old legend was turning into reality.

There was absolute silence as Zhang began to slowly disappear into the rift. Suddenly the stillness was broken by a loud, angry voice yelling at the top of their lungs from further down the mountain.

“QUINFENG! Give me your “Hymn of Qinlian” and I may spare your life!”

Before the man had even finished his sentence a person flew up the peak as fast as wind. He was about twenty years old, dressed in plain clothes, and holding a black iron sword with blood still glistening on the blade. The sword probably wasn’t his. He had the bearing of a tough guy. With his practice and current level of ability, he was likely a master of a small community.

In the blink of an eye, this young man passed all of the people and the “Hymn of Qinlian” a legendary masterpiece of practice, the way that Tai Bai – God of Hymns used that could beat anyone, flew past. Not that any of the onlookers helping— they all wanted to capture him too!

“Guy, stop please!”

“Don’t run away!”

“Pass me your “Hymns of Quinlian” and I’ll let you live, hahaha!”


RWX version:

At the summit of Mt. Wudang, lightning snaked about like dragons. The roiling black clouds, which had appeared ready to bring the apocalypse, were finally, slowly dissipating.

Daoist Master Zhang, Zhang Sanfeng, was about to undergo his tribulation. This news shocked the entire Xiuxing world. It had been many years since someone had to undergo a tribulation. Ever since Liu Bowen had destroyed the ‘dragon vein’, the spiritual energy of the world of China had decreased day after day. It had been centuries since anyone had even heard of a person undergoing a tribulation.

But right at this time when virtually everyone had felt despair regarding to the possibility of ascension, Zhang Sanfeng, a person whom had always been regarded as the number one expert of the Xiuxing world, after centuries of training, had reached the brink of ascension. As soon as he underwent his tribulation, he would ascend.

Zhang Sanfeng, a name which possessed a legendary quality for centuries. The hopes of all the Xiuxing practitioners had been destroyed after countless worthy predecessors had been shattered and smashed. The legends of ascension were beautiful, and spoke of the heavens, where there was no aging or death!

Ascending to the heavens at one go!

After passing this stage, he would be able to reach the world of legend, with no aging or death!

For this moment, Zhang Sanfeng had waited very long. All the Xiuxing cultivators of China had waited very long as well!

A bright moon was in the sky, which looked like water that had been blown over by the wind. It was constantly rippling. Zhang Sanfeng, who had easily undergone the Heavenly Tribulation, was standing on empty space as though it were flat ground, after having stepped off the peak of the mountain. One step at a time, he walked towards the rippling space.

Everyone held their breaths. This was an ascension, something which would be seen once in centuries. The legendary event of centuries past was finally about to become reality.

They watched as Zhang Sanfeng’s figure slowly disappeared within that rippling space. Right at this moment, from halfway up the mountain, a loud shout suddenly rang out. “Qin Fang, hand over the [Hymn of the Fresh Lotus] and I’ll spare your life!”

The words still hung in the air as a figure moved as fast as the wind, flying past the top of the mountain. Although this person’s speed was extremely fast, every single person present was an elder of the various schools of the Xiuxing world, and their gazes were extremely sharp.

They could immediately tell that this was a seemingly twenty year old youth, dressed in a blue jacket, wielding a rather dark metal sword. His clothes were rather ragged, and there were some bloodstains on them, but the blood wasn’t his. His rather handsome, delicate features had a firm, resolute look fixed upon them.

This youth, who was only around twenty years old, had actually trained to the level of a seventh-degree Houtian expert, and was comparable to some of the elders of some smaller sects.

In the blink of an eye, the youth had already moved past everyone present. Only at this time did everyone react. The [Hymn of the Fresh Lotus] was a legendary, ultimate martial arts technique. In the past, the God of Poetry, Li Bai, had relied upon this Hymn of the Fresh Lotus to dominate the world and had been invincible, in the end breaking through the heavens and departing.

As though by reflex, everyone reacted.

“Young sir, please halt!”

“Punk, don’t run!”

“Hand over the Sword-Hymn of the Fresh Lotus, and I, the sect leader, shall protect you from dying, haha!”


Original Chinese:

武当之巅,雷龙闪动,一副仿佛要灭世的样子的滚滚墨云,终于渐渐散去。

武当张真人,张三丰即将渡劫,这个消息震撼了修行界,已经有多少年没有人渡劫了,自从刘伯温斩龙脉之后,中华大地灵气一日不如一日,数百年在没有听闻有人渡劫。

但是这个时候,一直被视为修行界第一高手的张三丰终于经过数百年的修炼,在几乎所有人都对飞升绝望的情况下,修炼到了飞升的临界点,渡劫飞升了。

张三丰这个几百年来最具传奇性的名字,全天下修者的希望,即将继无数破碎虚空的先贤之后,破碎虚空了,飞升传说中环境优美,不老不死的天界了。

一步一登天!

跨出这一步,就能达到传说中不老不死的境界!

这一刻,张三丰等了很久,中华修行界也等了很久了!

皓月当空,天空犹如被风拂过的水面,不断波动,从容渡过天劫的张三丰凌空虚度,跨出山崖,在空中如履平地,一步一步走向波动的空间。

所有人都屏住呼吸,这是千百年难得一见的飞升啊,几百年前的传说,终于化为现实。

看着张三丰的身影渐渐消失在波动的空间中,这时候,山腰处突然传来一声大喝:“秦方,交出《青莲圣歌》,饶你一命!

话音未落,一道人影以风一般的速度飞掠上山顶,虽然这道人影速度极快,但是在场的人无一不是修行界各大门派大佬,目光如炬。

一眼就看出了这是一个约莫着二十岁上下的青年,一袭青衫,手持一柄发黑的铁剑,衣衫有些褴褛,还有些血迹,但是却不是他的,一张略微有些清秀的脸庞透着几分坚毅的表情。

这个才不过二十岁上下的青年,竟然有着后天七品的修为,几乎比得上一些小宗派的长老了。

一眨眼的功夫,这青年已经掠过众人,这时候所有人都反应过来了,青莲圣歌,传闻中的绝世功法,当年诗仙太白凭借一手青莲圣歌打遍天下无敌手,最终破空而去。

几乎是下意识的,众人已经做出了反应。

“小施主请留步!”

“小子,不要跑!”

“交出青莲剑歌,本教主保你一命,嘎嘎!”

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116 thoughts on “Fun With Translations – Bad Translations” - NO SPOILERS

  1. Raw, not edited MTL of the 1st sentence:

    Wudang summit, Thunder Dragon flashing a look as if to Worldbreaker billowing cloud of ink, and finally gradually dispersed.

    Words with the right meaning are all here, with good editing and minor TLC with dictionary, you could get a somewhat close to the proper TL result, though working with such kind of input material is really painful. So please don`t bash on serious ‘machine translators’ with such examples.

    And edited MTL is much better than no TL at all.

  2. Well, the thing is the paid translation leaves out some critical words. It seems like many times when meeting a hard-to-translate phrase they’ll just drop the entire phrase.

  3. Thats sad to think about as Xian Ni is one of my fav’s
    which leaves me to wonder how much of the story we are missing and we probably will never get to read
    a full translation of it.

    1. Although void mtls he has the vocabulary to make the translation smoother. It isn’t bad and I don’t think we are missing much of the story. Although.. Comparing it to the God-like translating that Ren puts out we can safely say that it is a very good quality translation compared to how the paid company was.

    2. Void’s MTL is very accurate. He doesn’t skip anything, so you’re really not missing much. When I TLCed for him, there were usually only a few mistranslations (a mistranslated word or small phrase) in each chapter. He really just needed some editors for the earlier chapters.

      1. true. I have looked at the raws and can tell for sure that void doesn’t miss difficult phrases or such. So you are not missing anything. And he has a very good experience at translating Xian ni so he knows what he is doing.

    3. we shouldn’t be too picky over a free translation and tbh I put Xian Ni on pause at the start of VOLUME III: Notorious Sea of Devils. Spoiler Alert don’t read past this if you plan on checking out this novel fellow readers. When He died the story went down hill and now he goes around screaming die and people drop dead and there Is zero romance what so ever and he had the best way to train but he was way too shitty

      1. How dare you! Yes, it has no romance in it but some of us are sick and tired of those cheesy romance and harem novels. A man facing the hardships to path of becoming an immortal, that is what xianxia is all about and that is what some of us want to read. Don’t let this guy dissuade you and miss out on a pretty good read, easily one of my top three only after CD and ISSTH.

  4. I’m curious… but the company your friend went to… they aren’t a group of people that translate stories, right?

    Cause if not, then I think your friend had the wrong expectations. Fan translators actually like their works and properly read it as a work, not as something that is just being translated. For pro translators, it’d usually be just a page that they have to finish fast enough, but fan translators want to usually share the story rather than just the words.

    That said, your still awesome and I love your translations XD

    Once your done with Coiling Dragon, maybe you could help out with ATG…. it just needs more people and it feels like it is never enough (while it may not be the best, it is the most exciting and makes you want to read more right away -it feels like it needs to be more fast pace) -that said, I am extremely grateful for the hard work of our translators.

      1. Yes Er gen’s novels which are currently being translated i.e ISSTH and Xian ni, both rock :). They have depth like the ones in the English novels and are not simply about MC going off and showing off his/her prowess.

        1. Well, ISSTH definitely had a non-generic protag, that’s true. I dropped it after like 4 chapters, cos he had just tortured a bunch of animals to death and I hated him. So does it get better? Or, does he become a better person, rather than a horrible one?

          1. For better or worse, that part was the author’s attempt to be humorous. I remember having a similar reaction when I first read it in Chinese. In any case, don’t judge the character based on that one part. If you continued on past that point, you would find that Meng Hao is actually a pacifist who shies away from killing people.

          2. @Deathblade, can’t reply to your comment so its here instead. I got turned off him for real in like the very next chapter where he acted all revolted and horrified when an enemy dies. Maybe he is a pacifist, but only to people, to animals he is gleefully sadistic. And I can’t like someone like that.

          3. lol, humans are also the same. we eat meat ( unless you are a vegetarian ) and the meat comes from butchering the animals. Now even if you like meat, that won’t mean you will like butchering humans right ( of course, unless you are a cannibal 😀 )

            also, Meng only did it , first to get something to eat and later to experiment the copper mirror.
            I found it humorous and funny, like the author meant it to be by explaining the stuff about butt exploding.

          4. Yeah, I get that was the intention, but think of it like this; someone in the real world sticks a firework up a dogs butt, to see what happens. Then does it again after he’s seen the result. And a bunch more times, for no material benefit, just to see what happens.

            If I encountered a person like that in real life, I dunno what I’d do, but I sure as hell wouldn’t be their friend. Likely I’d call the police, but I’d want to do something really violent to them, cos stuff like that makes me really angry.

          5. But he needed to kill those beast to test it’s power…. so it was to eventually save his life…

            It isn’t his fault that his weapons power only blows up an animals ass…. he’d probably have rather done the head or body…. and if he could have done it too people, that’d be something he’d have done….

            And it is kinda funny… it’s like if a guy had a super power that could only blow up peoples butts….

          6. maybe you will never like ISSTH if your principle like this…because our meng hao naw even more cruel not just to animal…and thats one off many point meng hao become favorited MC…

          7. dude its cultivator world its normal to be cruel and ruthless,
            if ya didnt like this kind of story then go read romantic or drama story,
            i guess it will statified you expectation lol

            keep it in yar mind and think as you are him, living in the world where you didnt have money, your parents gone missing and you doesnt have anyone to rely, are really not going to become like what meng hao did?
            dont tell me you wouldn’t it would make laugh so hard , cause no matter in modern era or past era all people didnt like being threated

            people being greedy, cruel , ruthless etc its normal in cultivator world
            want to find logil in cultivator world? its hard to say

  5. I have to agree with you Ren. Its one of the reasons even though I’ve thought of it I haven’t attempted to try my own hand at translating anything from any language. I’m simply not able to understand it so how could I translate it fairly ya know.

  6. I think serious MTLs that go sentence by sentence with multiple translators and dictionaries at hand can get very close to original without missing much of anything. But yeah, bad translations are horrendous and offensive. It’s disrespectful to the source material to put out a bad translation, as it turns people away from what is actually an awesome story.

  7. HI Ren,
    I’ve been leeching from your site for a while now and just figured it was time to register to show my appreciation for all your hard work. As is evident from the above example, you really put in a lot of effort to bring out the intrinsic value of the original work; that’s something only a true fan can do. I came across Douluo Dalu while looking for a new manga/manhua, then decided to give the LN a look after reading some of the comments. Blue Silver comments got me onto Desolate Era and comments there brought me to CD on WXW. So far I’ve gone through quite a few LN translations (around 10 and counting…) and have to say, CD is the best of the lot. So, really, thanks a ton!

    Ummm… also, a pet grouse, can’t help it… You’ve confused ‘who’ and ‘whom’ a few times in CD. Same in this one:
    …, Zhang Sanfeng, a person whom had always been regarded as the number one expert of the Xiuxing world,…
    This should be “…a person who had always been…”

    Thanks again!

      1. Hehe… Yeah, it’s a real pain at times. Need a quick cheat? Try removing a few words and substituting with a personal pronoun. For instance, the sentence reads:

        “But right at this time when virtually everyone had felt despair regarding to the possibility of ascension, Zhang Sanfeng, a person whom had always been regarded as the number one expert of the Xiuxing world, after centuries of training, had reached the brink of ascension.”

        Now, if we get rid of that whole troublesome clause and replace with a personal pronoun, we get:

        But right at this time when virtually everyone had felt despair regarding to the possibility of ascension, he, after centuries of training, had reached the brink of ascension.

        So now you know that ‘who’ is the right one. If instead of ‘he’, ‘him’ would fit better then you can go with ‘whom’. That’s how I always work it out in my head. 😀

  8. Hi All,

    Just want to say a massive THANK YOU to all you Translators on WW and your teams, (Spécial thank you to RMX for Coiling Dragon that got me started in Light Novels) You all do an Amazing job to translates all these novels with your personal touch and inspiration that lets my imagination be in total immersion in each Character and world of each LN
    RESPECT !

  9. I feel that the paid TLers never read wuxia/xianxia fantasy. They left out many terms which they couldn’t understand or translate.

    Additional Info :
    破碎虚空/踏破虚空 lit. breaking through the space, a legendary xiuxing stage, introduced by wuxia novelist Huang Yi.

  10. I only read the first paragraph of each version and the difference is frightening. It doesn’t matter if they weren’t story translators, if you put enough effort into it you should be able to get a better result even if you just use a dictionary with little prior knowledge of the language.
    (Although, I’m one to talk, my Chinese is barely passing).

  11. Yeah… it’s kind of astonishing how bad official translations from companies can be. It’s almost like they translated with their feet or something. The same kind of thing happens with Korean translation companies as well, so I guess I can relate? lol.

  12. It really feels like the quality of Ren’s translating is almost scholarly. I wouldn’t be suprised if he had a background (professionally) or a graduate level education in literature. I don’t believe that most people have such a large vocabulary at their disposal–even many native speakers.

  13. yeah, I feel ya, man. I’ve done both proofreading and translations and I’ll feel sick from seeing the work of a lot of pro translators. They have no respect whatsoever for authors or meanings and will just write whatever.

    Also when you’re watching TV and you cringe at the subtitles… just let me relax in peace, goddamnit

  14. 我认为RWX版本更好…
    这是再用谷歌翻译成中文后,
    得出的结果
    最后,我的英语不好。抱歉。

    I think RWX version better…
    Re-use Google Translated into Chinese after
    The results obtained
    Finally, my English is not good. Sorry.

  15. I don’t know man, it is not that simple sometimes..saying if you cannot do a decent job, then don’t do it at all just don’t apply to all situations. What if the translation “company” actually only has a bunch of Chinese people that can’t speak or write decent English by your standard, but are actually regarded as highly proficient in English within their circle. The disparity is quite big you know, some areas in China, it is HARD to find anyone who speak ANY English, and I imagine it is the same in many other countries. So, you’re supposed to say to these people “Hey, your English is crap, you should stop doing any jobs relating to English, despite your circle of friends and family telling you you’re great at it, and despite it being the thing you want to do the most in your whole life, also including the fact that you might just have to roll over and die from starvation if not from doing this.” Might as well go tour non-English speaking countries and fire 95% of their English teachers.

    1. I can’t fully agree with you. If I suck at my job, I should try to get better. In my company it’s like this: You’re not good at something regarding your job? Try harder and get better at it. It’s partly my responsibility to learn stuff I don’t know or get to know better at stuff I’m not so good at.

      Okay, we’re just a small 5 man team …

      Regarding the thing about the teachers … It just so happens that my teachers – even though we we’re a rather low class school – had quite good english teachers. Some of them were even english native. So yeah … (Yes, I know my english is horrible compared to a native speaker …)

  16. Along with everyone else, I agree RWX translation is better as I prefer contextual translation (along with the majority). At first, It looks like the “paid” version” was an attempt at a literal translation, but the looking at the syntax of the “paid” version makes my head hurt. One other thing, It feels like the “paid” version could benefited from http://www.linguee.es/ .

    ~ Translating means transferring the soul of the work.

    P.S RWX thanks as always for the insights and clever usage of words.

  17. It’s not only novels. Anything can be poorly translated. Especially games often suffer from very bad translations.

    Things like “Feuer im Loch!” (“Fire in the hole!”) oder “Feuerfliege” (“Firefly”) make one question wether or not those translators actually know the language they’re translating. Besides … “Feuerfliege” doesn’t even exist in the german language.
    Even though translating is hard and translating games is even harder due to things like changing content, no context to refer to etc. Such examples can’t even be excused by these things.

    And yes, those translations were made by “professionals”. -.-

    Similiary my sister ordered something from china. After my sister asked a question regarding the delivery, the response was … misleading …
    They send the email in english and german. However, my sister doesn’t understand english so she had to rely on the german version.
    The german version sounded quite rude and almost insulting. Only after I read the english version was I able to calm her down. Simple because the english version was very friendly, very professional and had not even a hint of an insult in it.
    Well, at least they could speak english quite well. Or else even I would have had trouble understanding them. xD

    1. Interesting… was German language seemed to be insulting as your sister implied or just misunderstood what it said in German? Also why it seemed that German language sound insulting in some way?

  18. Hi RWX, your work is really great and I appreciate your fidelity to the original text.
    However, I have to point out that there is still something weird in the 4th paragraph of the translation.

    张三丰这个几百年来最具传奇性的名字,全天下修者的希望,即将继无数破碎虚空的先贤之后,破碎虚空了,飞升传说中环境优美,不老不死的天界了。

    The SVO structure actually could be shorten as
    “张三丰(s)破碎(v)虚空(o)了,飞升(v)天界(o)了。”

    This paragraph actually means that
    Zhang Sanfeng smashed the emptiness and the void, and ascended to the heavens.

    If some details are added, the paragraph would be like
    “继无数破碎虚空的先贤之后,张三丰(s)即将破碎(v)虚空(o)了,飞升(v)天界(o)了。”

    Following those achievers who had smashed the emptiness and the void, Zhang Sanfeng was about to smash the emptiness and the void, and to ascend to the heavens.

    破碎虚空(lit. smash the emptiness and the void) means breaking up the untouchable limit, thus suggestting that Zhang is so powerful that he is able to touch the untouchable things.

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