RWX’s Dao of Translation – Five Tips

Hey, this has been a post some people have been asking me to make for a while now.  It’s been a long time since my last ‘translator thoughts’, but in honor of our billionth view, here you go!  This is for translators and aspiring translators.  In addition to the usual stuff of making sure your translation is ‘correct’ (this goes without saying as being extremely important, arguably the most important), the below can really help your translation ‘stand out’.  I might make a more complete ‘guide’ one of these days, but these five are big ones for me in assessing the quality of a translation!  This is meant for those looking for some ideas that might help take the translation to the next level!

1 – Make it sound right in English!  Don’t be afraid to rewrite entire sentences or even entire paragraphs to make them sound ‘right’ in English; my personal rule of thumb is to translate the story as though I were writing it in English for the first time.  I will sometimes even add in words that don’t exist in the original Chinese, to drive home a point that is clear in the original Chinese but wouldn’t be clear in English.  Don’t translate the syntax; translate the meaning, the details, the actions, and the feeling, but NOT the exact syntax, which will drive your readers crazy as they try to parse through pidgin English (and eventually give up).  This is a particularly big problem for many newer translators, and one of the biggest problems with machine translation (they can translate but can’t write).  The difference can be huge:

Original Chinese syntax – “Actually a place like this?  Even the Dao of the Heavens not here…then, the profound mysteries of the Dao, insights, all useless.”

English syntax – “A place like this actually exists?  Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present…then, this means that all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”

2 – Don’t be afraid to use made-up words or non-English/Latin words.  This is fantasy – made up words are the norm!  Sometimes as translator, we get too hung up on the ‘right word’ when there is no right word…so make a word up that sounds cool and embodies the meaning/essence of a name or title!  That’s one of the great things about English; it’s much easier to make up words by slapping letters together, which isn’t possible for Chinese.  Latin is also a great choice when looking for a right word.  My latest example of this is in Book 16 of Desolate Era, where Ji Ning is in the ‘寂灭’ region.  寂灭 ordinarily means ‘nirvana’, but is in this case used to refer to a zone of constant destruction, but Destruction Zone sounds cheesy…so I decided to name it the ‘Nihilum Zone’ instead, with Nihilum being an actual Latin word (although I didn’t realize that at first) that will instantly remind people of annihilation, which gets the point across beautifully!

3 – Look for ways to combine words together or drop superfluous words.  Due to the way Chinese works, what sounds like a pithy 3-4 character title in Chinese can sound incredibly clunky in English; heck, even 2-3 character titles can sound very clunky in English when translated.  A great way to get around this is to combine words together (again, this is fantasy!), a la Darknorth swords instead of Dark North Swords, Wavebreaker Godshark swords instead of Divine Wave Destroying Shark Swords, etc.  Alternately, eliminate words that are superfluous and which don’t add much meaning in English; for example, in Coiling Dragon, I translated 众神墓地, Many Gods Grave Land, as Necropolis of the Gods.  And as with number one…make it sound good in English!

4 – Avoid over-capitalization. This is a big one for me.  Capitals are a way to grab the attention of the reader; they signify ‘hey, this is cool, pay attention!’…but when you over-do it, it all blanks out and all runs together.  Seriously consider if the term you are capitalizing is really ‘cool enough’ to worthy the caps and the attempt to draw extra attention to the reader.  Is it really necessary for ‘spirit energy’ to be ‘Spirit Energy’?  Is the ‘Fifth Rank’ really that cool, or can it just be the ‘fifth rank’ instead?  Is that a ‘Golden Fish’ or a ‘goldfish’?  Judicious and sparing usage of capitalization makes the cases when you DO use it standout much more, as opposed to inducing caps-blindness amongst readers.

5 – Chinese names are Xxx Yyyzzz, not Xxx Yyy Zzz.  This is a pet peeve of mine.  Standard spelling of Chinese names in mainland China is Xxx Yyyzzz, such as Mao Zedong, NOT Mao Ze Dong; Xi Jinping, NOT Xi Jin Ping, and so on and so forth.

There’s plenty of other rules, but if you get these five simple rules down (I admit I’m sometimes guilty of not doing it, but I try), it will really help improve the quality of your translation more than you might expect!  Good luck!

55 thoughts on “RWX’s Dao of Translation – Five Tips” - NO SPOILERS

  1. I wish more people paid attention to those rules. Translations would be much easier to read. Some translators should hire English fluent editors/proofreaders for simple readability.

  2. Sorry Ren, but “Divine Wave Destroying Sharks” sounds WAY better than “Wavebreaker Godsharks”. 😛 Also, in the case of “Nirvana” that meant “Area of Constant Destruction”, I think adding an explanation for why it was called a Nirvana (“This area is peaceful, because nothing is ever allowed to exist here; it’s constantly being annihilated…” or some such) would be superior to altering the name, as often there is a secondary characteristic that is important to the name that is lost in such alterations. It’s still better than the “Love Peace and Chicken Grease” translation work we see from “professional” studios, though. *shudders*

    Either way, thanks for writing down these tips! I agree with everything else explicitly.

    1. Bah, Divine Wave Destroying Sharks only sounds cool if you are the type who thinks ‘Leaf Village Secret Finger Jutsu: One Thousand Years of Death’ sounds cool :P. In English, Nirvana has Buddhist overtones of transcendence and of escaping the cycle of rebirth which does not exist in this case, which is why I nixed it. Anyhow, thanks for sharing your opinions! 🙂

      EDIT – Plus, it was in reference to a sword…so it’s the super clunky Divine Wave Destroying Shark Swords. Ewwww. No.

      1. Wave Destroying sounds cooler than Wavebreaker though. And Divine Sharks stands out more than Godsharks mostly because the term Godbeast is used frequently in DE. After all, breaking and destroying is a big difference lol
        Or is it the Wave that is Divine? <.< That Shark is Destroying Divine Waves, that's pretty impressive.
        Or read another way, the Divine Wave is Destroying the Sharks? Don't you love how precise English is?

      2. “Leaf Village Secret Finger Jutsu” could be done with “Konoha no Jutsu”, to follow Naruto’s format. ;P Romanization of the original text can sometimes be superior than direct translation, esp. when you can give an explanation as to what a term or set of terms means, as Viz Media often did (don’t know if they still do) in their manga releases. But yes, I actually don’t mind it being long. There’s nothing inherantly bad about long descriptors.

        Tranquility born of annihilation (and it being explained as such) seems better to me as it expands upon the full meaning of Nirvana, rather than just the minimal concept just of “peace” that is generally bandied about by people that only have the barest knowledge of the topic. After all, in the Buddhist context, Nirvana refers to realization of non-self and emptiness, marking the end of rebirth; thus, it actually perfectly explains why a zone that is completely empty through annihilation is referred to as such, as the area itself has achieved nirvana, conceptually, since nothing can be created within the nothingness, and anything that enters it will be annihilated (unless it’s strong enough to resist its annihilative power, obviously), thus returning the area to emptiness and peace. Once again, just my opinion. I’m one of those folks who’d rather see the original word/concept romanized and an explanation in brackets, if that helps. 😛

        As for the Divine Wave Destroying Shark Swords, that’s a bit more of a mouthful than if it was just sharks, but I still prefer it to “Wavebreaker Godshark”. 😛 On that note, is it meant to be “divine sharks that are wave destroyers” as you imply, or are they sharks capable of destroying divine waves, wherein ‘waves’ implies energy, and thus they can slash through ki/chi/qi/etc?

  3. English syntax – “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present…then, this means that all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”

    This..is this a spoiler? Lol

      1. I’d imagine it’s probably from ISSTH tbh. Theurge been a few areas like that there, and I don’t think it would be “Dao of the Heavens” in DE considering how the system works.

        1. Totally ISSTH reference, so far in DE there is no mention of the Dao mostly it is just glorified skills, some that require insights others heavenly treasures and may be certain bloodlines or just plain old normal execution of the skill (Take the pose and let ‘er rip).

  4. tbh for me 2 and 3 are giving me hard time rather than make it cooler because English is my 2nd language and i live in america for 4 years already and i like to read in English but for example: “Nihilum zone”, i would have never guessed that it suppose to be annihilation, and i just assumed that’s the name of it in Chinese…

    but anyways thats my fault for not being able to understand english like people who’s 1st language is English, btw keep doing a great job and thx for the great community you created for us :3

    1. Nihilism is the form of the word most English speakers are familiar with (even then it’s not a common everyday word). Nihilum isn’t an actual word haha.

      I see it used to describe Buddhism for letting go of material wealth or ego. For example, monks have a nihilistic lifestyle dressing plainly and secluding themselves in monasteries eating simple dishes and the like.

      But like Ren mentioned, it could also mean destruction against the current norm (like revolutions). Essentially destroying the current status quo or not having one to begin with.

      1. As Ren said, nihilum means something in latin. (Nothing) Nihilism, which comes from nihil, means the belief that life has no meaning. (Which then subdivides into those who think that because of that, you have to give it meaning. And those who think that it will never have meaning.)
        But that doesn’t mean destruction, or anything near that. =/ Destruction Zone sounds cooler. xD And Nihilum Zone makes me think of nothingness and not destruction.
        Or at least, Desolation Zone, which has close meaning to both, destruction and nothingness, and also relates to the novel’s title.

  5. That was an interesting read. Thanks for sharing with us some of the insight you have gained while translating. This will help sift through translations (from other sources not RWX or DB) and decide if the quality of the the translation is worth the time spent reading. There have been a few translated titles that I have read that I have had to drop due to the lack of grammatical sense and poor use of English syntax. Thanks RWX :).

  6. > Sometimes as translator, we get too hung up on the ‘right word’ when there is no right word…

    *cough* Adamantine Sword *cough*

    Well I suppose in that case there was a fitting word? XD

  7. tottiy was mumbling to himself. Suddenly, streaks of word-ki began to appear around him. Covered by countless streaks of word-ki, tottiy looked like a spirit composed of words.

    tottiy closed his eyes.

    Threads of enlightenment continuously flowed towards him…
    ◇◇◇◇◇
    To hear a senior expounding the Dao is my greatest honor.
    You have my gratitude, Senior.

  8. I was going to comment after the chapter, but since you made this, I guess here is better. I am someone who has translated quite a bit of latin, although into Norwegian.

    Nihilum would be translated to english as nothing or nothingness, and when I first read it, I thought it would be a calm zone, with nothing in it, which would probably help him. Annihilation (in-nihil-a-tion) however would be to make into nothing and is probably better considering the meaning you’re trying to bring across. Another option would also be interitus (doom, ruin, destruction, annihilation, death).

    Your tips otherwise are pretty spot on and things I’ve had to work a lot with on my own translations. Keep up the good work.

  9. It would be great if all translators could follow this. Maybe add another rule, consistency, because it annoys the heck out of me when they sometimes have the name separate – XXX YYY ZZZ – but other times it is XXX YYYZZZ. I get used to having it one way, so when it changes I sometimes think it is a different character. >.<

    Thanks for this Ren!

  10. Ren

    I’ve been enjoying many of the translations here since I first discovered Line Novels sometime last year.

    But could you add one more.

    6. Use a consistent measuring system. Too often the translator will flip flop from English to Metric measuring systems not just in the same story but within the same paragraph. I think once I even saw it within the same sentence.

    And thanks to all the translators and editors for without them we wouldn’t learn of this style and culture.

    1. Good point. It pisses me off when I see 2 or even 3 different metric systems in the same story or even chapter… including the Chinese ones(cun, zhang, li, etc.). I wouldn’t have anything against them using just the Chinese ones as long as it’s explained at least once or maybe also in the glossary or something.

    2. Nice work Ren…
      You doing great…

      I will vote for that. It’s true sometime it’s hard to follow when there 1 or 2 different metric system. We can’t know (unless you read the original novel) if it’s from the Author or the translator. It’s will be great to at least let us know that our dear Author decide to play with us…

  11. The first four, in particular, are important, while the last one, like Ren said, is more of his pet peeve. A translation can write the names wrong and still be good, although it’s still good to be correct.
    Thanks for writing this out for us, Ren!

  12. Also the important rule of staying in the same point-of-view or tense that makes sense/flows better.(Bothers me ALL the time ;.;)

    Thanks for the tips ;D

  13. Thanks. I’ve been really bad about keeping the four words name of techniques/places. Maybe I’ll take some liberty with that.

    2 and 3 are probably the most important tips for me.

  14. Hi Ren and other translators and thanks for all your great translation work.

    Maybe because I’m no mother tongue english speaker and got a scientific education, I often stumble upon some wordings – Since I see these in lots of the translations I assume it is just the original text – but did you ever think about changing these kind of phrases when translating?

    1. weird/improper adjectives –
    e.g. “fast speed” … imo, if something is “fast” it already means that it got high speed – so “fast speed” would be something like “high acceleration”…
    A similar example would be “powerful force” … imo would only make sense when speaking of a force in the meaning of an organisation (like “airforce”)

    2. strange indefinitnesses like “4 or 5 cultivators were approaching him” (or “that night 7 or 8 years ago”) – essentially it is makes a big difference (unlike with “an Army of 900 to 1000 man”) – If the author just wants to express that it does not matter (because the hero flees or pulverizes them in one blow anyway), why not just write “5” or leave the number out (“a lot of”, “some”, “all these”…)?

    What do you think about these things?

    Thanks again and best regars

    1. “4 or 5 cultivators” might help immersion and identifying as a protagonist (or imagining the scene). Indefiniteness makes reader less of an omnipresent, omniscent third person observer. Being definite about that often serves to show protagonist’s prowess. “Oh, 31 of you? Cute”. The more accurate the number, the more impressive feat it is. And the third reason is as you said, to say number is completely irrelevant.

      1. With larger numbers, indefiniteness makes sense. Who the hell can’t count to 5, though? 7 or 8 years ago implies not full remembrance, so that one at least makes sense.

    2. “powerful force” makes sense in English natively, as it’s speaking more along the lines of force as a measurement of energy transmitted along a vector; the measurement would be Newtons, in real life. So a “powerful force” would be a high magnitude pressure expressed against the target in whatever form appropriate to the cultivator’s attack, be it a push or a pull or even an explosion (which is basically an internal push in all directions); at its core, it’s about changing the velocity of a specific mass. This is why you read of cultivators getting blown around/back from a blow, often spitting out a mouthful of blood, when they are hit by a powerful force.

      “fast speed” is completely silly, out of context. However, putting it into context, “speed” is being used similar to how “force” is, as a measurement of velocity; thus, the “fast” is a qualifier for the amount of velocity shown. Another way this might be written out would be “He was moving at a fast pace”, for example, but “pace” implies walking or other light movement, while “speed” is far more open a concept, making it superior a choice for describing fluid movements in total.

  15. I truly thought there would be a rule that says TRANSLATORS MUST GIVE NOTICE WHEN TAKING A BREAK, MORE IMPORTANTLY WHEN IT WILL BE A LONG BREAK, or something along the line that will avoid readers frustation. Because I’m sure that all readers had felt that, when their favorite novel goes on an unnoticed hiatsu and they don’t know when they’ll get off that cliffhanger.

    But silly me, I’ve driven my hope too high.

  16. Hi Ren,

    sorry, this is not related to this thread at all but i’ve emailed you b4 (month or 2 ago) and probably it’s lost as i didnt get any response from you.

    i can’t login to the Forum using my username / password that’s known to me.

    when i login to main website, i key in username with a lower case “k” but my username will show up with the upper case “K”

    When i try to login to the forum by connecting via wuxiaworld username it will show my username with a capital “K” and states that i already have an account there and that my username is with a lower case “k”. Pw does not work and pop-up states that “your account does not have a password assigned to it yet. Click link for reset password”

    problem is there’s no working link to do so. Shows “Click here to reset your password.”

    Hence had no way to make a prayer to the higher realms for help.

    I seldom comment but would like to be able to on the rare occasions that i do. Would appreciate assistance in resolving this.

    Thanks

      1. 你好,RWX,你们真厉害,我都不敢想象那些夹杂着古语和诗词的小说能被翻译出来……
        我向你们推荐一部小说,叫做“仙葫”,非常好的一部小说,开创了中国小说的一个流派。
        非常具有道家风格的一部小说,比如五运五德等等。
        希望你们可以尝试一下。
        不好意思,我的英文不好,不过你应该能看懂中文,LOL~

  17. Here is a caveat for point 1: make a lot of effort to write well.

    “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present…then, this means that all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”

    This should be

    “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present…then, all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”

    Or even better

    “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present… all mysteries and intricacies of the Dao will be useless here.”

    The various webnovels on this site are inundated with extra words. It’s bad enough the original chapters are full of meaningless paragraphs meant to fill the authors character quotas. The translators and especially proofreaders going along with it amplifies the level of frustrating.

    1. For original syntax like this..

      “Actually a place like this? Even the Dao of the Heavens not here…then, the profound mysteries of the Dao, insights, all useless.”

      It sounds even better as..

      “A place like this actually exists? Even the Dao of the Heavens is not here… all Dao insights and profound mysteries will be useless.”

    2. “A place like this actually exists? Not even the Dao of the Heavens is present then, this means that all of the mysteries and intricacies of the Dao are useless here.”

      This sentence is fine as-is. It does not appear to be the voice of the narrator and so may be a trait of the character to speak in this way.

      The sentence imparts to me that the character is uncertain about the “place” but went through a process of deduction to arrive at the conclusion – the extra bridging verbiage is definitely needed here.

      Some times, in English, pacing and rhythm are important too.

  18. Whoa whoa, 1 Billionth view?! dang congrats! Also I was wondering if its 1billlionth view for wuxiaworld as a whole or is it on purely RWX’s translations?

  19. Haha Ren I have to disagree on one thing, machine translations cant write OR translate! I have seen way too many double negatives in chinese turn into single negatives or even complete positives. Plus, some of the writing with less grammar (*cough* internet novels *cough*)are something no amount of regular word for word translation will help with 😛

  20. I have to say that while number 4 may be your pet peeve Ren, you really hit the nail on the head with number 1, that’s mine.
    Too often, especially in Japanese novels the translators translate syntax too much, i mean certain things have become popular and fit quite snugly into an English translation but other times the grammar of translated sentences are so awkward because they are too literal.
    Japanese, similar to say french or spanish, often have the sentence worded opposite to how english does it and sometimes the subject of the sentence is even more vague than is usually acceptable yet i too often see translators just make it into a passable english sentence that clearly shows that it was translated.

    I knew a lot less about Chinese wordings than say Japanese when i first found this site and yet in the translation of CD i hardly ever found sentences that stood out as weirdly worded and in the rare cases that happened it was for a reason and explained in the notes. The same of course goes for DE. Then in ISSTH where even though I’ve never read and can’t read the raws, I can tell by how English written it sounds sometimes that DB is taking some real liberties with the translations, all the while staying true to the meaning.

  21. 5 – Chinese names are XXX YYYZZZ, not XXX YYY ZZZ. This is a pet peeve of mine. Standard spelling of Chinese names in mainland China is XXX YYYZZZ, such as Mao Zedong, NOT Mao Ze Dong; Xi Jinping, NOT Xi Jin Ping, and so on and so forth.

    It would be better to say Xxx Yyyzzz, not Xxx Yyy Zzz (or Xxx YyyZzz)?

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