Common Mistakes in Translation of Russian Letters
Even an experienced professional translator can face some difficulties in translation of Russian personal letters into English and vice versa. Of course it is one thing when the translator simply fails to portray the mood and harmonic nature of the original message. However, it is a different thing when the translator makes a mistake because he or she does not understand the text properly.
Let’s discuss the most common mistakes that even a professional translator should be aware of translating from Russian to English.
Misunderstanding Phraseological Units and Set Expressions
Let’s take the following expression: “To hit the bed”. It is quite often used in English letters in casual, colloquial speech. If translated into Russian word by word, it will be wrong and mislead the reader. The author of the letter did not bump into the bed or hit it with a fist, but rather went to sleep. Therefore, while translating the expression into Russian, the translator should know its meaning as a whole unit.
The translation may be more complicated if the Russian translator is not familiar with the culture of another country. On the other hand, when translation of Russian cultural concepts into a foreign language is not right or not full, it may also lead to misunderstanding. For instance, the Russian word “кабала” has two meanings: 1) bonded labor (service Russian peasants used to provide in repayment of debt while in Russian serfdom); 2) cabbala (Jewish doctrine). In this case much depends on proper understanding of the original letter and then giving the right translation depending on the meaning.
Something funny in English may be absolutely dull in Russian, and vice versa. Even different people have different sense of humor and do not understand each other’s jokes. That is why while translating a joke it is important to play with words, sparkle some wit, try to make it cool, and not to “act the fool”.
There are really many traps that even a professional translator can fall into. Russian and English are the two languages that provide great grounds for common mistakes in translation. The main reason is obviously the rich culture, history, religious differences, mentalities and other peculiarities inherent in so many countries where these languages are spoken: Russia, Ukraine, and other post-soviet countries; the USA, Canada, the UK, Australia, India, etc.