Translating Stories Into Different Languages by Whitney Rines
An experience I’ve found much more interesting lately, mainly because I’ve become much more aware of it, is translating stories into different mediums and filters, and how it affects them and influences the reader’s experience. Before I go on with my rant, I’m not any sort of scientist or expert in anything I’ll be talking about, and this is not a critique about how “the book was better.” This is all just a short personal review of the importance of medium like a movie, stage-play, or audiobook, and personal filter like different languages and cultural expectations change the experience.
Whether in a movie, stage-play, or more interactive medium like a video game, we notice things like a soliloquy, monologue, fourth wall interaction, as well as characteristics and connections are portrayed differently. Sometimes certain effects or events and information don’t transition easily or sensibly to the new medium for a whole host of reasons. Time constraints and coherence of the story are a few, but there’s also the fact that it’s an adaptation based on someone else’s experience and interpretation of it. We’re watching and experiencing the story through the lenses of the creator of the adaptation’s experience rather than the original story. There is nothing wrong with this; in fact, it often brings a fresh look to a story we’ve read before and new expectations.
Visual adaptations are completely different from audiobooks, in that the story is conveyed entirely through reading. It stimulates the imagination further while hearing the story through a variety of voices and sounds accompanying it. I’ve been told by many people that enjoy audiobooks, that the voice actors influence the experience had with the story. My son told me he preferred audiobooks because they make the story come alive and are more enjoyable to hear the voices of the characters.
While some people are too busy or just prefer the audiobook experience, there are also people with vision or reading challenges that they want to read. Audiobooks allow anyone regardless of the reason for their interest, to get more from the story than just hearing it and the ambient sounds that really give it life. Inclusive and immersive connection to the story is also present where limitations can be circumvented by putting the story into a different medium than just the standard black, and white reading one and allow the same amount of enjoyment if not more — looking the lines of inclusivity and immersion for a story, translation into other languages. Global distribution opening the story to different cultural experiences.
Learning other languages, I’ve become very familiar with the idea of “right word, wrong meaning” in different languages, including idioms, sarcasm, and colloquial speech that don’t translate easily. Words are definitely magical when talking about languages, not just in the way they are used but with intonation, as well as the changes in meaning depending on dialect or location. A lot of things in translations such as context and intent determining what words are used in it, or substituting words for others, have to be taken into consideration in order to make sure it makes sense. Reading books in languages other than English for me, means needing a translation dictionary, especially when I come across a word I don’t know or word-context that I’m unfamiliar with. I imagine that it would be similar for anyone reading in a language that wasn’t their own, especially when despite a language being flexible, and learned with enough practice, the same can’t always be said for understanding the culture attached to it, much less the mores and norms expected to be fulfilled within it.
Whether from the East, West, more Equatorial, etc. each culture will experience a story and the impact it has in varying ways. Sometimes it will feel familiar, and sometimes it will be foreign and potentially uncomfortable, because of differing cultural expectations and influences colliding with their experiences. From personal experience on this, I read Silver Haze. I saw the difference in my own cultural expectations and the ones presented in the story about an Indian woman being married into another family right away. I found it odd that after marriage, there were stipulations and a time limit on visiting her family home. It was unsettling to me, especially how the main character seemed (at least from a western perspective) to be the property of her new family and was expected just to know how to conduct herself in their care. It was very different and deeply influenced my experience with the characters, but it didn’t dissuade me from reading it to the end. Those characters and their experiences stayed with me throughout the book and beyond it, and I feel that it had a lot to do with the fact that it wasn’t something I was used to in my own cultural experience.
The flip-side of this was seeing my own work have the same impact on a reader from South America. I’m thankful for the review they gave my book, and I’m glad they enjoyed it, but the biggest takeaway I received was the response they had to a specific character’s actions versus the expectations the reader had of them. This was the first time I’d seen a review that showed both an appreciation for the story, and a bone to pick with a specific character on a personal level. It had more to do with them not fulfilling their duties in a culturally acceptable way. It was enlightening to realize just how much our cultures color our experiences as readers. It’s something that goes both ways that we don’t really think about often if at all that affects our experience through how something can make us feel because we can relate with it as in A Uncomfortable Conversation. We’re then asked to take an unfamiliar or alternative view of an event, such as in How tall Is The Grass In Germany. These are all books I’ve read over the year, and as more realistic, or complete non-fiction stories, they left a different experience with this than the other and just as amazing reads did.
Engaging in the various mediums and filters that influence our experiences give us a different way to experience a story, and in some ways, turns it into a completely new story. Perception is everything, and no two people will read the same story and get the same experience, especially with all the different ways to perceive it.
About the Author:
My name is Whitney Rines, I live in Alaska with my husband, son, and our scale and furbabies. Our ball python, Archimedes, and our cat Nami. I enjoy a wide variety of activities from writing and painting to taking walks and traveling to new places. I enjoy reading many genres: Fantasy and Horror/Supernatural are my favorites though I’m always open to something new. It’s all inspiring to me. Writing an immersing and inspiring story that gives readers a window into a new world, and inspires others to tell their stories and share their world with others are my mission.