Translation tips –- Hebrew to English

Here are a few typical goofy translations, of the sort I encounter repeatedly.

These may not be downright awful mistakes… they're just not the best way of phrasing things:

1. From the October 26, 2009 J. Post:

"Cameri Theater actor Limor Goldstein… has responded positively to a request from the theater's manager to step in …" etc.

"Responded positively" reeks of literal translation of the ubiquitous Hebrew expression נענה בחיוב, נענתה בחיוב [na'ana be'hiyuv, na'anta be'hiyuv]

The more natural way to say it in English would be: agreed, accepted, said yes, etc.

(Yes, this would require rewriting the sentence. Piece of cake, right?)

2. From the October 21, 2009 J. Post:

"The decision on whether to close the file on Foreign Minister A. L. or to invite him to a hearing that will determine whether or not the state will press charges against him…"

Just because he's a minister, does not mean he is invited and has the option of declining the invitation… This too is a common literal translation of the Hebrew להזמין [lehazmin] which indeed usually translates as "invite". Though had the original, Hebrew writer of this article used the verb לזמן [lezamen] rather than lehazmin, the English translator would have been less likely to err (I hope.) In this case, I believe the minister was summoned. This verb is very useful in other contexts too.

In Hebrew, you use this "inviting" verb in contexts wherein you'd use a totally different verb in English:

- The headmaster / head teacher called/ summoned the parents of the unruly kid to the school. The teacher calling the parents may be very polite, but I doubt you'd call it an invitation.

- The doctor's/dentist's receptionist called to schedule an appointment for your check-up

And so on.

3. Writers of Hebrew have a fondness for the word project. Not everything is a project. Sometimes program is more apt. E.g.: "Program Objective: Locate 20 students aged 12-16 who would participate in and benefit from the program." (A program run in certain schools offering extra tutoring to pupils who need it.)

4. The Hebrew word קוסמטיקה [cosmetica]. No, it does not necessarily mean cosmetics. In Hebrew usage, this word covers everything from creams and wonder-serums to lipstick and false eyelashes. In English, there's skincare products (= creams etc) and there's cosmetics (lipstick etc.) So be on your guard.

BTW -- there is a good Hebrew word for cosmetics in Hebrew -- תמרוקים [tamrukim]. But I see that its meaning is a bit fuzzy. According to my Heb>Eng dictionary, it means both make up and creams & unguents; but according to my Heb-Heb dictionary, it refers only to skincare, not to makeup. Go figure.

5. פרס [pras] – literally – prize. But in many instances it's an award, not a prize.


Yam Erez said...

Recently a do-gooder was quoted in Haaretz as saying, "Some of these kids come to school without a sandwich!". It's a perfect example of why translation transcends words. Of course the sentence is correct, but an English-speaker abroad reading this doesn't know the significance of said sandwich, which is an Israeli institution. To an English-speaker, it sounds like, "Would you believe she came to school without an aardvark?" Should've been: "...without so much as a snack to eat at recess?"...or something.

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