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How literal should these be translations be?

When I read something in Spanish, I get a sense of the tone, of what's intended, and what comes out in English is very rarely literal. And I'm really stuck on this here in duolingo, because the translations tend to be so literal. I'm so tempted to just write how I "hear" the sentence, but then it would be completely different from what's there.

I have no idea how far to go. I'm leaning towards literal translations, because that seems safest, but in the back of my mind, I'm thinking this could be done better. Are there some rules of thumb here?

July 8, 2013



I'm a little annoyed that the literal translations are the ones that are being rewarded at the expense of a nice piece of prose, especially with the article translations (since I'm not sure what happens as the ideas get more complex down the trees). A completely literal translation would be like word salad for the intended audience—"I know those are words in my language, but I have no idea what they might mean in that order!"—which is certainly not what the "translation of the web" aspect of Duolingo is about.

When I'm translating articles, I always err on the side of a more understandable translation (so, less literal if a literal translation is in any way not appropriate), but for the exercises... even now it seems like they want super, super literal translations, so I grit my teeth, type in the literal translation, and take comfort in the knowledge that Sentence X probably doesn't actually translate this way.


That's exactly what I do. It's all good practice and I can't complain, but I've long though about pursuing translations as some kind of job. Yet, I so far find that I'm terrible at this, because my translations have been so literal. Or, in other words, boooring. I think to do a better job would take more thought.

Another thing is that these articles seem to be more like wikipedia entries, which tend to be dry anyway.

I suppose of someone really wanted a good translation, he or she would hire a pro. It is interesting to see what comes out here. I've seen some solid gems!

Maybe I'll take more risks. The worst that could happen is someone will override it, possibly even for the better.


I don't find that the exercises want "super, super literal" translations most of the time. You can usually change the word order to get a more natural English phrase and it will be marked correct. There certainly have been times when it has wanted an awkward literal translation, but you just report those and move on.


A bit late on this but I completely agree. Most sentences sound awkward when directly transposed from one language to another. The true skill of the translator is not simply to transliterate. It is also to faithfully recreate the mood of the original text whilst ensuring the resulting translation doesn't sound clumsy or unnatural.


Good question. I think it's a valid concern that the way duolingo is set up does seem to reward more literal translations at the expense of rewordings and rephrasings which sound more natural in the target language.


In the lessons, especially the bottom half of the tree, I think it is much less frustrating to stay simple and "give Duo what it wants" rather than fuss about good English. The important thing is to show you understand the Spanish. There will be many opportunities to come with with more natural, colloquial, literary ;) English down the road.


For the lessons, I think how literal some of them are is simply a limitation of the format. Given one sentence out of context and having only a computer to decide whether it's right or wrong doesn't leave a lot of room for shades of meaning. Also bear in mind that they're always working to improve the lessons and you can always make suggestions. I've seen some definite improvement in awkward literal translations in just the few months I've been using Duo seriously.

With the articles however, there's no penalty or reward for the quality of your translation, so have fun with it and put what you think sounds best. I've seen great improvements on translations I've done by people who went less literal with it, and I've also seen the opposite :)

The hover over suggestions for possible meanings are again somewhat limited because it's just the computer taking that word mostly out of context. Then again, sometimes I've seen it do a really great job of recognizing idiomatic phrases and giving me a helpful definition when I was totally lost. Take it for a suggestion and do what works best.


I think Spanish has a different sentence structure when compared to english. I''m not sure if I will get to see those concepts here. When I read a sentence in Spanish, I simply write the sentence in the logical English format making sure I understand the meaning of every word.


It can depend on the particular sentence. I complained about a number of weird-sounding translations before I realized that section was teaching the simple present, and so using the simple present in English was the best way to go.

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