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Clarifying purpose of Immersion (article translation).

I am a grammar/sentence structure nazi at heart. My friends come to me when they can't get a sentence to really flow or convey their message.

This can be a problem for me.

When reviewing the articles to translate, does Duolingo appreciate or desire critique? Or is a literal translation (with the exception of idioms and whatnot) actually the goal?

Another thing... Punctuation. Leave it as it is and, again, just focus on the words? Or pay attention to when commas need to be replaced with semicolons?

I would appreciate a bit of direction and instruction with these concerns. If this has already been covered thoroughly somewhere on the site, someone please point me in the right direction.

Thank you so much!

October 8, 2013



We much prefer natural translations, and not word by word.


Thanks for that. I think Duo should give more explicit advice on its standards of translation, maybe with examples. Maybe more of that is coming later.


I think some who have not studied language from a linguistics perspective don't understand this. Translation should be natural, not literal. You don't simply substitute the same words in a different language. You "translate" the meaning instead. Sometimes the words directly match up, but when they don't, then meaning trumps words or syntax. So, when a translation comes across as awkward in the target language, you should never just say "Well that's how the words are in the original version". You should massage the resulting sentence until it sounds AS NATURAL as it does in the original language. Even if you have to shorten, lengthen, use different wording, etc.

Or, in the case of Spanish or French to English, often cognates can be chosen when translating that may have the same meaning, but be considered a difficult word in English where it is a common word in the original language. So by using the cognate, you've taken a text that was readily accessible in its source language, and made it much more obscure in the target language.

Additionally, if an idiom is quite obscure, you have to consider the target audience. Literary and biography audiences would appreciate a literal translation of an idiom and take the time to look up its meaning. However, an idiom found in a Chinese technical service manual should DEFINITELY not be translated word for word. Instead, a suitable idiom indicating the same general idea should be substituted from the target language. You can often tell the audience from the context of the source material.

So while Duolingo could implement certain guidelines, good translators already know these. Maybe instead, a crash course for those new to linguistics.


I believe you will understand why I am campaigning for a way for experienced translators and newbies to get together. Please read my other comments on this page. When we get our forum your comments would be required reading.


Very good points; very well expressed.


I so agree with you (and aelfwyne) I would also recommend to add some kind of a disclaimer when you access a new text. It would be nice to have more context about the article, like who the audience is, what is the target country (e.g. Spain is really different from Mexico, or France from Québec!) I know it seems obvious for those who are used to this type of exercise, but from what I've seen on these forums, it is most certainly not for many people. (Don't get me wrong, I make mistakes too - plenty of them ;-) - but I try not to "correct" better translations...)


It's such a relief to see I'm not alone on this issue. Of course I make mistakes and am happy to be corrected and try to improve. Every language has many layers and we need a consensus (how many timts have I used that word today) to judge which is best in each case. That's one reason Duo's method of having several translators/editors is wise. But the guidelines are missing.


It might be useful to have a guide to translating to read before users start translating. It's a bit annoying when you rewrite something to sound natural English and the next person edits it to make it a word for word translation.


This has happened to me too.


As a professional translator I vote for natural translation. You want to sound just as natural in the target language as in the source language.


Interesting point you make about the literal translation of articles. Sometimes the "word by word" translation isn't quite correct, and yet if you try replacing the sentence with something more appropriate to the context, the next reader will change it.


Please read my comments about a Forum to avoid those repeated reversions to incorrect edits. Sounds like we're getting pretty frustrated. I'm tempted to just check "looks wrong" or worse giving up but that would be letting the team down. And I appreciate Duo too much to do that.


I don't mind the corrections by other people, as I am aware my English is not perfect. However I too noticed that sometimes people correct things to make sure the translation is very literally. That's why I have given up on translating for a while:-(


Please don't give up!

I think it's important to remember that if someone comes along and changes your (well crafted) translation to a more clunky, literal translation, that change is only temporary. The system, if it is working properly, should end up with the better translations. In other words, it's not guaranteed the version just after yours will be the translation. In this way duolingo is different from wikipedia, where edits immediately 'go live'.

Now the system may not work 'perfectly' in choosing all of the very best translations sentence by sentence. Indeed it's impossible for any system to work that well and of course there's a high degree of subjectivity involved in what 'the best' translation are. But we should gauge how well Immersion is working by the finished product and not by the (probably temporary) changes that are made to our own contributions.


We've all had questions and doubts about the Immersion and I would love to see some kind of forum for exchanges of ideas and to clear up repeated editing of the same item. How often hve we edited something only to have the previous translator/editor repeat the error. I know I have reverted to incorrect versions and been very grateful when someone explained where I'd gone wrong. Sorry but the comment section for the edits just doesn't seem to be enough. Some of the comments in this section speak to just the problrms I'm referring to.


In response to the remarks made about my last posting, I would like to clarify that when I used the words "our individual ways of expression and interpretation, within the limitations of the text", I was referring to the fact that as individuals, or groups within the English speaking world, we may be saying the same thing, but are used to using slightly different words or terminology, and that several variations can be equally correct. When we speak and write, we are therefore "expressing" ourselves. I agree that the important thing is that we translate the "intended meaning" as accurately as possible, and that these translations should be expressed naturally in our own language, so that they make sense. Many sentences as we all know do not make sense if a rigid "word for word" translation is adopted. It is also useful to read through the overall text, rather than looking at a word or sentence in isolation.

I am not in any way suggesting that we use a translation exercise as an opportunity for creative writing or adding jokes. Negative comments are not really helpful. We are all hopefully here to learn and do our best, but could do with some expert assistance. Perhaps instead of the "edit" function, there could be an "alternative" input function, whereas we are not seen to be actually overriding someone else's work, but offering up an alternative translation for other users to score or comment on, in aim to get the best possible translation by consensus, and at the same time re-examine our own translations and expand our learning in a positive way. This is just a suggestion! The comments box is useful for sharing information and explaining our choice of preferred wording, which we can all benefit by.

I am trying to focus here on the best possible results, which will give us all the opportunity of learning from Duolingo and from each other, so that we continually improve our understanding and communication skills while achieving the highest quality translations we are capable of.


Yes, now I see what you meant. I should have read your previous post more closely. Thanks for the clarification and of course I totally agree.


Thank you, imakaru. "Perhaps instead of the "edit" function, there could be an "alternative" input function, .... not ... overriding someone else's work, but offering up an alternative translation... in aim to get the best possible translation by consensus, ... re-examine our own translations and expand our learning in a positive way" I too would like to see an "alternative" input function, the edit button could stay too if needed, but I would rather provide an alternative and, where needed, better translation.


I like Arumea's ideas, too, but I'm a bit concerned about who makes the determination about what is considered a "good" translation. Sometimes the writing in the original text is just plain "bad," perhaps even ungrammatically correct. Does the person who translates a sentence in a way that reflects those imperfections in the original text get punished while the person who overrides grammatical errors gets rewarded?

Even beyond that some of us who participate in Immersion are better writers than others. In other words, they have a better command of their own language, have a larger vocabulary, and can string and manipulate their native tongue better than others who speak the same language. These people are able to breathe life into ordinary text. Are the translations from those who have a way with words to be rewarded more favorably even though it departs from the text in the original quite a bit?


I am still new to Duolingo, and am enjoying it very much. However, I am somewhat confused about the translation rules etc in the immersion programme, and would really appreciate some assistance and instruction. I firstly thought that maybe we all just typed what our own translation would be, and that we would get feedback from the experts as to our accuracy. I also thought that other members were free to comment or give suggestions, so that we were all helping each other, under the umbrella of an official guide. I am now thinking perhaps this is not correct, and that I may have misunderstood the procedure. Can someone please help me with this?

German does not always translate to English using a word for word process, so, using natural translations makes the most sense, provided it is not altering the meaning. This also allows for our individual ways of expression and interpretation, within the limitations of the text. There are also some differences in terminology and spelling between true English, American English, and to some point Australian English, yet they are all basically acceptable, and understood. Punctuation in German is also quite different in English, so kivini008 makes some good points. I would also appreciate advice regarding this.

We are all here to learn and improve our skills, and hopefully support each other, not compete. If there is a way to get feedback for our personal translation efforts, so that we can see our errors, and learn by our mistakes, this would be very helpful. I am quite happy to put in whatever efforts I need to, but need some direction too, and I thank jaye 16 for also bringing this matter to attention.


Thanks for the expression of support. You are right when you say we need some sort of quidelines. There is a really lively and interesting comment thread entitled:"edit-wars" which started out with some disagreements regarding editing each others translations but has morphed into a sincere discussion of the problems of doing a good translation and I might say a cry for help from DL for some moderators and a comment section for Immersion. I believe that if enough requests are made something will be done.
I'm in agreement with NewtonWren that while an absolutely literal translation is not desirable we must be diligent not to add or remove information or alter the style of the original. And yes doing translations is a way to thank DL.


Translation is not for personal expression, if you're expressing yourself then you're doing it wrong. It should be identical in feel to the original text, even when translated into another language. If someone can pick up two translated articles and tell that you've translated them by the feel of it, then it's a bad translation.

You're definitely not translating word for word, just transferring the meaning and feel of the original text. If the original text is a text book, you're not trying to put jokes in or make it funny. Just keep it the way it is. Preferably not while insulting people who don't speak "UK English", inasmuch as the UK has standardised English.

It's currently less of a learning process and more a way to say thanks for the lessons, if that makes sense.

You're right though, Duolingo could really use a short guide to translation.


If "personal expression" means adding jokes, I agree that our translations don't need that. On the other hand, there is a kind of personal expression involved in doing translations, and your writing style does enter in, as you can see in the case of translators who have poor styles or who don't understand English grammar.

The most important thing is not that the reader should be unable to get the "feel" of the translator. To me the ideal, first of all, is that the translator should understand the text and not write down something that he or she doesn't understand in the hope that someone else will understand it. The second part of the ideal is that the translation should look as if it was originally written in English. That means it may show some of the translator's writing style. People who don't want to take that responsibility don't want to be translators.


If you're looking at an obviously translated article, then the translation was done badly. If you're looking at a funny article which wasn't originally so, then the translation was done badly. If your English needs work, then you shouldn't be translating into English. Actually you should really just translate into your native tongue, but definitely don't translate into a language you're at an A2 level with. If your writing is disjointed and that comes across in the translation, then the translation was done badly.

Otherwise you're not translating, you're remixing. The translation should be natural, but it should also have the feel of the original material. You don't turn a drama into a comedy.

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