Literal translation and free translation are two basic translating skills. Proper use of the two approaches can make your translation better.
Literal translation refers to a method to render of text from one language to another by following closely the form of the source language. Definitely different from mechanical translation (word for word translation), literal translation shall provide fluent and accurate translation that is easily comprehended by the readers of the target language.
Free translation is a method to deliver the intended meaning of the source text without paying attention to details such as syntax, style and so on of the original text. Free translation is suitable in case the translation is difficult to be understood or accepted by the readers or the translation seems not as attractive or powerful as the original text by approach of literal translation.
In my opinion, we’d better adopt literal translation wherever it doesn’t compromise the accurate meaning and suitable tone of the translation, especially for GI (IT), law and other sectors that is featured by “calling a spade a spade”. Free translation has its own advantage, but if we adopt the approach of free translation throughout the project, easily making an impression of informal or even careless translation on the clients.
Let’s take UI translation for example.
Are you sure you want to permanently delete the selected user(s)?
When shipped from the factory, no passwords are set.
When the Security Indicator flashes, enter the password and press Enter button.
当 Security Indicator 闪动时，输入密码然后再按一下“Enter”键。
当安全指示灯闪亮时，输入密码，然后按 Enter 键。
Double-click this icon to test your double-click settings. If this icon doesn’t change, adjust your settings using the grid above.”
When translating the UI strings, generally you can follow the syntax the source text and get the accurate and acceptable translation. Please note such pronouns as “you”, “your”, “we”, etc. have not to be translated in most cases.
Besides UI strings, literal translation is also suitable for mechanical, pharmaceutical and even commercial materials:
Paper mills normally cook native (unmodified) or modified starch onsite to prepare it for use.
In modern paper plants, automation is used to ensure consistency and cost-effectiveness.
In papermaking, the coating working station is a circulation system that pumps the homogenized coating colours from the storage tanks in the coating colour kitchen through filters in the processing tanks and then to the coating head.