German: Translation

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For this module you will focus on the topic of translation. You can work through the whole module, completing all tasks in chronological order. However, the tasks are stand-alone units. It is also possible to pick just one which has attracted your attention. For some tasks in this module answers have been provided.

What do we do when we translate? According to the word’s original Latin meaning “to bring across”, we try to convey the meaning originally expressed in one system of symbols using another system. In theory, this also applies when we try to express our thoughts and feelings using art, music for they too are kinds of language. Expressing ourselves using language already involves the process of ‘translating’. Translating from one language into another adds another layer, so to speak. Interestingly, the German word for translating, “übersetzen”, has maintained this idea of bringing across: it also means to “to ferry across” and “to use a ferry”. A great deal can happen on that “journey across”, we can lose and gain meaning. Consider different English translations of the bible, for example.

Imagine an English text which has been translated into French, then into German, and then back into English. This last version will have many differences from the original text. For a good demonstration of this effect, have a look at this video:

Try to speculate what went wrong and why.

In Activity 1 you will be able to look into using machine translation in more detail. In Activity 2 you can explore the potential dangers of using dictionaries when translating. In Activity 3, the module will then compare existing English translations of the beginning of Franz Kafka’s story “Die Verwandlung” – to give you an idea of how different these various versions can be! In Activity 4 you can use your own creativity by finding good translations into German of tricky expressions from the Harry Potter series. Finally, we have provided passages in Activity 6 which allow you to see how well you would do in advanced translation. Have fun on the journey!