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Translating Children’s Stories

It is a common belief that translating a text that is highly technical for a client in the aeronautics industry, for example, is complicated and requires a wealth of knowledge of not only the languages, but also the field. And this is true, of course.

It is also quite true that a text that appears simple, such as children’s stories with simplified vocabulary and grammar, would not present too many complications, but in fact translating them faithfully can be quite a challenge.

One case that I think is pretty clear is a set of instructions for outdoor games played by children. For example, when translating to Spanish, the game of “tag” is pretty well known, but there are several options for expressing it Spanish: “corre que te pillo”, “pilla pilla”, “la mancha”, “tenta”, and several other examples that depend on the specific region in the Spanish-speaking world where the children will be playing.

A similar problem is found in the translation of the names of characters. Would a four-year old child in a country such as Mexico feel identified with someone named “Henry” or “Peter”? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to change these names to “Carlitos” or “Luisito”, which are closer to the reality that they live with every day?

I found an interesting article on this subject in Spanish here. It talks about how children are better able to retain aspects that are closer to their own culture and daily life. For example, according to the study, when someone was eating a “watercress”, the trranslator decided to change it to something more familiar (“cheese”), since watercresses are not a common food in Spain.

What I would like to point out is that translators have to take special care when working on this type of translation and that good communication between the client and translator to exchange ideas on the best choices is essential, so that the kids are able to read the story and enjoy it completely, without any aspect sounding foreign to them.

(Spanish version: