Peak Translations

What to expect from English to Russian translation and vice versa

“Words travel worlds. Translators do the driving” Anna Rusconi

Do you export to Russia? Do you require your website or contract translating from English to Russian or vice versa? Have you thought about what you need to consider when it comes to having these documents translated? The pointers below will shine a light on some of the things to expect from the translation between the two languages:-

  • Russian is the official language of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but is also widely spoken in many of the countries of the former Soviet Union such as Ukraine, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova and so forth. This Slavic Indo-European language spoken by over 144 million people is richly expressive, as well as being your flexible friend where it can be adapted to fit the purpose. Perhaps that is why it is considered both poetic and a challenge to learn (it is even difficult for native speakers, not just for foreigners!).  To highlight these characteristics, it was once expressed by the Russian writer, Dostoevsky, that one single word could express a wide spectrum of feeling. As to the particular word to which he was referring, its speculation is intriguing! Nonetheless, the important point to note is that in order for your English text to be fully reflected in the Russian language and sound like it is written by a native, it is imperative that a Russian native translator carries out the translation; one who not only understands their own language fully and is ‘au fait’ with their own culture, but who also has experience in the relevant subject matter.

 

  • Russian is considered a challenging language to learn for various reasons, including having its own alphabet, Cyrillic, as well as for its numerous punctuation rules and difficult pronunciation but if there’s one thing that catches many people out when it comes to having their documents translated from English to Russian, it is the countless variations of one Russian word. So that a translation fully reflects its native language, it requires some kind of contextual background. For instance, the Russian language has several words for mother-in-law. It seems straightforward enough; however, this word would need context, because otherwise its translation could be erroneous. Likewise, if a piece of Russian text included the word ба́бушка (babushka) for example, it would also need some context, given that its literal translation is grandmother, yet covers the description of an old woman, whether they are a relation or not. Depending on the complexity of the text, it might lead to the word being left untranslated as there is no comparable translation. On the other hand, it is best to have as little untranslated text as possible in a Russian translation, because only 5.5% of the Russian population claim English as a first or second language.

 

  • If it’s a publication, website or app that needs translating to Russian, it’s worth thinking about the length of the English text. If you’re already reaching maximum capacity with the English text, then it’s more than likely that the Russian translation would be bursting at the seams, as it is usual for a Russian word to contain on average 2 symbols more than an English word at 5.2 symbols. It would definitely be worthwhile having the end result proofread in its app or website format to make sure that no words are missing and everything is as it should be. Don’t be tempted to insert lots of abbreviations to help with space and translation, as the the end users might have trouble understanding these words. Moreover, as mentioned in the above point, it is preferable for a Russian translation to have very few ‘foreign’ words within the text. If there is no direct equivalent, which can often happen, it is better for the English word to be described in Russian instead of using an alternate or made up word. E.g. the word ‘claim’ (in reference to insurance) is a fairly new concept in Russia, which would require the translator to provide an explanation of the word in Russian, hence expanding the amount of text in the document.

 

  • One of the most notable differences between English and Russian is that English doesn’t give a noun a gender, whereas the Russian language is all about genders; they have three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. This is important to note in certain instances that include greetings. E.g. If you were sending a generic e-mail that required translation from English to Russian, the word ‘Dear’ would change depending on whether the addressee is male (‘Уважаемый’ – oo-vah-ZHAH-ee-miy) or female (‘Уважаемая’ – oo-vah-ZHAH-ee-mah-yah), so in this instance it would be easier to adapt the greeting to a simple ‘Good morning’ (Доброе утро – Dobraye ootro) or ‘Good afternoon’ (Добрый день – Dobriy den’).

 

  • As with many Indo-European languages there is a formal and informal you ‘Вы’ pronounced vih (formal)’ ‘ты’ pronounced tih (informal) (only when you are invited to use this form, can you do so). This means that the English ‘you’ would require context so that the appropriate formality or informality is reflected in the translation, as it can be translated in various ways depending on the framework of the text and additional varying factors. Similarly, the Russian words would need to be adapted in English to also replicate these differences.

 

When all’s said and done, it’s about understanding what your objective is when it comes to building that international relationship and how you can best achieve your goal through the written word.

 

By Madeline Prusmann, Project Manager, July 2018

 

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