The Trouble of Translating Children’s Books into Arabic

Over at ArabLit, we’re running a series of “translators’ rules” every Thursday. This Thursday, award-winning author and translator Fatima Sharafeddine generously shared her rules.

But in addition to her 12 general “rules” for translating children’s literature, she also added some difficulties specific to her experience translating in and out of Arabic.

Challenges of translating children’s books to Arabic:

Translating to Arabic:

1- Problem of terminology. There are many new words or concepts that do not exist in Arabic (e.g. scooter, hammock). So the translator has to find the best equivalent word, and sometimes even invent a compound expression to convey the meaning.

2- In illustrations: Problem of publishers accepting social conduct strange/unpopular in our communities (a raven spitting in the spaghetti bowl was changed by the publisher in Arabic to sitting in bowl—and in some Arab countries the illustrations are altered to cover women’s hair, showing arms or legs). This of course will force the translator to deviate from the original meaning.

3- The decision of translating books. Who takes them? There is no screening. Publishers want to translate pop characters like Barney and Dora, to sell the child hooked on tv programs of these characters.

Translating from Arabic:

1- Children’s picture books have rarely been translated to foreign languages; and whenever it happened, the graphics were changed (at least in my case, 4 times).

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