Today is the National Day of Hungarian Culture and if you are in Hungary you will find that there are countless cultural events going on this day, such as literary evenings, concerts, award ceremonies, art exhibitions… If you set foot in any school in the country, you will see school children performing, singing, reciting poems, and talking a lot about a Hungarian poet named Ferenc Kölcsey.
It’s not a coincidence that he is mentioned so much today: the National Day of Hungarian Culture is held on the anniversary of him finalising his most famous poem titled “Hymn”, a prayer to God, asking for protection for this tiny nation in the middle of Europe. He reminisces about the past starting with the settlement of the Hungarian tribes in the Carpathian Basin, then lists all the hardships of Hungarians throughout the centuries as God punished them for their sins. He asks God to bless the nation and offer a helping hand.
Some 20 years later another Ferenc, Ferenc Erkel won a competition with his musical arrangement for the poem, which soon gained popularity and people started to sing it at public events. Although there were some initiatives to make the poem and its musical version the national anthem of Hungary, as a reminder of the nation’s stormy past, it wasn’t until 1989 that it gained official recognition in the Constitution of Hungary.
It was also the year when the National Day of Hungarian Culture was celebrated on 22 January, to commemorate Ferenc Kölcsey and his poem.
Here is the first verse of the poem with a (more or less) modernised spelling, and its English translation by William N. Loew (1881):
Isten, áldd meg a magyart Jó kedvvel, bőséggel, Nyújts feléje védő kart, Ha küzd ellenséggel; Bal sors akit régen tép, Hozz rá víg esztendőt, Megbünhödte már e nép A multat s jövendőt!
O, my God, the Magyar bless With Thy plenty and good cheer! With Thine aid his just cause press, Where his foes to fight appear. Fate, who for so long did’st frown, Bring him happy times and ways; Atoning sorrow hath weighed down Sins of past and future days.
Listen to Erkel’s musical arrangement performed by Hungarian National Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir.
You have a copy to translate. It’s crucial
that you end up with a good quality translation that’s accurate and reads
naturally. Who should you ask? What background should they have? Where do you
find them? So many questions, so many things to consider! What a headache!
In many language combinations there are
thousands of translators out there – if not tens of thousands. Selecting the
one for you might seem like an impossible, overwhelming task. But do not fret,
there are a few pointers that may help you choose the best fit for your
First of all, let’s see who you’ll be looking
A professional translator.
While it’s tempting to ask one of your
bilingual colleagues or a friend who took extracurricular language classes at
school to translate your marketing copy or user manual, most often it’s not the
right way to go. Not everyone who speaks two languages is a translator.
Translation is a special skill that needs to be learnt and practised. Not using
a professional translator may lead to inaccuracies, mistranslations,
inappropriate terminology use, grammatical issues, and the list goes on…
A specialised translator.
A creative marketing copy will need a
different kind of translator from a legal contract where the last thing you
want from your translator is going creative. Just like you wouldn’t ask an eye
surgeon to operate on your heart, for the best results you should find a
translator who is specialised in the type of translations you are after, and
knows the ins and outs of the given subject.
When should you start looking for the right
As the saying goes, good work takes time, so
don’t leave selecting your translator to the last minute. A good quality
translation does not happen by the click of a button. The translator will need
to read your copy carefully, analyse it, do their research, do their
translation, check it carefully, proofread it and then re-check it.
Start your selection process as soon as your
need for a translation arises. This will give you enough time to find the right
person, agree on the details, and leave them enough time to actually complete
the translation to a high standard.
What will you need from a professional
As a rule of thumb, professional translators
only translate into their mother tongue, or their language of habitual use.
While they do need to have an excellent grasp of the source language (the
language they translate from) to fully understand the intricacies of your text,
in order to produce a copy that doesn’t read clunky or unnatural, they need to
be able to masterfully manipulate their target language (the language they
Although there are some people who are
naturally talented, the best of the best have a formal qualification in
translation. This means they have a solid background in the theory as well as
the practice of translation and their competencies have been formally tried and
tested. Think university degrees or postgraduate diplomas in translation! For
example, in the UK, if you find someone who holds a university degree in
Translation Studies or a Diploma in Translation (affectionately called the
“DipTrans”), that’s a good sign that you can trust their work.
Translation skills are like a good wine: they
need time to mature. The more a translator translates, the more confident they
become. The more time they have had to learn from their clients’ or their
peers’ feedback, the better their translations may become. They have had the
chance to “meet” many different types of texts, improve their research skills,
build up their personal reference-library, learn about various templates, hone
their technical skills, etc.
The gold standard: professional organisations.
Professional organisations make sure that they
only allow people in their ranks who are committed to adhering to high
standards. If the translator you are eyeing is a member of such an
organisation, you can be sure they are just as keen on quality work and ethical
business as you are. In the UK, look out for members of the Institute of
Translation and Interpreting (ITI) or the Chartered Institute of Linguists
So, where can you find these professional
If you go directly to professional
organisations, you can most probably find a trustworthy translator who will be
a good match for your project: both the ITI and the CIOL have their own
searchable online directories which list their qualified members.
Another good place to find a translator is a
site called ProZ.com. Here you can search by language combination, filter by
subject matter, check out translators’ profiles, look at testimonials and
The world wide web.
Don’t forget… Google is your friend! Many
professional translators have their own website you can search for and browse
through. Their website will give you a bit more information about their
background or how they work and you might even get a glimpse into their personalities,
so you can see if you would like to collaborate with them.
I hope you found this quick guide useful and
next time you need a translator, it will be easier to get the right person who
can provide you with a high quality, well-written translation your business
Did I miss anything? Do you have any nagging questions about translation and translators? Don’t keep them to yourself! Comment below and let’s start a conversation!
Originally I posted this article on my LinkedIn page on 7 December 2018.