When He Doesn’t Know, He Knows He Doesn’t Know

This is the translator’s best quality

And he is happy with this.  Though a happy translator is a myth. 


If you are a translator or if you happen to decide to be a translator, please take my advice seriously and give it a second thought, and find another career. If it is your destiny to be a translator, then go ahead and read.

You will find here a series of posts as guidelines how to be a better translator. This is the first of these.

As a translator, your deadly mistake is to come across something you don’t understand, yet you suppose you do.

Macro Steps

Three steps to translate

  1. Be aware of requirements and expectations
  2. Read and examine the source text
  3. Simply translate and check your translation product
  1. Be aware of requirements and expectations

Where do I start?


First of all, you have to know the requirements and expectations of your client. If your client understands what you do even to the least extent, he will leave no stone unturned to clarify the original text (target text), and will try to brief you about what he is going to do with the target text.

Since he is the one who is going to pay, you have to involve him in your translation. As a translator, you are not the launcher of the process. So, spare yourself troubles of pretending to be, and abide by instructions if you care about making living. You came to the party after a writer wrote a text, which is needed now in another language.

A due process of translation should include what is called a translation brief. A translator should receive this sheet of instructions from the client.


The client states at least the purpose and the audience for which the target text is to be used, along with some other useful information.

Suppose you as a translator, are asked to translate an educational resource. Your client will use such text to teach children how to play a certain game. Your role as a translator requires you to understand what kind of language you have to use to achieve the best result. This should be clear, informative and entertaining for children of certain age.

Bear in mind, it is not about you, it is about text. So this is not the right time and place to sound smart (though I suppose you are indeed, since you are reading this post) and linguistically knowledgeable. This is not the right time to show your translatorial muscles.

Be simple, accurate, and specific and have your words to the point.

Of course, you have to take the tone (formal, semiformal, non formal, etc…) of the text into consideration.  But remember, Arabic clichés like حاز قصب السبق and قلب له ظهر المجن may sound to you appealing and you may not be able to resist inserting few of them here and there, but for a reader of a certain type, it is all Latin to them.


After all, a translator is a communicator, and he/she is a communicator in between. Always remind yourself of the saying, “Simplicity reigns”.

As a translator, you have the right and duty to understand what you are doing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions related to the text. The more answers you get, the more understandable of your task you become.

Practical tips:

Read the whole text first, and see if you understand the whole text.

Don’t take the text and the author for granted. Mistakes are everywhere, and you may spot few of them in the text. The text between your hands is neither a Quran nor a Bible (unless of course you are translating either). Make sure that factual data like dates, numbers, names, events, persons, etc.. are correct in the source text.

You may raise red flags and communicate your concerns and queries to your client. For all purposes, fact check is a prerequisite. This will give you a bonus, since you will give the client an impression that you are honest and take his translation job seriously.

Abide by instructions, but facts have to come first. Writers and translators have no right to change the world, at least has become past already, by words.

Ask yourself if you miss anything. After reading the text, you have to spot these places where something seems opaque to you. The text is written by a human, so you have to understand it and be able to translate it. Anything that can be said can be translated… somehow.

A word of advice:


Have you heard of the Arabic saying, “Men are four: One who knows and knows that he knows; One who knows and doesn’t know that he knows; One who doesn’t know and knows that he doesn’t know; and one who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know.”

Whatever man and translator you choose to be, don’t be that one who doesn’t know and doesn’t know that he doesn’t know. Believe me, you are going to suffer.

If you find this post informative or entertaining, please like, comment and share.

Have a happy life translating…

Beware of Cultural problems in Translation

If you are about to expand your business into this region, you will be in need of a good translation partner who understands the intricacies of translation and writing for an Arabic audience.


Culture is key in your endeavor. So you have to choose a savvy English Arabic translator.

When doing the English to Arabic translation, a translator must not settle to only rendering the source words into target words, not even English linguistic constructs into their equivalents of the Arabic.

Your message, voice or brand can disappear in the transfer unless you make an informed decision when you choose your translator.

Culture is a crucial aspect of any language’s life and usages, let alone when such culture is infused with religion.

For example.

Friday doesn’t mean the same thing to an English reader and an Arabic reader.


foggy dubai

So …. the Arabic translation of a single word like Friday introduces new layers of meanings into the Arabic text (the target text).

The question here is whether these new meanings are allowed in the text. An answer to this question relates to the context (like audience, etc…).

Any English to Arabic translation has to consider this point to be faithful to the writer of the original (source) text.

​When you localize your brand, slogan, website and other marketing collaterals, you want to maximize your market share.


Do not waste the time of efforts spent by you on producing your original marketing materials.

You should be careful when you pick your translator or copywriter to handle these business materials, while they travel to another language and different culture.

Localization is the fancy word you hear it repeated when it comes to translating your advertising and marketing contents.

But do you know your market?

Unless you know the language and culture of your market and your prospects, it is a wise decision to have as a partner a translator and a copywriter who know them very well.  Spare yourself the hassles of English Arabic translation and let’s start the conversation.

English to Arabic Translation

Google translate brings new meanings into the game of translation


Beware of Google translate or use it at your peril.

The other day I was translating from English to Arabic a press release. In the text, there was the construct Pancake Stall.


This is a place where pancakes are sold. I tried to get some help from Google translate to translate it. And here is what I got.


The word stall in English means Kishk which in Arabic has two meanings: a place where pancakes are sold and the second meaning is a food material from which you can prepare pancakes. To back translate what I got from Google translate into English is to have the following translation kishk pancake.

What is interesting in this translation is that I have one kind of pancake for a place where many kinds of pancakes are sold.

If you are interested in translation, I here put the Arabic translation for training purposes.


Looking into the English text and the Arabic translation, you may notice the translation problem associated with such a short text. But this is another story to be told in another blog.

But what you can take from this blog is that:

Don’t take google translation for granted. Or don’t take it at all.


إلى طالبة الثانوية الأثيرة إلي ذات السبعة عشر عاماً

بيلي كولينز-تعريب يوسف الحمود

هل تدركين أنك لو باشرت بناء معبد بارثينون

على جبل الأكروبولس عندما ولدت

لكنت انتهيت من بنائه بعد عام فقط؟

طبعاً، ما كان يمكنك إنجاز ذلك وحدك

إذن لا تأسي لذلك

فلا تثريب عليك كونك من تكونين

وأنت محبوبة لذاتك أنت

لكن هل تعلمين أنه في مثل سنك

كانت جودي جارلاند تجني 150.000 دولار عن كل صورة

وكانت جان دارك تقود الجيش الفرنسي إلى النصر

وكان بليز باسكال ينظف غرفته؟

لا، مهلاً… أقصد اخترع الآلة الحاسبة

لا شك أن أمامك متسع من الوقت لكل ذلك لاحقاً في حياتك

بعد أن تخرجي من غرفتك وتتفتحي كالزهرة

أو على الأقل تلتقطي جواربك عن الأرض

لسبب ما، ما أزال أذكر أن السيدة جين جراي كانت ملكة بريطانيا وعمرها خمسة عشر

لكن رأسها جُزّ فيما بعد

لذلك لا تتخذيها قدوة لك

بعد عدة قرون، فرانز شوبرت في مثل سنك كان يغسل الأطباق لعائلته

لكن ذلك لم يمنعه من أن يؤلف سمفونيتين وأربع أوبرات وموسيقى قداسين في مقتبل شبابه

لكن طبعاً ذلك كان في النمسا في أوج الغنائية الرومانسية

وليس هنا في ضواحي كليفلاند

صدقاً، من يأبه إن كانت آني اوكلي أسطورة في الرماية وعمرها خمسة عشر

أو إن أدت ماريا كالاس لأول مرة دور توسكا وعمرها سبعة عشر؟

إننا نعتقد أنك مميزة لمجرد ما أنت عليه

تتلهّين بطعامك وتحدقين في الفراغ

بالمناسبة، لقد كذبت بشأن غسل شوبرت للأطباق

لكن ذلك لا يعني أنه لم يساعد في شؤون المنزل

إلى من أساءت له كل البشرية قبل أن يسيء إلى بشري: الطفل السوري

ولدت كي أموت بعد برهة

ولم تكن بعيدة

شجرة السرير عن شجرة التابوت

ولدت كي أموت كي يعمّر الطاغوتْ

ولدت كي أموتْ



بيلي كولينز

تعريب: يوسف الحمود

احتاجت طباعة كل نسخة من إنجيل جوتنبرغ جلود 300 خروف.



أكاد أراها

محشورة في الزريبة

خلف المبنى الحجري

حيث المطبعة

تتدافع فيما بينها

من أجل مساحة صغيرة

وكل واحد منها أشبه ما يكون بالآخر

حتى أن معرفة عددها أمر شبه مستحيل

ومن غير الممكن معرفة

أيها سيحمل الخبر العظيم

أن الرب راع

واحد من الأمور التي تعرفها مسبقاً



بيلي كولينز

تعريب: يوسف الحمود

ثمة الصمت المفاجئ للمتفرجين

فوق لاعب لا يتحرك في الملعب

وصمت الأوركيد

صمت المزهرية الساقطة قبل أن ترتطم بالأرض،

صمت الحزام عندما لا يصيب الطفل

سكون الكأس والماء فيه

صمت القمر وهدوء اليوم بعيداً عن جلبة الشمس

ذلك الصمت عندما أضمك إلى صدري

صمت النافذة فوقنا

وذلك الصمت عندما تنهضين وتستديرين

وهناك صمت هذا الصباح

صمت كسرته بقلمي

صمت تراكم طيلة الليل

مثل ثلج يسقط في ظلمة المنزل

ذلك الصمت قبل أن أكتب كلمة

وهذا الصمت الفقير الآن

سبب آخر لعدم احتفاظي بمسدس في المنزل

سبب آخر لعدم احتفاظي بمسدس في المنزل

شعر بيلي كولينز

ترجمة يوسف الحمود


كلب الجيران لن يتوقف عن النباح

إنه ينبح النباح الإيقاعي المرتفع ذاته الذي ينبحه كلما غادروا المنزل

لا بد أنهم يضغطون زر تشغيله عند خروجهم


كلب الجيران لن يتوقف عن النباح

أغلق كل النوافذ في المنزل

وأضع سيمفونية بيتهوفن بأعلى صوت  

لكنني ما أزال أسمع صوته المكتوم تحت الموسيقى نابحاً، نابحاً، نابحاً  


والآن يمكنني رؤيته جالساً ضمن الأوركسترا

مرفوع الرأس واثقاً كما لو أن بيتهوفن

أضاف مقطع كلب نابح


أخيراً ينتهي التسجيل لكنه ما يزال ينبح

جالساً هناك في قسم المزمار ينبح 

عيناه مثبتتان على قائد الأوركسترا الذي يتوسل إليه بعصاه،

بينما يصغي العازفون الآخرون بصمت ينم عن الاحترام

إلى العزف المنفرد للكلب النابح،

ذلك المقطع الختامي اللانهائي الذي كان أول ما أكد عبقرية بيتهوفن المبدع