On Translating

Last Update:

Malaginoo1 tweeted:

To all the translators who are seeing this on their feed, what are the challenges or difficulties you’ve faced while translating or even just going through texts or editing? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

I’m replying through this blog, because we have no Twitter account2.


If you’re someone who likes to wrangle with texts a lot—writer, programmer, translator, etc.—you owe yourself a good text editor. Now, depending on who you ask, a good text editor3 varies.

At least, learn how to be efficient with your chosen text editor. Know the keyboard shortcuts (if any) for the most used functions there are, since you’ll be using the keyboard more often.

Text editing is also about being an efficient (touch) typist. Learn the layout of your keyboard. Or maybe even change the layout of your keyboard; QWERTY is just one of them! Improve the ergonomics of your setup. Learn how to type without even looking at the keys, and use as many of your fingers as possible. The quicker you can put down words as you think of them, the better. You can always edit later.

Personally, I use Vim4 (or any of its previous/next iteration/s), because it is a highly configurable text editor. One can literally make up their own keyboard shortcut/s to do thing/s that one thinks will improve their work flow. In my opinion, they’re for everyone whose job is to manipulate huge chunks of texts. It’s learning curve, though, can be steep for some.

A mechanical keyboard might improve your typing experience, but to be honest, I don’t think you need one. Plus, it can be expensive for many of us. I don’t use one, and I’m doing okay.

Now, up until this point, the section has assumed you’re working with a computer. But you can also go back to analog tools, like typewriter (the first mechanical keyboard, don’t you think?) or just pen and paper. Both ways are truly distraction-free.

Or do a combination of any of the above! Throw in a scanner and/or an OCR5 software somewhere in between if you plan to marry analog with the digital.

Experiment until you find what works for you.


One’s command of the languages they are translating directly correlates to the quality of the translated material. In my opinion, in order for one to be at least decent in this task, one must be fluent in these languages: they can read, speak, and write. It doesn’t have to be too academic nor literary, though. If a layperson can understand the translated material, better!

Consider this blurb in our front page:

Kailan ang huling beses na tinignan mo kung may maitutulong ka sa sarili mo, sa kapwa mo, at sa lipunan?

According to Google Translate, it should be like this in English:

When was the last time you looked to see if you could help yourself, your neighbors, and society?

Everything’s off. We think this is a better translation:

When was the last time you checked if there’s something you could do for yourself, your comrades, and your community?

Google Translate6 can only do so much. That’s why the human behind the fluency in the languages matters. It’s the translator’s duty to be as true to the message as possible, without sounding too robotic or mechanical.

How many pointless fighting have there been due to misunderstanding? How many of them that could have been avoided if only something wasn’t lost during translation? Language has that tendency—to be misinterpreted; to meander through one’s own set of realities before being relayed to its intended recipient, the truth already muddled before it even got out.

We understand that it can be frustrating (to try) to be politically correct. But language is a function of our thoughts, and of our entire existence. To start the liberation, we have to be mindful of our words (i.e. thoughts) and how it can impact others’ lives.

A propaganda, for it to be efficient, must reach as many eyes, ears, and tongues using the simplest possible string of thoughts: this is the translator’s why. For it to be effective, though, the translator’s duty is to preserve the persuasions, dissuasions, and pieces of information contained therein. To do that, the translator must be willing to unlearn, for life, any bigotry and injustices within; and to learn to imagine societies radically different from one another. TNU

  1. Account no longer exists as of this update. Formerly https://twitter.com/Malaginoo_KK ↩︎

  2. I saw the tweet via Nitter’s RSS Feed of Bandilang Itim’s Twitter Account↩︎

  3. If you’re a programmer, you might even want to create your own text editor! ↩︎

  4. A text editor based from Unix vi. More info here: (https://www.vim.org/↩︎

  5. Optical Character Recognition; it converts images of text into scannable, machine-readable documents. ↩︎

  6. Side note: If you’re looking for a FOSS alternative, check out https://libretranslate.com/ It doesn’t have any of the Filipino languages (yet). (h/t Butingtaon) ↩︎