Any football fans out there may have noticed that we’ve just emerged from a World Cup. And any followers of the French national side will have noticed that by the time France got to the final with Argentina, veteran player Olivier Giroud had already sealed his place in the history books by breaking Thierry Henry’s 13-year national goal-scoring record. What a legend.

Anna followed Giroud’s World Cup with special interest, having translated his autobiography Toujours Y Croire into English for our friends at Pitch Publishing last year. Never having translated a footballer’s autobiography before, she was curious about how it would be a different ball game (oh yes) from working on other types of text.

You might think the biggest difficulty would be translating tricky football jargon into English and presenting it in an accurate, convincing way. Let’s face it, the people who are going to read a footballer’s autobiography are diehard fans who know the game inside out and can spot a poorly rendered footballing metaphor from a mile away.

But that part of the process actually turned out to be not so difficult. The internet is crammed with interviews, post-match commentary and in-depth analysis of what seems like every football match ever played since the dawn of time. Wondering how to translate a detailed, terminology-rich description of a match-winning goaI in a 2016 game against West Bromwich Albion? Aucun problème. There are any number of online articles and reports covering every minute of the match, along with YouTube footage of the goal in question and even post-match interviews with the man himself, so many happy hours can be spent revisiting the event to see exactly how it happened and what equivalent terminology was used in English. And help was at hand within the broader scriever network: a bilingual contact with an encyclopedic knowledge of football came on board as a reader.

A much trickier translation skill is capturing the subtleties of what’s called the ‘authorial voice’ and communicating that voice across the language divide. Every book has a voice: a combination of tone, style and word choice that give the narrator an authentic character and personality and make the reader feel that the person is right there in their head. The translator’s job is to capture that voice and recreate it in the target language.

This is all the more important when the book happens to be an autobiography of someone known to millions of people, someone who has spoken to the press countless times in extremely good English and whose interviews are freely available all over the internet. Readers will think they already know Olivier Giroud pretty well so the voice has to be convincing. And so to translate the book, you have to first get to know the person. Sadly, Olivier was a bit too busy negotiating his transfer to AC Milan to have any spare time for getting-to-know-you chats, so instead Anna spent days and weeks taking deep dives into all the online resources she could find to gain an insight into who he is as a footballer and a person.   

All of this is just one more example of how there is so much more to accurate, effective translation than running a text through Google Translate in the vague hope that it will be ‘good enough’. Nuance and cultural insight are everything. As we at scriever never tire of pointing out, getting a translation right is all about sensitivity to the cultural backdrop, the intent and the tone implicit in the original text. The work that goes into creating a document, a book or a website should be honoured, not devalued by using the quick fix of machine translation. A good translator will feel a responsibility to do justice to the original text, to honour the craft and commitment behind it, and to open it up to new audiences with no loss of authenticity.

Here’s Anna at the Sports Book Awards 2002 clutching the award for International Autobiography of the Year.

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