My Translating Trick (Which Doesn’t Work)

My Translating Trick (Which Doesn’t Work)

When I’m translating and come across a specific term not listed in a general dictionary, I use Wikipedia. The same Wikipedia that I would tell my students never to use (or should they still feel the compulsion, to limit this activity to the privacy of their home, much like masturbation). I input the term in the English Wikipedia and then look for a Czech mutation of the page. Sometimes I get lucky and get a hit. More often I don’t get lucky, which is where mutations of the page in other languages come in.

First I check other Slavic languages, when available. Slovak is supposed to be the closest language to Czech, but it’s a lie. It has letter accents I don’t recognise and spellings which would be so wrong in Czech. The Slovak equivalent of the term I’m looking for is usually just a bunch of nonsense letters which don’t mean anything to me. Time for Polish, which is supposed to be pretty similar to Czech. Not really. Polish sounds like someone was poking fun at Czech.


In the depths of utmost despair, I turn to Russian. I learned Russian for a few years but what remains from my Russian is a few random words and a limited ability to read the Cyrillic alphabet. It looks like this: I read it out aloud, letter by letter, so that I could hear the result. I also tilt my head like a dog or an idiot because looking at print from an unnatural angle apparently facilitates reading. Typically I end up nodding my head, fascinated but not enlightened.

For the sake of practice, I sometimes skim what other languages are available and click randomly for possible inspiration. Sometimes there’s a version in Latin. What the heck. Are these the Middle Ages? There are also African languages, which I’m sure are thrilling, but not particularly helpful. What’s missing is Klingon. That might have been useful. If you have a more intelligent and effective method for tackling terms in translation, do tell me please.