publishing translation

Engaging younger international readers – getting children’s publishing translations right

publishing translation

Translating children’s books and magazines is something our translators love to do! We relish the challenge of translating for a younger audience, getting the tone, style and cultural references spot on to engage international readers.

Don’t imagine that because the content is aimed at the younger generation that children’s publishing translations are straightforward. Far from it! Source content can be just as linguistically complex and creative as anything written for adult readers, as this blog post shares…

The challenges of children’s publishing translations

At Comtec we had a brilliant translation project earlier this year for a children’s book publisher, translating into French several movie-related books for primary school aged children.

There were a few challenges to overcome from the outset. Firstly, the translated versions of the movies were embargoed so we didn’t have these as reference material, and some of the character and place names had been changed in these films. While the source content for the books related to the English language versions of the films, we had to establish how that differed from the translated versions so that we could reflect the right style and tone, as well using the alternative names consistently.

The second challenge was the style of language used in the source text. This was not ‘Peter and Jane’! Instead it was packed full of cultural references and style devices such as text speak, puns etc. For example, the phrase “I think you’re cool” was written with an image of an eye replacing the ‘I’. Similarly “I do not know” replaced ‘do not’ with an image of a doughnut, and “talk to the hand”…yes you’ve got it, with a picture of a hand.

For our translation team this posed two questions. Are these phrases in common usage by the target audience (i.e. young people in France)? And how can we translate a play on words when the translation, for example “Je pense que tu es cool“ doesn’t provide the same opportunity to replace ‘Je’ with a picture of an eye?

Here’s what we did. First off we needed an expert translation team of native speakers. They needed to be linguists with excellent experience of publishing translations, but they also needed to understand the ‘youthful language’ used in the source text and know how to translate it into their native French. Even those of us in the office who are in our twenties struggle with this, since text speak is constantly evolving and the language that children and teenagers use can be very different to what 20-30s are using.

Therefore we not only recruited linguists with publishing translation expertise but also linguists who had access to in market reviewers, i.e. children! Initially the linguists, with their children, performed a cultural review of the content to identify what content was relevant in the target market and whether translations already existed for specific phrases and things like song lyrics; and then they advised on what parts of the project need changing to make it work effectively.

The content in the activity books was very varied: everything from facts about the film, jokes and short stories, to puzzles and activities. This required a combination of transcreation – the process of adapting content that doesn’t translate easily by suggesting alternative ways of communicating the core message – and creating some content from scratch. We had great fun developing crossword puzzles and word searches in French using questions about the film!

Because the French version of the films differed from the English language originals, we had to be very careful about staying true to the French film. As I mentioned earlier, these were embargoed so we had to work very closely with the publishing house and the film companies to ensure our translations reflected the right version.

We had many questions about style and tone as the process of subtitling, dubbing and editing a film for international audiences can subtly change some elements. We also needed to create a glossary of terminology; the approved translations for key phrases and words, including the character and place names that had changed. This was achieved through working collaboratively with all parties involved.

Another ‘top tip’ was to keep the same translation team for each project. For example, one of the movies involved a series of four books. To ensure consistency throughout all of these, we used the same linguists. This also helped to save translation time (and money for our client) by merging each book translation into one project. That was essential as we were working to very tight deadlines.

Finally, one very important part of any publishing translation project is the design and artworking. Our experienced DTP team had to find creative solutions for handling text expansion as well as create some new designs. Those plays on words involving images required new graphics in some cases and puzzles had to be recreated to accommodate French answers in word searches and crosswords. The team loved it! It was a really fun project to work on.

So, my advice for children’s publishing translations like this recent project?

  • Select native speaking linguists with experience of translating children’s books
  • Recruit in market reviewers, preferably your translation team’s children
  • Start off with a cultural review to get an insight into the scope of the project
  • Collate as much reference material as possible – approved translations of other content relating to your project
  • Use transcreation to find solutions for phrases and terms that don’t translate easily, creative source content such as books and magazines require creative translations
  • Encourage collaboration between all parties, to ensure consistency and the correct translation of specific terms and names, and for collaborating on creative translations

If you would like to discuss translating children’s books or any other publishing translation project please get in touch. Call +44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email

Do you need magazines translated? Find out about our services here.

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