Russian Translation: Some Practical Considerations

In order to achieve quality and professional results, translation from Russian into English requires years of study, practice and experience. People raised in bi-lingual environments will naturally have an advantage, however with the right amount of dedication, those without such a benefit will also be able to achieve sound results.

First, a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the Russian language is essential. Of course, simple texts that only require a basic transference of meaning may be translated by novices using rudimentary aids like an online translator or a phrase book. Indeed, machine translation is being utilized more and more by professional organizations that should know better but often act based on financial reasons rather than a desire to produce a quality translation. However, persons skilled in Russian translation should be employed for important tasks, as this may eliminate the potential of ambiguity or confusion arising later that may need to be rectified. However, if all one wants to do is translate a basic menu, shopping list or weather forecast, for example, from Russian into English, then an online or electronic translation application may be more than sufficient. On the other hand, even with such simple tasks, machine translations can produce some terrible, and often hilarious, results. For example, the Russian word for “environment” may be literally translated as “the surrounding Wednesday”.

In practical terms, a skilled translator will determine whether certain aspects of a text may be omitted, or indeed if words need to be added for clarification. For example, a Russian-language diploma or reference letter will repeat a person’s name in full on each occasion, or use two initials and a surname. Instead of writing “Mikhail Sergeevich Ivanov” or “M.S. Ivanov” each and every time in English, it may be expeditious – indeed proper – to write in English the full name when it is first mentioned, and thereafter either the person’s first name Mikhail or Mr. Ivanov.

Similarly, Russia’s love of acronyms may cause great confusion to a person unfamiliar with them. Well-known acronyms such as the KGB are so entrenched that they need no translation. However, this is the exception rather than the rule. An original Russian text will often use many abbreviations that are very familiar to a Russian reader, that no explanations are given. Indeed, new acronyms crop up every day in Russia. Therefore, a translator will sometimes have to do a fair bit of research to find out exactly what many short forms mean. In some cases there are established English-language equivalents for such Russian acronyms, but often there are not. If the latter is the case, a translator may have to invent his or her own acronym in English.

One other thing to bear in mind in terms of the practicalities of translating from Russian into English (or from English into Russian) is the mechanical aspect of space required in documents. Depending on the subject matter of the translation, Russian generally required more physical space. This needs to be factored in when thinking about document formatting. On the other hand, sometimes a single Russian word is required when English demands many, and vice versa.

Blair Denholm
Phone: +61 403 342 924