All You Need to Know About Translating for Children

It is no secret that cartoons and animated films play a significant role in child development and education. Youngsters are like sponges: they soak up and learn everything that they come in contact with, and they learn more especially when they are having fun. Therefore, cartoons and animated films are a very effective teaching medium. Not only can cartoons and animated films teach practical knowledge, but they are also a way to teach morals, values, and ideology. To make cartoons and animated films and their messages accessible to children across the globe, cartoons and animated films need to be translated. The question is how should translation for children be performed? In this blog post we will discuss the answer to this question and more.

Translating for Children

Technical Difficulties of Translating for Children

Both cartoons and animated films present countless challenges for translation services providers.

First and foremost, most cartoons and animated films are dubbed, rather than subbed, due to their audience being young, and therefore often unable to read or concentrate on both the text and the show at the same time. This requires the translation not only to be accurate, but also in perfect sync with the animation.

Cartoons broadcasted on television, however, have much smaller budgets than animated films. For this reason, translation services providers are often less involved in the production of cartoons and are left to simply translate, without being given any cues regarding the context of the cartoon and lip synchronicity, even though, here too, the results have too look and sound as natural as possible. Here, however, unlike animated films, some liberties are permitted as most cartoon characters often have extremely exaggerated facial expressions and gesture communication.

Translating the Right Message

When it comes to translating the right message of cartoons and animated films, we should talk about localization or, in other words, about content adaptation.

Just like for dubbed films, the translation services provider will need to adapt the text to the dialogues: the result has to sound very natural so that young viewers can totally immerse themselves in the colorful universe of the show.

As we already know, this process is called localization. Rather than translating as close to the original text as possible, translation services providers use their creativity and their knowledge of the target culture to adapt the text to make it sound as natural to local ears as possible.

Examples of localization are for titles, colloquial expressions, any slang that might be used in the show, as well as charactonyms.

This kind of adaptation sometimes concerns the main message itself. Different cultures have different morals, values, and ideology, and some parents might not want their children to watch and learn something that is not appropriate in their culture. Youngsters are part of a protected audience, so hiding, deleting, or changing things in cartoons and animated films might be indeed a necessity. This, however, creates another challenge for the translation services provider: how to keep the story coherent with edited elements? Which parts of the text to modify? How to convey culture? This is something that translation services providers will have to judge for themselves, based on their perception of what is appropriate for children and on their knowledge of the target culture.

Let’s take a look at some examples of content adaptation:

  1. “Aladdin”: The 1992 famous Disney animated film opens with an Arabian merchant crossing a desert and singing “Arabian Nights,” a song that includes the phrase “It’s barbaric, but it’s home.” While the “barbaric” designation of Arabian civilization conveys some of the historic relationship between Europe and the Middle East, it can appear as unacceptable or even racist. Translation services providers might want to choose a word the meaning of which is closer to “wild” and should try their best to avoid using a word that conveys a value judgment. Translation services providers from areas that have enjoyed a more positive past with Arabian civilization can even choose a word like “adventurous”.
  2. “Madagascar”: In the 2005 animated film produced by DreamWorks, Marty the zebra says to his lion friend Alex: “Excuse me! You are bitting my butt!” The sentence doesn’t sound particularly rude by American standards, for other cultures, however, it crosses a line. For this, in the Georgian translation of the film, for example, the translator changed the line to “Pardon! Is it possible that your teeth pierced me?”, in the Russian version of the film the line sounds like “Excuse me! You wounded my butt with your teeth!” As you see, with a slightly change in both versions the meaning of the source text is captured without violating the societal norms of the target region.
  3. “Transformers”: For the Chinese translation of the film the translation services provider did a great job of choosing the films’ character names. The name of Megatron was translated as “Power that trembles the sky”, Menasor was called “Tiger flying in the sky”, and Thundercracker was “Sky-rocking thunder”. The chosen names not only convey the power intended by the original names but are also taken from Chinese martial literature.

In Conclusion

Translating cartoons and animated films is a process that requires a great creativity. Since different cultures have different morals, values, and ideology, creativity in translation is needed to make the target language version of cartoons and animated films appropriate by the domestic standard. Also, taking into consideration the language use in cartoons and animated films, when translating for children, a degree of creativity is required to make the translated version of foreign cartoons and animated films an integrated artistic entity, linguistically and culturally, appealing to the young audience of the target culture.

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