Refining Your Writing with Double Translations

May 13, 2014


It seems that writing is becoming more common than speaking!  Digital devices are prompting us to express more and more of our thoughts in written form.

Like speech, our everyday writing is diverse and imperfect.  Even extensively edited written work is never “perfect.”  But if you want to refine your writing style, copy short pieces you consider well written.  As mentioned in my previous post “Building Your Writing Skills,” copying is a natural and relaxing way to immerse yourself in sentence structures and styles you want to emulate.  Start modestly: choose one or two paragraphs from articles or stories you enjoyed reading, or short sample documents related to your work or field, and copy them.  Be sure to review your copy to correct typographical errors, and then SAVE it for future reference.  (Saved copies provide good samples for occasional review, as well as easy-to-find resources for research or writing projects.)

If you’re serious about refining your writing skills, try a double translation (a.k.a., back-translation).  This is more challenging than simply copying, and it’s a highly effective writing improvement activity.  Follow these steps:

-1- Select a short piece of English writing you admire, and translate it into your native language.

-2- IMPORTANT: Wait a few days (or even weeks) so that the original English wording is no longer fresh in your memory.

-3- Without looking at the original English, translate your translation back into English.

-4- Finally, compare your English translation with the English original.  Notice the differences in word choices, sentence structures, and other elements: pay special attention to the features of the original English that you did NOT include or incorporate fully in your back-to-English translation.  You’ll learn a lot from this comparative analysis, and you can manage it yourself, without guidance.  In fact, your “teachers” are a) the writer of the original text, and b) yourself.

Learn effective writing techniques from writers you admire … and from your own comparative-analytic skills.

(photo by Bonnie Yoon Bishop)

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