About the Video

Advanced Literary Translation Techniques, Common Linguistic and Cultural Problems, and how to Solve Them

One of the most difficult aspects of literary translation is knowing exactly how much liberty you can, and should, take with your translation. On the whole, this comes with experience, but there are certain guidelines and methods you can practice before translating a work of fiction, and these apply to any language being translated into English.

In this webinar, we will discuss practical examples of the most common difficulties translators of literary works will encounter: distinguishing between formal and informal language, dealing with dialect, when – and how – to update or modernise the language of a text, being aware of alliteration and assonance and how to get such techniques across in English, etc.

In addition, certain cultural customs are often very tricky to translate, so examples of possible solutions will be given.

Key takeaways

By the end of the session, you will:

  1. Learn techniques so you can experiment with how much liberty you can take with your translations
  2. Receive actual examples of published works that dealt with some of the most common linguistic and cultural issues
  3. Know how to transpose assonance and alliteration between languages
  4. Have the opportunity to have your particular concerns addressed


CIOL membership discount: 10% (the code is available on the membership page)


Sandra Smith

Sandra has translated some 20 works, including Irène Némirovsky’s Suite Française, Camus’ The StrangerThe Necklace and Other Stories: Maupassant for Modern TimesBut you did not come back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, amongst others.

Her translation of Suite Française won the French-American-Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize, the PEN Translation Prize and was voted Book of the Year for 2006 by The Times of London. In 2015, her translation was adapted into a movie directed by Saul Dibb and starring Michele Williams, Matthias Schoenaerts and Kristin Scott Thomas.

But you did not come back won the 2016 National Jewish Book Award in the Best Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir category.

Seven of Smith’s translations have been adapted as radio plays for the BBC – Suite Française, David Golder, Fire in the Blood, The Dogs and the Wolves, and Jezebel, all by Némirovsky, as well as Camus’ The Outsider and But you did not come back.

Smith taught French language, literature and translation for many years at the University of Cambridge, as well as Master Classes in translation at Columbia. She has been a guest lecturer at Sarah Lawrence, Barnard and Harvard. She currently teaches at NYU and is a member of the Author’s Guild and the PEN Translation Committee.


1 hour 10 min

Who should watch it?

Any translator wishing to discover more about the literary translation world and how it works.

What are the benefits to you?

This video, presented by a master of the art, will arm you with tools to produce literary translations, and will help you produce better translations in any creative field.

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  1. Yana Georgieva

    An excellent training session with a knowledgeable and experienced tutor who was able to guide us through the possible pitfalls of a literary translation whilst keeping true to the meaning the author wants to display. A fresh outlook into cultural and emotional representation of the target language.

  2. Meritha Paul-van Voorden

    Another worthwhile webinar by Sandra Smith, who in this webinar makes you aware of the different translation problems you can encounter and how to tackle them (e.g. linguistic issues, cultural differences, archaic language, dialect). The various examples she gives help you to understand how translation can change over time. She covers translation techniques and also how to deal with translating poetry versus prose.

  3. Carolina Casado Parras

    This webinar was very hands-on and, because I can understand both French and English (used for all examples), I really made the best out of it. You needn’t know French to follow it, though. It touched on aspects like updating archaic language by working on new translations of already translated texts (I had never thought about that), how to deal with assonance, alliteration and dialects, etc. We had a chance to see examples of all those issues, which really helped, as opposed to sheer theory. All in all, I found the webinar useful and I can see myself coming back to my notes when faced with such problems during a literary translation.

  4. Maria Dulkova

    An amazing session where many interesting issues were discussed in details. Definitely came handy with plenty of relevant examples that helped me understand, even though I am not a French speaker. I liked how, throughout the webinar, limits of taking liberty in translation have been clarified and explained, which is, I must admit, the thing I struggle most when translating. I can only recommend.

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