alimurgia foraging

Always Commission Translations to the Professionals: My Recipe Book

This article is a collaboration with Day Translations, your trusted experts in translation and interpretation.

​Case Study: My Bilingual Recipe Book

Back in 2016 I published a recipe book about foraging (The Foraging Home Cook) in two languages: English and Italian. On one page you have the English version of a recipe I created with the list of ingredients and the instructions, and on the opposite page you get the Italian translation.

I thought publishing a bilingual book and having the recipes organised this way would appeal not only to those with an interest in foraging and cooking with wild foods, but also people who may be studying either English or Italian as a foreign language.

I also believed that translating my recipe book from English to Italian would be quick and straightforward: I am a native Italian speaker and I communicate in English on a daily basis. What could possibly go wrong? I soon realised that translating from English to Italian is not straightforward and it was apparent that I had some gaps in my knowledge, particularly with regards to kitchen tools and common names for plants in Italian. I addressed the latter problem by looking up the Latin name of a plant and then used Google to look up its common name in Italian (I can’t take all the credit for this method because I found it in a forum). I also had to Google a fair number of kitchen utensils for their translation.

Informal Translations and Recipe Creations

Although I don’t have a formal qualification in translations, over the years I have managed to use my language skills in previous job roles. These included talking on the phone and replying to emails in Italian to provide support to customers and suppliers.

These informal translations were more than suitable for the purpose; however, translating a recipe book requires more advanced language skills.

Putting together the recipes was a labour of love: you need to know about various edible plants that you can find in the woods as well as their flavour profile and texture. Based on the unique characteristics of each plant you then create recipes, drawing inspiration from cuisines from different countries. For example, my recipes featured in ‘The Foraging Home Cook’ include both sweet and savoury dishes from Italian, Spanish and Asian cuisines.

​I Am a Native Speaker: Can I Translate a Text?

Can all native speakers translate a text successfully? Well, maybe not everyone. Just because you can speak two or more languages it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can “compete” (I am using this term loosely) with professional translators.

First of all, if you are a native speaker you need to possess an extensive knowledge of spelling and grammar, alongside a perfect command of the vocabulary as well as any colloquialism. You will also need in-depth knowledge of cultural differences between the two languages and anything that makes a language unique in its expressions.

What I have noticed from experience is that languages evolve over the years. The Italian language has assimilated many English words, but also some expressions that were popular for one generation are no longer relatable for younger generations, particularly because of the exposure to social media and the emergence of many neologisms.

Italian and English are two worlds apart, because Italian is a Latin-based language built on long sentences and a fair amount of generic nouns, whereas the English language is short, precise, with more specific terms.

The more I struggled translating from English to Italian, which is my mother language, the more I acknowledged that language is a communication tool and you can choose the one you feel more comfortable with, if you are multilingual. I prefer how direct and to-the-point the English language is, as it leaves less room for misinterpretation.

Having said all of that, I truly believe that native speakers would still benefit from taking on additional training if they are planning to translate a text into another language. This is why it’s always a good idea to speak to the professionals like Day Translations.