• Cathy Castling

The Lyrebird Translator

The lyrebird is known to mimic the sounds around it when trying to attract a mate.

I read The Lyrebird by Cecelia Ahern a few months back. This touching story follows Laura, a woman who spent ten years of her life living secluded in the forest. She’s discovered one day by a documentary crew; Bo, Solomon and Rachel. The team quickly uncover Laura’s unique ability to mimic any sound she hears. They dub her Lyrebird and start filming a documentary. The Lyrebird was a good read; the plot was easy to follow and flowed well, and there was a happy ending. It ticked pretty much all the boxes for me. ✅

As I was reading, the thing that resonated was the lyrebird.

This bird is indigenous to Australia and mimics the sounds of other birds during mating season.

"Mimicry": A word that's often thought of as negative, and maybe not how everyone would describe the work of a translator.

But it fits well for me.


The close external resemblance of an animal or plant (or part of one) to another animal, plant, or inanimate object.

"Close resemblance" really hits home with me. My goal when I translate is to create a version of a text that closely resembles the original. I craft translations that "mimic" the German reader's experience, so the English reader can have the same experience.

There's an unspoken understanding between commercial translators that our goal is to create a translation that resembles the original text. But how close the resemblance is at the discretion of your client.

I've worked with two types of clients: those who want the translation to follow the source text as closely as possible while still sounding good in English and those who are happy to go with a "freer" translation. And knowing where your translation will be used is crucial in getting the right balance in your work.

If the translation is being used to share standard information (like an internal email) then you might not need to move too far away from the original. Terms, syntax, and grammar tend to be little more rigid in these translations. I err on the side of caution and keep my reference books close by to help me tackle tricky syntactical situations.

If the text is being used to talk to customers (like a product description) then you can stretch your creative muscles. Phrasing, syntax, and grammar loosen up a little, become a little fluid, so don't be afraid to experiment a little.

The common goal (shared by translators and clients alike) is that the translation resembles the content of the original text. But how we get there will vary.


Hi, I'm Cathy, language nerd, lake-swimmer, long-time rower 🚣

I’m here to help you communicate in English with authenticity and accuracy.

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