I remember meeting a translator at university. At the time he was working on a fairly heavy translation (to English) of a contemporary French philosopher’s work (it was one of Gilles Deleuze’s works) and he would sometimes talk about the challenges of creatively translating such a work. I must admit that my limited exposure to other languages did not allow me to understand exactly what he was saying … but a recent trip to China showed the real value of a good translator.
As we prepared to fly out of the Hangzhou airport, we breakfasted in the airport cafe. And after a week of "trying" many dishes that could not be translated into English, and with my sense of adventure drying up, I found I was unable to order the appealing "egg millk blend juice", and opted for a black coffee instead.
But in a western world, used to the superlatives of copy writers, the literal translation of Chinese to English seems strange, yet to native speakers, even good bi-lingual speakers, these translations are more than fine — they convey fact, are clear and communicate economically. Translators like copy writers are not born, they are made. They train for years in the nuances of cultures … and their task and learning never ends. And it is a creative endeavour … and the more we are all exposed to places like China and India, the more demand there will be for creative cross-cultural thinkers, speakers and (dare I say it), poets.