The Challenge of Translation

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.

Hangzhou_airport_menu_1As 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.


3 thoughts on “The Challenge of Translation

  1. Translation is a challenge all the time. When a person translates a foreign text he has to first to translate the words and then convey the same meaning in the translated phrase. The third thing is the most important one: you should make this translation friendly for language speakers (use some common phrases and special dialects if needed). Then your translation won’t look weird.
    For example I prefer to read books in the original cause I believe that no matter how great and talented the translator was he wasn’r able to transfer the whole meanings of words that the initial author had used.
    Once a made an experiment, first read a book in a translation and then in the original. As a result I’ve got two absolutely diffrent impressions!
    May be I’m just too creative? 😉

  2. Thanks for the insight! Unfortunately my language skills are not up to reading complex French philosophy … I guess I would miss more in my own translation than I would by reading a good translation. Is it possible to be TOO creative? I think not!

  3. Great discussion. Having spent a good part of my education translating ancient Greek and Hebrew into English I can relate to the question you and Julia are posinng.
    I think that the skills learned in translatin help me all the time.
    Translating poetry, like the OT Psalms was the biggest challenge and best fun.
    I think you are right in your last phrase of this posting —we need more poets going forward.
    Thanks, as always, for making the conversation reach all the way to Iowa!

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