Thursday, April 02, 2009

Paths to Translation

John lives in Shanghai and has worked as a translator for the last 5 years - although he hated it at the beginning. On his blog, Sinosplice, he has recently interviewed four other Chinese to English translators on what got them into the profession. They are very interesting to read, and show what a mixed bag we are.

One of the interviewees said something I can refer to - "I have still got a nagging fear that I’m not actually ready and will be exposed as a complete fraud at any moment, but that’s not really true: after lots and lots of practice, the kind of work that pays the bills is pretty much second nature by this point. Readiness is an ongoing process, though, and running up against fresh challenges is one of the things that makes translation so much fun for language fetishists." This is interesting, because I come across similar comments from some outstanding academics, writers, and artists. The better they are at what they do, the more they keep stressing that they feel they are just clever con artists. I would love to do a psychological study on this.

Do I? Oh, yes. All the time. That's marketing for you.

Another interviewee stated that he became a translator because "I was running across interesting Chinese-language texts that I wanted to share with other people in English." I do that often, for free, whenever there is any free time.

Then he continues, "I hadn’t taken any formal courses in translation theory or practice, so starting out (and to a lesser extent, today) I was dogged by the feeling that I was making unfounded assumptions and violating certain basic principles — “doing it wrong,” basically. And I was, sometimes. I was totally unprepared for the business end of translation as well. I started out freelancing, which requires having a network to find jobs, and that’s tough to build from nothing, especially if you’re relying on translation to pay all of your bills." The perpetuated myth of theory makes the translator, instead of the translator makes the theory. I remember hearing Prof. Sandra Hale at the UWS saying translators and interpreters look to academia for solutions, while the academia look to the practitioners for explanations about what they do, how they do it and why, so that they can theoritize.

As for major challenges beginners face, here are some memories:

(a) Having very little confidence, so making a lot of reference to dictionary glosses and being probably much too conservative in their choices.
(b) Tending to leave clauses in the SL order rather than in the order that would be more natural in English,
(c) Not doing nearly enough editing or rewriting out of some misguided sense of loyalty to the text.
(d) Not budgeting a lot of time for editing and polishing.
(e) Not budgeting time for research.
(f) Not having experience with specialized terminology
(g) Dealing with empty verbiage - how to translate a paragraph of banalities and platitudes that never meant much in the first place
(h) Wrestling with your native language. Expressing someone else’s ideas and being true to the original while remaining smooth and eloquent is harder than it looks.
(i) Not being good at utilizing the Internet
(j) Not being able to estimate time required correctly.

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