I attended Translate in the Catskills from August 12 to 14, where accomplished translators Chris Durban, David Jemielity, Ros Schwartz and Grant Hamilton offered excellent insights into the work we all do. Each Monday for four weeks I’m going to present what I consider the most intrinsic tips from each.
In her plenary presentation, the inspiring Chris Durban emphasized the following key points that apply to each and every one of us as translators and writers. Below each tip, I have added my own take on the topic:
1. Translators need to take control of the text, not tiptoe around it.
I love this notion. Too often we defer to the source language text, recreating it word-for-word, afraid to make it our own. But the resulting text, the translation, is our own. I believe we have to internalize the text, absorb it, in order to create a target language text that is a fully-formed text in its own right. This approach to translation requires confidence. We don’t always have the necessary faith in ourselves when starting out, and thus stay close to the original text. That’s perfectly understandable. But as we grow and learn, it’s important for us to use our gift, our ability, to step back from the word and sentence level and express the text as a whole.
2. Translators need distance from the text.
To me, this is the second step in the translation process. Once we have taken control of a text, made the translation our own, then we need to step back for a while. You might only have an hour or two if a deadline is tight, but ideally you will take at least a day before doing a final revision of your target language text. Every writer needs distance from their words in order to see them with fresh eyes. Too often we calculate a deadline based only on how long it will take us to translate X number of words. I suggest adding several hours on to that calculation to give yourself the time and distance needed to deliver your very best.
3. Translators must know what good writing is.
Why, you ask? Because translators are writers. When Chris asked who in the room considered themselves a writer, only about a third of hands went up. I found this startling, to be honest, but apparently it’s an improvement over the first time this conference was held in 2009. Translators are writers. Translators are writers. Translators are writers. Perhaps if we say it often enough and promote the notion in blog posts, articles and at conferences, we will all realize how true this is. And to write well, you have to know what good writing is. It’s really just that simple.
4. Translators need time, need to slow down.
If we’re translating 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 words a day, we simply can’t be producing premium-quality work. Internalizing a text takes time. Writing takes time. Revising takes time. All of these are necessary steps in the translation process to produce a work that can stand on its own in the target language.
5. Translators need to read and write — A LOT.
I think we all know that translators need to read and write to improve their craft, but it bears repeating. Whatever your area of specialization — art, science, banking, medical –, you need to read texts in those disciplines to be aware of vocabulary, style and usage. But you also need to read widely in other areas for those very same reasons. As writers, we need to practice this art outside of translation as well. Write a blog, write in a journal, write articles for industry publications, write letters. Just write. And study your writing, your style, note your own peculiarities and how these might affect your translation. Try writing using different styles, vary your vocabulary and approach. It will make you much better prepared for any translation that comes your way.
What do you think of these tips from Chris Durban? Do you have anything to add? I’d love to hear from you a comment…