Greatest Women in Translation: Nicky Harman

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Welcome back to our interview series!

This month, I had the pleasure of e-meeting and getting to know a bit more about our first Chinese translator, Nicky Harman, nominated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones.

Nicky Harman

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1. Your latest translated book is Happy Dreams, by Jia Pingwa, one of China’s most celebrated writers. What is it about?

It’s about a pair of migrant workers from a remote village outside Xi’an in China, who come to the big city to make their fortune. Happy Liu and his fellow-villager Wufu find a semi-derelict building to live in and settle into life as trash collectors. We follow them through a series of tragi-comic adventures, but when Happy falls in love, things get more serious: the woman, a prostitute in one of Xi’an’s ‘hair and beauty salons’, is arrested by the Vice Squad and sent to a rehabilitation centre; Happy and Wufu get work on a building site to earn the money to bail her out; Wufu dies and Happy tries to take his corpse back to their village, because the folk belief is that when the body is not returned for burial in his or her home village, the soul will never rest in peace. (This is not a plot-spoiler, the scene actually opens the novel.) Despite the grimness (being a trash-collector in China really is getting down and dirty), this novel is a joy to read. What makes it for me is the character of the eponymous Happy, an unlikely hero who is, by turns, pretentious (he is always ready with an aphorism or a homily), engaging, obnoxious, honest, devious, foul-mouthed and tender (to his best friend and to his lover). Think Charlie Chaplin, Chinese-style. I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing for taking a punt on this novel because, although Jia Pingwa is one of China’s most important living writers, his novels are hard to translate (full of dialect), so have not made much impact in the West. His writing is wonderful but many of his novels are set in the remote countryside where Jia himself grew up, and are long and complex, which is a combination hard to sell to publishers who can’t read the original.

2. I guess the differences between American and British English can be compared to the differences between Brazilian and European Portuguese. I only translate into my native language, Brazilian Portuguese, and don’t dare venturing into the European one. How about you? Being British, do you translate into American English? If so, do you find it difficult?

You’ve absolutely put your finger on a key issue for me as a translator. I write British English, especially if it’s slang dialogue. That’s another reason why I’m grateful to Amazon Crossing – for having faith in me, and for giving me an editor who was sensitive enough to make useful suggestions when I had no idea how to make my British-sounding slang acceptable to American readers. That said, I feel a little sad that Happy Liu could never be ‘chuffed’, but always had to be ‘delighted’, or ‘satisfied’ or something similar. I think the characters’ voices come from deep inside me, as the translator, in fact, I imagine them as coming from my belly, and it’s difficult to restrain the tendency to use certain words when they seem to fit so perfectly the ‘voice’ as one hears it. But every translation is a process of negotiation and compromise, and my feeling, from readers’ reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, is that our combined efforts paid off.

3. Your next translation, due out in May 2018 is Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru. What was special about its translation?

I signed the contract, opened my working document to start the translation…and my heart sank! This author is extremely well-educated and the book is sprinkled with quotes from classical Chinese poetry, as well as references to history, to his Confucian-style upbringing (he’s now in his 90s), and to folk customs and local food. To say nothing of his war-time career, which required me to get a grip on military terminology. But within a few pages, I was entranced – Rao Pingru has the rare gift of telling his life story as if you and he were sitting in his living room and you were the only listener there. This is the only book I’ve ever done (and I’ve translated some pretty gut-wrenching stuff) where every time I arrived at the final pages as I went through first draft, successive drafts, and edits, I got a lump in my throat. He wrote it in grief after his beloved wife died, but it is full of affection and humour. The book is gorgeous to look at too, because Rao is a painter and there are colour illustrations on every page.

4. And you have another novel translation out in May, The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge?

Yes, that’s a record for me, two book-length translations out in the same month! I actually finished translating The Chilli Bean Paste Clan three years ago, but the route to publication was somewhat tortuous. (Hats off to Roh-Suan Tung, of Balestier Press, who took it on, and has given it a gorgeous cover too.) It’s completely unlike any other novel I’ve translated: a family drama that manages to be both warm and funny, barbed and irreverent, and highly profane. The novel is set in a (fictional) small Sichuan town in twenty-first century China, where Gran’s impending eightieth birthday celebrations are the trigger for growing tensions between the family’s middle-aged siblings. Events take an unexpected turn on the day itself, when secrets from everyone’s past are revealed, including that of the matriarch herself. Yan Ge started writing young adult fiction in her teens and is a well-established and prize-winning author. The Chilli Bean Paste Clan [《我们家》, My Family, in Chinese] was her first excursion into adult fiction, and it is an extraordinarily clever one. The challenges here for me were to express the family bonds and animosities with sufficient subtlety, and the dialect (again!), which Yan Ge herself says is highly local to the small town in which she grew up. In both these areas, she was extremely helpful in explaining things to me. I hope the book does well, because it’s hugely enjoyable. A sort of very wicked Chinese Jane Austen-style story.

5. I think you are our first Chinese translator interviewee! 😊 Why did you choose Chinese as your working language?

There was no contest, really. I do read and speak various European languages, but so do many other excellent translators, much better than me. My degree was in modern Chinese but for many years I let it drop and did other work and lived a completely different life. Then in the late 1980s, I came back to it and re-learnt it. A Chilean translator friend of mine suggested I should try translating because, he maintained, ‘There must be lots of work out there.’ That proved a little over-optimistic and my career as a translator started slowly. But I was instantly hooked on literary translation and I still am.

6. What are the challenges of translating from Chinese into English?

One huge challenge is that you are recreating in idiomatic English a text which in grammar and syntax is just about as far from English as it could possibly be. So the operative term here is ‘recreate’. But at the same time, you have to reproduce exactly what the author is saying as well as being sensitive to how s/he is saying it and the effect s/he is trying to achieve, all the usual considerations of literary translation from any language. So your English has to be extremely good. There’s no way you can follow the source language sentence word for word, you have to make something new, but it has to be an accurate and faithful representation of the original. Of course this applies to translation from any East Asian language, like Japanese, Korean and so on, because they’re all so different from English.

Then, of course, China is a big country and there’s a lot to learn with every book you translate. I think everything I’ve mentioned above just about sums it up: dialogue must sound natural, many writers use dialect, which you have to understand and find a way to express in English, and there are cultural and historical references which are instantly recognisable to the Chinese reader, but which are opaque to many western readers without some sort of a gloss. (Do not mention the word ‘footnote’! These are anathema to most editors nowadays.) Not that I’m complaining at all. I absolutely love this work.

7. What are you most proud of having achieved in your translating career?

My work on Paper-Republic.org is one thing. After all, the work doesn’t end when the translation is finished. I’m passionate about getting readers interested in Chinese fiction and luckily, among Chinese-to-English translators, I’m not alone in that: for the last ten years, I have been part of a core of volunteers on Paper Republic, which works to facilitate both literary and publishing connections between China and the rest of the world. We run online and offline events and publications aimed at raising the profile of Chinese literature among readers, students, editors and journalists. For readers, we provide complete short stories (in our ‘Read Paper Republic’ project) and novel excerpts, as well as public events with opportunities for reading and discussion. For students, translators, and educators, we provide translation-focused educational materials, and facilitate translation-related events and training. The Paper Republic website is also home to an extensive database of Chinese literature and its translation, helping visitors gain an overview of Chinese literature, and its various translations into English. In short, in many ways we have become an effective bridge between Chinese writers and their writing on the one hand, and English-language readers on the other.

With regard to my own translations, I often get involved in promotional work, especially when the author doesn’t speak English. I write blogs, do book launches, and talk at literary festivals. I absolutely love this aspect of translating too, I mean, who would want to sit in front of the computer all day every day, going boggle-eyed over even the best-written book? Not me, I need to get out and about too.

I also feel hugely privileged that I have been able to introduce such a wide variety of Chinese authors in English, and some have become personal friends, which is an added bonus. One area that we all need to work on, however, is a greater focus on Chinese women writers. I tallied up the gender balance in my translations, and it’s about even. But in our annual rollcall of translations from Chinese on Paper Republic, there is a preponderance of male authors, reflecting, one has to assume, men’s greater visibility in the literary world both east and west. Out of the 110 winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, only 13 have been women. Only a fifth of winners of China’s prestigious Mao Dun Prize have been women, which is a bit dismal because there are so many good female writers in China.

8. What’s the best way of learning more about Chinese fiction, for people who don’t know where to start?

Well, we run the Read Paper Republic project I mentioned above specifically for readers wanting to dip a toe in the waters of Chinese fiction. We began by publishing a complete short story (or essay or poem) every Thursday for a year. We have since added a couple more series of short stories and will continue to do so on an occasional basis. They are all still online – just click on the Read Paper Republic heading or logo on our home page. Of course, we’re not the only people posting Chinese short fiction online: Asymptote Journal and Words Without Borders post excellent work from Chinese, as well as other languages. If you want something longer and meatier, well, a visit to your local bookstore should produce a good novel. Or try googling for helpful lists such as the one produced by TimeOut Beijing, TheCultureTrip and The Wall Street Journal. I recently made up a list myself, for London’s China Exchange festival.  Interestingly, some of the same books and authors turn up on all four lists, which I think indicates growing recognition and appreciation of Chinese literature among English-language readers worldwide. And of course, those lists are only the tip of the iceberg. There is much, much more out there. For instance, if you like scifi, then you are in for a treat, it’s one genre where Chinese writers have made a big impact. For instance, Liu Cixin, winner of the Galaxy Award and the Hugo Award, has half-a-dozen books in translation; and a number of Hao Jingfang’s short stories and novellas are available online in English. And martial arts, a great Chinese genre which hitherto has hardly been translated, has a gem just out in English, A Hero Born, by the inimitable and much-loved Jin Yong, (MacLehose Press, translated by Anna Holmwood). Dig in and enjoy!

9. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

Anna Holmwood.

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Guest post: Live your passions!

Welcome back to our guest series!

Today I have the pleasure of hosting the dear Dolores Guiñazú, whom I have personally met during the ATA Conference last year.

Welcome, Dolores!

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Live your passions!

From a very early age, I pictured myself working, writing, translating and researching from an office very close to my future family and children, with the flexibility of being there fully present.

I was born in a small town in northeast Argentina, known for its reserves and wildlife, Resistencia, Chaco, close to the limits with Paraguay and Brasil. When I finished high school, I was firmed in my desire to become a Professional Translator and an Interpreter. The University in town did not offer my career, so I had to move to the “Big city”, to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, in order to pursue my dream.

Life was not easy at those times, as I missed a lot my family, my dear friends, my home, my daily life, everything! However, my career, new friends made and professors help me a lot in persevering and holding to my endeavor. As soon as I graduated from University, I began working as a Translator in many multinational corporations, like Pfizer, Coca Cola, Motorola, Santander Investment, among others. The experience was very fulfilling and worthy every second. All the new friends and colleagues whom I met throughout those years are deeply cherished. There, I began connecting the dots for my future daily job.

As I always wanted to keep on studying and improving my skills, I began a two-year MBA degree in the evenings, after my working schedule. In fact, I have always had two or more jobs at the same time. With my new pursuit, I pushed even harder, as this postgraduate course was difficult, very demanding, and required too many hours, whole weekends studying and being immersed in books and research papers. The experience was a blast. The professors, the best. And the experience of this association of my hometown University with Albany University was truly gorgeous. Once every two months, some teachers from US came to Argentina to teach us the latest trends and studies, the same as the University there. And all the courses were in English! I really enjoyed and seized this experience. We cannot forget the importance of continuous study, researching, reading new topics, new trends. Nowadays, more than ever, we cannot settle. The world needs us to stretch and keep on moving even further.

While at the MBA I met a new friend and she was the one who introduced me to my husband. The moment I met him, I knew he was the love of my life. I was not very young, and all my friends were already married and with kids. But, I truly believe there is a time and a moment for everything you really want to have. After getting married and while I was expecting my first son, I soon realized that one of the very first reasons why I have chosen my career had been the idea of being “my own boss”, of deciding my own times and choosing my projects. So, I made the big decision to quit my safe and awesome salary to begin working for my own Company. My dearest hubby helped me a lot in taking this huge step in my career. We are a team, and our income depended on this huge change. Changes, as always, are not easy. You have to hold on tight to your decision and move forward, not matter what. The team work I have always had and all the communities where I belonged have been really thought provoking and inspired me to raise the bar in all the projects and throughout all the years that went by.

Translation times changed a lot since my early beginnings, with a typewriter and millions of papers, liquid paper to erase mistakes, no Internet at all and with that, endless hours at libraries and researches done all over many different places and public entities. Being now in an almost paperless and extremely connected world (thanks, Internet!) makes our work in translation and communication easier and faster for all of us.

As women, some of us like the idea of having children and at the same time want to keep on doing what we love, keep on working and do the best to thrive in our careers. We know that we can accomplish our dreams. Dreams sometimes do not come true, but DECISIONS made at the right time and with deep passion and belief, DO COME TRUE.

My two boys, now at high school and my two girls at elementary school know what I do for a living, respect my working times as well as my clients and their different time zones, meaning phone calls and emails at any time and any day, and take pride in having a full time working mother. They are my inspiration and my example. Family life is hectic and breathtaking, I enjoy every minute of it. Time flies, really fast, and all of sudden my little beautiful babies are grown-up boys and girls of whom I am very proud of. I am very thankful and blessed for my life and the opportunities I have had so far. Life is a gift. Gratitude makes you feel supported and affirmed by your loved ones.

Doing what you love makes it all flow seamlessly, and you can barely distinguish when you are really working and when you are resting and having fun with your children. Passion shows in all details of our lives. Flexibility and teamwork are crucial. I am very thankful for my blessings and all the opportunities life gives me every day to keep on swimming and learning.

RESIST the urge to take the easy route. Your potential is not in your comfort zone.

Live your best life and expect more.

About the author
IMG_0002Dolores R. Guiñazú is a Certified Sworn (Court-Approved) English to Spanish Translator & Interpreter specializing in mindfulness, health care, marketing, legal & corporate communications. After graduation, she spent ten years working as an in-house translator for multinational corporations, such as Pfizer, Santander and Motorola in Argentina. Then, she continued working as a freelance translator, working in teams and with colleagues for Global Agencies as well as for direct clients all around the world. She holds an MBA in Marketing from USAL & Albany University in New York. And she is also a Spanish Copy Editor and Proofreader certified by Fundación Litterae and Fundación del Español Urgente (Fundéu). A member of the ATA (American Translators Association).

Greatest Women in Translation: Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series, dear readers! Our interviewee today is Antonia Lloyd-Jones, award-winning literary translator from Polish into English.

Welcome, Antonia!

Antonia Lloyd-Jones

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1. Your wide list of published translations from Polish into English include fiction, reportage, biographies, poetry, children’s books, film scripts, short stories, academic essays, among others. In such a diverse portfolio, what do you like translating the most?

I don’t have a favourite genre, but I enjoy varying my diet. When I’m translating an entire book, it inevitably gets into my blood stream – to sense fully what the author is aiming to achieve, I have to let it get inside me, let it touch my soul, before I can find a voice for it in English. It can be a painful experience if the emotions expressed in the book are difficult (and Polish literature has more than its fair share of tragedy), so I need variety to alter the mood.

One of the features of Polish literature is that it has very strong literary non-fiction, with just as much to offer the translator as fiction. The genre that has come to be known as reportage is largely a Polish invention, started off by Ryszard Kapuściński in the 1950s and developed by Hanna Krall, and in the next generation by writers including Mariusz Szczygieł and Wojciech Jagielski. They write books that are about true events, people and places, but it is neither news reporting or travel writing; instead they portray whole societies or nations from the bottom up, through the lives of ordinary people. In terms of style these are some of the most challenging books I have translated, and among the most fascinating.

I love translating children’s books, probably because I have never fully grown up myself, but also because they offer specific translation puzzles that are fun to unscramble.

For instance, in Krystyna Boglar’s novel Clementine Loves Red, which I co-translated with Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, there’s a little girl with the weird name ‘Jarzynka’, which means literally ‘little vegetable’. When they meet her, the other children are amazed, but later it turns out her father is called Mr Jarzyna, an unsurprising Polish surname, and the child’s nickname is a diminutive based on it. After much head-scratching, in English we called her Macadamia, and her father was Mr MacAdam.

My translations due to appear this year illustrate the huge range on offer in Polish literature, and I really can’t say which is my favourite. This month there’s Posts, a witty poetry collection by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, including evocative poems inspired by the trips to New York that resulted from a previous joint publication. Next month there’s Dancing Bears, reportage by Witold Szabłowski, who uses the fate of performing bears rescued from Bulgarian Gypsies and rehomed in a special shelter as an allegory for people in countries that have emerged from totalitarianism, but who don’t understand freedom. In May there’s Priceless, a high-energy thriller by Zygmunt Miłoszewski, about a team of Poles commissioned on behalf of the nation to steal a Renaissance painting that was looted during the war, but when they try, they realize someone’s trying to kill them. In June there’s Lala by Jacek Dehnel, an exquisitely written novel, closely based on reality, about the colourful life and adventures of the author’s grandmother. And finally in September, there’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, an eco-crime novel by Olga Tokarczuk, in which the female narrator lives deep in the Polish countryside, where she insists that avenging animals are responsible for a series of strange deaths of local male bigwigs who hunt.

2. You have led workshops for Translation Nation project in UK primary schools working with children aged 10-11 to produce translations of stories from their own native cultures. How was this experience in introducing translation to kids?

I’m not sure what the children would say about my competence as a teacher. I came away from this experience with undying admiration for all primary school teachers, as they do one of the most difficult jobs imaginable, especially teaching classes with children from twenty or more cultures. And I’m also in awe of Sarah Ardizzone, who devised and runs the whole project (now as Translators in Schools). Even with my lack of ability to organize boisterous 10-year-olds, I found it tremendously rewarding.

The project involved encouraging children from various cultures to bring stories from home, for their classmates to translate and then read to each other in performance. At the first school, the story that made the greatest impression came from a shy Polish boy who told it to me between sessions in the corridor; it was about his granny’s appalling experiences as a deportee in Siberia during the war. The other children were moved and shocked by the real-life story of their friend’s relative. It was the only moment in three whole days when they sat riveted, in silence. Afterwards the headmaster thanked me for bringing so much out of this shy boy, and had a local paper report on it. But it wasn’t me, it was the excellent project that gave him a chance to explain something about his culture to his school friends.

Another child said he was half-Greek, and brought in the Odyssey! That was a bit ambitious as a translation project, but we chose the story of the Cyclops, which went down well too. At the second school, an Egyptian boy who had only been living in Britain for a few months made up his own wonderful story, about a man living in Cairo with a giant pet tortoise that destroyed the neighbour’s garden but made up for it by giving him a daily ride to work on its back. And there was a Latvian girl who at first wanted nothing to do with the project, but ended up as our most enthusiastic participant. I felt sad to say goodbye to her and hope she’s flourishing.

Children from abroad who’ve settled in the UK with their parents learn English very fast and often speak it better than the adults, so they act as ambassadors for the older generation. And among them there are sure to be some future literary translators, so it’s brilliant to start nourishing their talents early.

3. You promote Polish books to English-language (UK and US) publishers and readers. Apart from having two past winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, namely Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska, in your opinion, what’s special about the Polish literature? What’s your pitch to publishers and readers?

Polish literature has several special features. Its fiction tends to differ from English-language novels, for instance, by being based more often on style and less often on linear plots or straightforward story-telling. That quality can make it not just hard to translate, but hard to sell to publishers, who view it as experimental and possibly unappealing to British and American readers, whose expectations tend to be fairly conventional. But it is actually an asset for ambitious, high-quality literature.

For instance, last year two Polish novels were very well received in English, though neither has a conventional structure and both are characterized by superb style. They’re Swallowing Mercury, Wioletta Greg’s evocation of childhood in a Polish village, translated by Eliza Marciniak, and Flights, Olga Tokarczuk’s unusual take on the broadly understood concept of travel, translated by Jennifer Croft. I’m thrilled to see what excellent reviews these books have had, as both are gems of contemporary Polish fiction.

As I have said above, Polish reportage is in a special category of its own, so I often find myself explaining its particular qualities to publishers. In the past I have put a lot of effort into finding publishers for my own generation of reportage authors, and now I’m very pleased that my colleague Sean Bye has made headway with bringing more of them to English-language audiences. His translation of Filip Springer’s History of a Disappearance, about the fate of a mining town that ceased to exist, brings a superb new voice to a wider audience. And we both have plans for more Polish reportage in translation.

I suspect that translators from some of the more mainstream languages, such as French, Spanish or German, are more likely to be commissioned than translators of ‘minor’ languages such as Polish. Instead, translators from Polish have to work alongside Polish publishers and agents to convince foreign publishers to buy the rights to Polish books. On average, only about 10 to 15 literary works in English translation from Polish are published each year. But I don’t see anything wrong with that as an annual ‘score’ – what counts is quality, and the competition that Polish books have to go through to appear in English to some extent guarantees that it’s the best books that get through, or at least the ones with the best chance of success on English-language markets.

Of course Polish poetry is well-represented in English, but there are some dynamic younger poets yet to be translated. Although I rarely translate poetry I’m hoping to find a publisher for a collection by Krystyna Dąbrowska, a personal favourite of mine. How would I pitch her work? It’s vivid, evocative, haunting, sometimes deeply personal and emotional, sometimes keenly observing other people’s lives, often inspired by travel to faraway places. But the best way will be to show it to them.

Another Polish speciality is children’s illustrated books. There is a fabulous new generation of illustrators and graphic artists at work now, many of them inspired by their predecessors in the 1960s and 1970s. After a rather Disneyesque phase, the best tradition is back and booming. So far Daniel & Aleksandra Mizielińska have blazed a trail abroad with their worldwide best-selling Maps, H.O.U.S.E., and Under Earth, Under Water. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg — Polish illustrated children’s books represent an unexploited gold mine, represented by artists such as Katarzyna Bogucka, Agata Dudek, Paweł Pawlak, and many others. Their work speaks for itself, and I’m hoping more English-language publishers will soon see the light.

4. According to your own words, you find it enriching to mentor emerging translators. Why?

Mentoring is one of the best parts of my job. I’m now working with my sixth mentee, Zosia Krasodomska-Jones, who for the mentorship is focusing on children’s books, especially YA and younger children’s novels. What a great excuse for me to find out more about them too. We have just spent a week in Poland talking to people who are well-placed to advise us on the latest publications. There’s a wealth of good books to choose from, and the hardest thing is to decide which ones are likely to work on English-language markets. We came away with lots of ideas, and a big task ahead to sift out the ones we want to pitch at the Bologna book fair in March.

I don’t have time to work on all the books I would like to promote or translate, so helping younger translators to develop their careers allows me to pass on ideas or projects that deserve attention. Sometimes I pass on work to them that I haven’t time for, but I don’t want to treat my mentees like a dumping ground – mainly I try to help each one to identify and then realize translation projects that they feel passionate about. I think mentoring is the best way to increase the number of Polish books being published in English while also guaranteeing quality. Over the years I’ve built up useful contacts and experience that I can pass on to emerging translators, which gives them an instant leg-up in the profession. I’m very proud of their achievements so far and look forward to watching them change the future face of Polish literature in translation.

But I also learn a lot from my mentees. Translation can be an isolated profession, so to see how other people approach a piece of text, which works attract younger translators and what they’re interested in translating broadens my vision and keeps me open to new ideas.

5. In your interview for Authors & Translators, you said, “It’s disheartening that some people would never contemplate watching a film with subtitles or reading a book in translation – saddest of all for them, as they’re missing out on a feast of entertainment and knowledge. And the world loses, for lack of mutual understanding.” Apart from Polish literature, what translated books have you enjoyed reading and suggest to us? 

Where do I start? I’ll tell you about three authors I have recently read in translation. I can’t stop thinking about The Gurugu Pledge by the Equatorial Guinean writer Juan Tomás Ávilar Laurel, translated from Spanish by Jethro Soutar (published by And Other Stories). It’s a shocking account of the desperation that drives people to leave their homes in African countries and try to get into Europe, but end up trapped in a horrible encampment in Morocco, where the women in particular suffer appallingly. I think every world leader should be made to read it.

Another book I’d recommend is Eve Out of Her Ruins, by Ananda Devi, translated from French by Jeffery Zuckerman (published by Les Fugitives/CB Editions). Set in Mauritus, it’s about four teenagers grappling with their own identities and with the adversities life has forced on them already. I’m pleased to see that Jeffery Zuckerman has been shortlisted for the inaugural TA First Translation Prize for his beautiful translation.

And finally please read Jón Gnarr’s trilogy, translated from Icelandic by Lytton Smith (published by Deep Vellum). Gnarr was a stand-up comedian who became a rather unlikely but apparently successful Mayor of Reykjavik. Based on his childhood and adolescence, the first in the trilogy is The Indian, which despite being about a child’s struggle with his own intellectual limitations and the lack of understanding of the world around him, is riotously funny. The second is The Pirate, about his determined teenage efforts to be a punk rocker, when there was only one other punk in all of Iceland. The third is The Outlaw, when things turn dark as our hero discovers sex and drugs. Moving, comical, disturbing, brave, highly recommended.

6. You have translated different books by the same authors, such as Zygmunt Miłoszewski, Olga Tokarczuk and Paweł Huelle. Do you get more familiar with the author’s style after the first book or is every book unique?

It depends on the author. Paweł Huelle does more or less write in the same style, and of course practice has made me more familiar with it. He has favourite words (whether he knows it or not) that he understands in a particular way. But he sometimes surprises me totally – not long ago he wrote a story that could have been by Gogol, or Dostoevsky in his satirical mood, featuring an insane dream largely set in Saint Petersburg. Apart from that, two of his novels are deliberately stylized in homage to great European authors: Mercedes-Benz is a tribute to Bohumil Hrabal, and Castorp is a prequel to The Magic Mountain and owes a great deal to Mann. In both cases I read translations of these authors into English to help me to attune to the style.

Zygmunt Miłoszewski is best known in English for his crime trilogy featuring Prosecutor Szacki (Entanglement, A Grain of Truth and Rage), and they do have a homogeneous style, but his thriller Priceless reads more like similar books written in English – at times I felt I was translating a translation. And his latest book in Polish, As Ever, is a totally new departure, not a crime novel but a romantic book with a historical twist; in 2014 an old couple are celebrating 50 years of married life, then they mysteriously wake up back in 1964 with the chance to live all over again, but this time Poland is not under Soviet, but French control. In every way it is new and different from his earlier books, and I’m looking forward to translating it.

Olga Tokarczuk is extremely versatile and every book is distinctly different. She loves to play with form and voice, so it’s hard to say that I grow more familiar with her style from one book to the next. The three I have translated are House of Day, House of Night, which is one of her ‘constellation’ novels, consisting of a loosely connected set of stories, ideas and images; Primeval and Other Times, the twentieth-century history of a village told through its residents, which owes a lot stylistically to myths and legends; and Drive Your Plow… in which the narrator’s sometimes unsettling voice is influenced partly by William Blake, partly by Leonora Carrington, and wholly by Olga Tokarczuk. Luckily I share her work with Jennifer Croft, an excellent translator, who is now working on The Books of Jacob, a sweeping historical epic about the mystical leader of an eighteenth-century religious sect.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I nominate Nicky Harman, who translates from Chinese.

Working less and “il dolce far niente”

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Photo by Julia Wimmerlin on Unsplash

I was scheduling my social media posts when I came across this article. The subject of working less, instead of more, that has been gaining ground recently (finally and thankfully!) has my total support for years, so I loved this article (it’s long, but worthwhile, believe me). I wanted to comment on practically every paragraph of it, so I decided to write a post, instead of simply posting it on social media.

When I started out, I worked a lot – weekends, holidays, nights! At the time, I lived with my mom, and I remember she would bring me food at the desk because I didn’t have time not even to eat. I remember my parents would go to bed and wake up, and there I was, still working. And when I went to sleep for a couple of hours in the morning (or afternoon), it was not the same as sleeping at night, so I would never rest properly.

Have you noticed how people preach being busy and working on weekends and overnight as something to be proud of? I hold a grudge on those memes, and I feel really sorry for people who proudly share them on social media. Just as I feel sorry for project managers who ask for my availability past 8 pm. “Look, I am so professional and dedicated, I work until late at night!” Sorry, pal, not something to be proud of. Your reply will only arrive in the next morning anyway, so you could have used the time you spent writing me the email to leave earlier and go home to your family. Seriously, people, just stop!

I don’t remember exactly when I stopped playing with my health and sanity, but I did eventually. I started respecting weekends and a good night sleep, and taking vacations (with absolutely no work whatsoever). After a while, I started following regular working hours and exercising in the evening (after reaching my maximum weight and having health problems). Mind you, I’m 34, and it must have taken me only a year or so to start having health problems and realizing I needed to change. I learned with practice. That old living and learning thing.

Nowadays, I wake up at 6 am, run three times a week in the morning, take a shower, have breakfast and then start working, at around 9:30 to 10 am. I have a decent lunch at around noon, do the dishes and rest a bit on the sofa while taking a quick peak at social media watching series (maybe not one of my healthiest habits, due to the flow of information to my brain, I know). Every week day, I hit the gym in the evening, so I usually stop working at around 5 to 6:30 pm, depending on the day. Take a shower, have dinner, rest a bit on the sofa while watching series and, again, taking a quick peak at social media and emails, after all, I usually spend all this time from when I stop working until I finish my dinner away from my cell phone (a great break to the mind). I used to do this until the time I went to bed, but nowadays I’m even changing this nighttime habit. At around 9:30 pm, I switch my cell phone to airplane mode, go to bed and read a book for about an hour, before going to sleep.

The secret? Being heavily productive in the restricted working hours you have left, avoiding procrastination and social media during working hours.

[T]he work we produce at the end of a 14-hour day is of worse quality than when we’re fresh, […] undermines our creativity and our cognition, […] it can make us feel physically sick – and even, ironically, as if we have no purpose.

I’m totally aware my routine will hardly fit anyone else. The fact that I’m single, have no kids and live by myself plays an important role in making it easier, but if I wasn’t organized, determined and strict, this wouldn’t work anyway. Even if you are married and have a bunch of kids, you can make it work. The secret is learning your daily routine, creating your own working hours, whenever they are, and strictly following them. Restrict your social media time to avoid procrastinating. Actually, restrict everything that is not work-related. Be professional and respect your working hours. The benefits will be worth it: more time to do whatever you want.

Keep human! See people, go places.

After all, what do you work for? Earning money, paying bills and living the life, right? We all preach the greatest benefit of being a freelancer is being free. However, most people use this freedom to work even more. That will never make sense to me. Use your freedom to go see a movie on a weekday afternoon when you have no projects, walk in the park, have a coffee with a friend or do nothing.

[Doing nothing] helps you recognise the deeper importance of situations. It helps you make meaning out of things. When you’re not making meaning out of things, you’re just reacting and acting in the moment.

Now that is something I seriously need to master, although I have been trying hard to practice: do nothing, be idle. It’s so hard! It’s as the article says, when we have nothing to do, we end up reaching for our phone or turning on the TV. It’s like we can’t handle being left only with our thoughts. Think of it for a moment… This is so sad! The good thing is it doesn’t really mean, in the strict sense, to do absolutely nothing. You can meditate, knit, doodle, discuss a problem with friends, cook… anything that doesn’t require 100% concentration. I went to the beach a couple of weeks ago and I tried to put this into practice: when in the water, I tried to sink in its energy, feel the waves, let my thoughts flow freely; when under the umbrella, I tried to watch the sea, listen to it and, again, let my thoughts flow. Remember: what works for me may never work for anybody else and vice-versa, so find what suits you.

I’d love to hear how you organize your day in order to maximize your productivity and have a decent work-life balance. Also, feel free to share how you practice your dolce far niente.

 

P.S.: You may have noticed I’ve been absent from the blog and from social media. First, the same old thing: projects. Second, I’ve been feeling quite tired lately, so I’m respecting my body and, instead of dedicating time to the social media and the blog, I’m using that time to rest a bit more. I’m putting the free in freelance to great use. 😉 However, don’t fret. I’m already slowly going back to normal. On February 1, a new Greatest Women in Translation interview will be published, with Antonia Lloyd Jones; on February 5, a new podcast episode will be published, with Reginaldo Francisco (Win-Win project), just before taking a break (after 20 episodes, it’s time for a well-deserved break: we return in July with fresh, newly-recorded episodes); on February 9, our guest of the month is Dolores Guiñazu; and on February 20, hopefully, another post by me.

Guest post: Recomeçando na tradução

Bem-vindos de volta a mais uma publicação convidada! E a primeira convidada de 2018, Vera Antunes, fala sobre recomeços. Tópico perfeito para o segundo dia do ano, não acham?

Seja bem-vinda, Vera!

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Cortesia de Matt Ragland, disponível em Unsplash

Comecei a estudar inglês com 11 anos de idade. A princípio, o que eu queria mesmo era entender o que as pessoas falavam nas músicas. Fui muito incentivada pela minha mãe, que a toda hora dizia que a minha pronúncia era bonita… Coisas de mãe!

Tive o privilégio de ter um mestre de português, Alceu Taffari, que me ensinou a ter respeito pelos poetas, pela língua portuguesa, por gostar de ler e saber me expressar. Eu não tinha dúvidas do que queria fazer na faculdade: tradução! Entrei na Faculdade Ibero-Americana, que hoje não existe mais. Já nessa época dava aulas para crianças de inglês e português. Surgiu uma oportunidade de trabalhar numa multinacional e lá fui eu! Foram quase trinta anos trabalhando em diversos setores, como instituições financeiras, indústrias, ONGs. Entre todas as minhas atribuições, tinha sempre uma tradução a ser feita, uma apresentação para passar para o inglês ou vice-versa. Paralelamente, quando dava, eu fazia um trabalho ou outro de tradução. Nunca deixei a tradução e ela nunca me deixou… Sempre buscando novas conquistas.

Em 2013, eu resolvi mudar tudo na minha vida, dar uma reviravolta, ter controle da minha agenda, poder me dedicar inteiramente à tradução.

Resolvi voltar à minha paixão de corpo e alma! Precisei sair da minha zona de conforto e voltar a entender esse mundo da tradução de forma mais intensa, afinal, tudo evolui de forma tão rápida! O que eu acho muito importante e, de certa forma, um ponto positivo para mim, é que nesse mundo corporativo e de ONGs no qual eu transitei, envolvi-me em diversos assuntos com temas diferentes, diferentes termos, que me ajudam muito hoje em dia nas traduções. Nessa nova etapa, digo que é muito bom ter amigos, tanto antigos quanto aqueles que acabamos de encontrar, principalmente amigos que não te enxergam como uma concorrente. Uma grande e importante amiga, fundamental nesse meu processo de “retorno”, assim que soube do “meu grande plano”, foi a primeira a me dar a mão, passou dicas, links e se preocupou com vários detalhes que eu ainda não havia considerado nesse retorno. Estou falando de Melissa Harkin. Ela foi a pessoa que me fez pensar em participar da Conferência Anual da ATA 2017 (American Translators Association), me contou um pouco sobre o congresso, o que levar, o que fazer, como funciona, fazer contatos. Realmente, a conferência é intensa, várias palestras com assuntos variados, diversos tradutores do mundo todo, troca de cartões, informações. A outra pessoa é a Caroline Alberoni, que acabei conhecendo no Congresso. Ela me deu a oportunidade de observá-la, saber como ela faz, a rotina de trabalho, e hoje me surpreendeu com esse convite de contar um pouquinho sobre o meu retorno ao mercado da tradução.

Nessa retomada, participei de diversos webinars, fiz contatos, fiz um curso sobre LinkedIn, li e leio muito, troco ideias, sigo blogs e, principalmente, não tenho medo de acreditar no meu potencial. Depois de passar cerca de duas semanas do meu retorno do congresso, estou retomando esses contatos, fazendo contatos com agências, com colegas que trabalham nas organizações nas quais trabalhei, contatos com tradutores que não conheço, mas com os quais posso trocar experiências, enfim, estar presente. Lógico que, se eu parar, sentar e for analisar como a tradução era e como é hoje, dá um frio na barriga recomeçar, mas um frio que vale a pena, que me faz ler mais, estudar mais e me sentir viva. Acreditar que estou no caminho certo, que nada no começo é fácil e que cada um começa de uma forma, no seu tempo, não importa quando. Em dezembro, completei 31 anos de formada. Acredito no talento, na oportunidade, no profissionalismo. E assim sigo essa nova etapa… acreditando!

Sobre a autora
24824679_1734676826562586_493433951_nVera Antunes é tradutora freelance formada pela Faculdade Ibero-Americana, com mais de 15 anos de experiência em tradução. Trabalhou em diferentes setores, tais como: bancos, indústria de bens de consumo, indústria química e ONGs antes de se dedicar integralmente à tradução. Essas experiências anteriores formaram sua especialidade em tradução. Sua lista de serviços inclui legendagem, revisão, pós-edição e transcrição.

Here’s to new beginnings!

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Created by Erick Tonin

Before I started writing yet another end-of-the-year post (this is the fourth of the blog), I took the time to read the previous ones (Unwrap your memories, A 2014 wrap-up/New Year resolutions, What I learned from a bad year and 2017 resolutions for translators) and to recall old resolutions. Have you ever tried recalling/reading your old resolutions? It’s nostalgic and it gives us that warm feeling inside. It shows us how much we and our priorities change with time. Try it for yourself.

Last year was one of those years to me, so I was really looking forward to it ending for good. At New Year, I said, “Finally! May it be gone for good and take everything bad that happened.” An uncle made fun of me, saying there is no such a thing as year-ending and problems magically disappearing, something along those lines. I know problems do not magically disappear, and nothing changes if we are not willing to and if we don’t actually do something. However, can you imagine living in a world without weekends and Mondays, ends of the year and beginning of new years, birthdays? I can’t. I think we need these time blocks and breaks to recharge our batteries, rethink our lives and find the inspiration and will to change things. At least that works for me. Luckily, my birthday is right after New Year, so it’s perfect timing as well.

New years are clean slates where you can write the story of your life the way you wish. Take in all the positive energy, love and happiness of the holidays and use them to your benefit, transforming them into determination, focus and attitude to change. Leave old thoughts and feelings behind, let them go with the year that ends, and restart fresh. Even a small change makes a difference. Start small and see where it takes you. Take it from me, you will not regret.

My 2017 was amazing! Why is that? Because I was determined to change what didn’t work in the previous year and took it seriously. I got back to exercising and eating healthily, and was able to drag other people with me, so now, when I need some inspiration, they are the ones who help me. I am more conscious of how valuable my time is and of what is really worth doing and what is not. I had two major changes of opinion: I never really fancied traveling to other countries in South America nor to the US. I went to both this year, and loved both experiences. I got new clients and rewarding feedback from the existing ones. Luckily and fortunately, I didn’t have any project downtimes.

Now, with eleven days left of 2017, I am feeling beat, but not in a bad way. It’s that feeling of exhaustion for doing a lot, accomplishing more than I expected and going beyond, and having a blast of a year. Now, after spending some quality and fun time with family during Christmas, traveling to have fun with friends during New Year, and traveling to the beach with family for my birthday, I will definitely be ready for yet another new beginning full of promises, new resolutions, dreams and wishes.

Are you also ready to a new beginning? If not now, when?

Guest post: Os estudos de gênero e a tradução

Bem-vindos de volta a mais uma publicação convidada!

Hoje tenho o prazer de receber uma colega que faz um trabalho incrível e interessantíssimo com estudos de gênero. E é claro que eu não poderia deixar de convidá-la para escrever sobre isso aqui no blog, não é mesmo? Espero que gostem.

Seja bem-vinda, Graziele!

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Foto de Vanessa Serpas disponível em Unsplash

A tradução e os estudos de gênero: o papel político e cultural da linguagem

A questão de gênero tem sido um tema recorrente nos meios de comunicação em massa e mídias sociais recentemente. Temas como violência de gênero e feminicídio, assédio sexual, etc. cada vez mais ganham destaque e são alvos de muita discussão. A visita ao Brasil da filósofa norte-americana Judith Butler, referência no campo de estudos de gênero, é um exemplo dos impactos sociais deste debate. As acusações de pregação de uma suposta “ideologia de gênero”, dirigidas à filósofa, dão o tom de uma percepção moral que alguns setores da sociedade demonstram diante do debate de gênero. Partindo do princípio de que essa ideologia seria contrária a certos valores morais e tradicionais da família, esses setores, entre acusações e ameaças, causaram muita comoção e discussões calorosas sobre gênero. Mas afinal, o que é gênero e o que significa estudar gênero? E o que gênero tem a ver com tradução?

Os estudos de gênero nasceram muito próximos do movimento feminista nos Estados Unidos nos anos 1960, quando questões como o papel da mulher ganharam destaque. No entanto, é importante ressaltar que a questão de gênero não se restringe a feminino e masculino, mas também incorpora a transgressão de gênero, pessoas que não necessariamente se encaixam no binário mulher e homem. Portanto, ao tratar-se de problemáticas relacionadas a gênero, é fundamental ter em mente que ele não se restringe a questões relacionadas somente à mulher e ao homem.

O conceito gênero enquanto ferramenta analítica e de pesquisa amplia discussões relacionadas a política, cultura e sociedade no geral. Portanto, do ponto vista teórico, não se restringe a aspectos morais ou a opinião pessoal de pesquisadores e pesquisadoras. Ele parte do princípio de que gênero é uma construção social e, por isso, varia dependendo do contexto socioeconômico de cada sociedade. Sendo assim, a inserção de gênero enquanto categoria central da pesquisa abriu espaço para novas perguntas na produção acadêmica: como questões de feminidade e masculinidade são entendidas em cada sociedade? Como eles são perpetuados ao longo de gerações e quais as consequências? Como gênero, raça, classe, nacionalidade, religião, sexualidade, etc. se interseccionam? E como as configurações de poder são definidas nesse contexto? Como a globalização muda o entendimento e o significado de gênero?

Nesse sentido, a linguagem usada para responder a essas perguntas desempenha um papel extremamente crítico, ou seja, pode impactar, em alguma medida, as percepções que os sujeitos e grupos sociais naturalizam. Uma das questões mais proeminentes no campo é o uso de palavras neutras que rompam com o binário mulher e homem. Isso ocorre especialmente no caso de idiomas como o português, em que se costuma usar o gênero linguístico masculino para generalizar grupos. Essa escolha no atual contexto tem um significado político e cultural. Por muito tempo, a voz de grupos marginalizados na sociedade, como mulheres, homossexuais, negros, transgêneros, foi desconsiderada e/ou apagada da história, da ciência e da política. Por isso, existe um esforço de se repensar a linguagem e o que ela representa, dando espaço para que esses grupos escolham as palavras com as quais eles se identificam. Essa escolha, por mais simbólica que possa parecer, abre espaço para a discussão do significado e da escolha de determinado termo. Por exemplo, na minha dissertação do mestrado, eu escolhi usar a palavra “mulata” em vez de “mulato” ou ainda “mulatx/mulat@” quando eu me referia a essa categoria no geral, pois analisei diversas propagandas usadas para a promoção turística do Brasil, nas quais o corpo da mulher cisgênero foi usado extensivamente. Essa foi uma escolha pensada e que visou ressaltar e criticar a exploração de um grupo social específico nesse projeto.

A tradução desempenha um papel importante nesse contexto, impulsionada especialmente pelo transnacionalismo das instituições, sejam elas públicas e/ou privadas. Desse modo, e como já discutido muito na indústria, não basta apenas o conhecimento linguístico do idioma, mas também socioeconômico e cultural dos idiomas a serem traduzidos. Especialmente nas traduções de negócios, marketing e conteúdos sociais, localizar e adaptar o conteúdo para o público-alvo é um dos maiores desafios do tradutor de modo que o significado político da linguagem não seja ignorado. No campo da pesquisa, a tradução é fundamental para a realização de estudos envolvendo grupos sociais que não falam o mesmo idioma. Seja na coleta de dados ou na tradução de artigos científicos, a escolha dos termos usados deve ser pensada cuidadosamente, pois eles não necessariamente apresentam a mesma conotação, muitas vezes nem existindo em determinados contextos, podendo inclusive impactar o resultado de pesquisas científicas.

Por fim, o tradutor deve estar ciente de sua responsabilidade social, política e cultura na manutenção ou não de formas de pensamentos existentes. Pesquisar tem o potencial de evitar muitas dessas questões. Afinal, a tradução, assim como a linguagem, tem o poder de unir diferentes povos e abrir canais de comunicação antes não existentes.

Sobre a autora
picGraziele Grilo tem bacharelado em Ciências Políticas pela UNICAMP e acaba de concluir o mestrado em Estudos de Gênero pela Towson University (EUA). Sua dissertação foi na área de gênero, política, raça e turismo no Brasil. Também se interessa muito pela atual crise mundial de refugiados. Acaba de auxiliar na criação, além de participar ativamente, de um projeto com alunos de ensino médio refugiados da África e Oriente Médio, que visou utilizar as artes como meio de expressão e ativismo para esses alunos, em um contexto no qual o idioma pode ser barreira na comunicação. Atua como tradutora freelance desde 2012 nos idiomas português, inglês e espanhol. É torcedora do São Paulo Futebol Clube, ama Pearl Jam e se aventurar na cozinha.
Contato: trad.gragrilo@gmail.com
LinkedIn: Graziele Grilo

 

Greatest Women in Translation: Charlotte Collins

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Image credit: Erick Tonin

Welcome back to our Greatest Women in Translation interview series! It’s been a long time since our last interview due to my vacation. We are now back with our last interviewee of the year, Charlotte Collins, nominated by Marta Dziurosz.

Welcome, Charlotte!

Charlotte Collins

Photo credit: Jaime Stewart / Image created with Canva

1. You only started as a literary translator in 2012. Before that, you were mainly a journalistic translator. However, with the very first book you translated, A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler, you won the 2017 Helen & Kurt Wolff Translation Prize. Do you think that having had a connection with the book beforehand made a difference to the way you translated it? I’m referring to the fact that you were asked to write a reader’s report on the book for Picador, were very enthusiastic about it, and the publisher was convinced to buy the rights.

It’s not unusual for a translator to come to a book in this way, after writing a reader’s report for the publisher. What I didn’t realize at the time, because I was just starting out, was that you’re seldom asked to read something this good! It’s a rare delight for me to feel such an intense personal and emotional connection with the work.

I’m not sure to what extent that influenced the translation process, though. I try to be meticulous with everything I translate. Literary translation isn’t just about communicating content; you’re trying to reproduce, as closely as possible, the atmosphere and feel of the original. But this is such a delicate thing to do. It’s necessarily subjective; the text is being filtered through your own mind and sensibility, so what you’re reproducing for others to read – and interpret – is your impression of it. Another translator will inevitably reproduce it differently. So however ‘invisible’ a translator tries to be, they can’t help but be an integral part of the text.

Because of this, I feel a duty to try and stay as close to the original as I can – without, of course, sounding clunky. I pay very close attention to what I believe to be the author’s intention (though here again my interpretation can only be subjective), and feel I have a responsibility not to betray it. So, for example, I might be weighing up translation choices and find myself thinking, “But if s/he had wanted to say that, s/he would have chosen this word instead.” In which case I’ll stick with whichever’s closer, providing it works.

I felt it was especially important to do this with A Whole Life. It was clear to me that the author had chosen each word with great care, for a reason, and it was vital that I do the same. With other texts I might allow myself a bit more freedom. The one I’m translating now, for example – Mark und Bein (Homeland) by Walter Kempowski – requires a much looser approach: he has a very distinctive style, and that needs to come across, but it runs the risk of sounding awkward in English. I’ll be discussing with the editor how free it can be. It’s a challenge.

2. You think the literary translation community is “tremendously supportive.” How do you think this benefits new translators entering the market?

I think this is a wonderful time for emerging literary translators – in the anglophone world, at least; I can’t speak for other regions. Translated fiction is enjoying something of a ‘moment’ – sales are up, the readership is expanding, and new and reconstituted prizes like the Man Booker International, the Dublin International, the new Translators Association prize for emerging translators and the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation are making a fantastic contribution to promoting translated literature, as well as increasing the visibility of the translators themselves and an appreciation of what it is we do.

One of the most valuable resources out there is the Emerging Translators Network. It was set up by three of my colleagues in 2011, and is aimed at translators who are just embarking on their literary career. It now has hundreds of members all around the world. The ETN provides practical peer support and advice via an online forum, and it’s also a great social network. As is the case for any writer, there’s the potential for translation to be quite an isolated profession. I was lucky enough to move into literary translation shortly after the ETN was founded. There are so many translation-related events happening, and if you look or post on the forum you can usually find colleagues who are going. Some colleagues I met just a few years ago are now close friends.

Once you’ve published something, or have a contract to publish, you’re eligible to join the Translators Association of the (UK) Society of Authors. It’s really worth doing, not only for the networking and in order to keep abreast of developments in the profession, but also because, once you’re a member, you can send contracts to the SoA’s legal team. They’ll check them for you with a fine-toothed comb, and advise you on what you could and should be asking for. That alone is worth far more than the membership fee!

3. I previously watched and shared on my social media channels the speech you gave on accepting the prize mentioned in question 1. I’ve just watched it again to write these questions and was equally impressed and inspired by it. One of the most beautiful things you said was that you “feel passionately that the learning of languages is tremendously important for breaking through […] walls, for crossing […] borders, for making […] connections, for understanding other cultures.” You made a connection between this growing spirit of isolation, especially among political leaders, of not wanting to communicate, to reach out to other people and cultures, and the drop in the learning of languages by English speakers. Could you elaborate a bit on the connection between learning new languages and the spirit of openness and understanding?

In order to learn to speak another language well, you need to understand how that language works within the culture. Language isn’t just words. Everyone knows – translators especially – that words exist within a context, and that context is all. So learning another language means you’re opening yourself up to that other culture, learning about different ways of thinking and doing things; you gain a sense of a different history and environment, a different way of life. It can’t help but broaden the mind. Our world today is globalised: we’re not living, and cannot live, in isolation, be it social, cultural, economic or political. But we’ll never all be the same. We can and should celebrate our differences and diversity – including linguistic diversity – while at the same time seeking to bridge those differences and facilitate better understanding between peoples. The better we’re able to communicate with someone in their own language – the more of their language and culture we understand – the better we’re able to understand them and their way of thinking. And that of course puts us in a better position to build bridges, cement ties, do business, negotiate peace, do whatever it is we want or need to do.

Even learning a language to a very basic level will take you some of the way. It’s not just about being able to speak fluently: you’ll experience and understand how different languages actually force you to think and communicate differently. I’ve learned to appreciate, for example, that my bad habit of interrupting people is even more unacceptable in German. How can I possibly know what someone’s trying to say when they haven’t even got to the verb! And when speaking in German you need to have a very clear idea of what you want to say, otherwise you may have to go back and start the sentence again. It’s much easier to waffle in English.

4. In your opinion, not only learning languages but also reading translated fiction is important for the exploration of new cultures. You say that, when we read, we enter into the character’s head; we become that person, we are drawn into their world. How is that particularly special when reading translated fiction?

For all the reasons given above. It’s essential that we broaden our understanding of others, of how people outside our own little bubble of experience live and think, and why. It’s important that we learn to have empathy, and realise how our actions impact on those around us. What better way to do this than through fiction? Fiction takes you inside someone else’s head; you’re directly experiencing things from their point of view, thinking their thoughts, living their life, hearing their voice inside your mind as if it were your own, being transported to places you’ve never seen, that may not even exist. If you look at it this way, reading is a kind of magic. And if you’re reading literature in translation, the starting point is already a culture other than your own, so the book will inevitably transport you to places and points of view outside your immediate realm of experience.

5. In your speech, you said: “It is important, especially now, that we read well, that we read wisely, and that we read translations.” How do you think we – translators – can play our part in increasing awareness of this?

First, we need to promote ourselves more. Translators are not, on the whole, natural Rampensäue (limelight-hoggers). In our profession we spend the majority of our time working at home, on our own, in silence, with just a book for company, in close communion with the mind of someone who may or may not be dead, and is almost certainly unaware of our devoted attention. This is what we’ve chosen to do, and there are probably reasons for that. I think many of us find it difficult to promote ourselves and our work, beyond telling a few friends and colleagues when we’ve got a book out, either because we’re a bit shy, or because we’re afraid of coming across as arrogant or pushy. To me, each individual translator is a representative of and an advocate for the profession. This is why I support the #namethetranslator initiative, which aims to ensure that translators are always credited alongside authors on websites, in reviews, broadcasts and so on. We want readers to be aware of the work we do, to be conscious that they’ve just read and enjoyed a translation, because it might make them want to read others. In my experience, once people really start thinking about what translation involves, they’re intrigued and want to find out more. At literary festivals, translators are becoming a bit of a draw in themselves – talking about a specific book, examining their craft, discussing with the author, or representing him/her if s/he is unavailable (or dead). Once we can command that interest, we acquire a platform to speak about our work, about the books we love, and about wider contemporary issues, and be heard.

6. “Life is just one moment after another. They might be big moments or small moments, but every one is precious.” This was another of your touching lines, referring to the depth of the book A Whole Life and the author’s attention to detail. I reckon one of your big moments in life was receiving the prize. How about one of your small, but special, moments? I would love to learn what it was.

Small, special moments… well, there are so many. They’re all around us, all the time. You just have to focus on them. As soon as anyone talks about it like this they immediately sound like a New Ager, but it’s true. I’d say that, like Andreas Egger in A Whole Life, I often find them in nature. I have lots of memories of moments spent looking at a beautiful view. For example: sitting outside a mountain hut early one morning and looking down on the mist clearing from the Kaisertal as the sun came up, all those little fluffy clouds drifting off like sheep in search of the exit. Or… aged 18, reading T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets for the first time, under the sloping ceiling of an attic room. It was breathtaking – I felt as if I were being swept up and away in a whirlwind, and when I finished I more or less fell off the bed.

And all shall be well and 
All manner of thing shall be well
 
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
 
Into the crowned knot of fire
 
And the fire and the rose are one.

7. Now it’s your turn to nominate our next Great Woman in Translation.

I’d like to nominate Antonia Lloyd-Jones, who has just stepped down after three years as co-chair of the Translators Association. As well as being a multiple-award-winning translator in her own right and one of the leading practitioners in her field, Antonia’s also a dedicated mentor and an inspiration to a great many of her colleagues, particularly emerging translators from the Polish. She has long been a vocal and active champion of translators and translated fiction.

How to make the most of an ATA conference

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

First of all, Happy Thanksgiving!

This won’t be a Thanksgiving post though. I decided to leave it to my last post of the year, next month, when I intend to make a 2017 wrap-up. Should you miss my Thanksgiving posts, you can read the ones I published in the previous years: What I learned from a bad year (2016), Five things to be grateful for (2015) and Giving thanks (2014).

Today I want to talk about my experience as a newbie at ATA 58. The American Translators Association (ATA) traditionally hosts every year a huge conference with more than 1,000 attendees, each year in a different U.S. city. This year, in its 58th edition, it was held in Washington, D.C. and attended by exactly 1,721 people from all over the U.S. and the rest of the world.

Upon preparing for it, I asked my colleague and friend Melissa Harkin, who had already attended the ATA conference for the first time last year, for some tips. They were all extremely useful, so I’ll make a summary of my tips, based on my experience as a newbie, with hers.

Since it’s a huge conference, the largest in our area, standing out is key. However, be careful with how you interpret this “stand out.” It doesn’t mean desperately imposing and calling all the attention to yourself; it means gracefully leaving your mark and differentiating yourself among the crowd.

  • The conference has an app. As soon as it’s out, fill out your profile with all possible information, including adding a picture and a CV, and adding your language pair in your description, so people can see your language pair straight from the attendees’ list, right below your name. Believe it or not, most attendees underestimate the app and do not use it for anything. Besides being handy during the conference, since it’s filled with useful information, it’s a great way of making yourself visible.
    A potential client contacted me before the conference – she was looking for Brazilian Portuguese translators. Later she said that she liked my app profile because it clearly stated my language pair under my name.
  • Don’t make it about yourself. Focus on the other (either colleague or agency). Truly engage, show interest, ask questions about them. Avoid being forced and sounding like a robot.
    I met a girl during the Welcome Celebration who took the Buddies Welcome Newbies session’s tips too literally, and the poor thing ended up sounding fake to me, resulting in zero engagement.
  • Be open to meeting new people, naturally engage, occasionally exchange business cards, if given the opportunity, and move on. In Portuguese, the expression “alugar uma pessoa” (rent a person) is used when you talk with a person for a long time. Don’t do that. It’s a huge event, with hundreds of people and a bunch of things to do. Time is precious.
  • The Brainstorm Networking features quick brainstorming sessions where a group of people quickly introduce themselves, exchange cards and discuss a scenario. Follow the steps quickly, and don’t dominate it, so everybody has their say. This is not the place for a heated discussion or parallel conversions.
  • The Job Fair is not on a first-come-first-served basis, so be cool and take your time. Don’t rush in front of other people neither simply throw your card on the table. Stand in line, if there is one, and while you wait for your time try to listen to what the recruiters are saying, so you can spare their time when your turn comes. Even if they don’t work with your language pair/area of specialization, be friendly and thank them for their time.
    Extra tip (by Melissa): Create a personalized visual CV for the Job Fair. You will certainly stand out.

If you are shy or new to conferences in general, don’t miss the Buddies Welcome Newbies session, right in the first day. Buddies are seasoned attendees who are willing to help newbies (first-time attendees) around the conference. The session has great tips for enjoying the conference to the fullest, and you sit at a table with other buddies and newbies, so it’s also a great opportunity for meeting new people. If you are by yourself and don’t know anyone, you won’t be anymore after this session.

If you already have a “gang,” don’t stick only to the person or group of people you already know. Whenever there is a different person around you, switch from your mother tongue to English, so they don’t feel left out. It’s great having familiar people around, but try exploring the event by yourself, being open to meeting new people in the halls, seating right next to you in a session, at breakfast, at social events, etc. Keep a friendly, smiley face at all times, face up. Look at people’s eyes, say hi/good morning even when you don’t know them. Though not in a creepy way of course; be natural. I connected with someone at breakfast who I ended up learning was a project manager. She contacted me after the conference for a potential partnership.

Have business cards on you at all times! It’s unbelievable how people don’t take business cards or don’t take enough. Take around 50 cards per day. It’s more than enough. It’s better to have some left than running out of them. Asking people to take a picture of your last card is, in my opinion, mind you, embarrassing.

When exchanging business cards, make notes on the person’s card, don’t rely on your memory. I had never done that before (never thought it was necessary), I started doing it at ATA 58, but it wasn’t enough. When handling cards post-conference I obviously forgot things. For example, at the Exhibit Hall and the Job Fair you will meet dozens of recruiters. However, some of them may not work with your language pair or area of specialization. If you don’t write it down on the card, you may forget and end up following up with the company anyway post-conference, showing lack of attention and care. Possible notes: where you met the person (Exhibit Hall, Job Fair, Brainstorm Networking and which round, speaker, etc.), if you should follow-up or not and why, your personal impressions, etc.

Last but not least, have fun!

After the conference, wait for about two weeks before following up, so you can give people a chance to settle down or even contact you first. When contacting them, don’t assume they will remember you. Briefly recapitulate where and how you met, and attach your visual CV so they can easily remember you.

My post is already too long, so now I’ll leave it up to you: Do you have any other tips to add?

Guest post: Plain language and translation

Welcome back, dear readers!

Missed me and my wonderful contributors? I have just returned from a much-deserved 20-day vacation, during which time I did not work at all nor post on social media and on the blog. However, before and after those 20 days, of course things were/are hectic, so that is why I have been absent from the blog. Bear with me for a while, and I promise it will be worth it. I have been working in the background, inviting people, having post ideas, so I will come back with our regular editorial calendar at full speed.

And now let’s return in great style with a dear and talented colleague I had the pleasure of meeting at last IAPTI’s Conference, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in April, Joanna Richardson.

Welcome, Joanna!

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Image provided by the author

Plain Language and Translation: Think of the Reader

My work: plain language instructor for professionals

While not actually working as a translator, my job for the past 15 years at Argentina’s largest law firm, teaching lawyers how to write in plain English and editing their published work, has kept me closely in contact with the difficulties that professionals face when writing in English as a second language.

Translating complex legal texts into English, and making them understandable for foreign clients is a daily challenge, but don’t worry, plain language can help!

What is plain language?

A communication is in plain language if its wording, structure, and design are so clear that the intended audience can easily find what they need, understand what they find, and use that information.

Source: International Plain Language Federation

 How did it all start?

Quintilian was talking about plain language back in Roman times. But the modern plain language movement kicked off in the 1970s, when grassroots consumer rights associations started to ask their governments to improve their documents. In the UK, in 1974, two elderly ladies died of hypothermia after not being able to fill in a form for fuel subsidies: the Plain English Campaign, still going strong, came into being as result of this tragedy. In the USA the New York Tax Law was revised into plain language in 1978 in response to consumer pressure.

Plain language around the world

Today, the UK is a leading example of this trend and the government website gov.uk has won awards for both design and plain language. In the USA, the Plain Writing Act was enacted in 2010 and around the world, both English-speaking and other, there are many instances of plain language legislation and its positive effects for citizens, and how it saves money for both private and public institutions. The two NGOs: Clarity and PLAIN (Plain Language Association International) have many examples of plain language worldwide on their websites. And the Center for Plain Language, a US-based NGO, also has many examples.

The EU is one international organization that has been aware of this problem for some time. In 1998 they published a booklet on clear translations called Fight the Fog, but the situation deteriorated as the EU grew and took on more languages. In 2011 the booklet was updated by plain English expert Martin Cutts, author of the Oxford Guide to Plain English, and was published in 23 of the EU’s languages: How to write clearly. This booklet can be downloaded free here and has lots of tips on how to avoid EU-speak and improve translations. But even so, it is not mandatory in the EU so many of the suggestions go unheeded. For many languages this is still their only plain language resource.

Plain language for translators

We are not talking about plain language in literature, but official government documentation, forms, contracts and legal writing, the sort of things that citizens have to deal with every day on and offline. These kinds of documents are often written in very complex language and when they are translated, things only go from bad to worse.

Who are these kinds of official documents written for?

The people who have to read them are pushed for time and these days, generally reading them on a small screen. We need to think of our readers today, particularly when translating. Getting the message over to the reader without losing their attention is a constant challenge. And plain language is a great tool.

Bear in mind these 8 recommendations for plain language in translation:

  1. Write short sentences – even if this means chopping up an excessively long sentence and rewriting it into 2 or 3 sentences.
  2. Use active voice – the passive voice is useful but is always longer and less direct. It fails to mention the doer, so can be ambiguous.
  3. Avoid nominalizations – like information or application. Use the verb form like inform or apply to make your writing stronger.
  4. Avoid sexist language – in English it is not acceptable to use the male pronoun to refer to both genders and the modern tendency is non-binary, using the gender-neutral pronoun they in the singular.
  5. Use everyday words – and if you must use jargon, explain it.
  6. Avoid the negative – it is not a clear way of thinking.
  7. Use personal pronouns – address your reader directly.
  8. Avoid shall which has an ambiguous meaning that lends itself to confusion. Use must for obligation and the present tense when something is simply a statement.

So, next time you are translating a government form or a financial document, first think of your reader and translate it into plain language!

What an insightful post, Joanna! Thanks a lot for your kind and rich contribution!

About the author
joanna-richardsonJoanna Richardson
 is a British national who has made Buenos Aires, Argentina her home.
With a background in literature and translation, since 2002 Joanna has taught plain English writing skills to Spanish-speaking lawyers at Argentina’s leading law firm, Marval, O’Farrell & Mairal.
More recently she has applied her expertise from the clear communications field to coach professionals in public speaking.
Joanna enjoys creative writing and making chutney in her spare time.
Website: www.plainenglish.com.ar
Contact: plainenglishargentina@gmail.com
Twitter: @jomrichardson