Master the languages
“Translation is a mixture of artistry and craftsmanship,” say our experts. Capturing the essence of a text requires keen understanding of both the source language and the language of the translation. For example, language choices can reflect social class. Translators need to know how to make those distinctions.
Focus on the writing
Translators have to bear in mind that the reader doesn’t care that she’s reading a translation. She wants a good story, told well. Fluent, skilled writing is essential for a good reader experience.
Understand the cultures
Translating literature is more than interpreting word by word. You have to translate from one culture to another culture, not just from one language to another. New translators need to immerse themselves in the culture of both the original language and the target, reading widely to understand the cultural context of the original and the fidelity of their expression.
An inaccurate translation, or even the slightest cultural misstep, can ruin the spirit and tone of the work. The risk is particularly great in secondary translations (when a text is being translated from a translation, not an original.) Referring to and understanding the culture of the original text is important for getting it right.
Over time, good translators develop a wide understanding of the literature in which they work, opening up other opportunities.
Respect the form
Like writers, translators may not excel in every genre. Being good at translating essays doesn’t necessarily give you the skills to translate poetry. It’s important to have a strong relationship with the editor and, perhaps, a master in the genre. An exchange of ideas leads to a stronger final text.
Respect the author
The golden rule of translation is this: respect what the author says in the given moment and the given historical context. As Julio TravIeso, one of Cuba’s literary translators tells us: “I am not the author. I am just his tongue. You don’t have the right to violate the spirit of the author.” Where the full context of an idea or expression can’t be conveyed simply, Travieso recommends using footnotes to explain locations and important characteristics of the source language.
It’s the attention to maintaining the integrity of the original that makes translators essential. Says Travieso, “Translations help us move past our local and national boundaries. [They’re] necessary for building a universal culture.”