What kind of person makes a good translator?
A very complex kind of person, a very contradictory kind of person. The good translator should have a feel for and a close farniliarity with at least two languages, that goes without saying. Since translation is intricate and time consuming. the good translator should also enjoy, however perverse this may sound, the tiresome wrangling with minutiae. In the best-case scenario, translation should be his - or her favorite hobby. Anyone who aspires to become a translator or would like to become an even better translator, should also have - or should strive to acquire - the following:
- Patience and perseverance. Sit down by your computer and don't budge until you’ve given it your all. In English (German) this is called Sitzfleisch. It adds a couple of ínches to your waist, but you can always work that off.
- A critical eye and the killer instinct. Since the art of literacy is fading at an alarming rate, you will have to learn to be unaccommodating with anything in the source text that you do not consider up to par. Either edit it out (unless it is a thought), or resort to doctoring the text, you will have to develop a built-in alarm system, a little red light that will go off at the slightest hint of any word or phrase or cultule-specific expression that will backfire if icluded in your translated text. When sentences are too long, are packed with too much information and are difficult to comprehend: when adjectives are tripled, even quadrupled, and the author keeps repeating himself for want of having anything further to say: when you come up against empty expressions that add bulk but little else to the text. your warning system should spring into action. Don’t attempt to transfer fuzzy thinking or poor style into the body of the translated text. What would be the use?
- A corollary to the above is that a translator also needs a healthy sense of self-preservation. Think of it this way: Translations don't come with a footnote saying. "If you think this is bird, you should have seen the original!" Certainly. you don't want the reader thinking that you are to blame for a badly written text.
- Curiosity and tolerance for engaging in research. Have you ever turned on the evening news in the middle of a news report? No matter how closely you listen, you won't know what the report is about because you are missing vital information. A similar situation may occur when you are asked to translate a text that you do not fully understand because you are lacking the background knowledge for its full comprehension. So you rely on translating the words instead of the meaning, hoping that the reader will not notice. But the sad news is that the reader will notice if a text doesn’t rely on a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding - in short, if the translation lacks authority. If' you don't know what you are talking about, how can you expect vour reader to know? So do some background reading. Use your lexicons. Use the Internet. Call a friend. Rernember: A thorough understanding of the backgroundd is the glue that holds the translatiorn together, supplying it with essential content and lending it authority. You may also need to supply inforrnation where it is missing either because the readers of the source text did not have to be told, or because the information was left out by oversight (such as the name of a book under review). In either case. do sorne research and supply the rnissing information, otherwise you will end up frustrating your reader.
- Editorial skills. Editorial skills and the killer instinct are closely related, except that editorial skills are wider in scope.
- A translator should also be a competent decision-maker. because he is going to be confronted with a variety of choices every step of the way. He should enjoy, being in a situation where the results of his labors will depend entirely on the choices he makes. The point is this: Translation is about an awareness of the choices open to us. It is also about the perseverance and self-confidence needed to light upon the best of all possible solutions in any particular situation.
- Artistic indination. To translate anything other than a laundry list requires that you review, rethink, reshape, and reorder the original text in accordance with the common usage of the host language and the expectations of its readers. When translating a text, think in terms of recreating the original work in it's entirety, i.e., you must think big. The translation will only be as good as you are.
- A translator also needs to be an avid reader. He must gain familiarity with the corpus of fiction and non-fiction of the target language. In large measure, translation is imitation. and a thorough knowledge of how it is said in the foreign language is vital to its success. In some American colleges students receive two grades on their papers, one for content and one tor style!
- The translator also needs to be a first-rate communicator, a blabbermouth, an inexhaustible fount of words which is just another way of saying that the translator should enjoy the act of communication. This is of the essence.
- The translator should also enjoy the status of middleman, an undervalued job, if ever there was one. Yet it calls for him to be a dazzling juggler who works magic with words. Furthermore, since the translator holds the fuse that will light up the new, nascent version of a pre-existing text, he must learn to shoulder responsibility for the new "product". This, too, is of the essence.
- It also helps if the translator is ambitious. For one thing. he is running the show: for another, he must strive to do the best he can, regardless of the pay which has an alarming tendency to shrivel in inverse proportion to the difficulty of the translation.
- The translator should also practice the art of delayed gratification. Gratilication will most probably not come in the term of serious money, and it will not come in the form of prizes, awards and other accolades, though we can't rule out the possibility. The translator is invisible. Thus, the translator should also have a high frustration threshold to qo along with his ambition.
- The translator should also be the author's ideal reader, an astute psychologist, a more than passable mind-reader. a mimic, a mime, a person with a sense tor drama, for the act of translation is dramatic and dynamic in the extreme.
- And last but not least, the translator should be a born gambler, because there is no guarantee that his translation has succeeded until he has put the final dot on that final proverbial 'i'. And even then, will the editor like the translation? And will the reader?
- The translation from one language into another is not a „necessary evil”, but a highly creative and complex act.