An Evening of Translation

I have come to literary translation recently in my writing career. Even though it is a lot of work and can eat up any free time I have, I find the whole process fascinating and perversely fun. I think I will do a separate post(s) about my views on translations and my personal experience, but for now, I’ll stick to the facts.

Last night, I had the privilege of attending a most enlightening and encouraging panel on literary translation. Besides the panel leader, there were four guests who were either translators, publishers, or both. The four came from American Literary Translators Association, PEN American Center, A Public Space, and Argos Books.

They provided information that I either was not aware of or would not have even thought of. We discussed securing rights, organizations (specifically, ALTA and PEN) that are established to support literary translation and translators, as well as technical aspects of translating. Two things that I found encouraging were: the enthusiasm for young translators and translators who have not been published previously and secondly, it sounded like many people translated from Spanish. As someone who does not translate from Spanish, the pool of potential competitors is much narrower. Michael Moore (PEN), a translator of Italian texts, also spoke about the differences between a good translator and a bad one.

The panel was even more helpful than I could have imagined. Maybe next paycheck, I’ll get a membership to ALTA!


  1. I find this post incredibly interesting. I love languages and translating seems great but how can anyone make a career out of it? With computers and automatic translators are people even needed?

  2. I feel like my full answer to your questions would go on and on, so I’m going to try to give a really abbreviated (but hopefully, helpful) response. I also plan on writing more posts about my personal experiences and outlook on literary translation in the near future.

    > Computers and automatic translators are great for quick searches on vocab or if you need a simple sentence translated into your language. However, if you’ve ever put a complicated, let alone, mediocre sentence into Google Translate, it will come out stilted and awkward, usually not fully capturing what the original intended. Also, for languages that utilize the formal (Spanish, German, etc.), these translators automatically translate and conjugate into the formal, regardless. But don’t let me pick on Google Translate; I totally use it when I’m in a pinch.

    >> Secondly, good translators are well versed in the culture and history in which they are translating from. They can pick up on the nuances and idioms that a computer couldn’t. As a translator, I find an important part of my job is not really doing a literal translation but a more finessed, literary translation. Translators, both professional and up-and-coming, are passionate about specific authors that are unknown in the US or who are overlooked in general. They can bring these authors to the attention of a wider audience which of course, a computer would be unable to do.

    Here are some online resources I use:

    Oxford Language Dictionaries (subscription req.)


  3. Hi! I still haven’t got your name~ I enjoyed this concise entry and am envious that you got the opportunity to attend the literary translation panel.

    I’m so looking forward to your future entries on translation!

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to “eavesdrop” (read your reply to princesayasmine). I really think it’s an incredible reply. I ask myself the same questions as well since technology is becoming more and more advanced. Still translation of culture and history are things that automatic translators can’t do. Yet, this to me is also the toughest bit since it requires a lot of diligence and time to know about culture and history as there can be no shortcuts to it.

      1. thanks for providing the link! It’s an interesting read!

        Oh, by the way, thanks for putting me on your blogroll~! I’m adding yours to mine ^^

  4. I work in a high tech environment where all our documentation is translated into several languages. Though we use translation tools, we still have a staff of translators in several languages (off the top of my head – German, French, Japanese, and probably others too). Call me old fashioned, but I think they’ll always be a need for human translators, especially for literary translation.

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