How to become a translator

For National Translation Month, I interviewed three freelance translators who work in different languages: Jennifer Croft, who translates from Polish, Ukrainian and Argentinian Spanish, Anton Hur, who translates into Korean and English , and Arunava Sinha, who translates into Bengali and English. * They discussed their language training, how they get work as translators, and how they approach their translation work. See Part 2 on what makes a good translation, translator royalties, receiving book cover credits, and issues within publishing related to the treatment of translators.

How to break into translation

Some translators, such as Hur and Sinha, grew up speaking two languages ​​and were therefore ready to master the translation process due to their fluency. Hur, who specializes in translating Korean fiction into English, has completed ten translations (some awaiting publication). He grew up translating for his mother, who speaks Korean, and formally learned English and Korean in Korean and international schools. Similarly, Sinha grew up speaking Bengali and English and said, “I would say I live in both languages, so there was no formal study other than school.”

Sinha, who has done 72 translations, developed an interest in translation at university, where he majored in English literature, after realizing that Gabriel Garcia Marquez A hundred years of loneliness “was actually a translation. So what all of us in India read and marveled at were the words of Gregory Rabassa, which we accepted as Garcia Marquez’. This led me to try myself.

While Hur said there was virtually no formal education required to become a translator, “translators tend to be highly educated, but many of the older translators, for example, don’t have college degrees and they are excellent in their work and very efficient.” Now that his profile has risen within the publishing industry, publishers and agents are also approaching him, but he said, “it took years to establish that level of trust.”

Croft, whose memoirs Serpientes y escaleras, written in Argentinian Spanish details his professional background (Homesick is the English version), grew up in a monolingual family, double majored in Russian and English, and minored in creative writing in college, followed by an MA in literary translation. Croft said: “Being a translator requires a special sensitivity not only to language, but also to people. I think you really have to be interested in the voices of other authors, their obsessions and their desires, and you have to want to devote a lot of time and energy to inhabiting their universes, a bit like actors. And like acting, you don’t need any special training, but I think you need time and space to practice your craft. Croft recommends doing a fully-funded Masters in Literary Translation for those looking to break into the field as “a wonderful way to further your language studies (if you need it) and get feedback from peers and professors without having to work full-time work to support yourself” or for those already working, mentorships through the American Literary Translators’ Association or similar organizations.

How Translators Get Jobs

The three translators I interviewed are proactive in finding translation projects for books that interest them. About getting translation work, Hur said, “If I find a book I want to translate, I get permission from the Korean rights holder to submit a sample and proposal to English publishers, and if that’s accepted, I negotiate the translation contract. Sinha is either approached by publishers or authors, or similarly offers books he wants to translate to publishers.

Croft said that “so far I’ve found the authors I want to translate by reading a lot in my languages ​​and connecting with the people whose books I fall in love with.” This was the case with his translation of the Flights by Olga Tokarczuk, who won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize (now called the International Booker Prize), the world’s highest prize for translated literature; the book won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature and was a finalist for the National Book Award. She bought her book report and the partial translation of Flights until UK-based Fitzcarraldo Editions finally acquired it, and then Fitzcarraldo sold the US rights to Riverhead Books.

But getting the book translated has been an uphill battle for Croft, who says he “spent ten years trying to find a publisher for Flightsbut “publisher after publisher told me they didn’t think the book would ever sell”, a process that “exemplifies one of the hardest parts” of the profession. Croft said that even winning the Booker “hasn’t really made it any easier to get publishers to take on the new projects I come up with. A lot of literary translation is unpaid work: submissions, proposals, meetings, social media, etc.”

The translation process

The translators stated that the duration of each translation depends on the project. Hur’s shortest full-length prose translation took a month, while the longest, at hundreds of thousands of words, took just under a year. As for how to approach the translation, Hur said he “didn’t really receive any instructions. I found that publishers are more interested in what we offer than what they imagine the book to be. They like to be pleasantly surprised, like any other genuine reader.

As for how they approach the job, Hur said, “Voice triangulation is the trickiest part. You will never sound like the author in his source language, so you need to figure out how he will sound in the target language.

Sinha said of his translation process that he was “tightly guided by the text. I am not trying to guess the intentions of the author, nor to consciously interpret the text. I read it carefully as a reader, then I try to make sure that the reader in the new language will read the same text as me. I do not explain, improve, or meddle in any way with the text. Some references require additional research. Sometimes, when the geography of a place is at stake, I use the satellite view of Google Maps, to be sure not to distort anything. If the author is alive and the context is ambiguous, Sinha can consult them; however, it “can go both ways, as some authors can slow you down with a slew of suggestions.”

Croft said The Paris review that she read the entire book before tackling the translation, which some translators avoid in order to “preserve a reader’s sense of suspense”. In that interview, Croft said that in contrast, she believed in immersing yourself “in the whole work with other knowledge of the writer, whether it be personal knowledge of having interacted with them in real life or knowing their other books or anything else that illuminates my overall view. I’m just pretending to be swimming in work. Croft told me that she always knows the authors she works with and is in contact with them, although they don’t always collaborate on translation, as she did with author Frederico Falco. on his collection of short stories. A perfect cemetery, for which he read every translation draft.

While Hur and Sinha work on one translation at a time, combined with other non-translation related work, including editing previous translations, Croft said she only works on one translation project per day. , but that she could juggle multiple translations over a period of time. All three also work on projects outside of translation.

*Hur is an acquaintance.