Lost in Translation

“Kolik jazyků znáš, tolikrát jsi člověkem.
You live a new life for every new language you speak.
If you know only one language, you live only once.” – Czech proverb

The fluent medium of translation: An interview with Sam Garrett.

I found this article engaging, as it outlines a number of things that are particularly important and fascinating to me. It provides an insight into the benefits of learning a foreign language, as well as the process of novel translation.

Sam Garrett is an American writer and literary translator. He has made Amsterdam his home for the past 30 years and is fluent in Dutch. As the translator of Herman Koch’s ‘The Dinner’ he speaks to Claire Cameron about the novel.

One theme that resonated with me throughout my reading of the article were the benefits of learning a foreign language. Through learning and becoming fluent in another language one can gain a whole new perspective on life. Fluency gives us an ‘insider’s view’ into a whole new place and culture. Immersion provides us with the opportunity to learn an entirely new way of life. Language and culture both have the ability to shape our outlook on life and particular issues in our society.

Sam Garrett describes the knowledge of just one language as a desert island. One can be comfortable on that island, but it is very restricting. To not know a country’s mother tongue is to view that country with a narrow mind. You can never truly understand the culture or the people. Your stay will still be comfortable and pleasant and exciting however you are limited, and your stay may not have as been enriching as that of someone who spoke the ‘langue maternelle’. It’s like peering through a window, but not being able to open the door. Language learning is challenging but also very rewarding, and life changing.

Czech Proverb

I imagine translating to be a long process, a path that should be taken with care. ‘Good writing deserves to be translated well.’ Translating cannot be described as simply converting one language into the other. Some words can be difficult to translate into English, while still conveying their correct meaning. In this way, Mr Garrett describes translation as: ‘informed and respectful straying.’ The author has chosen every word intentionally. So a translator must be accurate and keep the translation true to the book and not to put his/her influence upon it.

Translating a novel would be a big accomplishment, and a career path that I may look into in the future. However, for now, learning and becoming fluent in German, my chosen language, is what’s important. I wish to become like a sponge, absorbing new vocabulary, grammar and learning nuances and exceptions – these are my main goals, so that one day I may be able to open the door to a whole new world.


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