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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

2016/8/4 — 16:17

【Text by Daniel Hahn】

Translation, like any kind of writing, depends on instinct, you mustn’t forget that. But remember, too, that even instinct can be trained.

We’ve been hungry for more since Daniel Hahn made an appearance at the Asymptote Literary Salon in London two weeks ago. This week, we’re back with translation advice from the author, translator, and editor answering the following question from Singapore-based Asymptote reader Michelle Loh.

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What can a translator do to improve?

I’m writing this answer from a mid-week lull at the British Centre for Literary Translation summer school. It’s an intensive, six-day residential course for literary translators and would-be literary translators, which I’ve taken part in annually since more or less the start of my own career. (Alarmed to discover, upon quick calculation, that this is my tenth… Hmm…) The BCLT summer school is mainly structured around language-specific workshop groups, but this year I’m leading one of a pair of unusual “multilingual” workshops; the nine participants in my group for the week are all excellent literary translators into English, but from a wide and wonderful range of source languages. (Between them, my lot speak Polish, Italian, French, Spanish, Latvian, Hungarian, German, Armenian, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, and probably one or two others I’ve forgotten.) So how do you examine the translation process all together if you can never look at a single common source? To put it another way, what the hell was I supposed to do all week?

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