Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Language-Learning Apps

A few weeks ago, I referred to one language app, and now I’ve been told about another, the “Vocabulary Trainer”. It’s a “a mobile app to learn the most frequent words, travel phrases and slang (in total over 10,000 words and phrases) in over 30 languages.” It sounds intriguing, but I’m not sure if I think apps are the best way to learn languages. They can help in the moment, but I wonder if the material actually stays with you. What do you think?

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Saturday, March 21, 2015


I read a couple of interesting articles recently on bilingualism. It’s such a shame that in English-speaking countries, we generally don’t start teaching children another language until they’re on the older side. And yet we know very well from research that the earlier we start the better. When will we learn?

The first article talks about how bilingualism changes children’s beliefs. “Most young children are essentialists: They believe that human and animal characteristics are innate. That kind of reasoning can lead them to think that traits like native language and clothing preference are intrinsic rather than acquired. But a new study suggests that certain bilingual kids are more likely to understand that it's what one learns, rather than what one is born with, that makes up a person's psychological attributes.”
The second piece looks at bilingualism from an older person’s perspective to explore what advantages speaking more than one language has on our brains as we age.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Missing Translators

I really like this visual guide to translations that will be published in English in 2015, but one thing I noticed is that very few of the books list the translator’s name on the cover, or otherwise give any indication that that these books are translations. So while it’s pleasing to see the increased numbers of translations coming out in English, it’s all still rather frustrating. Why can’t we honor the translators and promote the fact that these books are translations?

Friday, March 06, 2015

Vegetarian Translation App

As a translator, I’m often suspicious of computer programmes or apps that purport to do what we do, and to do it as well as we do. But there are some instances when an app would be helpful, such as when travelling.

So I was intrigued to learn about this vegetarian translation app. It seems as though it would be very helpful; I haven’t eaten meat in over 15 years and I’ve often had trouble while on trips. The app includes 50 languages, including Chinese; China was probably the hardest country for me to visit as a vegetarian. I kept being told that supposedly vegetarian dishes had pork in them and that I shouldn’t worry as “pork isn’t meat”! If only I’d had this app then!

Do you know of other translation apps that are actually useful and accurate?

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Translation Journal

I was pleased to see that Translation Journal seems to have relaunched. It contains a number of interesting articles about translation (I’ve written for it in the past) and it’s worth looking at.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Advice for Translators

This list offers advice for translators, and it includes a mention of me.

Tip 1 is to “Make your skills known to family and acquaintances. A friend of a friend of a cousin can become your best client.”

I always advise students and other new translators to do this. Treat yourself like a professional and tell everyone you know that you’re a translator. You never know who might need your services! 

Check out the other tips too.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Market Research

Check out this journal. It accepts work translated to English, as long as it hasn’t previously been published in English, and is on Jewish themes.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

FAQ – Hours

I receive a lot of emails from people looking to get into translation and many of the questions I’m asked are common. So occasionally I try to answer them here.

One that I get asked is how long the hours are. This is one of the hardest questions to answer, because it depends. How many hours you work depends on how much work you get asked to do, how much work you want to do, what type of projects you take on, and how much time and energy each assignment requires.

You could take on one short translation job each month or you could work more than full-time as a translator.

Personally, I’ve been at both extremes, and it’s depended on my circumstances (i.e. how dependent I am on the income from translation and what other jobs I have). You can fairly easily build up a career as a freelance non-fiction translator, but to work full-time as a literary translator is generally harder.

How many hours a week do other translators work?

Monday, February 09, 2015

Arrant Pedantry

Check out this blog. It has a lot of fascinating posts about “editing, usage, prescriptivism and descriptivism, and other language issues.”

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Little Red Schoolhouse

I was recently told about the Little Red Schoolhouse writing method and form of writing instruction, which was started at the University of Chicago in the 1980s. I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it before.

According to this website,

“LRS is an approach to writing instruction that proceeds from several core principles:
• Readers come to any text with a fairly predictable set of questions and expectations. (These expectations vary somewhat according to the community or discipline: literary critics v. behavioral psychologists v. political scientists.)
• Effective writing anticipates and responds to these predictable questions and expectations.
• In order to produce effective writing, good writers employ a fairly predictable set of routines in order to plan, draft, revise, and edit.
• Students who come to understand readerly expectations and writerly routines produce more persuasive arguments more efficiently.
• Most students already have good intuitions about what readers want and what writers do: our job is to help them articulate and define those intuitions, so that they can more consciously control their writing.
• Our teaching begins with intuition then proceeds to the principle.
• Students learn routines best by "over-learning" them; that is, by practicing until the routines are internalized and students can produce them with minimal effort. Because reading and writing are complicated tasks, it's best to break them down into manageable pieces, or sub-routines, for students.
• Once students are comfortable with the routine, they can learn and practice techniques for manipulating their writing to produce a range of effects.”

It sounds quite basic and sensible, and worth looking into for anyone who writes and/or teaches writing.

Friday, January 30, 2015

World Lit for Children

Many people have told me that children are essentially conservative readers and that they don’t want to read about people from other countries. That definitely hasn’t been my experience. In fact, I think children are curious and interested in the world beyond their homes and their countries.

Here’s a family reading children’s lit from around the world in 2015. It will be fun to see what they read and to follow their progress.

What world lit would you recommend for young readers?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Crowdfunding Translations

Crowdfunding and sponsoring are major trends these days. They seem to be ways of avoiding big companies, or minimizing stress, or trying out more unusual or avant-garde projects, or to help pay for things that otherwise wouldn’t get paid for. I’ve helped sponsor a book, for example, and I’ve heard of crowdfunding for clothing lines, films, performance art, and even funerals.

I was recently told about sponsoring translations. What do you think of that idea?

Here’s the information I was given about this particular project:

“Haute Culture Books, publisher of limited edition volumes is about to begin its first Book Angel project with the first ever English translation of 'Truth & Justice' by Anton Hansen Tammsaare.

With the support of the Tammsaare Museum, National Library of Estonia, Tartu University Library and Stanford University Library the project allows Book Angels to sponsor the publication of this classic piece of Estonian culture opening it up to the English-speaking world after a 70 year wait.

By sponsoring a hardback print version of the book, Book Angels support the distribution of free e-books of the text allowing a global audience to discover literary treasures seldom seen in the English language.

More information can be found at www.hauteculturebooks.com and www.hauteculturepress.com and if you have any further questions don't hesitate to contact me.”

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


SELTA is the Swedish-English Literary Translators’ Association, of which I’m a member. SELTA has recently updated its website, adding more material, including a blog.

Thursday, December 25, 2014


Time for a break from blogging. Have a lovely holiday season and happy new year! See you back here in 2015!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

Here’s a load of reading/viewing for the holiday season. It’ll keep you busy if you get tired of all the eating and shopping and spending time with relatives!

TED talks can be quite interesting. Here’s a TED blog post about learning languages.

This infographic is on second languages.

Here’s an article about translating Ibsen. The book I edited most recently also has an article on that. 

A piece on translating Chekhov has the headline “Any English-language version of Chekhov is doomed. The nature of translation means that to think otherwise is folly.” What do you think?

This review of a new book by translator and writer Tim Parks refers to translation.

How many words for death are there?

It’s impressive how one actor does accents of the British Isles.

Finally, an article on constructed languages.

Monday, December 15, 2014

End of the Year

It’s the end of yet another year. What are you proudest of in terms of your translation work? What did you most enjoy translating?

I loved translating poetry by Edith Södergran and also parts from Kristina Sandberg’s newest novel (both works were originally written in Swedish). Kristina recently won the August Prize in Sweden and is getting a lot of praise, which she deserves, so I hope more of her work make it into English soon.

And what are your translation goals for 2015?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

It’s time for another round-up of articles!

This article is on Gabriel García Márquez and Roberto Bolaño and their translators. Translator Natasha Wimmer says, “A lot of translators enjoy being the power behind the throne.”

Here’s a piece on Yiddish.

I like Oliver Burkeman’s writing and in this article on “invisible” jobs, he mentions interpreter. Translator isn’t listed, but many people think it should be.

Check out how animals sound in different languages.

Are there untranslatable words? That’s a regular topic of discussion.

Here are some collective nouns. What would we call a group of translators?

Friday, December 05, 2014

Multiple Personalities

This article discusses whether people have a different personality for each language they speak. I’ve often felt somewhat different when speaking Swedish than when speaking English. It’s not just about having a different vocabulary and way of thinking about the world; there’s something about me that feels other. Do others feel the same (or, rather, different)?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Translation and the Publishing Industry

A few months ago, I was asked some questions by email by a student writing an MA thesis on translation. They are the kinds of questions that come up a lot in regard to the publishing industry, so I thought they’d be worth posting here. I just gave my own opinions – what do you think?

What do you think are the main reasons foreign authors get translated into English?
Frankly, it’s often the bottom line. An author (often of thrillers or other genre fiction) sells well in their native country, and publishers here see that and want to cash in on it. That’s one reason why we don’t see as many literary works translated, unfortunately. Another reason is the topic/genre/style – if one text does well, publishers jump on any similar ones.

Do you think the setting of the novel a deciding factor in publication?
Yes, it can be. There are trends in translation, as hinted at above. For the past few years, Nordic, especially Scandinavian, thrillers have been popular. Publishers have been publishing all sorts of Nordic thrillers (and there has been a lot of Nordic crime on TV too), some of which is of dubious quality. In research that I carried out, I found that most readers didn’t differentiate between, say, Iceland and Sweden, and didn’t really care where the book came from. In some cases, they didn’t even know they were reading translations. They felt that all those countries were the same, but they liked the fact that the isolated, often cold settings seemed to reflect the crimes and the criminal mentality. Such readers were willing to read any Nordic noir, whether the books were set in Helsinki or Oslo. So I think the setting matters in a general sense, but that readers may not care quite as much as publishers think they do.

Do you think foreign authors are marketed in a different way to domestic authors?
They can be. The covers often attest to that, showing that these books are from a particular country (i.e. Nordic thrillers often have snowy, barren settings on their covers). But I also think publishers try to hide the fact of translation to a certain extent. Publishers underestimate readers and think the general public can’t handle translated lit, so they might compare X foreign author to Y domestic author in order to make the work seem more palatable. Or they might keep the translator’s name in small letters.

How important a factor is the author’s nationality?
Clearly, certain countries/ethnicities are more accepted than others, and some languages are much more translated than others (French, German, and Spanish come to mind). I keep referring to Nordic lit and that seems much more acceptable to us in English-speaking countries, perhaps because Nordic people aren’t seen as too different or too foreign. Publishers seem to feel that readers might have a harder time connecting to characters in, for instance, China or Latvia or Venezuela. Again, I think the public is underestimated here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Joy of Invisibility

Sometimes it’s good for translators to be invisible. This article is about bad writing about sex, and it names and shames the authors and their books. However, the author (conveniently?) forgets that some works have been translated. So perhaps the translator should get some of the credit (or shame) too.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Good Ideas

I was reading Michael Rosen’s great new book Good Ideas – a book that is indeed filled with good ideas for parents, teachers, and anyone really – and he has a section on getting children interested in language or using language as a way of interesting children in the world around them (pp. 235-9). Looking at signs in museums or supermarkets, reading horoscopes in foreign newspapers, checking for English among foreign words, and so on are just a few ways. I recommend the book as a whole, but these pages in particular for those who want to start making their children aware of linguistic and cultural differences.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

It’s time for another round-up of articles!

I studied Latin when I was in grammar and high school and I’m so glad I did. This article discusses “taking an ancient language associated with the academic elite and reviving it as a remedy for the nation’s reading problems”.

This piece is on the word “literally”, which my students use way too often in speaking and writing. 

This article is on academic writing, which is often quite poor, I think.

Speaking of academia, this post explores the crazy hours many academics work (and some just purport to work).

This list of the best love poems is quite odd. They only list some poems as translations whereas quite a number are clearly translated, so something has gone awry there. What would be on your list? 

Finally, check out this cartoon about how works get translated.

Monday, November 10, 2014

No More 2%?

This article in the Guardian suggests that British readers are reading more translations these days. Do you think that’s true? What about in other English-speaking countries? (And yes, I’m quoted in the piece.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Path to a PhD

I get a lot of emails from people asking me whether they should get a PhD in translation studies and, if so, what they should research for their dissertations. I’ve already written quite a bit about that on this blog (see Getting a PhD and What Can You Study When You Do a PhD in Translation?, for example).

One of the most common recent questions has been what path you need to take if you know for sure you want to get a PhD in translation studies one day. People ask me whether they should study languages, literature, linguistics, translation studies at the undergraduate or MA level, or some other topic entirely.

This is a very individual choice, and I’m loathe to tell people how to shape their lives and their careers. Obviously, to apply to and get accepted to a PhD program in translation studies, you need to show that you have the requisite level of skill in your chosen language/s and literature/s and other relevant subject area/s. You’ll need to prove that you have the scholarly background necessary for doing strong critical work in the humanities (i.e. a BA in sports science probably won’t help). You may also need to show your expertise as a translator, especially if you want to do a creative-critical PhD. But how you get these skills and how you show them in your application will vary.

Personally, my BA is in literature and creative writing and I have an MFA in creative writing. I also worked as a practicing translator for some years before applying for my PhD studies. That pathway worked for me, but I also know people who went for BAs and MAs in translation first, then directly on to a PhD, and still others who did undergraduate degrees in fields such as law or medicine and then switched to languages and translation for their MAs. Others focused on language at the undergraduate level and then came to literature and literary translation as MA students. There is no one right way.

So my simple advice is to consider what your interests are and where you eventually hope to end up. If you want to become a pharmaceutical translator, then an undergraduate degree in medicine might serve you very well. If you know you want to be an academic who researches the translation of opera, then studying languages and music as an undergraduate might be a good choice. And so on. Think about who you are and what will inspire you, and take it from there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Twilight of the Eastern Gods

This originally appeared in the Wales Arts Review

Twilight of the Eastern Gods
by Ismail Kadare
193 pp., Edinburgh: Canongate, 2014.
translation by David Bellos from the French translation by Jusuf Vrioni

Reviewer: B.J. Epstein

Twilight of the Eastern Gods is, at its heart, a novel about words and writing. It’s about telling stories, and the importance of literature. It is also an ominous tale about politics, history, and geography, exploring the Soviet era and its concomitant political beliefs. Since the time and place frequently are depicted as rather creepy here, writing, too, can seem to be a suspicious activity.

The main character is a young foreign writer who has gone to study in a literary institute in the Soviet Union. All the students are well-known writers from their own regions, but despite their drinking and partying, they are not typical students. “At long last, after overcoming their adversaries, having accused them of Stalinism, liberalism, bourgeois nationalism, Russophobia, petty nationalism, Zionism, modernism, folklorism, etc., having crushed their literary careers and banned the publication of their works, having hounded them into alcoholism or suicide, or, more simply, having had them deported, that is to say, after having done what had had to be done, they had been inspired to come to the Gorky Institute to complete their literary education.” (pp. 43-4) Completing their literary education, it seems, involves dedicating themselves to Socialist Realism, which doesn’t quite work for our protagonist, who sometimes thinks about and employs the folklore of his native country in his writing and his everyday life.

In other words, though the Institute and the harsh political situation seem to conspire to disenchant the students in regard to literature (and also in regard to other aspects of their lives, such as romance), the protagonist still retains his passion for the written word, even if he just barely does so.

From a translation angle, an interesting aspect of this book is that it is a relay translation, albeit one that was delayed by thirty-three years. Jusuf Vrioni translated Kadare’s novel from Albanian to French, and preeminent translator David Bellos used Vrioni’s text to make the novel available in English (rather than translating from Albanian to English, in other words).

Bellos includes a helpful introduction to the novel, explaining some of the context behind it. He notes that the work “re-creates Kadare’s experience of this strange ‘factory of the intellect’ [i.e. the Gorky Institute for World Literature in Moscow], set up to produce new generations of socialist poets, novelists and playwrights.” (p. v) Kadare apparently wrote and rewrote chapters of Twilight of the Eastern Gods over fifteen years, and the novel wasn’t first published until 1978 (the French version by Jusuf Vrioni appearing three years later, and it included sections that Kadare felt he had to take out of the Albanian original). Some aspects of the novel would be hard, or harder, to follow without Bellos’s information, or even without larger knowledge of the historical period (for example, Antaeus the Greek’s situation, pp. 74 fwd.).

While the novel is about the general themes mentioned above, it is based on an actual event: Boris Pasternak being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, much to the displeasure of the Soviet powers-that-be. Bellos discusses how “[t]he account of the Pasternak campaign given in Twilight of the Eastern Gods has nothing fictional about it: the discovery of a part of the typescript in the Writers’ Union residence, the co-ordination of the press, radio and television campaign, the roles of specific individuals, right down to the inexplicably sudden halt – all these things really happened…it is also clear from this account of the persecution of Pasternak that Kadare could imagine finding himself in the same situation.” (p. ix) Indeed, Kadare did face similar charges and complaints to Pasternak, “but in the end his real response to the constraints of living as an international writer under a paranoid, isolationist Communist regime was the write a novel that is also a declaration of fidelity to Albania and its ancient folk culture.” (p. x) This duality – loyalty to both a place and to freedom of ideas – comes through very clearly in the novel.

In short, Twilight of the Eastern Gods is a fictionalised account of Ismail Kadare’s own experiences, and it sheds light – even if only twilight – on a challenging historical, cultural, and political period, while also encouraging the reader to recognise and admire the power of literature.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Typical Lament

On recent evening, I got in the bath and picked up a novel that had been recommended to me. I was ready to relax and enjoy some pleasure reading. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it past the page of epigraphs. The reason was because the author quoted several sentences from a variety of other novels, none originally written in English, but of course didn’t mention the name of the translator.

In other words, the author quoted Proust and Dante and some other writers in English, but failed to show any awareness of the fact that these writers had been translated to English, and that the quoted words had been written by someone else.

How can we educate people even more?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Translated Literature for Children

Listen to this brief radio program on translating for children by translator, writer, and chair of Society of Authors (and my former colleague) Daniel Hahn.

I have said much of what he says, but I suspect he says it better!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

More on the Nobel Prize in Literature

If you can read Swedish, this article on the Nobel Prize gives a bit more insight. Thank you to Duncan Large, now the head of the BCLT, for sending me the link.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

2014 Nobel Prize in Literature

This year’s Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Patrick Modiano.

Is this what you expected? What do you think? I must admit he wasn't on my radar!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014


I’ve recently learned about a new publisher based in Madrid, Hispabooks. I’m currently reading some of their first publications and hope to report back on them soon, but for now I thought I’d just give some information about the publisher.

Hispabooks aims to translate Spanish literature to English and to promote it abroad. Here is some information I was sent:

“Here in Spain around 30% of what's published every year is in translation, very specially from English, but as you may well know, the English book market has a much lower rate of books in translation, with their infamous 3% rate. Within that, books from Spain are only in the fifth place, behind titles from German, French or Italian. With our deep knowledge of our own literature we were dismayed to see how very few of our literary fiction writers managed to get a translation into English of their work and how sometimes English or American publishers seem to make a somewhat strange selection of the Spanish titles to translate, taking on some minor works/authors and leaving out others, to us, more distinctive of what contemporary Spanish fiction from Spain has to offer nowadays. We have also seen a trend from publishers abroad to translate more Latinamerican authors than Spanish ones. All that gave us the feel there was some work to do there, and we decided to go ahead with Hispabooks!

We released our first titles last summer and have published 10 so far. All books are by the best literary fiction writers in Spain (most of them multi-awarded authors such as Marcos Giralt Torrente) and our translations are by the best native English-speaking translators (Margaret Jull Costa, Peter Bush, Nick Caistor, Thomas Bunstead, Jonathan Dunne, Rosalind Harvey and so on) and thoroughly copyedited, if I may say, to great effect. Anyway, I hope you like how all this sounds and I invite you to visit our web (www.hispabooks.com) and facebook page (www.facebook.com/Hispabooks), where you may get a first hand feel of what we do. In our web there are samples of the first pages of all the books and in our facebook page a somewhat messy track record of our past events and collaborations, namely taking our authors abroad to literary festivals.

Also, here is the direct link to our catalog: http://www.hispabooks.com/Catalog.html.”

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

International Translation Day

Today is the feast day of St. Jerome and as he’s the patron saint of translators, that means today is International Translation Day. There are lots of events going on around the UK (and elsewhere, of course). How will you celebrate?

Let’s all find a way of honouring translators and translations today!

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Round-Up of Articles

Here are a few articles on language that might be of interest.

This article discusses how learning languages is good for your brain.

If that’s the case, then what language should you study?

Why is studying grammar or, rather, understanding language, important?

And what grammar rules can you break?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell

Like many of you translators, I’m a language nerd, and I like learning more about languages – both specific tongues and also languages and linguistics in general. So I enjoyed Historical Linguistics by Lyle Campbell; it’s a textbook, really, and you wouldn’t want to read it before bed, but it is a fun and interesting book to dip into.

Campbell writes on the first page: ”A number of historical linguistics textbooks exist, but this one is different. Most others talk about historical linguistics; they may illustrate concepts and describe methods, and perhaps discuss theoretical issues, but they do not focus on how to do historical linguistics.” (p. xv) In other words, the book is quite practical and it’s an introduction to historical linguistics. It has more than 500 pages about topics including sound change, linguistic reconstruction, lexical change, language contact, quantitative approaches (for example, “glottochronology”), and more, with examples from loads of different languages, including some I’d never heard of before, such as Mednyj Aleut, Karuk, Cholti, and Uto-aztecan.

If you are interested in how language changes and develops over time, you know that sound change is a big part of this. Campbell talks about different ways for this to happen, such as syncope (“The loss (deletion) of a vowel from the interior of a word”, p. 28), or anaptyxis (“a kind of epenethsis in which an extra vowel is inserted between two consonants”, p. 30), or haplology (“in which a repeated sequence of sounds is simplified to a single occurrence,” such as how some people pronounce “library” as “libry”, p. 34). Campbell then shows how we can see which changes have taken place and when. “In the history of Swedish, the change of umlaut took place before syncope...From Proto-Germanic to Modern Swedish: *gasti-z > Proto-Scandinavian *gastiz > gestir > Old Norse gestr > Modern Swedish gäst...We can be reasonably certain that these changes took place in this chronological order, since if syncope had taken place first (gastir > gastr), then there would have been no remaining i to condition the umlaut and the form would have come out as the non-existent X gast.” (p. 39)

In another chapter, he discusses different models, such as family trees (“the traditional model of language diversification” which ”attempts to show how languages diversify and how language families are classified”, p. 187) and dialectology (which “deals with regional variation in a language”, p. 190), or sociolinguistics (which “deals with systematic co-variation of linguistic structure with social structure, especially with the variation in language which is conditioned by social differences”, p. 193). In still other chapters, he discusses Pidgins and Creoles, endangered languages, how children speak (“mamma” or “baba”, p. 354), and writing. Campbell claims that you can reconstruct a language that doesn’t have a written form (p. 396), but, as he puts it, it is often “a matter of luck, a matter of what happens to show up in the sources” and sometimes you have to make guesses (p. 398). But obviously spelling and pronunciation can help in reconstructing the history of a tongue. For example, in English, there are words such as “marcy/mercy ‘mercy’, sarten/certein ‘certain’, parson/persoun ‘person’, and so on..that /er/ changed to /ar/ in the pronunciation of the writer of these forms. (This change was fairly general, though sociolinguistically conditioned, and it was ultimately reversed, but left such doublets in English as clerk/clark, person/parson, vermin/varmint, and university/varsity.)” (p. 398)

Every chapter also has exercises, in case you want to try your hand at what you’re learning.

This isn’t an easy-to-read book, but it is a good one for learning a little (or a lot!) more about linguistics.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Not long ago, a journalist phoned me. She was writing an article about translated literature and she wanted some quotes from me. So far, no problem.

She brought up the infamous 2% number – i.e., only 2% of the books published each year in English are translations. Yes, I agreed, we aren’t great at publishing translated literature and we should try to learn from other countries/cultures. However, I also pointed out that that figure does seem to be going up, and I mentioned some of the publishers, literary magazines, and other organizations (such as the British Centre for Literary Translation) that are working hard to get translations out in English. The journalist muttered a bit, then cut me off.

A few days later, I saw the final article. I wasn’t quoted, which was fine, but what was irritating and frustrating was that she ignored all the positive things I told her. Instead, she wrote that just 1% of the books published each year in English are translations! She didn’t refer to any of the new translation-centered publishers or anything else. Instead she just lamented how sad this state of affairs is.

Sad, yes, but not for the reasons she claimed!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Illustrated Guide to Becoming a Translator

I really liked this illustrated guide to becoming a translator. It’s fun and simple, and it has lots of good tips for people starting out.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Monday, September 01, 2014


Idioms/proverbs/clichés can be one of the hardest bits of a language to learn, and they can also be really challenging to translate.

If a Swedish text says, “Don’t sell the bearskin before you’ve shot the bear,” should the translator keep that phrase as is (to retain the Swedishness of the text) or replace it with, say, “Don’t sell your chickens before they’ve hatched” (to make the text fit the English language better)? Or is there another, better solution (a footnote, for instance)? Interestingly, when I go to schools to talk to young people about translation, they are always evenly divided on this topic, with half the people wanting to keep the Swedish phrase and half wanting to replace it with an English equivalent.

When someone recently sent me a link with a list of Swedish idioms, I found it very interesting.

I then found a bunch of similar sites for English-language idioms, and I quite liked this one.

Perhaps you can add additional links for other languages in the comments.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Illustrated “Untranslatable” Words

I really liked these pictures of untranslatable words, but I do have to question the premise: if the words/concepts aren’t translatable, how can they be turned into illustrations? Drawing is a form of translation too, right?