Monday, November 12, 2007

Educating the Consumer

This weekend, I had a rather gratifying experience. I was at the eye doctor and I began chatting with a salesman there who was helping me order new lenses for my glasses. He asked me what I do and I told him a bit about my research and about my work as a translator. He was curious about this and asked me more.

That led to a big discussion of what translation is, why people in English-speaking countries resist learning other languages or reading translated literature, and why translation is important, especially for children. This man offered me the platitude, “Children are our future,” and while a cliché, it is nevertheless true; translated fiction is essential because it gives children – our future – the opportunity to learn about other cultures and peoples. More knowledge is never a bad thing; my view is that if we all made an effort to learn about people from different backgrounds and in different situations, there would be more intercultural understanding and thereby fewer stereotypes and eventually less fighting.

The man told me that he often bought books for his girlfriend’s children but that he had never once thought to check if the books were translated and, if so, from what language, or even if they were about people from other cultures. And he had certainly never stopped to consider how those books might be translated and what agenda the authors, translators, publishers, librarians, and other adults might have in terms of writing, translating, publishing, or promoting those books. “Your research sounds interesting,” he told me. “This has really given me something to think about.”

So my day was a success, not necessarily because I finally ordered my long-needed new lenses, though that was also good, but because I had the chance to educate a consumer on the importance of translation and to make him a more aware reader and purchaser of books. And who knows? Maybe he’ll mention our conversation to other people and they, too, will start to think about all this.