Books on My Shelves – 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know

Perhaps the first thing you should do when you open your copy of 101 Things a Translator Needs to Know is skip to the final few pages and be awed by the credentials and careers of the colleagues that put it together. Eighteen contributors are listed, although apparently the WLF Think Tank behind the book includes more members. Once you discover who you’re dealing with, then you can turn back to the beginning with the realisation that this is a meatier tome than the simplistic cover and drawings might lead you to believe.

I first read 101 Things soon after it was published in April 2014 and then again a few months ago when I thought I would have a go at writing this review, which has been pending for quite some time. The book only takes an hour or so to read, but it takes far longer to absorb all the information it packs in. Before reading it for the third time to finally put fingers to keys, I was going to say that it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it should be. Yet I’ve got so much more out of it this time around that I’ve changed my mind, and even upped my rating of it on Goodreads. Because it occurred to me that I could use it as a checklist instead of writing out some New Year’s resolutions and tick (or half tick if I think I’m only partially there) the relevant pages as I manage to achieve the goal. That’s why I’ll be reading it again a year from now to see whether I’ve made any progress.

The advice given ranges from how to translate to how to run a business. And it hits several nails on the head page after page. Admittedly, its nuggets are those often blogged about, dished out at conferences (not surprising given that several veterans of the circuit belong to the WLF Think Tank), and truths you probably already know deep-down inside without having to be told. Nevertheless, it’s good to be reminded in such a pithy way again (some points are incredibly short and would fit into a couple of tweets) and all the blank space is handy for writing notes.

However, as the introduction specifies, the ‘translator’s world is full of paradoxes with no universal truths’, which is why ‘some of the headlines and topics send contradictory messages’. Given that it’s been written by several individuals whose ideas are not always a perfect match, you don’t need to accept all the advice as gospel. A certain amount of reader picking and choosing is required, which is why you can dismiss any of the entries you feel don’t apply to you. It is your business after all, as the very last point, 101, emphasises. You’re the one who gets to make the decisions and knows what’s best for you (‘It is your work, your reputation and your livelihood’).

As you have probably gathered from this and other reviews, there are so many takeaways from this gem that’s it’s hard to choose which to highlight. For starters, though, one aspect this book drives home is that ours is not an easy profession, especially if you want to make your texts sing and not sound like translations at all. ‘The less noticeable your presence, the more notable your achievement’ it says in number 17. Definitely the outcome to strive for in every text we tackle.

Armchair 101

I also love the way number 48 describes revision as ‘a two-way street’. All too often forums are littered with translators’ complaints about their revisers and revisers’ moans about their translators, with both trying to convey their superiority over the other. But revised should mean delivering a better text to the end client (surely the object of the exercise) and it would indeed be amazing if we could all work better together to that end.

Here I am dipping into this book for the fourth time as I type and I’m still nodding my head and saying ‘Yup’. Although I could go on and give more examples of my favourite parts, I think it’s best if you make your own discoveries. Don’t have a copy yet? Then buy one now and read it as soon as you can. Left it unread languishing on your shelves? Time to blow the dust off, sharpen your pencil and curl up in your favourite armchair. It won’t take you long to surface, but I can almost guarantee that when you do your head will be brimming with ideas about the art of translating and your business practice.

This post was first published on 13/01/2015 on my previous blog.

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