There’s a commonly held belief among academics that you should always read works in the original language. However, with over 3,000 languages in the world, that’s a damaging idea. Esther Allen, an award-winning translator and langauge educator at Baruch College, called that type of thinking “a pretext for not paying attention to the rest of the world.”
On Thursday, Gabriella Page-Fort, the editorial director of AmazonCrossing, joined in conversation with Elisabeth Jaquette, Executive Director of American Literary Translators Association (ALTA), and Esther Allen, at Book Expo America. They shared their insights about translation, including advice for anyone looking to enter the field.
Translation is an oft-overlooked field in publishing. However, translators are a vital part of understanding other cultures. If stories are how we make sense of the world, then translators are the people who help bridge the cultural divide across languages. Gabriella Page-Fort called access to language “a gift and a privilege.”
Esther Allen, who works as a translation educator at Baruch College, talked about how empowering formal instruction can be, especially for bilingual students. “Translation enables them to differentiate between those two languages, separate them out. … These are kids who have been interpreting for family members, who have been the linguistic connections for their whole families. But when they study it formally and see how much is involved in it, it’s hugely empowering for them. I don’t know how many of them are going to become literary translators … but just the practice of it is hugely empowering.”
While literary translation is not necessarily a lucrative field, there is a strong need for more translators. In February, the United States government predicted “strong growth for translators and interpreters.”
Esther Allen said “that’s made it an easy sell” to her students. “You’re not going to become a poet, you’re going to have a high-demand skill.” “Not that there’s anything wrong with being a poet,” she added.
To encourage new people to enter the field, Elisabeth Jaquette founded an emerging translation mentorship program at ALTA. The program includes a non-language specific program, which focuses on adding diversity to the field. “There are opportunities. Just because Korean publishers are paying people to translate Korean books doesn’t mean that everyone should be working on Korean books. … Non-language specific mentorships allow people to come to us with their langauge skills, come to us with their discoveries.”
Allen added that she’s glad to see the trend of immigrants coming to America and not teaching their native language to their children is starting to be reversed. “I think people are becoming more and more aware of what a terrible loss that is.”