Saturday, 1 March 2008

Lessons from a Translation - Take two

Having now finished the translation, and gotten a bit of sleep so that my brain is working again (or as close to it as I can get), I got to rethinking my “lessons learned” post. There are a few things I want to add.

  1. Friends – I am so incredibly lucky to have such wonderful friends. Every time I go “home” to Canada the realization that my life is in Tokyo comes a little bit stronger. Don’t get me wrong, I am Canadian and dang proud of it, but my life is in Tokyo, and that is where I feel I belong. I have a challenging and rewarding academic/professional life, a good support network, and, most importantly amazing friends. I turned to three friends for help on the translation in three different ways. One dropped everything and spent 24 hours translating for me. One spent hours the night before his university entrance exams to track down people to help me with translations. One gave up his only free day in about two weeks and spent hours in transit to check draft translations in the galleries. I had also met each of these three for coffee or a meal while I was working on the translation, and the social contact was also greatly appreciated! To these three people, my thanks. Just typing these words isn't enough to describe how grateful that I have people like you to lean on in my life! I hope someday to be able to repay you for your kindness.

  2. Translation is hard. Writing is something I enjoy. My friends at school and grad school were always shocked when I admitted that I enjoyed writing papers. I do. I love writing, putting into words the thoughts and ideas in my mind. (I guess that’s why I enjoy this blog too) Translation is similar to writing in that you are putting words onto paper (or a computer screen). It is not your own voice or ideas, however, but those of somebody else. You have to be faithful to the words and tone they chose, and yet make it understandable in the new language. It is a delicate balancing act. For museum-related translations there are two further complications. One is subject matter. When translating text on historical or cultural subjects the problem is that quite often no one specific word exists for a direct translation. That means that either a foreign word gets used, or a long explanation is needed (or both). The second complication is something I don’t feel I took into consideration adequately enough while working on this latest contract, and that is the issue of media. When writing text for a brochure or panel text, you can get an idea of what it will look like while you are still working on it. You can put text into the layout to be used and see immediately how it works for length, etc. But for an audio guide? I thought it would be enough to simply read it aloud, but it isn’t, as that is my voice and I am looking at the words as I read it aloud. Listening to somebody else read it, without the text in front of me, while I look at objects in the gallery, would be completely different. I don’t feel I kept that in mind well enough while translating and so I am unhappy with the appropriateness of the finished product.

  3. Endurance – I realized just how far the human body (or at least my particular body) can be pushed. I’ve pulled all nighters before, every grad student has, I’m sure. But I had never pushed myself quite so hard as I did this week. In the space of 50 hours I was in bed for about two hours and had two short naps on the train. I also missed meals and didn’t eat properly. I drank large amounts of caffeinated beverages. After 40 hours my brain was no longer processing thoughts properly, but after two short naps and non-sugared food, I was able to think (somewhat) coherently again. After just 2 hours of sleep I was able to spend another 5 hours of editing/rewriting. The human body is incredible. But I am very lucky. I feel healthy and fine, but I also know that I owe my body. I intend to treat it very well for a bit now. I am trying to get good nights of solid sleep, eat good food, and maybe get in a soak in a hot springs to thank my body for all it has put up with.

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