Translation as a career
Translation as a career

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Translation as a career

1.4 The importance of reading and writing

Excellent writing skills are an essential requirement for translators. In fact, many famous authors in history put their skills to work as translators (Cesare Pavese, Jorge Luis Borges, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Vladimir Nabokov and many others). In non-literary contexts, translators can sometimes move into other professions such as technical writing or journalism, where the skills of efficiently organising and formulating information are highly valued.

Less obvious is the need to have highly developed reading skills. Reading a text as a translator is a very different experience from just reading. The translator needs to understand the text thoroughly, both the words and the cultural connotations of those words.

Before we close this section and move on to examining what we mean by ‘translation competence’, listen to Professor Susan Bassnett, from the University of Warwick, talking about the skills of reading and writing in translation.

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Transcript: Susan Bassnett

Susan Bassnett
The first thing a translator faces when confronted with something that needs to be translated is that the translator has to read – very, very, very carefully. And I would say that the first stage of translation is this expertise in reading. The translator has to fully understand how the work is put together in terms of its basic meaning, its structure – and then, in addition to that, the translator's got to understand what is going on, let's say inside and around the work – so the context of the work – not only what's being said but what actually isn't being said, but is being implied in it.
The really big question about translation is whether or not a translated work is the same, and I would argue in fact that it isn't. I would argue that just as I think translators have got to be expert readers, so translators have also got to be very good writers because what they're doing is rewriting; and there's no way of getting around the fact that translation is rewriting. And sometimes the rewriting is fairly minimal, sometimes it's enormous, it can be a complete sort of reshaping and rethinking of the work.
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Susan Bassnett
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Had you thought before about having to read differently in order to translate? Did you view the job of translating as essentially (re)writing?

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