All the Answers I Need One Year into GPTI

2nd Year Translation Track Student, Lynette Chang

Coming from a background in Linguistics, I used to think of Translation mainly as a linguistic activity that put linguistic accuracy above all other forms and functions that make a translation great. I was so caught up in trying to find the most accurate translation for every word in the source text that I failed to notice that it’s not the individual words but the overarching idea that matters most when it comes to translating. Having spent one year working with teachers, friends, and other like-minded professionals, I’ve come to realize how terribly mistaken I’d been in the past, and that the essence of translation lies in translating ideas, not words. Now that this first myth has crumbled like an avalanche, you can expect several figurative snowballs to slowly make their way downhill this mountain of myths and misconceptions.

One of the greatest myths in Translation is the idea that translated works should be faithful or equivalent to the original in content, fluency, and style (essentially the idea of 信達雅). It’s almost like an impossible triangle -and for a good reason too- because it’s neither realistic nor wise to hold translations to this standard. Doing so will inevitably push translators to the sidelines where they will remain silent and invisible for as long as they strive to achieve equivalence between their translation and the original. However, it’s now quite apparent that translators do have a voice that makes a translation uniquely theirs. It’s really heartening to see how translation as an industry and an academic discipline is slowly but surely embracing the idea of the translator’s voice instead of bullying translators into silence by demanding absolute equivalence in their works. I like to think of translation as a creative process and encourage fellow translators and enthusiasts to reclaim their voices and let them shine through unless specifically requested otherwise by a client of course. But that is a discussion for another day.

With that, I present you my greatest epiphany from my first year at GPTI: There is no one ‘correct’ way of translating! This almost seems like common sense now that I’m reflecting on hindsight but I used to be such a stickler for perfection that I would dwell on a single word for hours trying to get a perfect translation. I wanted my translation to be ‘perfect’ (whatever that means) and would get anxious thinking about the possibility that I had deviated from what the original had intended. I kid you not when I say that a part of me decided to do a graduate program in Translation because I so badly wanted to know how to produce the ‘perfect’ translation. One year on, I’m extremely happy to share with you that the perfect translation does not exist, and I have since stopped obsessing over trying to achieve it. That’s not saying that we should stop trying to improve; improvement, not perfection, is the way to go.

My first year here at GPTI has been enlightening in many ways, not least because I’ve gotten the answers I’ve been looking for yet no answers at all. I embarked on this journey thinking that I would be given answers to some of my burning questions (How to produce the perfect translation? How to remain faithful in content, fluency and style all at once?) and am now ending my first year quite content with the knowledge that there are no answers to my questions. This, ironically, seems to be the answer I’ve always been looking for and has definitely alleviated my anxiety when it comes to translating. With this new-found knowledge and boost in confidence, I think I’m more ready than ever to make my way through the complexities and intricacies of this wonderful and humbling academic adventure.