Friday, February 14, 2014

A Passion for Words

As a teacher and a translator, I live in worlds that focus on words.  Yet, pedagogy and translation take radically different approaches.  I have just returned from the three-day Israeli Translators Association Conference in Herzliya.  The most striking impression taken from all the various encounters with fellow translators, whether through lectures, workshops or simple conversations, was the passion for language and purposeful meaning beyond the formalistic aspect. This dedication to communication was expressed in many ways.  Here is a very small sample of the products of such enthusiasm and dedication:

A reading in the Arabic original and Hebrew translation of a chapter of book from Mahmoud Darwish describing a Lebanese man making coffee that not only transmitted the meaning of the source words but the rhythm and sound of the process.  As the host said, you could smell the coffee being made.  See the following:,7340,L-4382946,00.html.

A lecture by Fabienne Bergmann and her husband Haim Shiran, who collaborated to bring into words the distant sights and sounds of the Jewish quarter in Morocco where he grew up.
A lecture by the translator who provided the documents that confirmed that Toyota was conspiring to hide safety issue explaining why she took the risk to share her words for the general good.

A seemingly business-only seminar on expertise positioning by the Polish translator and businesswoman Marta Stelmaszak, who showed that beyond the nuts and bolts of marketing is the serious desire to help the customer use words to succeed, in this case international businesses expanding into Poland.

Medical interpreters earnestly discussing the challenge and dire need to translate the content and culture of their customers so as to allow them to attain proper medical treatment.

A lecture on the translation of the Argentinean writer, Julio Cortázar, who invented words that anybody could understand.

A serious academic reading about the oral and written silence in Israel regarding the issues of the Holocaust and lost sons and daughters in Israeli wars, showing that even a lack of words express buried but existent thoughts.

Even in the driest of the literary fields, accounting, more than 50 people enthusiastically participated in a “quiz” compiled by Alan Clayman checking whether the translators knew the correct term because the correct term is important for everybody’s financial future.

There are countless other examples at the conference f this desire to express effectively ideas of one language into another, many of which I was unfortunately unable or too oversaturated to hear.  In any case, my heartfelt conclusion about the conference is that, like all good craftspeople, Israeli translators strive not only to earn a living, which is important, but also reach beyond the “good enough” and attain the beautiful of mix of beautiful and effective words.  Translators, like other artists, at their best make you say “wow!”

For another blog regarding the conference:

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