Biggest barrier isn't language

By Cao Yin ( China Daily ) Updated: 2015-05-23 06:58:28

Biggest barrier isn't language

Nicky Harman has translated Chinese books into English for 15 years.[Photo provided to China Daily]

No shortage of talented translators, but publishers put off by cost and risk

Literary translator Nicky Harman cannot hide her excitement when asked her what Chinese book she planned to work on next. "There are so many," she says with a smile.

After 15 years of working with Chinese authors and publishers to bring their work to English-speaking readers, her enthusiasm for the job is as strong as ever.

"I can think of many people's work I want to translate. I just need to get going and work as fast as possible," she says.

Harman, who specializes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, began learning Chinese in 1968 and previously taught translation at Imperial College London.

"At the start, my reasons for learning Chinese were superficial. I was fascinated with the culture and the great geographical region, as well as the people and the language," she says. "Everything was different from the West."

Although based in her native Britain, she visits China at least once a year and is in touch with many Chinese authors.

On April 22, Harman, along with Han Dong, an avant-garde poet, novelist and essayist from East China's Jiangsu province, took part in a translation workshop at the University of London organized by the London Confucius Institute and Chinalink, a company focused on cultural communications.

Harman has translated several of Han's works, an experience she described as like practicing meditation. She said another author she admires is Xu Xiaobin, an established female writer in Beijing, for her romantic and intelligent work.

In 2013, the British translator was the first winner in the new Chinese-to-English section of the China International Translation Contest. The prize was for her work on Jia Pingwa's Backflow River.

"It took me ages to translate, even though it's a short story," she says. "Also, sometimes Jia writes about the countryside 30 years ago, for which I need to use Baidu (the Chinese search engine) to look for specific things he describes."

However, the Internet is only a short-term fix, she says. "If I find questions while translating, I highlight them in the text and then ask the author for an interpretation."

Harman says she prefers the answers to such questions in Chinese because it helps her to understand any subtleties.

"If an author explains his or her text in their native language, their response will have more subtlety, more depth and more richness," she explains. "It's like the icing on a cake. It's the extra bonus, being able to talk to authors."

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