The Viet Nam Writers Association will launch a translation centre this month to help promote Vietnamese literature abroad.
Literature critic and translator Pham Xuan Nguyen spoke to Culture Vulture about translating literature from and into Vietnamese.
What do you think about the quality of literature translation?
Translating literature is growing rapidly. I cannot imagine Vietnamese literature if it lacked literature translated from and into Vietnamese. However, the development of literature translating has caused some outstanding issues.
At present, there are too many publishers, book companies and translators engaged in translating literature. It leads to an uncontrolled market.
As a critic of translated literature I see many mistakes in the translated works. While I think a small number of mistakes is acceptable, 10 mistakes on a translation page is too many. Even people speaking in the same language are sometimes misunderstood. I think there is not a perfect translation in the world. Vietnamese translators are hard working. They should be recognised because they are not forced to work with linguistics.
Translating literature needs three types of people: translators, editors and critics. At present we are lacking editors and critics. A translated piece of literature needs to be edited by a group of foreigners at the publishers before printing. After that, the works should be criticised seriously. The progress will make translators and publishers work carefully.
The ministry of culture and publishers should be responsible for the translation of literature.
When has translated literature appeared in Viet Nam and what is its role in our literature development?
Translated literature appeared a long time ago. Since medieval times, people have had a demand for interaction with others. It is translations that help people from different countries understand each other.
Communication is also a translation. In a way, if we didn't have literature translations, we would not develop our own literature because no country or community in the world exists alone without exchange. Translated literature is a resource to nurture cultural exchange.
In summary, translated literature has grown alongside human development. In Viet Nam a few centuries ago we translated literature from China and France.
During the past years, translated literature, including foreign literature translated into Vietnamese, has made a contribution to our culture exchange and international integration.
How has translated literature impacted on Vietnamese writers?
Vietnamese writers read translated literature to see the difference between Vietnamese literature and others. Also, translated works from western countries have played an important role in helping Vietnamese writers understand western culture. Translated literature is the first bridge between east and west.
It seems more foreign literature works have been translated into Vietnamese than Vietnamese into foreign languages. What do you think?
The translation of foreign literature into Vietnamese has been successful. But translating Vietnamese books into other foreign languages is hard work. Even in our own Vietnamese language, some of us are good and some not so good.
Translating Vietnamese literature does not only require a high level of understanding of Vietnamese and the relevant foreign language, it also needs a wide knowledge of culture and sentiment. It is very hard to find a foreigner who speaks and writes fluent Vietnamese or a Vietnamese who speaks and writes the other language fluently, and who also have a wide knowledge of the culture and sentiment behind both languages.
Three missions to promote the translation of Vietnamese books are gathering teams of top translators, holding training courses and promoting co-operation with foreign countries.
How can budding translators make a contribution to the process?
Young writers are translating their books into a foreign language by themselves. However they still need help from a foreigner to edit the translated works. They are doing well but professional associations and organisations should manage the quality of literature translations.
If the Viet Nam Writers Association is going to set up a translation centre it should prepare a plan for its long-time performance. — VNS