Life At Point C

Experiencing Life along the Silk Road

The Translation Gig

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I guess being asked by your friends to translate for them is a compliment, but wow is it work! While out running on Saturday, a friend called to ask for my help with translation for some Americans visiting Karakol on Sunday. Would I be interested? Yes, of course, I’m always interested in translating, since it is so much fun, but I don’t necessarily have the time and energy to do it, as it is also very draining.

Actually, my enjoyment of translation has been a real surprise for me. I didn’t expect that I would find it so invigorating trying to move from English to Russian and back again, but whether you’re talking about working on a document or a live conversation, it is really a blast.

Probably part of what I like is that I don’t have to work to come up with the words. When I’m trying to speak Russian, I usually have a hard time finding words in Russian. I could also try thinking in English and then translating in my head, but that’s not very ideal long-term, so I try to think in Russian as I go, and it means that my conversation can be limited to the words I can remember in Russian. It is easier to have someone else say something in English, and then the Russian words are actually associated with those English words in the brain, so when I hear the English one the Russian one more naturally comes to mind.

Another aspect of translation that I find interesting is how often I can’t think of the right word. This is to be expected going from someone’s English into Russian, but it is surprising how often I understand the Russian just fine and yet it takes work to figure out how to express it in my native English.

Finally, translation highlights the fact that there are words for which Russian is like my first language since I never used them in English, such as смородина. Immediately when I hear that word, the Russian is obvious, the Kyrgyz comes to mind (карагат), and I have to work to find the English (currant, typically the black ones). Imagine – there is at least one word for which English is my third language!

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