Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

This wonderful title comes from a book about translation recommended a while back by a colleague. It’s a stimulating set of short essays by David Bellos, a distinguished translator, written in a style that makes many of the facets of translation easily accessible—which is why I like using some of the essays, or parts of them, with students. As we study works in translation, it seems a significant omission if we do not take a little time to address the fact that we are reading works that were not written in the language we see before us.

It would also seem that if you are dealing with large groups of students and wanting to find ways to facilitate interesting Interactive Orals, at least one of them might be delivered by a group of students using Bellos’s essays as a way to raise and examine the issue of translation.

You will undoubtedly find, if you decide to work with this set of essays, that some fit especially well with your approaches and the texts being studied. Some that I have found particularly apt—and I sometimes use only a paragraph or two, at other times more, are these:

‘What is Translation,’ ‘Things People Say about Translation,’ ‘What Translators Do,’ and ‘Translating Literary Texts.’  If you feel you need to get your students interested in Bellos’s work at the start, well, you might run ‘“Avatar”: A Parable of Translation’ by them. There are plenty of other topics as well—you will find those that suit you.

And you can decide whether Bellos’s subtitle: Translation and the Meaning of Everything is a fair label for his offering.

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