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UPDATED: November 22, 2013 NO.14 APRIL 4, 2013
Splitting Words
Translator tells about working on new British novel
By Ji Jing

Despite her regard for English, Ren remains deeply enthralled by Chinese writing.

"Your proficiency in Chinese decides the translation quality from English," she explained. "It's enough to understand the latter, but to ensure smooth Chinese you need to read a lot of local works."

"It's not easy to translate. You should remain loyal to the original text while simultaneously using your own language to convey the initial concept."

Working during the day and caring for a baby daughter after work, she only has time to read on the subway, preferring Chinese versions of English novels.

"The essence of reading is pleasure. I feel more comfortable reading in Chinese."

Translators' status

Due to meager pay, Ren translates merely out of personal interest, making on average only 60 yuan ($9.63) for every 1,000 Chinese characters.

She said most translators are idealists who work for passion, not money.

With information easily found on TV or the Internet, only a small minority still reads, Ren noted.

Profits of some books barely reach 10,000 yuan ($1,605), with publishers suffering financial loss.

Great literary works receive little attention, except when adapted for film. Cloud Atlas and The Hobbit both became bestsellers thanks to their cinema debuts while the great French novel Les Misérables, written by Victor Hugo (1802-85) in the 19th century, only grabbed public attention after it was released on screen in 2012.

Because of low pay, most translators work part-time and seldom have the necessary time to ensure the quality of work.

According to a Translators Association of China report in 2012, the number of professional translators barely reached 30,000 across the country. Such a lack of qualified professionals has severely impeded industry development.

Current translators also face repeated criticism. As English becomes popular in China, readers who already have a firm grasp of the language are prone to lash out over inferior work. Nevertheless, the accuracy of translations today is much better than in the past thanks mainly to the Internet as a reference source.

As an editor herself, Ren often hires her own translators who sometimes produce poor work, causing her much frustration.

To guarantee quality, she mostly hires university English professors who have conducted extensive research and have a good mastery of the language, as well as the availed time to work diligently.

Ren admits she has few future plans for translation, as her time is swallowed up by both her family and work obligations.

"I have to work to support myself and my family. Translation alone can't help me earn a decent living." Ren said her husband is a doctor and supports her work as long as she is happy.

Email us at: jijing@bjreview.com

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