Translation is an Art

Library · April 29, 2022

by Regan Penaluna, ISB Library Committee Member

On Wednesday, April 27th, a crowd of students, parents, and staff gathered in the school gym for a panel discussion on “Translation is an Art”—an impressive event dreamed up and led by school librarians Maria Falgoust and Amy Ribakove. The walls were adorned with posters created by the Booklets (the library’s helpful crew of student volunteers), displaying facts about translation (Did you know that the most translated book ever after the Bible is The Little Prince or that Gilgamesh was the first book ever translated?) There was wine, refreshments, and—yes, masks—but nevertheless, a palpable excitement among attendees at simply being together to exchange ideas and learn more about a fascinating topic—not to mention, one so close to the heart of ISB. 

The panelists, Claudia Zoe Bedrick, Juan Pablo Lombana, Emma Raddatz, Nathan Rostron, and Emilie Robert Wong, answered questions posed by moderator and ISB parent Omar Berrada, who opened with the question: why do you translate—what meaning does it bring to your life? Juan Pablo, who is also an ISB parent, described his work translating plays and books from Spanish into English as an exhilarating experience of solving a problem that is unique to each piece of literature: “The book is a world with its own rules, and I have to figure out the rules.”  Emilie said, “translation is a profoundly creative experience that made me not only a good writer, but a good reader.” 

The consensus among the panelists was that translation is rarely the simple process of transposing words and expressions in one language for those of another, but rather a complex, rewarding activity that draws on a significant part of our being: experience, imagination, reason, and artistic sensibility. 

For me, as a mother of two at ISB, it was also an inspiring reminder of what our children are doing in school everyday as they switch between two or more languages while taking on multiple subjects and activities.

But, I think 7th Grader James, who was also the creator of beautiful buttons distributed at the event, put it best: “I used to think that translation was word for word. Now, I appreciate translation, because it is like rewriting a book and making a new work of art in a different language.”

As the event came to an end, ISB parent Marianne Gimon tipped her hat to our librarians: “There was a discussion of librarians being gatekeepers for translated books, but Maria and Amy are widening doors and opening the minds of our kids by introducing them to top notch books from around the world.” Panelist Emma Raddatz expressed how impressed she was by the questions ISB students had asked: “It was really heartening to see that students are thinking and wondering about translation at such an early age.” 

Take a look at this list of resources Maria Falgoust and Raquel Frenchette curated if you want to explore the world of translated works.

“Translation is an Art” drawing by Lara Vallance