The trouble with translating culture

I’m now in the process of writing a rough draft and having trouble translating language and culture for American readers.

Not only does my story have a severe lack of quotes because I had to work through a translator, but I find myself needing to explain a lot more than I thought would be needed. Seeing things firsthand makes it easier to grasp a culture. Writing about them is a beast. I got stuck explaining pilafs today–a mere detail in my story.

As mentioned in my previous post, the global sphere of information means the need to translate ideas to other cultures. It seems that the translation problems are going both ways. I’m not the only one struggling.

Luckily, much of my information is on video tape, thanks to documentary maker Isaac Brown who worked alongside me in the field. Unfortunately, my rough draft deadline for class occurs before the tapes will arrive. Even then, I now realize that the translation of ideas is often more tricky than translation itself.

I’ve never wished more than now that I’d taken five years of Spanish instead of Latin. Then I might even have a good job lined up.

1 Comment

Filed under International Journalism, My Story

One response to “The trouble with translating culture

  1. SM

    I was really struck by what you wrote about needing to explain a lot more in your piece than you thought, and the need to translate ideas to other culture. One strategy you could employ is to decide not to domesticate so much for a US readership the facets of culture you encounter along the way – you could instead choose to maintain some aspects of the distinctiveness in that other culture you are encountering by retaining its unique ‘otherness’ in your piece. So rather than assuming that the readership needs to have all of the cultural leaps made for them, you could allow them to see just how different your cultural encounter has been.

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