Translators are the shadow heroes of literature, the often forgotten instruments that make it possible for different cultures to talk to one another, who have enabled us to understand that we all, from every part of
Emily Carr, Shoreline ©2006 McMichael Art Collection


I’ve recently completed an interesting MOOC called Brand Storytelling. One of the key strategies suggested by the trainers to start a successful business was to “start with the why“. They pointed out that lots of brands know what services/products they offer and how to sell them effectively, but only a few know why they do it. This “why” seems to be, more often than not, neglected and underestimated, but it’s supposedly the key to success, or at least an excellent starting point.

I felt extremely reassured by this statement, because in the chaos of ideas swirling around in my brain on how to start my business with the right foot, the only clear thing was my “why”.
Federica 1 – Newbie Panic 0.
Moreover, I will be attending the Translation and Localization Conference in Warsaw in March whose main theme will be, guess what, “Why translate“, confirming somehow (at least in my mind) the importance of this mysterious why. So writing on this topic in the early stages of my blog seemed like a reasonable thing to do.


I had my epiphany on the reasons why I wanted to translate during my first year of Master’s – the course was Japanese literary translation – thanks to one of the most inspiring teachers I’ve ever had (I secretly want to be like her when I grow up): Paola sensei. She taught me to analyze the text under different points of view, to look for the best word and never be satisfied with a mediocre terminological choice and, thanks to her, I fell in love with the creative process that makes translations come alive. The following paragraphs are an adaptation of the conclusions I wrote for my MA thesis. I’m presenting them here because each and every word I wrote back then remains true, even though I discovered in the meanwhile that the translation world is not all rainbows and butterflies. It’s mainly focused on literary translation, my apologies to all the technical translators out there, because that was the topic of my dissertation, but I believe the key concept to be the same no matter the specialization.

“I’ve always loved the written word: reading, writing. Reading is food for thought, it always teaches something and offers a brief escape from all the problems and uncertainties of everyday life. Writing makes you think, makes you dig deep inside the words in order to find THE most appropriate one to describe a situation, a feeling or a state of mind.

So why do I translate? Because translation allows me to read and to communicate in writing what I read. It’s a reading-writing process through which I can express myself and communicate to others a message that they wouldn’t be able to understand otherwise. Translation is one of the most powerful means of communication, it explains something, it makes a concept, a thought, an idea, an invention accessible to a vast number of people. Translation is an act of love towards knowledge.
Translation represents also a strenuous search, of words, facts, feelings. Being able to find, maybe after hours and hours, in the deepest recesses of your memory or in a book or dictionary, THE desired word is extremely rewarding. The translation process is a never ending journey, that makes you revise the text over and over again, changing this comma or that word, it brings you to infinite re-readings in search of the perfect rhythm and balance. Translation gives you the chance to identify yourself with the author or with the protagonist of the story, explore their world, feel what they feel and to try to convey all of it to your reader in the best way possible. Finally, translation is a challenge. The challenge of unveiling through words the mysteries of words themselves.”

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master – that’s all.” (Alice through the Looking Glass 6.63-65)