An interview with the translator of Garchen Rinpoche who also is working on written translations from certain portions of the Kangyur as part of the 84000 project. She is a graduate of the same translator school as I am. She talks about the challenge presented in translating the Kangyur, and why she decided to start studying Sanskrit in order to more successfully present translations of the more difficult sutras. She mentions about how she supports herself in this work.
Alex Berzin talks about his experiences a little bit here.
http://www.berzinarchives.com/web/en/ab ... dhism.html
While I don't know much Tibetan (in the future I plan to study it intensely when the conditions allow), I translate Chinese and have found that above all else when translating anything related to Buddhism you need to know the vocabulary and jargon. The grammar in Classical Buddhist Chinese texts is normally rather simple with the word order being primary (this in contrast to Indic languages where conjugation, declensions and cases are key), though all the technical vocabulary needs to be understood both in its Indic and Chinese contexts (in the latter this often varies according to the time period as well). In the treatises by natives you see vague allusions to the Chinese classics which for educated native readers is readily understood, but for someone like me I found I had to read many of the Confucian classics to firmly understand the meaning.
Translating is a highly educational experience. You really get into the meat of texts and come to understand every little feature about them.
It is also a humbling experience when you see all your past silly mistakes, or when others point them out.
I have to admit that in the year and a half since I have graduated I have focused on oral translation and have not yet tried my hand at translating texts, with the exception of some Vinaya outlines that weren't available in English and were required for a course Geshe Sonam was teaching.
From that limited experience it seems to me that oral and written translation require different sets of skills. Certainly written translation requires precision in terms of vocabulary and grammar that is not required as much in oral interpreting, except when dealing with the more technical topics. Also, one has more time to really polish the translation whereas in oral interpreting you are a bit on the spot. I try to stay as accurate to the Geshe's words as possible,while at the same time being aware of the meaning he is trying to convey.
I agree that translation can be very humbling. It is good for a poke at your self-cherishing. I have had both the geshe and the audience laugh at me at different points, and it is amazing how one gets used to it. I am now at the point where I even find such instances funny myself, rather than terrifying as I did in the beginning.
The role of "teacher" was never something I was never comfortable with as I am not able to embody the example of the teachings. So in this way translation is perfect for a flawed person like me to be able to contribute to the dharma in at least some way.
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