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  • Writer's pictureSijin Xian

Sijin Featured in CLD Translation Slam

I've wanted to do a translation slam ever since I learned about them, and that dream recently became a reality thanks to the Chinese Language Division of the American Translators Association. On June 21st, my colleague Arthur Wan and I had the honor of being the featured contestants at CLD's inaugural slam.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, a translation slam is an engaging event where two translators present their independent translations of the same source text, discuss their renditions and thought processes, and compare notes with each other. Despite its name, a translation slam is actually a friendly competition where no winner is declared.

This format offers numerous reasons for excitement and intrigue. When you read a completed translation, you only see the final product on the page without any insight into what was previously there, what adjustments were made, or any of the decision-making that led to the end result. A translation slam provides a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into how we do what we do.

Furthermore, a translation slam provides a rare opportunity for two translators to work on the same piece within the same timeframe. As I often discuss in my posts, I frequently check other translators' work as a reviewer. However, my role typically involves significantly less time spent on the project compared to the translator. Editing a file for quality standards differs greatly from discussing the minutiae of translation. Therefore, participating in a translation slam levels the playing field and allows for a more comprehensive exploration of the translation process.

Lastly, in contrast to our usual work, which is often client- and audience-facing, a translation slam places our work under the scrutiny of our peers—we had around 30 registrations for the event. It takes courage to participate as a contestant, but the potential rewards make the risk worthwhile. It's essential to put ourselves out there for external evaluation and continually learn from others. As professionals, we must continuously strive for improvement.

The passage we worked on for the translation slam is an excerpt from Samantha Irby's essay collection Wow, No Thank You (we translated the title and the first seven paragraphs). Irby's writing style is characterized by its informal, blog-like, stream-of-consciousness nature, infused with self-deprecating humor and an astute eye for the small details of life that resonate strongly with readers.

This was a fun piece to translate. I may have had a slight advantage over my colleague thanks to my regular exposure to this kind of slangy, casual speech in my subtitling work. In contrast, Arthur's usual work leans more toward legal and technical language, so it was understandable that he was outside his comfort zone.

However, even for me, it wasn't an easy task. Even the first sentence took me a significant amount of time. "You don't have to cry for me, but listen" carries a sassy and direct tone, and it was challenging to recreate that same oomph in Chinese while preserving the essence of the sentence.

I'm very grateful for the notes I received from my colleagues in attendance:

I watched your translation slam today, and you were absolutely amazing! I love your translation approach: you fully preserved the style of the original text, and the translation had a delightful flow to the ear. I especially enjoyed listening to you read your translation aloud. It felt like you were telling a story.
All the points you touched on today were terrific! I felt like I had a 90-minute masterclass. Thank you!!

Participating in a translation slam was a remarkable experience, and I am grateful to the Chinese Language Division of the American Translators Association for organizing it. The event provided a platform for us to showcase our skills and learn from one another. I eagerly look forward to future translation slams and the invaluable opportunities they offer for growth and camaraderie within the translation community.


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