A “Gift” for Translation

Whenever a group of linguists or polyglots are brought together and find themselves deep in conversation, the topic of translation often crops up. When asked about their ability to translate half the group maintains they can and do translate. The other half maintain they do not have the gift. What is this gift that they talk about?

Umberto Eco has written an interesting essay in which he discusses the gift. He mentions the gift of tongues, that is glossolalia – the ability to express oneself in ecstatic language that can be understood by everyone. However, a more accurate description of what translators might aim for is xenoglossia, that is the gift of speaking other languages, or polyglottism.

However, linguists do not necessarily mean glossolalia or xenoglossia, rather they mean an inherent ability to be better translators than other polyglots who would seemingly be equally predisposed to be competent translators. One may or may not have particular predispositions, however, hard work and experience cannot be discounted. Just because someone feels that he or she does not have the gift does not mean that he or she cannot translate.

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10 Responses to “A “Gift” for Translation”

  1. agnieszka dz. Says:

    I think that the very important gift is to like what one does. not always has a translator gift to express oneself in ecstatic language or is a great polyglot but I believe when he/she really likes what he/she does and wants to do it he’she can always work on to improve oneself.

  2. urszula nikiciuk Says:

    i quite like the idea that it is up to us how and whether we develop. it is sort of comforting to realize we manage our skills just as we manage our lives. after all i think people with the so called inborn translating skill are minority. most of us needs to deelop it.

  3. magdalena kula Says:

    I think that to be a good translator do not depends on having a special “gift”. The most important thing in being perfect in what you are doing is to constantly improve you skills and work hard to become better and better.

  4. transubstantiation Says:

    Gift or no gift? What a dilemma. To a certain extent we DO have a leaning towards one or the other – a gift for languages, a gift for music, mathematics etc. However, it is up to the translator professionals to help translator trainees to build up this know-how.

  5. Ewa Piekarz Says:

    I think that whether somebody likes what he is doing is also the case in point here. Of course, I agree that we do have a leaning towards one or another and translation is an issue here. I would also add, that the “gift” can develop when we are more proffesional at what we are doing. And this is quite interesting because we begin to realize that we have the “gift”. As in learning to play the piano, we are being told the rules,the mechanizm of working on the piano and practicising but eventually we become to be good at it when we practice a lot. You can be genious at the beginning at making music but you cannot be genious at translation when u don`t know a thing about it.
    I also agree that:
    “Just because someone feels that he or she does not have the gift does not mean that he or she cannot translate.”
    And that is totally true to me, you have to spend a lot of time to learn the techniques, the language, etc. to be good at translating. The more work you do to be better at translating the easier it will be to translate. I think that the word “gift” in translating is more concerned with the work you do in order to become profficient. 🙂 🙂

  6. transubstantiation Says:

    The piano analogy is a good one. We must first master the skills in order to develop the gift (if there is a gift at all). There are of course many professional translators who do not necessarily have a gift for translation but have the necessary skills and competence to cope well in the translation situation.

  7. Sylwia Krawczyk Says:

    I think that many people say that they do not have ‘the gift’ at the beginning of their translating ‘career’, when in fact they have not much experience, not enough knowledge. To be a good translator requires years of practice. Only after very long time it can be decided if one had the gift or not.
    In my opinion, more important is motivation to be the best translator, to gain as much experience, and knowledge as possible. One can be a good translator without having the gift, and on the other hand, without hard work the possible gift will be wasted.

  8. transubstantiation Says:

    Practice – of course DOES to a certain extent – make perfect.

  9. Karolina Potocka Says:

    Choosing right words and expressions while translating is not only the matter of practice. Some of us have the language sensitivity which is very difficult to learn. Translating also requires of us taking into consideration cultural differences. We are experiencing and learning these cultural differences our all life. However, I do believe in practice as much as I do believe in experience.

  10. transubstantiation Says:

    Cultural differences, yes, however, it cannot be regarded as a given that only those people who have a ‘sensitivity’ to language can translate. Practice is most certainly one of the tools in the process.


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