Firstly, translators can't live on doing translation work. Generally speaking, they are not well paid and most publishers are small companies. So translating is mostly a part time job. Secondly, there is hardly any proper education for translation in Vietnam rather than basic courses at Bachelor level in foreign languages curriculums. In these courses, the focus is on literature or tourism. Students work on selected short texts under a local teacher’s supervision. Thirdly, young translators lack experience and knowledge in their use of vocabulary. And finally, it is very difficult to find translators with a background in Social Sciences.
The generation born before the end of World War II has contributed immensely to the presence of European ideology in Vietnam through languages, especially French and German. However, there are hardly any younger people who would be able to follow this path of cultural exchange. For Italian, Spanish and Hungarian, the number of old and experienced translators is decreasing, as they pass away or they are unable to continue their profession, while the new generation in their thirties have limited experience in these languages. In addition, they translate books according to the publisher’s choices, which means they are not specialized in any particular field. They usually have jobs at universities or in publishing houses and only work part-time as a translator. Nevertheless, Vietnam is now more open to the world and that creates more opportunities for translators, both in terms of education and work.
For this reason, we have asked experienced Vietnamese translators in European languages to work with younger translators, focusing on the same excerpts in different languages, so to underline the method and the choices to be made, or in other words: designing a procedure to be followed.
Social Science and Humanities are the key to promoting European values and ideas. In Vietnam, there is a number of academic texts, translated or edited by professors, to be used as manuals or in reading lists for exams in universities or national exams. Those are for the few specialists who are in the field. The question is always how to introduce important books to the general public. This will be the real starting point for disseminating contents, creating a public and opening the young generation up to European diversity. It is therefore important to find passionate and skilled translators to cope with the lack of univocal specialized words in Vietnamese. If you lack a background in the field, you need a good thesaurus, advice from an expert of the subject and comparison to translations in other foreign languages.
To give an example: The few Italian texts that we have today in Vietnamese are translated from French or English, as there are more 'expert' translators available for these languages and it is easier to contact the foreign publishers.
Our main local partners are publishing houses and universities. Publishing houses work closely with us in market research and in identifying the interest of readers and hence, the need for translators. Universities help us communicating to students and on academic matters. So, generally speaking, the local partners are really the protagonists of the project: most of the people, in all their roles and functions, are local. We are only a few Europeans working directly on the project.
We would like to create a community of translators who are ready to collaborate and update their skills. We would want to work on something bigger and more stable. With possible future financial support, we will go on by creating an ecosystem of publishers, translators and experts, creating opportunities for Vietnamese readers to overcome the language barrier to reach European knowledge.
Maria Benimeo is the current Italian lecturer at the University and the Cultural Attachée at the Italian Embassy in Hanoi since 2017. After nearly thirty years of teaching various subjects to high school students and of training teachers, both in presence and on-line, she started focusing on teaching Italian as second language. In 2014 she was appointed Italian lecturer at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. Her main interests are literature, cinema and social innovation.
NGUYEN Ngoc Thanh Phuong is the coordinator of project at Institut français in Vietnam. She has a double degree in Languages and International studies, and Social Sciences and Humanities studies. Five years experienced in coordinating intergovernmental and inter-embassies projects, her interests are culture development research and projects creating positive social impacts. Her aspiration is to overcome language barrier to bring worldwide knowledge to Vietnam.
The interview was published in September 2019.
EUNIC members: Institut français du Vietnam, Goethe-Institut, Embassy of Hungary, Wallonia Brussels Delegation, Embassy of Italy, Embassy of Spain
Partners: EU Delegation in Vietnam, Vietnamese universities and publishing houses