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TooBen Creative Writing Column

TooBen Creative Writing Column

TooBen Creative Writing Based on Translation Column (1)

Translated Textbooks Torturing Students

Some people dare to say they never read translated books. Reason? They don’t think books’ translations are not authentic Japanese. Well, at least, many of them are not.

Honestly, I’m one of such ‘fussy’ people when it comes to reading. I think, probably like anyone else, that reading experience should also be fun, just like any other amusement. But, then, how come you can enjoy a poorly-written book? Even if the story is super interesting, and the original writing is marvellous, a poor translation can ruin them all. As a result, you have to decide that the book doesn’t deserve your time, and you should quit reading and even trash it to vent your anger — it’s a waste of time and money, indeed.

But it’s better when you can decide which book to read or discard. In some cases, you may even not have that fundamental right, and that’s when you are a student of a mandatory, cut-and-dried course by a stuffed-shirt professor, using a book hideously translated by himself. Since it’s compulsory, buying that book (usually expensive!) and reading it are also mandatory. Thus, your days of intellectual torture begin, tackling with dry stuff written in horrible, convoluted sentences.

It’s like taking a deep leap into a verbal abyss, in which you would struggle to search for an exit. A single sentence can spread up to four to five lines; a single clause may form a multiple nesting structure like Matryoshka dolls due to the structural difference between English and Japanese. Precisely, modified nouns come after the modifiers in Japanese.

Probably, it’s hard to imagine; but the conclusion comes at the sentence-end, so when you finally reach the destination, all the intricately structured preceding parts may have slipped away from your brain. So you have to start all over again from the beginning. You may resort to masking some nested parts in an attempt to clarify the sentence structure.

By repeating that process, you are too exhausted and worn out to tackle another sentence when you finally come out of the maze. The worst case is that you gradually lose interest in the field itself. What a catastrophe!

Professors or scholars are not necessarily good writers. But as long as they are authorities in some field, ambitious publishers approach them to monetize their achievement, who are willing to turn a blind eye to the book’s writing quality. Moreover, some teachers who are busy with their routines may even invite their students to write or translate for them. Once published, the book is a sure-fire seller as the textbook used by students in that mandatory course. What a convenient business model!

 Since March 2006. Last update July 22, 2021. Copyright (C) Tuben. All rights reserved.