The tools of a translator

I’m taking a “catch up on school work” day off from my job, and sitting at Bucks County Community College and studying while Sue is in her new grad course for the day. The backpack I hauled in to do this is incredibly heavy, and my Stuff spread out takes an entire table. What the heck IS all this?

Curious you should ask. Or that I should ask a question and then claim you have asked it. But just in case inquiring minds want to know, here’s the list of what a translator brings to a day’s work:

1. the original poems, in this case a PDF of a book stored on a jump drive. Most important part of the process, but essentially invisible

2. my translations, also stored on the jump drive. Also, files with lists of suffixes, prefixes, and a sheet of “tricky words” – those that are spelled the same but, depending on the vowels, are very different words.

3. Bilingual dictionary. I really need a single-language dictionary, too, but I’m not ready for that yet.

4. All-Important Verb Table Book, the single most useful tool I’ve ever purchased.

5. Google Translate. Vital to me, as I am nothing like fluent in Hebrew. Nothing Like. Google translate is amazing – not to actually translate a poem, but to give me a way in, to help me think outside of every place I get stuck trying to make plain sense of a line. As a way to help me edit, I’ve been taking my English version of a poem and using Google to translate it into Hebrew. I then compare that Hebrew to the original. This helps me see where I might be using more words in English than I need, or see if a word I’ve used has a corresponding word in Hebrew that ISN’T in the poem, such that I might not have chosen the right sense of the original word. This has also helped me find typos in my Hebrew (since I have to retype every poem from the original into Davka. Trying to make sense of the wrong word, or off something that isn’t a word, greatly increases the frustration level of this process!

Then I take Google’s Hebrew version and have it translated back into English, and then compare that to my English. What’s remarkable about this whole process is how close the versions can be! The machine will never replace the grunt work and inspiration of translating literature, but wow does it help. I can’t imagine trying to do this even a few years ago when such a tool didn’t exist. I don’t think I could have, not with my level of Hebrew knowledge.


7. Davka, a Hebrew word processing program, which allows me to type right to left and to use my English keyboard to produce Hebrew letters. I’ve been using it for years, originally to do Passover hagaddahs, and only this summer realized it has a “translate” button that will do one word at a time. Again, not perfect, especially for the images and abstractions of poetry, but it can help me identify word roots and which binyan (type) of verb a word might be so I know where to go looking.

8. The thick packet of translations with notes from my mentor, Ellen Doré Watson.

9. book of essays on poems by contemporary Hebrew poets

10. Dell laptop

11. eyeglasses

12. Zebra F-301 pen, without which I cannot write.

13. Patience. Again, mainly invisible, but it has never been a forte of mine so I have to pack a lot of extra with me whenever I sit down to do this.


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