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'Translation Olympics' to gather 1,400 in Shanghai
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Watch our exclusive interview with Krawutschke  

China.org.cn was able to sit down and talk with Peter W. Krawutschke, president of the Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) in anticipation of the organization's 18th World Congress, held in Shanghai August 4-7.

China has become a key player in the world of translation, and being a host of the 18th Fédération Internationale des Traducteurs (FIT) World Congress will give the country visibility, said Peter W. Krawutschke, president of FIT and a professor of German at Western Michigan University in the United States.

According to its Website, "FIT is an international federation of associations and organizations in the field of translation with members in more than 60 countries the world over. FIT represents the moral and material interests of more than 100,000 translators."

Krawutschke said that holding the congress in Shanghai will not only raise China's profile in the translation industry, it will also help validate the organization's goal of including countries from all over the world.

"It's going to be the largest FIT congress ever," he said. "We expect around 1,400 people and it's going to be the Olympics for intellectuals working in translation and interpretation. So I think it's fitting that it just ends when the Olympics start."

Krawutschke said he would not allow politics to enter the congress. "Our association is essentially apolitical," he said. "That's part of what we agreed to in 1953, and you can imagine why, because it was right after World War II."

He said that translators need to know more than just another language. To be truly effective, they must also understand the culture of the country from which material is being translated.

"To reach the local markets, you need to know French, German, Chinese Japanese, Russian," he said. "And for that you need people who really know how to transfer text accurately and precisely and with the same meaning and intent of the original text. It becomes crucial for selling, for marketing."

Krawutschke said it was important for translators to get special training in universities. He said that learning a language is different from translating, and that each field requires different skills. He cited other fields to illustrate his point.

"A mathematics professor is not the same as a finance professor," he said. "And an English professor is not the same as a journalism professor."

Krawutschke said that the state of translation education in the United States was improving, with the first Ph.D. in translation recently awarded. Most American universities require that professors have a doctorate, so American schools have had to hire from Europe. Now some of those jobs can go to American-trained translators.

Krawutschke has also been the editor of a book that provided an overview of what should be covered in a translation or interpretation academic program. He said it is important for a program to know what the industry wants, and also to have teachers that have been trained properly and are skilled in the areas they are teaching.

He said that China has Master's programs for translation, but none yet for Ph.D. training. He said he would not be surprised that, in five or six years, China would begin to have its own doctorate programs.

Along with good training programs, he said that systems of certification are crucial to the field. A solid certification process can give organizations and groups hiring translation services proof that good work is being done.

"It's important not to say 'I can do this,' but to have some sort of validation that you actually can do this," he said. "In some countries we are now working very hard on good quality certification programs."

For China to improve its translation services, Krawutschke said that China has to find its own path. In some countries, like the United States, private associations certify the quality of translation services. In other countries, like Germany, the state has an exam to verify a translator's ability.

He also spoke of his dream of having translators and interpreters in areas of conflict enjoy the same protections as Red Cross workers. "We're not part of any side, that means we're protected by all sides," he said. "That speaks well for our association."

Krawutschke said he was pleased to be in Shanghai and was excited to see more of the city. "I can hardly wait for this interview to be finished because I'm going to go sightseeing," he said.

"Shanghai is an amazing, vibrant city."

(Patrick O'Donnell for China.org.cn July 30, 2008)

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