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30 Best Translation Quotes of Famous People

30 Best Translation Quotes of Famous People
30 Best Translation Quotes of Famous People

Written by Henry Mcdowell, follow him on Twitter.

Translation is an art. There are many translation quotes from famous people who were linguists, interpreters, editors, writers, and simply fans of languages. Thanks to them, now we can read foreign books, explore websites, or have global businesses. But this is not an easy deal. Out of spotlight, these specialists work hard. These restless wordsmiths love languages and spend lots of time mastering them. Read these best 30 translator phrases and find out more about the world of translation.


One of the main purposes of translation is helping others read books in foreign languages. People working in this field understood their trade deeply and created inspiring translations quote. Often, famous writers worked on other writer’s books. From their comments, you can see that it’s sophisticated science. To interpret books and poems, you have to be creative and ready to re-create parts of original. Some terms, humor, and phenomena in a book have no analogs in target language, so specialists have to use imagination. Here are some quotes about translation of literary works.

  1. “Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature.”  ― Jose Saramago

  2. “The original is unfaithful to the translation.” — Jorge Luis Borges

  3. “To translate, one must have a style of his own, for otherwise the translation will have no rhythm or nuance, which come from the process of artistically thinking through and molding the sentences; they cannot be reconstituted by piecemeal imitation. The problem of translation is to retreat to a simpler tenor of one’s own style and creatively adjust this to one’s author.” — Paul Goodman

  4. “Translating is writing.” —  Marguerite Yourcenar

  5. “A translator is to be like his author; it is not his business to excel him.”  — Samuel Johnson 

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Secrets of the Trade

Linguists as well as language experts rarely share their secrets. Still, some quotes might show you how the job looks from the inside. It is hard at times, very tedious, but also very rewarding. It transforms words, sentences, and meanings so that others could understand them. There is no universal language that would unite all people. So, experts continue their complicated job. Read translations phrases that reveal some of the secrets of this job.

  1. “Translation is the paradigm, the exemplar of all writing…. It is translation that demonstrates most vividly the yearning for transformation that underlies every act involving speech, that supremely human gift.” ― Harry Mathews

  2. “Translation is the art of failure.” ― Umberto Eco 

  3. “All explicit knowledge is translated knowledge, and all translation is imperfect.” ― Patrick Rothfuss

  4. “The best thing on translation was said by Cervantes: translation is the other side of a tapestry.” ―  Leonardo Sciascia

  5. “Translation is that which transforms everything so that nothing changes.” ―  Grass Gunter

  6. “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug” — Mark Twain

  7. “To use the same words is not a sufficient guarantee of understanding; one must use the same words for the same genus of inward experience; ultimately one must have one’s experiences in common.” — Friedrich Nietzsche 

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Working as a Translator

It is not easy to convert a text into other lingo, even if you are professional. To do it, you should be both precise and creative. This process has certain rules and approaches, which gave birth to translator quotes. Still, the specialist should keep in mind text and understand context, possible audience, etc. In most cases, going with word-for-word translation isn’t enough. You need a sparkle of talent for literature, marketing, advertising, or other subjects. They need great creativity, constant inspiration. One more important thing is a strive to get better each time. The text is always “imperfect” because it’s impossible to interpret everything “as it is.” Translation quote below illustrates this very well.

  1. “Translation is a journey over a sea, from one shore to the other. Sometimes I think of myself as a smuggler: I cross the frontier of language with my booty of words, images, and metaphors.” ―  Amara Lakhous

  2. “Translators never come to rest; they are constantly in two places at the same time by building associations that carry the foreign into the known of their own language.”  ― Rainer Schulte

  3. “Translators have to prove to themselves as to others that they are in control of what they do; that they do not just translate well because they have a “flair” for translation, but rather because, like other professionals, they have made a conscious effort to understand various aspects of their work.” — Mona Baker

  4. “There is no such thing as a perfect, ideal or “correct” translation. A translator is always trying to extend his knowledge and improve his means of expression; he is always pursuing facts and words.” ― Peter Newmark

  5. “The art of translation lies less in knowing the language than in knowing your own.” ― Ned Rorem

  6. “In translation language facility is not enough; blood and sweat are the secret.” ―  Samuel Putnam

  7. “It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language that is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work.” ― Walter Benjamin

  8. “I have always maintained that translation is essentially the closest reading one can possibly give a text. The translator cannot ignore “lesser” words, but must consider every jot and tittle.” ― Gregory Rabassa

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Without a translation industry, global society would be impossible. To reach the minds and hearts of many people all over the world, we need to speak their language. That is why translation is very connected to growth of society, cooperation, and cultural richness. These translators quotes show how different nationalities get along better when we understand each other.

  1. “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann mussen sie Deutsch sprechen.” ― Willy Brandt

  2. “The original language of Christianity is translation.” ― Lamin Sanneh 

  3. “I just enjoy translating, it's like opening one's mouth and hearing someone else's voice emerge.” ― Iris Murdoch 

  4. “Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.” ― Anthony Burgess

  5. “Without translation, we would be living in provinces bordering on silence.” ― George Steiner

  6. “Words travel worlds. Translators do the driving.” ― Anna Rusconi

  7. “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” ―  Nelson Mandela

  8. “The word “translation” comes, etymologically, from the Latin for “bearing across”. Having been borne across the world, we are translated men. It is normally supposed that something always gets lost in translation; I cling, obstinately to the notion that something can also be gained.” ― Salman Rushdie

  9. “Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.” ― Italo Calvino

  10. “The process of translating comprises in its essence the whole secret of human understanding of the world and of social communication.” ― Hans Georg Gadamer

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Read Best Quotes from Famous Translators

Translators always strive for the best. It’s like an artist who makes changes in his artwork all the time to get perfection. Translators work on texts over and over to make it sound as good as possible. Interpreter quotes above show that over world history, translation was fascinating to many people in literature and arts.