Translation Slam at the 2012 IBBY Congress in London

The topic of the 2012 IBBY Congress in London last week was “Crossing Boundaries: Translations and Migrations” and the 4-day conference was jam-packed with interesting speeches, entertaining and enthralling performances, and charming presenters from all over the world. One event that I found particularly fascinating was the “Live Translation” session on Friday afternoon.
Two UK translators – Daniel Hahn and Rosalind Harvey  – had each in advance prepared a translation of one chapter of the book “OK, señor Foster” by Spanish author Eliacer Cansino.


Daniel Hahn


Rosalind Harvey


During the 90-minute “duel”, the chair of the session took a close look at various passages from the novel, comparing in minute detail the two (often very different) English versions. In front of an audience of more than 200 eager listeners, Daniel and Rosalind then had to defend their respective choices, e.g. trying to explain how they had come to the decision of translating “butaca giratoria con los brazos y el espaldar forrados de piel” into either “spinning armchair with the leather-covered arms and backrest” or “swivel chair with its padded leather arms and back”.

I am sure this must be a translator’s nightmare, but they engaged in this Olympia-like competition with enthusiasm and a fair amount of humour; and in the end, both the author and the audience would certainly have awarded them a gold medal for this excellent performance.

Contribution by Claudia Soeffner, who travelled to the IBBY Congress as representative of the IYL. Her presentation focused on the “Arche Kinder Kalender” and the difficulty of translating children’s poetry.


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