Monday, October 23, 2006

“The most prolific and fastest translator”

From an article in ThanNien News, English edition:


Prolific translator says secret is determination, self-study

Having translated Doctor Zhivago in two months besides numerous other books from Russian and Chinese into Vietnamese, a 64-year-old man has achieved the impossible, even lecturing leaders on economic policy.


Born into a poor family in northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province, Le Khanh Truong made his mark when he was a freshman majoring in Russian literature in Hanoi.

Though a first-year student, he managed to win first prize in a Vietnamese-Russian poetry translation contest held mainly for senior students.

He later graduated from the university a valedictorian.

Last September, the Vietnam Record Books awarded him the title “the most prolific and fastest translator”.

He deserves the honor, having translated the 550 page long The Scaffold by Soviet writer Chinghiz Aitmatov in 10 days, Soviet Anatoly Naumovich Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat which is over 1000 pages long in three months, and Yulian Semyonov’s 300-page Seventeen Instants of Spring in only 10 days.

Other astonishing records include translating the Boris Pasternak’s famous “Doctor Zhivago” 900 pages long in 60 days. Truong has also translated The Day Lasts More Than A Hundred Years by Aitmatov and other Russian novels.

From 1970 to 1980, he translated 50 books on philosophy, history, sociology, literature, economics, diplomacy and even archeology.

In 1983 alone, he managed to translate all 50 volumes on economics, which the Soviet Union donated to the Ho Chi Minh City government. This later served as a guideline for state economic policy at the time.

He has even lectured certain topics he translated from Russian to top leaders including former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet, General Mai Chi Tho and female General Nguyen Thi Dinh.

But his most passionate moments are with Russian literature which he said “will live forever”.

From Russian novels to Chinese kung fu

It is quite a nice surprise to know that at the age of 54, he took up Chinese, initially to “expand his knowledge a bit”.

However, the language gradually found root in the fertile land endowed with linguistic flair and he started translating a series of Chinese books.

They are acclaimed kong fu writer Jinyong or Louis Cha’s multi-volume The Return of the Condor Heroes and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre, a non-fiction book on geology, and a 2,400-page Chinese dictionary on traditional culture.

He has also written a Vietnamese-Chinese dictionary on proverbs.

Determination, self-study

Thanh Nien newspaper found out he worked 15 hours a day.

“Looking back, I see no reason for regret. Whatever I do, I invest all my energies in”, he told the newspaper.

“I am good at Russian not because I have studied in Russia. I am mainly self-taught here in Vietnam.”

The most important thing in learning a foreign language is determination, and scientific method, he said. Besides, we need to read a lot.

Reported by Dong Duong – Translated by Hoang Bao


It’s hard to believe that quality translations could be turned out at such speed. But then, some people do have seemingly super-human linguistic gifts, so this may be such a case. And surely such a long-lived career could only have been sustained on success.

On the positive side, Mr. Truong is a model for the self-taught translator. Although his degree in the literature of one his source languages must be counted as formal preparation for translation, his expertise in economics was indeed acquired, apparently, “on the job.” As he is quoted as saying, “[W]e need to read a lot.”

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