Beyond the Words

Translators are often thought to simply need to have a knowledge of languages to do their job well. This article explores the complications that arise when attempting to translate not just words, but ideas and culture. The author describes working in Tibet and observing individuals who choose to self-immolate. Because he had been assimilating into the culture for quite some time and he was well aware of the implications and meanings of self-immolation, he could understand it. However, he had an extremely difficult time trying to explain it to someone who was unfamiliar with the culture. This begs the questions of how to translate and explain ways to life to those who have never experienced it first hand. It seems imperative that a professional have at least some background in anthropology and experience with ethnographical study to be able to do justice to the work and to the culture. Anthropology proves once again to be an invaluable asset to break down cross-cultural barriers.