Ngawang discusses the challenges facing language translations, as well as the formation of the Esukhia project, and his vision for the future…
“When we decided to do this project, the first thing we did was create an online platform for Tibetan scholars and Western translators, where they could collaborate on translations. We wanted to attempt to do something similar to what happened back in Tibet in the 7th century, where Indian and Tibetan Buddhists would work together for translation. However, once we finished a version of this online platform, we discovered that Tibetan scholars and translators found it useless. When we asked them about it, they said that if they had to ask questions on the topic and translation in Tibetan, they wouldn’t be able to do it! It seems that many translators mostly use dictionaries grammar rules, and translating like that. We decided, ok, if that’s the problem, then we’re going to bring spoken Tibetan to your homes instead! So we started an online school for spoken Tibetan. Slowly it evolved, and we’ve been doing some research as it develops… Last year, we started the immersion course, where students can pick up spoken Tibetan quite quickly. Our long term goal, though, is to train future translators and scholars who will have the skills to collaborate on translation efforts.
Thus, our project is connected to translation; mainly Tibetan-to-English at the moment. We really aim to support translation efforts—such as Buddhist philosophy—particularly since there are really no professional translator training resources for Tibetan language when you compare it to the professional standards for other languages. The other problem is that translators usually translate by themselves. Now, for most other languages in the West, that’s quite rare. When you translate, you really need to discuss the meaning with a native speaker to create an understanding of the texts. Learning a language is not simply about learning vocabulary; it’s about understanding the way other people are thinking. That’s what will really make you a good translator. When you really understand why people say things the way they do, and you understand all the fine details of meaning—that’s the key. We need to understand how Tibetans structure concepts, and the way those structures convey meaning. It really comes from a knowledge of the culture. Another need is to understand Tibetan literature and poetry. Something really needs to be done, otherwise all the Buddhist teachings and Tibet’s literary heritage is at risk of completely disappearing. If we don’t do something now, it might be too late.
In our opinion, one of the best ways to do translations was witnessed in Tibet’s past; creating real understanding of the text. An ideal translator would have to be a native speaker of both languages; however, this is impossible, as you can have only one mother tongue. Translating is really nothing more than understanding something in one language, and then expressing it in another. This is what happened in Tibet in the 7th century, with Indian scholars. The Tibetan translator, who had studied Sanskrit for 20-odd years, would write the meaning that he gained from working closely with an Indian scholar, who knew Tibetan. Nowadays, I haven’t heard of a single translation done in this way; that’s quite a pity as it could be done quite easily. In order for this to happen, translators must be fluent in Tibetan, and Tibetan scholars must also have some knowledge of English. Our aim is to bridge both sides; to be able to produce some really good quality translations that accurately reflect their Tibetan heritage. We are training people really hard for this.
When translators and scholars work together, we really want them to understand each other’s meanings. We also want to create platforms and tools within an online environment, so they can meet and to work together efficiently. Together with this we are working on preserving the Tibetan language and Tibetan culture, and we are doing some research on teaching the Tibetan language as a second language too. The diaspora is spread across the world, and in order to keep the language alive we must use means such as online teaching, and other modern methods. In short, we try to create and encourage people to learn, use, and spread Tibetan language and Tibetan culture. Ftraor this we also create jobs connected with Tibetan culture—right now we have at least 45 full-time workers at Esukhia; people who have mainly studied Tibetan literature, history, and culture in school, but haven’t had the opportunity to use their education until now. We also have many monks and nuns who have years of Buddhist study behind them, but don’t have anywhere to apply their education; so we want to provide a venue for that untapped resource. That’s what we’re really trying to do”.