Translation Tips: Nicky Harman

English PEN has gathered a collection of top translation tips from established and award-winning translators. Every fortnight we publish advice from a different translator on how to improve your translation skills. This week Nicky Harman, a translator of Chinese literature, shares her tips.

nicky harman

1.  Keep your ears open for every bit of spoken language in source and target language that you might find useful. Collect it all in your head like a magpie.

2.  Ditto – pick up expressions from written material too.

3.  Read lots in your target language i.e. the language you’re translating into.

4.  Always remember you’re a servant with two masters/mistresses – the author and the reader.

5.  Try not to do too much translation for free! Though sometimes it’s worth it.


Nicky Harman is a literary translator from Chinese into English –focussing on fiction and poetry by authors such as Han Dong, Xinran, Hong Ying, Zhang Ling and Yan Geling. She is a regular translator/contributor to the literary magazines Chutzpah, and Words Without Borders. She is a contributor to the from-Chinese translators’ website, Paper Republic, and was a Translator-in-Residence at the Free Word Centre in 2011.

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