Translating books and traveling - A journey of self-discovery: Translator Tong Lien Anh

WVR - Translating books and traveling may seem like unrelated activities, even contrasting in nature. However, from the perspective of translator Tong Lien Anh, these are intertwined journeys, where individuals continually unearth knowledge, lead lives enriched with experiences and cultivate spiritual wealth.

Reading and translating books - A serene dive into the world of words

What drew you to book translation, and what do you find most challenging and fascinating about it?

Born and raised in a mountainous district, my expansive library was the sky, the earth, and and the sparkling nights filled with stars. My huge book was the poems and stories recounted in my father's memories. Upon learning to read, my fascination extended to anything with words around me.

For me, translating a book is a profound form of reading, delving deep into a work, but now, it's not just for personal enjoyment; it serves thousands of readers. This transition molded me from a mere “enjoyer” of books into a more responsible, committed, and tenacious reader. Both reading and translating books are emotional odysseys within the realm of words, but the latter is a silent adventure often undertaken alone, embracing and confronting solitude.

Tống Liên Anh trong lễ ra mắt sách Học tập suốt đời. (Ảnh: NVCC)

Tong Lien Anh at the book launch event for The Lifelong Learner.

Mark Twain has a great quote about language use: “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter - It’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning”. Translation is a demanding task that necessitates not just language proficiency but also a translator's profound knowledge, sensitivity, and connection to the work.

The fine-tuning process is often time-consuming and arguably the most “painful”. There are instances where I spend weeks grappling with the translation of a single word or term, and still am not satisfied. Some passages I find myself retranslating even after the first and second editions, yet contentment eludes me.

Tống Liên Anh trong chuyến thăm lớp học xoá mù chữ  tại bản Phồng, tỉnh Nghệ An. (Ảnh: NVCC)

Tong Lien Anh during a visit to a literacy class in Phong village, Nghe An province.

The most recent book I translated was during a business trip across the Northwest, Central Highlands, and central regions of Vietnam. Every day, I set my alarm for 4 AM to have two hours for translation before traveling hundreds of kilometers to remote villages. This experience, however, became a crucible, refining my resilience, patience and nurturing an unyielding motivation for continuous learning to surmount personal limits.

Traveling - A vibrant exploration reflecting the world of words into life

Ms. Tong Lien Anh is an expert in the field of adult education and lifelong learning. She graduated with honors from the Master of Education Program, Monash University under a Full Scholarship from the Australian Government and was twice honored to be awarded a Lifetime Learning Scholarship by UNESCO.

She is an expert/advisor for various projects of organizations such as UNESCO, DVV International, SEAMEO CELLL. During 10 years working at the Ministry of Education and Training of Vietnam, she was in charge of projects and programs promoting lifelong learning, building a learning society in Vietnam.

Ms. Lien Anh is the author and speaker of hundreds of articles, television programs, and talk shows promoting reading and studying in Vietnam. She is the translator of a number books such as: The Profit Zone (2009), Due Diligence: An M&A Value Creation Approach (2010), Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs(2011), Where's the Poop (2020) and The Lifelong Learner (2023).

As you mentioned, book translation demands stillness, intense focus, and can be quite lonely. However, you are an avid traveler, and you have just spoke about your journey of "translating while traveling" your latest book. What fuels your love for traveling, and how does it connect with reading and translating books?

I see myself as a river, where life flourishes at its core, and all the prosperity enriching its banks stems from the continuous flow.

Traveling, for me, transcends mere geographical shifts on a map; it's an immersive interaction with knowledge and the beauty of nature, culture, society, and people.

I'm grateful that my profession propels me to “flow” ceaselessly into the vast ocean. To date, I've explored nearly 30 countries and territories worldwide.

2023 stands out as an extraordinary year, marked by unforgettable experiences, setting foot on four continents, and travelling across Vietnam twice.

These were journeys that broke all physical limits, expanded my perception, and shattered the narrow beliefs I had set for myself.

Through these travels, I touch, feel, smell, hold, gaze, understand, and test the elements encountered in books. I believe that when touching the Wailing Wall in the Holy Land, someone who has delved into books about Israel, experiences an intensity of emotion distinct from a mere traveler passing through.

Similarly, an individual captivated by the works of Jack London will be overwhelmed with emotion living amidst a wild moonlit night in the northernmost part of the United States, witnessing the primal light reflecting on frozen rivers and lakes bordered by snow-covered forests.

Tống Liên Anh trong chuyến trải nghiệm, khám phá cực Bắc của nước Mỹ. (Ảnh: NVCC)
Tong Lien Anh on an expedition to the North Pole of America.

At times, life's most exquisite moments occur when the visions and imaginations of our childhood literature materialize before our eyes or when the wildest dreams of youth draw near enough to touch and grasp. Such moments epitomize the unparalleled joy of someone immersed in the realms of reading, translating books, and delving deeply into the tapestry of life.

Translating books and traveling: Adventures in self-discovery

In your perspective, how do reading, translating books, and traveling contribute to each individual's learning journey, aiding them in “finding themselves” and living the life they desire?

In Peter Hollins' book “The Lifelong Learner” there's a quote that I love: “The immense, uncharted area of human experience that exists outside the restrictive bounds of formal schooling is the most significant frontier of education”.

Reading serves as the foundation of self-learning, the inaugural step in a lifelong learning journey. Translating books, taking it a step further, involves reading and “narrating”, sharing the literary wealth with many. Yet, stopping there is insufficient. Constant immersion in experiences is the bridge connecting extensive knowledge from reading and translating with real-life. Therefore, for me, reading, translating books, and traveling are interconnected, mutually reinforcing journeys. On this expedition, each individual comprehensively explores the external and internal worlds, seeking profound and complete fulfillment.

The Lifelong Learner by author Peter Hollins, translated by Tong Lien Anh and Le Anh Thu, has been reprinted twice after 1 month of official release. has undergone two reprints within a month of its official release. The book also secured a nomination in the top 10 must-read books by VTV's esteemed readers.
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