Translator Tips: Ted Talk by Suzanne Talhouk, ‘Don’t kill your language’


If you want to master a language, you must master your own language first Suzanne tells us in this moving and highly relevant TedTalk. 

Language Ted Talk

Suzanne Talhouk is an advocate for the Arabic language as a tool of pride and unity. Raised in war-torn Lebanon, Suzanne Talhouk has a masters in physics and a passion for poetry; she has released two collections of poems. She launched Feil Amer, an organisation that aims to preserve the Arabic language, and to reinstate the pride in young Arabs towards their language, after too many times herself encountering a feeling of being ‘looked down on’ for using the language of her home, her childhood and many precious, important moments and memories.

Ted describes her talk, “More and more, English is a global language; speaking it is perceived as a sign of being modern. But — what do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues? Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can. In Arabic with subtitles. ”

She tells a story of a writer, who first wrote in Arabic, and describes how this allowed him to tell the tales of his childhood, growing up living in the Arabic language accurately, because language is not merely a collection of words strung together, but ideas that are expressed from within ourselves. She says he mastered this, and so was then able to write in the same beautiful way in English.

Adopt words like ‘cool’ and ‘internet’ if they fit better than the words of your mother tongue, but allow yourself to appreciate the beauty of what your language does say accurately. She describes some things that are so hard to translate from Arabic to other languages. I think the humour might be missed on me as a non-Arabic speaker, but her point is clear, certain things can be lost or close to lost in translation. She also speaks about how so many countries appreciate the importance of their language, German, French, Japanese and Chinese people legislate to protect theirs, and put money into developing it.

If we lose a language, she continues, we have to go back to the start, to find an identity and a culture.

It’s a very interesting watch and will bring insights into language for many of us, no matter what language we speak.

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