English translations of literature in the mother tongue languages can help break down the language barrier between the different communities in Singapore, and Minister of State for Education and Communications and Information Sim Ann wants to see more such works published here.
She has just contributed one, translating Chasing Rainbows, or Zhui Hong in Chinese, the book her retired TV-producer mother Choo Lian Liang wrote on their family's history, which spans from the late 1890s in China to Singapore today.
Speaking to The Straits Times ahead of the translation's launch today, she said English is a must today, to appeal to the younger generation. "However attractive your content is, if it remains in the mother tongue, its appeal to the young will be constrained," she said.
But Ms Sim, who also chairs the National Translation Committee formed last March to raise the standard of translation in Singapore, noted that translation of literary works requires not only technical proficiency but also artistic sensitivity on the part of the translators. "It is not an easy job and these translators are hard to find, but over time I believe this sector of the market here will develop," she said.
Because of the bilingual education policy, she said, there is now a growing pool of local translators and interpreters and, hence, there has been a rising number of English translations of local Chinese literary works, as well those in Malay and Tamil, published recently.
Among them is writer Lai Yong Taw's Deep In The Jungle (2010), which is about the communists' armed struggle in British Malaya, and a series of about 10 Cultural Medallion winners' works published by Epigram Books since 2012. They include the works of Yeng Pway Ngon, You Jin and Xi Ni Er.
They are all Singaporean authors.
Without these translations, Ms Sim said, English-language readers would "be the poorer for it". As to the Government's role, she said: "We are concentrating on building a sound bilingual foundation in schools by exposing students to two languages early, hoping that over the years some of them may flower and be effectively bilingual."
She confessed she was a "reluctant translator" for her mother as she had been pressed for time, and took more than four years to complete the task. Ms Sim, who has a younger brother and sister, said it was through the translation that she got to know older members of her family better.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will launch the English translation of Chasing Rainbows at the National Library Building in Victoria Street today at 7pm. The book will be on sale at major bookshops after the launch at $28 before GST.