Interview with Bea Johnson on translation

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Polish version available // Wersja polska [PL]

Okładka oryginały "Zero Waste Home"

How many languages your book has been translated to so far?

My book is translated in 12 languages. And I found out last week that it is also going to be translated to Italian.

Do you still remember the first translation, what was the language and how was it initiated?

The first translation was Korean. It was initiated by my publisher.

What usually a translation to another language is initiated by?

A portion of the translations have been initiated by my publisher, but most of them, by readers, or people that have seen my Google Talk, or one of my speeches, as is the case for the German version. Here is the story behind it :

What I am holding here is more than the German translation of my book, it’s also the beautiful story behind it… After reading the french version of Zero Waste Home, Marie Delapierre decided to open @unverpackt_kiel, Germany’s first bulk store. She contacted me to have me come to Kiel for a speech and I gladly accepted. In the meantime, a 12 yr old girl was writing a school report on plastic pollution… When she found out that I was coming to her town for a talk, she asked her dad to bring her. But the night of the event, the dad was exhausted from work and told his daugther that it would not be possible. She insisted, finally dragging him to the event. The dad ended up loving my speech and was surprised to find out that my book had not yet been translated to German. He happened to be a publisher… and a year later, he would publish Glucklich Leben Ohne Mull! —– Ce que je tiens la c’est plus que la version allemande de Zero Waste Home, c’est aussi la belle histoire qui l’accompagne… Apres la lecture de la version francaisie de mon livre, Marie Delapierre decide d’ouvrir @unverpackt_kiel (le premier magasin de vrac en Allemagne). Elle me contacte pour venir a Kiel et donner une conference. J’accepte volontiers. Pendant ce temps, une fille de 12 ans ecrit un dossier scolaire sur la pollution… Lorsqu’elle apprend que je viens dans sa ville pour une conference, elle demande a son pere de l’y amener. Mais le soir de l’evenement, le pere est epuise par le travail et dit a sa fille que ce ne sera pas possible. Elle insiste et arrive a le convaincre d’y aller. Le pere finit par adorer ma conference et est surpris d’apprendre que mon livre n’est pas encore traduit en allemand. Il se fait que lui-meme a une maison d’edition… un an plus tard, il publie Glucklich Leben Ohne Mull! —– #zerowaste #zerodechet #zerowastehome #glucklichlebenohnemull #girlpower #ontour #tournee #book

A photo posted by Bea Johnson (@zerowastehome) on

Have you visited all the countries in which your book has been published?

Yes, all but one: Korea.

I’m very curious about one thing, your mother tongue is French and you live in an English-speaking country. In which language was your book written originally? Who translated it to another language, was it yourself? Why or why not?

I wrote the book in American English, because I had lived longer in the US than I have France, and felt more comfortable writing in English. I also live in the US so it was natural for me to find a publisher in my residing country. I did not translate it to French because I was too busy promoting the US version and had lost fluency in my native tongue, but I spent months collaborating with my translator to adapt it to the French market and make sure that the manuscript carried my voice and writing style.

What is the feeling to know that your book is available in so many languages?  

The 18 year old Au Pair that I was when I first came to the US (with a poor level of English!), could never have guessed that she’d launch a global movement one day, or would write a book that would be available in 13 languages! In 2010, after being featured in the New York Times, I became „the priestess of waste free living” overnight. I have since given close to 150+ speeches in 25+ countries on 5 continents and my lifestyle has since been profiled in print and on televisions throughout the world showing that waste free living is possible and inspiring thousands to do the same. My book has also inspired the opening of countless bulk stores abroad, the launch of zero waste organisations and the implementation of waste-free alternatives everywhere. I feel proud and honored by the community that has been created.

Bea Johnson trzyma postugalskie wydanie książki "Zero Waste Home"
Photography by Bruno Colaço 4SEE

Are you participating in the translation process? Are translators in touch with you when translating the book? 

I make myself available to the translators should they want me to participate. Some were translated without my input, such as the Korean one, while others, like the Spanish version, come in contact with me to collaborate.

Are there any particular parts of the book, which were adjusted to a particular country before publishing?

Yes, the local resources in the body and at the end of the book. Furthermore, most translators have been inspired by my book to adopt a zero waste lifestyle themselves, so some have included their input in footnotes.

Would you like any particular translation to happen? Is there any particular country in which you would like your book to be available?

Yes, in Poland of course! The size of the audience that came to my speech in Warsaw last week shows that the zero waste lifestyle interests the Polish public. I think it would be wonderful if the tips and recipes contained in my book were available in Polish.


Pictures courtesy of Bea Johnson

Kiedy pierwszy raz usłyszała o zero waste, pomyślała, że to coś dla niej i choć nadal ilość śmieci, które generuje jest daleka od zera, stara się wdrażać ideę ograniczania odpadów i zarażać nią innych.