10 interesting facts on translation and translators

Posted on September 25, 2017

Every year on September 30, we celebrate International Translation Day. Why on that date? Because it coincides with the Feast of St. Jerome, who was one of the first translators to translate the Bible into Latin.

International Translation Day is about celebrating translators and the work they do. To mark the occasion, I’ve compiled 10 interesting facts on the fascinating world of translation!

Some translation stats

1) The 5 most translated languages in the world are English, French, German, Russian and Italian.

2) The Bible, which can be read in nearly 650 languages, is thought to be the most translated publication (and at least one of its books has been translated into 3,225 languages). Next is the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is available in more than 500 languages.

3) Certain literary classics have also been translated into many languages, such as The Adventures of Pinocchio (available in 260 languages) and The Little Prince (available in 300 languages). Translated into 70 languages, the Harry Potter series still has a way to go!

4) About 330,000 people practise translation as a profession, and that doesn't include those who do it informally.

5) According to a UNESCO database called "Index Translationum," which lists all of the books translated in the world, the top 3 most translated authors are Agatha Christie, Jules Verne and William Shakespeare.

The work of translators

6) The English verb "translate" comes from "translatus," a form of the Latin verb "transferre," meaning "to bring over, carry over."

7) The translation profession is more than 2,000 years old! That's right: the Old Testament is thought to have been translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC, in which case it would be the oldest recorded translation.

8) Scientific knowledge has long been shared through translation. For example, Émilie de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet, an 18th-century physicist, was the first person to translate Isaac Newton's law of universal gravitation into French.

9) Translators are known for inventing alphabets, the precious tools that allow us to share our knowledge. Mesrop Machtots invented the Armenian and Albanian alphabets. Saint Cyril invented the Glagolitic alphabet, the precursor to the Cyrillic alphabet, which bears his name. The Cyrillic alphabet is used today to write many languages, including Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian. And a little closer to home, we have James Evans in Manitoba, who invented Cree syllabics, which are used to write the most widely spoken Indigenous language in Canada.

10) Translators play a key role in providing access to foreign literature. Portuguese writer José Saramago, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, expressed this reality so well when he said, "Writers make national literature, while translators make universal literature."

What do you think of Saramago's quote? Have you discovered authors you love through translated works? If so, share them with us in the comments below!

Translated by Natalie Ballard, Language Portal of Canada


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Marc-André Descôteaux

Marc-André Descôteaux

Marc-André Descôteaux

A translator and reviser for about 20 years, Marc-André Descôteaux has been interested in the web since the days of the 2400-baud modem. Insatiably curious, he is passionate about culture, travel and language.




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Submitted by Irshad Ahmad on January 19, 2018, at 17:51

Some translation stats - The work of translators - Item (7)
If the "first translation" of old testament to Greek language was done in 3rd. century B.C, then it makes it makes the first translation at least 2200 years old instead of 1000 years.
This is just my observation not based on any research.

Submitted by natalieballard on January 24, 2018, at 14:58

Hi, Irshad, thanks for your comment! You make a good point that if the Old Testament is thought to have been translated into Greek in the 3rd century BC, then it and the translation profession would be much more than 1,000 years old. We’ll revise the first sentence of item 7 to account for that fact. Thanks!

Submitted by Bily Stephen on May 17, 2018, at 2:55

While searching over the net I read your blog and found it useful. Translating a content into another language requires so many understanding. A language contains a small impact of its culture. So translator job is not easy so many times. I can connect with your blog as I also belong from the same field. Thanks for sharing.

Submitted by Sylvia González Mc Inerney on May 22, 2018, at 11:39

I love Saramago's quote. Thank you for your research

Submitted by Sylvia on May 22, 2018, at 11:44

I love Saramago's quote. Thank you for sharing it.

Submitted by Alex Marsh on December 6, 2018, at 6:12

Thanks for sharing such an informative blog post. I enjoyed reading and learning from your content. I agree with the points you have mentioned here.

Submitted by Elsie Doss on January 31, 2019, at 6:03

Thanks for sharing this information about translation and translators. All the information is described in an appealing and clear way.

Submitted by adam on February 5, 2019, at 16:34


Submitted by Mike Stellar on July 12, 2021, at 6:15

Great Post! A very informative article. Thank you for enlighten us about the interesting facts of translation and translators.

Submitted by Veronique on June 25, 2024, at 5:53

So interesting and informeful! Thank you very much ! :)