Showing perspective on a story, the reporters’ journey to unveil it, as well as the effects it produces on its audience are all building blocks that are constructed into an episode of Rough Translation. Its self-reported aim is to take its listener through a familiar conversation into unfamiliar territory, and to explore global perspectives on issues debated in the US. As Fiona Sturges at the FT points out, the podcast market is “dominated by America,” to which this podcast brings a global viewpoint that “upends common preconceptions.” Yet, it is not just the perspectives on these stories that are unique. So too are the personal, often deeply uncomfortable issues the reporters reveal that take the listener on a strange journey.
Consider, for example, the moment Laura Heaton sends her story to the founder of a recovery centre, forcing herself to confront the question of whether or not it is her place to uncover false rape claims made by women in the Congo, who were incentivised to lie by aid programmes that brought opportunities for rape victims (The Congo we Listen to). Or, take the moment when a refugee’s dating coach instructs him to hold eye contact while she creates, “like, a really intense sexual tension with the one goal that you try to bear it” (The Refugee’s Dating Coach). Finally, consider the moment producer Jess Jiang steps in as an interpreter to a woman and her surrogate as they fail to express the depths of their emotions through translation tools (American Surrogate). All these instances raise deeply uncomfortable questions without always directly expressing that discomfort, leaving the listener to work out how to deal with the resulting empathetic tension.
Other episodes focus on how different ways of understanding certain ideas (e.g. racism, fake news, apologies) can irrevocably change their meaning and effects on people and policy. This thought-provoking, maze-like content is navigated with artful layering of narrators’ voices, a library of atmospheric sounds, and burning curiosity.
If one thing had to change?
As is, this is a wonderful podcast. One thing that would add to it would be to explore an issue beyond one episode - how is racism evolving outside of Brazil? Or, how are apologies understood in countries other than Japan and the US? Further, what are the connections between the reporters and stories where this is not directly explored? Only small areas to improve on these audio adventures. Five stars.