Teaching Translation Postscript

Last semester’s course “How to Translate Anything” went well but not as well as I would have liked. I had it basically divided into three parts, readings and discussions at the start, then a middle section on computer assisted translation, using SDL Trados, in the middle, then. a workshop segment at the end. These are all still fine, and I’ll use all three again next spring when I teach the course again, but they need to be adjusted.

The Bellos book worked pretty well, but I don’t need to read the whole thing. Some of the other readings, especially those from the Translation Studies Reader, are simply too abstract and theoretical for the students in this particular class. It’s also possible that my more practice-based approach suffers rather than benefits from including them. Students (and these are talented and smart students, many taking the course through the Honors College) complained more than once about some of the theory-laden language, especially, I noticed, from pieces written in the 1990s. I’ll trim those back (probably Appaiah and Chamberlain) and try to find others that at least cover similar territory but with different approaches.

I over-estimated the students’ technical prowess and under-estimated the complexity of SDL Trados. I assumed that with a tutorial or two, included in the software, they would be able to go out and do some independent work, but, while some did this, most needed more guidance, and I needed more technical expertise with the software to be able to answer their questions and troubleshoot all the myriad tech issues that inevitably come up. They probably also need more time, with some scaffolding leading to the more complex aspects of the software, like translation memory, the cognitive machine translation function, and finalizing and exporting their projects. I probably also need to add a solid week to this segment, making it four rather than three.

Finally, the workshops, which I should have known the best as I’ve taught plenty of workshops in the past, were only partly successful. Some students loved them and were looking for more by the end. Some disappeared, thinking, it seems, that all they needed to do was provide comments to their classmates to satisfy that portion of the class. I thought I had made it clear to them what was expected beforehand, but it seems not.

There is also a big gap between where I want them to be as writers of English and where they are, and I found myself trying to edit way too much. Even something as apparently simple as how to mark dialogue was a struggle, with several students rather mechanically using French dashes and Spanish inverted quotation marks in their English versions. I don’t want to say “that’s wrong” because, after all, it’s just a convention. But I wonder if my subtle criticisms or invitations to “have a look at a page of dialogue in a mainstream book of fiction published by FSG” really make it clear. Not sure how best to address this part. My friend Ben Paloff, whose title for the course I borrowed with his permission, calls his own version of the course a “stealth writing course,” which is something I shared with the students at one point. I don’t think they were pleased with this idea. Yet writing focused on the details of language use is, I think, an inevitable focus of translation, and of the course.

Then all three of the segments need to be better integrated, probably by spreading the first and last portions out more throughout the semester, such that we’re reading and workshopping almost from the start, with a solid CAT segment in the middle as something of a change of pace.

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