Friday, February 28, 2014

Margaret Atwood on Childhood Translating

It's always encouraging to have support from someone famous. Margaret Atwood is a familiar name to Canadians, and to fans and students of English literature elsewhere. She was recently invited to give a talk about a subject of her choice at the British Library in London.

Here's what she had to say about her own childhood translating. (The emphasis is mine.) It also says something about her motivation.
As it was the WG Sebald lecture, Margaret Atwood told her audience at the British Library, she was entitled to make it as freeform as Sebald's writing, full of "peripatetic" wanderings, mixing up memoir with other genres, and just plain 'odd'.

Though this was a warning not to expect a linear argument, let alone a theory of translation, her beguiling autobiographical digressions in Atwood in Translationland were not there just for fun. They illustrated that "we spend much of our childhood translating"; that it's a universal activity, not one confined to professional translators. Atwood recalled a childhood divided between Ottawa (where her parents listened to bemusing BBC radio broadcasts) and a cabin in Quebec, where the local language was French and she would try to decode the writing on cereal packets.

Other puzzles included the symbols used in cartoon speech bubbles to indicate extreme emotion, hints of sex in murder mysteries, and phrases such as "interfered with" in newspaper crime reports (she blundered in decrypting "child molester", Atwood said, assuming it meant a child willing to collect moles).

And then there was nonsense verse, such as Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky ("helpfully some translation is provided, though by an egg")
Margaret was born in Ottawa. She therefore had the advantage, and took it, of growing up in contact with two languages. Ottawa is situated right on the border between predominantly English-speaking Ontario and predominantly French-speaking Quebec.
Far from depicting them [translators] as nuisances bound to distort her words, she viewed translators sympathetically, as serious Alices lost in bewildering Atwoodland, and potentially as her most intimate creative partners: "Nobody is going to be reading more closely than a translator.
Notice that her childhood translating wasn't communicative and she wasn't taught it. It was for her own understanding and amusement and it came to her naturally from her everyday environment.

John Dugdale. Margaret Atwood translates translation. Guardian Unlimited, February 20, 2014. The article is here.

Margaret Atwood. Wikipedia, 2014. Click here.

Source: The Guardian, 2014

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Translators in Schools

Last year there was a lot on this blog about the Young Interpreters scheme in British schools. (To find it, enter hampshire in the Search box on the right.) Now news has come about a very different programme, also for British school children. Its name is Translators in Schools (TiS). In its own words:
Translators in Schools entails three increasingly focused stages of training:
A full day of workshops covering translation activities, lesson planning and classroom management
A half day involving a session with visiting schoolchildren based on a template introduced on the first training day
A period of mentoring for participants during which they adapt activities from the training, introduce their own original ideas and lead a translation workshop in a school while being mentored, observed and recorded by TiS mentors
Translators in Schools was run for the first time in November 2013, when 36 translators, language teachers and writers came together at the Free Word Centre in London for a day-long workshop that culminated in a panel discussion. [The participants included] Emma Langley (co-founder and Publisher at Phoenix Yard Books, an independent children’s publishing house and a Masters student in Education at Cambridge University), Vicky Macleroy (lecturer in secondary English with media and drama at Goldsmiths) and Canan Marasligil (a writer, literary translator, editor and screenwriter who was one of the two translators in residence at the Free Word Centre in 2013).
Day 2 took place at Europe House in January 2014, when 21 graduates of Day 1 worked in pairs to deliver mini-workshops to children from Granton Primary School, observed by Sarah Ardizzone and Sam Holmes.
Sarah is a published translator of children's books. Sam Holmes is a French teacher who also leads another school project called Translation Nation, about which I hope to write more later. There's support from the Stephen Spender Trust and the European Commission.
"Free Word works at the meeting point of literature, literacy and free expression as a catalyst for collaborations, nationally and internationally, that explore the transformative power of words. At our London hub, the Free Word Centre, we run a programme of events and exhibitions, and provide a home to six resident organisations and over 25 associates."
One of its Lines of Enquiry is The Power of Translation. It considers translating "as natural as breathing." Hear! Hear!

There are several Granton Primary Schools in the UK, but I had no difficulty identifying this one. It's in Southeast London.
Granton Primary is an ambitious school... The school educates over 490 pupils aged 3-11. The school serves a range of pupils that represent the [ethnic and linguistic] diversity of the local area. This is reflected in our rich and engaging creative curriculum.
So of course they would welcome an initiative like this.

The occasion of the notice I received is that the project wishes to recruit MA translation students to work in schools. MA students should, after their lower degree, already be Expert Translators. This would be an excellent opportunity for them to expand their translating horizon.

Plainly TiS takes a very different approach and has different objectives from Young Translators. The background of the people running it is in literature, or at any rate story-telling. Cultural instead of practical, and not an application of language brokering. (Perhaps story-telling too is intuitive from an early age - but that's another topic.) It's a good thing to recognise that children don't only enjoy translating for practical reasons.

Children who go through the programme should emerge at least as Native Translators. However, the information I've received is short on pupil selection criteria (if any), translation methods and outcomes. The best way to find out more would undoubtedly be to attend a TiS workshop, but they're out of range for me. So I'm writing to the organisers and will let you know.

The news about Translators in Schools came to me through the valuable service provided by Philippe Caignan, Vice-President of the Canadian Association of Translation Studies.

The Granton Primary School website is here.

The Free Word Cantre website Centre is here.

Source: PEN

Monday, February 10, 2014

Translators as Researchers

I'd forsworn writing a post this week when along came the latest issue of Babel. Babel is one of the two longest-running journals about translation, the other being the University of Montreal's Meta. They both started publication in 1955. Babel was founded by Pierre-François Caillé, who also founded the International Federation of Translators (FIT, from its French initials). So it's not surprising that its target readership is composed largely of practising Professional Translators. I have to change hats to read it. However, like most of the other translation journals I receive, it's been invaded by academics.

One of its characteristics is its breadth of scope: it's non-specialist and unprejudiced and gathers articles from all over the world. I read it especially for the articles about Arabic, and there is one or more about Chinese in every issue. But it rarely has articles on anything to do with Natural or other non-Professional Translation, which is the fault of its contributors and not of its editor.

So when I saw the title of the lead article in the current issue, Research competences in translation studies, I would have skipped it as too academic were it not that it reminded me by remote association of something we found out at the University of Ottawa in the 1980s about the minds of Professional Translators.

The University Counselling Service of the university had an educational psychologist named Louise Campagna. It happened that her brother was a Professional Translator for the government, so she had some awareness of what translation students must learn. Yet that wasn't the main reason for her interest in our students. What struck her was the relatively large number of students from our relatively small teaching unit who were coming to her with problems in their courses and doubts as to whether they should persist in the programme. So she wondered whether they had been well selected and counselled at the start. We did have admission tests, but they were all for language proficiency. (There was a prejudice against giving translating tests, on the grounds that we should not test for what students were as yet supposed to learn. A misunderstanding.)

For other professional training programmes she was used to applying 'standardised' aptitude tests, typically American, that were widely available.
Aptitude tests are structured systematic ways of evaluating how people perform on tasks or react to different situations. They have standardised methods of administration and scoring with the results quantified and compared with how others have done at the same tests.
Many of the tests are profiled for specific subjects or careers. So she searched for such a test that would be specific to translators. She couldn't find one. (I doubt whether she would find one even today.) Then she took a different tack. She looked for a test (or tests) on which students who had almost finished the programme successfully did well, and conversely with students who failed. Finally she hit on a test – I forget which one – where the nearest matching profile wasn't linguist but: researcher.

That was an eye-opener, but it's not surprising. Bear in mind that the programme was intended to train Expert Translators. Faced with translation doubts, Natural Translators can give whatever translation comes into their heads or even no translation at all. Whereas Expert Translators can't give up until they find a translation that satisfies the norms of 'good' translation, and they must devote a reasonable amount of time to the search. (Note that all this refers to written translation. Interpreting also requires research, but it has to be done differently.)

Let's take an example.

The other day my friend Brenda came to me with an official letter she'd received in Spanish. When she does that, I translate it for her immediately. I've done that ever since the time she came brandishing a letter and saying, "Look, they've given me my hospital appointment at last," but it turned out to be a summons for a hearing at the local courthouse. Like many, perhaps most, of the million Brits who live in Spain, she doesn't know any Spanish. But I'm not acting professionally for her.

The heading on the letter was Registro de Parejas de Hecho, literally Register of De Facto Couples. The term Parejas de Hecho is fairly new; but the relationship is so widespread that few Spaniards would have any difficulty understanding it and therefore attempting a natural translation of it if they speak English. I translate it for her intuitively by an English term that I'm sure she will understand. It's rather old-fashioned, but then Brenda is my age. I tell her, "The heading says, Register of Common Law Spouses." Brenda, who is in fact the widow of such a relationship, gets the message.

So far so good for a Natural Translation. But it won't do for a Professional Expert Translation. That's not what the relationship and the registers are called officially these days. I would have to – do some research. The initial finding is somewhat dazzling. Wikipedia tells me that the relationship is called a registered partnership, civil union or civil partnership, according to jurisdiction. All right, so the letter is headed Register/Registry of Registered Partnerships/Civil Unions/Civil Partnerships?
Because the norms of Professional Translation require the translator to give only one translation and not throw the choices (of which there would be many) back on the reader. How to choose? I know that Brenda is Canadian from Toronto, and that a professional English translation of her letter would probably end up with a court or a lawyer in that city. It would be best (though not essential) to use the term that those recipients are familiar with. But now there's another wrinkle: Canadian civil law varies according to province, and so does its terminology. Toronto is situated in the Province of Ontario. What do they call it in Ontario? And so on.

In all, 20 minutes of research for a single term. If Brenda were young enough to own and operate a computer, she could seek to cut the Gordian knot by submitting her letter to, say, Google Translate. GT would give her registration of domestic partners. Not much help, because it simply provides yet another alternative. And through it all I have to beware, because registered partnership is also a term in commercial law.

Do I exaggerate? Perhaps. I treasure a caricature by one of my students showing me trying desperately to explain to a class the difference between a guarantee and a warranty, both of them garantía in Spanish.

Louise wrote a paper about her research, but I don't have it in Valencia so I've had to cite from memory.

Civil union. Wikipedia. 2014.

Aptitude tests. WikiJob. 2014. Click here.