Thoughts from the Territories of Understanding Conference

Hello everyone, I trust all is well out there in translation land! As some of you may have spotted, last week marked the occasion of the second international postgraduate conference in translation and interpreting studies at Queen’s University in Belfast.

Entitled Territories of Understanding: Conflict & Encounter, the organisers put on a thoroughly enjoyable event and I wanted to share a few quick thoughts that emerged during my stay in Northern Ireland.

The Present and Future of Translation Studies

Spread out over the course of two days, the conference’s twenty or so papers were slotted around keynote talks from leading translation studies scholars Susan Bassnett, Michael Cronin and Samia Bazzi.

While these big-name talks all provided ample food for thought (as you’d expect), reflecting the breadth of research in contemporary translation studies and showcasing what the (inter)discipline’s well-established scholars have to offer, there was much more to the conference than the chance to hear from a few translation heavyweights.

This was the first time I’d attended a specifically postgraduate conference and I was blown away as translation’s emerging scholars were provided with the leading voice. Talks were consistently excellent throughout, tackling a vast array of topics while centring around the notion of conflict and encounter, and the whole event was characterised by a universal willingness to share and discuss ideas.

Indeed, beyond enjoying two intense days of translation talk (what’s not to like about that, right?!), it was this postgraduate basis that really set the event apart. Having seen first-hand what this new generation has to offer, I left Belfast with no doubt that there is a bright future in store for translation studies.

posterterritoriesofunderstanding-non-qub1

Moving beyond translation studies

Back in the present, one of the most pressing general issues facing current and future translation scholars alike (and something that is also a real concern in the translation profession) is the need to move beyond our own borders and demonstrate the complexity and relevance of translation to a wider audience.

As our ongoing preoccupation with expanding understandings of translation continues to take the area beyond traditional notions of a specifically linguistic activity, translation studies’ interdisciplinary appeal is becoming increasingly evident.

While such tightly focused conferences can often represent a case of preaching to the converted, talking up the merits of a subject to an audience of fully fledged enthusiasts, the range of high quality talks on offer from people based outside of translation studies demonstrated that this push beyond our borders is gathering increasing pace and garnering tangible results within the academic world.

Talks centring around discussions of politics, tourism and art seamlessly blended in alongside more traditional discussions of corpus linguistics and rhetoric and the conference gave a strong sense of the progress that has been made over the last few years.

But this expansion must also be accompanied by a note of caution. While these widening understandings of what translation can entail undoubtedly allow us greater scope in engaging with other fields, it seems that an already limited focus on using theory to inform the core practice of translation may be slipping further from our attention.

Aside from a few papers that did explore concrete examples of translation issues, direct concerns from translation and interpreting professionals were only briefly discussed during a round table discussion at the very end of the conference – a clear indication of the way in which such concerns are all too often relegated to the sidelines.

Our core focus (which, for me at least, is that of translation as an interlingual transfer operation going from a source text to a target text) is becoming increasingly diluted and the acceptance of more abstract notions of translation, which are so powerful in extending a welcoming hand to neighboring disciplines, perhaps sees us running the risk of becoming disconnected with an important element of our discipline’s goal. That all-important sense of real-world applicability remains in danger of drifting out of sight – a concern that is not new but is well-worth reiterating.

Ultimately, however, my enduring impression of the conference is undoubtedly that of the considerable quality and the strong sense of direction within the young translation studies community. As the only translation studies PhD student at my university, it was great to get a real sense of what is happening in the wider community. What’s more, my enjoyment of the talks and the discussions that followed really confirmed that, one year into my translation research, I’m definitely working in the right area!

BONUS ODDITY: A poster for ‘Rough on Rats’ poison found during a flying visit to the Ulster museum. Enjoy…

Top Language Lovers 2015 – It’s time to vote!

Hi everyone, hope you’re all well! Just a quick one today to let you know that the voting phase for the Top 100 Language Lovers 2015 competition hosted by bab.la and Lexiophiles has just started.

I’m delighted that my blog (JALTranslation) has been nominated in the “Language Professional Blogs” category once again and any votes would be greatly appreciated!

The competition is now in its seventh edition and last year there were a whopping 1,200 participants and 50,000 votes cast. Voting falls into five categories (language learning blogs, language professionals’ blogs, language Facebook pages, language Twitter accounts and language YouTube channels) and you can pick your favourites in each category.

The voting phase lasts from May 26th to June 14th and the winners will be announced on June 17th.

So, what are you waiting for? Click below to pick your favourites and I’ll be back soon with more translation-based bloggery 🙂

Vote the Top 100 Language Professional Blogs 2015

The Joys of Working From Home

Earlier today, during a spontaneous mid-morning break from my work, I found myself questioning whether or not, after several years of working almost exclusively from home as a freelance translator and researcher, I could go back to working in the ‘real world’ of offices, 9-5 and all that jazz.

While the obvious answer is yes, of course I could, it struck me that the longer I’ve been working from home, the more certain I’ve become that the transition back would be a slow, painful one.

From the freedom to take mid-morning breaks that lead to blog posts like this to the increased productivity associated with working in such a tailored environment, working from home has played a huge part in my personal development.

With that in mind, here are ten conclusions that I’ve drawn based on my adventure so far (with tongue planted firmly in cheek).

  • Family members / friends will never quite understand that ‘at home’ does not equate to ‘doing nothing and likely to be grateful for a call/surprise visit’.
  • Lengthy conversations with pets are entirely normal.
  • My clothing habits have gone beyond the point of no return and I’m OK with that.

  • Caffeine can be used to solve most work-related issues.
  • At this point, my own personal schedule has become so deeply engrained that having to adhere to anybody else’s timekeeping rules would most probably cause my brain to cease functioning.
  • The degradation of social skills is a very real thing.

  • With the vast majority of communication revolving around email conversations, it is essential to become adept at utilising subtle variations in tone, from the ‘I’m really not happy’ staccato sentences to the all-powerful smiley face.
  • These days, anyone complaining about their dreaded commute is automatically met with a smug inward grin as I picture my five-second saunter from bed to office.

comics-invisible-bread-home-work-625699

  • Internet connection issues are always cause for unmitigated panic.
  • My boss is pretty awesome.

Translating: Is there method in the madness?

How do translators work? How do I work? Are the two the same? Earlier today, I got on to thinking about these exact questions and almost instantly decided to write a post looking at how I actually translate.

However, rather than getting into discussions over personal preferences for certain terminology resources or how to set up an ideal translation workspace, I want to look at the more general process of gradually transforming a source text into a target text that is common to all translators.

With this in mind, it struck me that I’ve developed something of a ‘stock’ procedure over the years and I thought I’d try to break it down here.

Beyond providing a brief exploration of the inner workings of my own translation universe, meanwhile, I also want this post to act as a call for other translators out there to share their methods, which will no doubt vary considerably based on language pairs, specialist areas, clients, CAT tools used and so much more.

I’m genuinely interested to find out if there’s a general path that most translators follow or whether each individual niche brings about a unique method (the reality, I imagine, will lie somewhere between the two).


For me, this purely text-oriented analysis of my translation method can be loosely outlined by three different sections. These sections overlap and vary considerably according to the text/deadline etc. but I think that they offer a reasonable reflection of the way that I gradually go about handling the transformation from source to target text while also keeping this post relatively brief.

  • Drafting

First of all, as I usually work with fairly short texts, I like to produce a rough draft as soon as possible after receiving a new job. This draft follows the sentence structure and paragraphing of the source text closely and allows me to spot any unfamiliar terminology or tricky phrases nice and early, giving my brain something of a head start (no pun intended…) on coming up with suitable renderings.

During this stage, I focus on capturing all of the source text information while flowing English remains a side concern. Although the translation is a long way from completion, I find that having a complete target language template to build upon smooths the transition to that final text.

  • Reworking

After initially running through the text, this section involves moulding the draft into something resembling a coherent piece of English writing. Rather than seeing each phrase as an isolated unit where style gives way to substance, this is where the bigger picture has to come into focus and sentences and paragraphs can be reworked to find a fitting target language balance.

I still refer heavily to the source text during this stage, often double-checking certain renderings or trying to conjure up more economical phrasings, but my attention is firmly shifted towards that final text.

With so much going on in terms of accurately relaying the source text message and developing the readability of the target text output, this section is probably where you’d say the ‘real’ translation takes place and tends to take the most time and effort.

  • Polishing

Now comes the time to turn that emerging text into the highly-polished final product. While I will still refer back to the source text occasionally if I need to double-check any facts, figures or phrasings, the focus now lies squarely on refining the target text.

Time permitting, this process usually goes on until fairly close to the deadline as I like to allow as much time as possible to elapse before my final check to help me spot any unnatural phrases or grammatical mishaps that eluded me during earlier read-throughs.

As a further aid to overcoming the kind of ‘immunity’ that you develop to your own writing style, where mistakes can slip by unnoticed, I also find that reading through the text out loud is a great help.

Finally, as a general rule of thumb, I like to have three error-free read-throughs before submitting a text. The number of times through is almost arbitrary but I feel that it’s important to set a limit to avoid endless agonising over mistakes that aren’t there.


Of course, despite the concrete stages that this post suggests, the actual process of translation is a more natural, fluid activity (apart from those instances where the deadline is so tight that it turns into a frenzy of stress, swearing and fleeting inspiration).

Indeed, as I’ve gained experience, I’ve found that an increasing proportion of the initial ‘draft’ is perfectly in-tact by the time the text is delivered, particularly when faced with stock phrases that have cropped up many times before.

That said, however, there will always be certain linguistic conundrums that keep you switching things up until the very last minute.

Now it’s over to you. How do you work? Do you draft or look for a ‘final’ translation from the outset? Is proofing a major part of your work or do things naturally fall into place? Let me know!

Key Translation Skills: Write Right

Translators as professional writers

When it comes to improving your translation skills, the natural reaction is often to devote additional hours to that all-important source language savvy.

However, despite the undoubted centrality of this skill set, there remains another area that is often inexplicably relegated to an afterthought in translator training in spite of its overwhelming importance: the ability to write well in your target language.

Indeed, given the widespread nature of the misguided assumption that bilingualism equates to good translation, newcomers to the industry could almost be forgiven for thinking that foreign language skills are the Holy Grail of translation excellence. But it’s not that simple.

Translation is a product-oriented activity and, as such, your hours of hard work take the form of a target language text that is often used as the sole indicator of your ability. Quite simply, it doesn’t matter if you understood the source text perfectly if you can’t convey that mastery into your target language.

Of course, the unfortunate stereotypes work both ways: just as somebody who can speak two languages isn’t automatically a good translator, simply being able to write doesn’t make you a good writer.

With that in mind, here are a few quick tips drawn from my own continuous efforts to improve that will (hopefully) help you up the level of your writing . If you have any further suggestions, feel free to leave a comment below!


 

Read ABOUT WRITING

An obvious place to start is by tackling texts that directly address the issue. There are millions of words out there devoted to the subject and we all need a few tips on grammar, punctuation, spelling and the like from time to time. Newspaper articles, blogs, infographics and even style guides are all valuable sources of information that can give you a quick boost.

Write a blog

How could I leave this little gem out? One of the main reasons for starting my blog was to provide myself with a space to hone my writing skills, focusing on my ability to share information with a specific audience in mind. Reading early posts, it is striking how much my writing has changed over the years (hopefully for the better) and this body of texts is both a sign of my ongoing commitment to improvement and a useful way of gauging progress. Give it a try.

Write for friends/FAMILY

For those of you who don’t fancy writing a blog, whether due to the hassle of committing to a regular output, shyness about sharing your posts or a desire to experiment with a new style of writing in private, why not write for friends, colleagues or family members who are willing to cast a critical eye over your efforts instead?

Of course, it’s important to find somebody with the necessary expertise and a willingness to openly offer criticism and alternative solutions rather than unconditionally praising everything you write, but feedback from a trusted source can be an excellent way to progress.

Write for websites/Publications

One thing that I’ve found to be extremely helpful over the years is writing for various websites. This provides you with the opportunity to write in a different context to the comfortable surroundings of a blog post or personal practice run, for which you can set your own flexible style guide, and also allows you to get honest feedback from experienced editors.

There are hundreds of sites out there looking for contributors and, best of all, you can target subject areas that correspond to your translation specialisms. In order to focus on my specialist area of sports translation, for instance, I worked with a number of sites writing about Italian or French football in English. Subsequently, I made several new contacts in the field who have introduced me to clients on the back of my translation and writing work for their sites.

Read Your work aloud

While feedback from a professional editor is the ideal, critically assessing your own writing remains an important skill. Self-proofing can be a tricky business as it is all too easy to become immune to the peculiarities of your own style, but I’ve always found that reading aloud makes a big difference (check out this article for some more excellent tips on self-proofreading).

If you find yourself tripping over a particular phrase when you read your writing, chances are that it is not merely a slip of the tongue but rather something in the text that is restricting the flow. Furthermore, while more elusive elements such as excessively long sentences are easily glossed over when reading your work silently, you’ll soon spot them when you’re gasping for breath after struggling past the umpteenth clause of a never-ending phrase.

READ ACTUAL WRITING

My final tip is an important one. Beyond simply writing, read texts by famous authors or professionals in your specialist area that were written in your target language. Examine their language usage, question what it is that is unique to that particular style of writing and try to pinpoint what it is that makes one text more engaging than another.


 

Ultimately, developing your writing skills is an ongoing process that will never reach a final destination. Perfection is not required but be sure to avoid complacency, there is always room for improvement.

One final caveat: please bear in mind that while the tips above will help your writing skills, it is important that they are considered with the practical application of translation in mind. Writing as a translator is a different beast to producing original texts as, rather than having an infinite selection of words and phrases at your beck and call, you are tied to the message in front of you. As such, it is more than just a case of writing well, it is about writing well within the strictest of confines.

One excellent way to hone in on writing as a translation-specific activity is to analyse existing translations alongside the source text. Beyond buying two versions of the same book, many sites/articles etc. are published in several languages, allowing you to examine what it is that the translator has done:

  • Where is the line between fidelity to the source text and the importance of conveying the core message to the target audience?
  • What is it that you like or dislike and why?
  • How does the target language version read?

Remember, there are a lot of bad translations out there so don’t blindly assume that because somebody else has opted for one rendering you must do the same, think critically and offer your own solutions.

The 12 Days of Christmas (for language lovers everywhere)

With the holidays almost upon us, I thought I’d get into the festive spirit and have a little fun with today’s post.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I can’t resist a silly translation/language/grammar-related pun and, in what is fast becoming a JALTranslation tradition, here are 12 of my favourite punny images from the last year to (hopefully) help you bring in the New Year with a smile.

All that remains is for me to thank you all for making 2014 such an enjoyable year, fingers crossed that 2015 brings more of the same. Whatever you’re doing, enjoy the holidays! 😀

(Click any image to open slideshow)

Book Review: Experiences in Translation – Umberto Eco

Having recently picked up a copy of Umberto Eco’s Experiences in Translation during one of my all-too-frequent book buying sessions, today I thought I’d share a quick review with you lovely people.

For those of you who have never come across Eco before, he is an Italian semiotician, essayist, philosopher, literary critic, novelist and (most importantly for us) translator. While he is perhaps best known for his 1980 work Il nome della rosa (The Name of the Rose), his list of publications includes many academic texts, essays and even children’s books.

Experiences in Translation is a short book in two halves based on a series of lectures on translation given by Eco in 1998. The first half sees Eco reflect on translation by referring to his own personal experiences (including both him doing the translating and others translating his works) while the second looks at the more theoretical side of things, using Roman Jakobson’s three different types of translation to spark a discussion into what constitutes translation proper.

You would expect any text by such a distinguished writer to read well (I must admit that I haven’t read the Italian original) and Alastair McEwen’s translation into English certainly follows along the expected path. The text is a joy to read, it is witty and concise and provides a welcome change of pace for anyone used to trawling through academic papers where style can often fall a distant second to substance or translators in need of a break after repairing one too many error-strewn source texts.

In addition to this sense of style, the text uses a number of fascinating examples: Eco’s exploration of the French and Portuguese translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Raven’ was a personal favourite in a second half that is weaker than the first, often meandering along and flitting from subject to subject, including fanciful (albeit interesting) discussions such as the possibility of translating Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony into words.

By towing the line between getting too bogged down in theory and remaining purely anecdotal, the book works as something of a bridge between the lighter discussions found in general works on translation and the serious, often heavy-going business of translation scholarship in a manner reminiscent of David Bellos’ excellent Is That a Fish in Your Ear?

Beyond the fascinating examples from Eco’s own work, however, problems are found deeper within the text. While the structure of the book (1st half practice, 2nd half theory) initially suggests that the text will seek to address the divide that exists between theory and practice in the world of translation (something that I wrote about recently on my blog), this impression quickly subsides as Eco outlines his true intentions.

Despite insisting at the outset that theory and practice must be united, stating that all translation scholars should have translated and been translated at some point in their careers, Eco goes on to explain that his ‘practice’ half was placed ahead of the ‘theory’ half in order to demonstrate how translation still goes on unimpeded in a world where only ‘naive’ views of translation are on offer, forwarding a ‘common sense’ approach to the task of translation.

In reality, however, if this common sense approach were a universal asset, it would contradict not only the need for the second half of the book (it seems a bit pointless to dismiss theory’s worth before going on to spend 60 pages discussing that theory) but potentially the text’s very existence. As Anthony Pym puts it: ‘if common sense were really common, no one would have to read Eco to know about translation.’

Furthermore, this show of intent quickly transforms Eco’s text from a laudable attempt to forge a relationship between theory and practice into a veiled attack on translation studies based on the author’s somewhat skewed version of what theory has to offer.

The fact that Eco’s theoretical discussions are founded on ideas from the 1950s/60s and involve an inconsistent use of various strands of thought calls the author’s methodologies and conclusions into question. While translation theory may still be unable to fully guide us through the translation process, Eco’s exploration of the topic does a slight disservice to the amount of helpful material out there.

Instead of attempting to use theory to inform practice or vice-versa, practice takes place in isolation before Eco occasionally tips his hat to various scholars like Lawrence Venuti by labelling certain passages as ‘domesticated’ or ‘foreignized’, for example, wherever it seems vaguely applicable and without adequately justifying whether or why this is the correct choice.

In truth, the method is irrelevant as Eco’s solution has already been fixed as the correct solution (quite easily too, since most of the discussions are argued with reference to translations of Eco’s novels). Eco frequently refers to ideas such as ‘deep meaning’, ‘the intention of the text’ or ‘the guiding spirit of the text’, unfairly ignoring more recent advances in translation theory questioning such notions and simultaneously making his ideas impossible to disprove.

Ultimately, while Eco’s overview of the development of thought upon translation using his own work brings with it some fascinating examples, his theoretical explorations remain unrefined in places. Experiences in Translation represents a worthwhile addition to any bookshelf but will never bring about any profound advances in thought on translation.