Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The master's touch

Warmer days in Southern California were a good help in giving shape to my master's thesis, but not the way I had planned. After leaving Minnesota for good --or so I thought-- to engage in some consulting work in translation management in the Golden State, I thought I could be in a better state of mind to focus my mind on the project at hand: I had done about 20 pages of my thesis, and I had another 80 to go.

Teaching translation has been the main driver of my master's in Audiovisual Translation. No doubt I felt possessed with a keen sense of curiosity for what translation theories do for the common translator in the field, not just in academia. When I started this online program at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona, I was comforted by the promising contents: subtitling, audiovisual translation theory, dubbing, software localization, and videogame localization. I could have just passed the six modules and be happy with it, but I pushed myself a little harder: I wanted the degree as well.

Starting to write my thesis back in 2007, when I was still freelancing in Córdoba, Argentina, felt comfortable and doable. I had --so I thought-- up to two years to complete it. My thesis advisor's emails back in late April 2008 were a reality check, a sudden wake-up call to the real deadline: end of this summer.

So, I had four months to write up my 100-page draft, send it to my advisor for approval, make the necessary corrections and improvements and resend it for final submission. I had never written anything longer than 20 pages before, let alone with such sense of dread, both academic --no extensions allowed-- and economic --buying more time would mean paying for another module at 600 euros. My thesis advisor, Josep Dávila, recommended that I trimmed my table of contents to a more manageable size and suggested that he had seen very good theses 60 pages long. I was running out of time, but an unforeseen event would provide me with the extra hours needed to succeed.

My translation management consulting job came to an abrupt end when my client and I could not agree on some key principles, so I left in mid July. That decision, although a very risky one from a financial viewpoint, turned out to be a good tactical move as it left me with whole days of free time to devote to writing.

I discovered that ideas on what and how to write came to me in waves of thoughts, completely unscheduled, sometimes at inopportune times of the night or while shopping. So I had to go back to the keyboard and punch out sentences that gave birth to paragraphs and beget more ideas as grandchildren. I was at the mercy of the flow of interconnected strings of thought, sometimes running like a brook, sometimes bursting and overflowing like a river. I realized then and there that I could have not depended on weekends and evenings to write a successful thesis of this kind, neither would I have been able to advance it by just sitting in front of my computer, waiting for ideas to happen.

By mid August, I was done with my draft, now 98 pages long, which I sent to Josep. About 3 weeks later, he returned it with very minor revisions and useful annotations. I amended my work accordingly and made some adjustments of my own and submitted my final version on August 30, 2008. Two months later, I moved to the greater Cleveland area in Ohio.

Last Monday, October 27, 2008, Josep Dávila emailed me my grade sheet for my thesis: un excelente! which is about as close to a 4.0 grade as one might expect. The content of this Informe de valoración follows:

«Análisis comparativo de los estilos de redacción en textos técnicos en español en los últimos 40 años»
Autor: Mario Enrique Chávez
Profesor Dr. Josep Dávila, Director de tesis
Septiembre de 2007 - Septiembre de 2008

Valoro muy positivamente el tema del trabajo y la manera como se ha planteado este tema. Me parece correcta la metodología empleada, tanto la elección de cuatro obras por década como la selección de los indicadores que se han tomado para realizar el análisis pormenorizado de las obras. Es una estructura de trabajo sencilla pero efectiva porque permite obtener resultados concretos y comparables.

Posiblemente uno de los puntos fuertes de este trabajo sea el hecho de que hay una motivación personal detrás de este proyecto. En la reflexión teórica inicial, fresca y amena por las referencias a contactos con los que ha hablado el autor del trabajo y por contener opiniones personales, se observa un gran interés por parte del autor, que logra contagiar a los lectores.

Como aspectos para mejorar del trabajo en el caso de que el autor deseara publicarlo o divulgar los resultados en entornos académicos, mencionaría la necesidad de incluir elementos de mayor precisión académica, como por ejemplo, más referencias académicas en el marco teórico de referencia o bien justificar de alguna manera los tecnicismos de uso dudoso. De todos modos, este trabajo, tal como está, es un trabajo excelente, completo, que alcanza los objetivos planteados y que aporta una buena base para justificar la necesidad de elaborar recursos para la redacción técnica en español. En especial, después de demostrar el descenso en la calidad estilística de los libros analizados. Resulta paradójico que cuantos más recursos informáticos y facilidades para documentarse tenga el traductor, peor sea el resultado.

Por último, felicito al autor y al director de este trabajo por lograr un trabajo tan remarcable a pesar de los inconvenientes de la colaboración a distancia y animo al autor a seguir investigando en el ámbito de los recursos para la redacción/traducción técnica.

My thesis advisor, Josep, has encouraged me to work on getting my thesis published. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Now the professor will take your questions...

Ah! The smell of springtime wafting through my nostrils after a lengthy and unusually subzero cold winter in Minnesota. I know, it is June 1st and I am belatedly sharing my joy with my readers. It may even sound kistchy to talk about the MN weather now that I've relocated to Southern California (especially yellow-sunny Camarillo). Oh, well.

Not long ago, I addressed my students via a teleconference on our videoclass #2 (Professional Ethics for Translators). My students attend a small college in Mar del Plata, Argentina (an often-mentioned fact here). They had viewed the corresponding videoclass almost a month in advance but, at the time of the moderated teleconference, had very few questions to ask. That was anticlimactic and, to a point, sad.

You see, my arrangement with the ISCEM (the abovementioned Mar del Plata college) is to design four videoclasses (one for every month in this term), followed by four teleconferences (all done through Skype). The main idea was to discuss different topics during each of the 1-hour-long videoclasses and give students the opportunity to lock in to the acquired knowledge with the help of moderated teleconferences where they could present me with questions.

The latter hasn't happened as expected. Most of the questions have centered on "what-if" market situations: what if the client asks me to translate into Castillian Spanish (the variety used in Spain), for example.

I asked the sitting professor if the students have been receiving the same scripts he got from me before every videoclass. The answer was no. There you have it. Leaving the students to remember a bunch of facts and theoretical discussions on, say, translator contracts or market dynamics in the translation industry from a 1-hour videoclass and expecting them to come up with probing questions a month later borders on irresponsible teaching, in my opinion. I further submit that it is unadvisable and unrealistic to expect students to take meaningful notes while watching a videoclass, especially since they have no further access to this multimedia material for review purposes after the class and before the matching teleconference.

I have suggested the ISCEM director to let me post the videoclasses on YouTube after they're viewed by the students, but so far I've encountered resistance and very little justification for it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where Spanish is going

It is again wintertime in springtime in Minnesota. Some rain here, some snow there, adding to the dreary prospects of an outdoor activity this weekend. Well, not that I had any plans for the weekend, what with the Tuesday of Impending Doom (that's April 15th for us Americans). Well, I managed to finish my tax preparations yesterday and now, freed, as if were, from this paper yoke (or joke?), I am ready to go on with my life.

But the gremlins that afflict us translators, writers and other wordsmiths woke me up in the wee hours this morning. I started to think about my pending thesis, which revolves around the stylistic changes of Spanish technical handbooks in the last 40 years. That got me pondering about style in a larger sense. You see, when we start studying translation in our traditional universities, we are taught, so properly, from the tradition of language and linguistics, about style, text analysis, grammar, syntax, synonyms, acronyms and other 'yms.' Since most translation programs are born in the heart of language and literature programs, students of translation are led to believe, inadvertently of course, that good writing style is mostly and only found in literary translations.

Because I am, in a way, the product of a translation program created by language teachers at a 500-year old South American university, I used to think that way for a long time...until fate, karma or destiny brought me technical texts to translate. It took me about ten years to perfect my writing style for technical translations in Spanish. And I am still perfecting it.

But enough about the past, what about the future? What is the future of Spanish translations in the market? Yes, there is an overabundance of texts awaiting translation for the Spanish readers, mostly in the United States, and there is a glut of Spanish translators in the market, most of them mediocre ones. Why mediocre? Why do I dare pronounce such harsh judgment on my professional brethren, you'll say? Simply put, it's a matter of style.

Improving your grammar, vocabulary and knowledge of the foreign languages you will be translating from is the easy part. First of all, finding the natural style of your mother tongue, the Spanish you've been speaking since childhood, should be your main goal, and the hardest part will be to find your stylistic voice. To be a true translator is to first admit to yourself that you are a writer. If you want to be a writer that others take seriously, you'll have to find and develop your writing style.

Now, back to calling most Spanish translators in the market mediocre: they are mediocre because they shoehorn their translations into English syntactic structures, ill-fitted to showcase the best of Spanish. There is a need for Spanish authoring across American corporations that goes unrecognized, misdiagnosed and, subsequently, poorly served. I venture to say that part of the future in translation for the Spanish market in America lies with those who venture into authoring text in Spanish, from the ground up. That means, no passage through translation to reach the Hispanic masses, but writing straight in Spanish. Try it. Start now. It'll do your writing a world of good.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year! − ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

A new year is yet another marking in our linear metaphor of life. The measure of time is supposed to help us feel in control of our reality. After all, time is a man-made construct to frame our life...or rather our outlook on life, because life happens whether we are aware of it or not.

Language is one of the few collective expressions of life and the only one with enough bandwidth to encompass humans' full range of ideas, emotions and affirmations. Yes, there's graffiti, diverse forms of art and music to convey similar richness of life, but only language −texts, that is, is powerful enough to convey messages for communication.

While speech synthesizes thought into useful units of understanding, only text can imprint speech with permanence. Writing with permanence in mind is difficult and time consuming. It is supposed to take a long time because its byproduct is expected to last a long time as well. Why shouldn't translations be any different?

In this day and age of commoditization of anything that has any value for civilization, can we commoditize ideas, thoughts, texts? Doesn't a well-written text −or its translation− hold intrinsic artistic value besides communicative value? May the comforting power of the written word and its value hold your hand steady one more year.

Mario Chávez

Monday, December 31, 2007

Views on the San Francisco ATA Conference

This year I decided to attend the ATA Conference (this time in San Francisco, CA) after a two-year hiatus. When I was a new translator in New York City, back in the early 90s, I was so eager and nervous about what I would find at ATA conferences and how difficult it would be to juggle so many options in so little time (3 days). The ATA conference in 1993 took place in beautiful Philadelphia; I remember sitting for the sessions on translation issues in Spanish, which I kept doing for the next following years. I was eager to learn at first, then felt a bit jaded at the basic, unchallenging level of such sessions, as if I were sitting at a undergraduate course on Spanish verb conjugations.

Fast forward to 2007. I had no time to evaluate similar sessions this year but I was hell bent on sampling Dr. Angelelli's presentation along with Sonia Colina (AZ), Geoffrey Koby (Kent State University) and Kayoko Takeda (from Monterey Institute), among others, entitled "Everything you always wanted to know about teaching translation and interpreting but were afraid to ask!"

This is, I believe, the first time ATA ventured to bring together field experts to talk about translation education...in a small room, which quickly filled up with no standing room. I couldn't enter and I missed the session completely. I hope to read about it in the ATA Chronicle soon.

I also wanted to attend the session titled "Los manuales de estilo: guías para mejorar la escritura," by Alberto Gómez Font, but, again, was unable to. Because of my current position at Medtronic (project management is one of my duties), I spent most of my time talking to and interviewing project management tool vendors throughout the conference. I had submitted a presentation proposal for this conference months ago, titled "In search of a Spanish manual of style for technical translators," but it was rejected under the often-quoted excuse that ATA had received so many proposals there was no time slot for my proposal (with, of course, the convenient invitation to submit my paper to the ATA Chronicle...not the same difference.) I believe ATA organizers should do a better, more sincere effort to explain their criteria to select and reject presentation proposals beyond the formulaic replies they're using now. Do I sound bitter? Not at all. I sound frustrated.

More about the conference next time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Back to activity

Hello, again! I apologize for having been absent from my blog for so long. My own education took front seat (a Master's in Audiovisual Translation, an online degree course at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona) for the rest of 2006. Interesting subjects: subtitling, software localization, videogame localization, dubbing. The last --dubbing-- I enjoyed the least and I wouldn't care to practice it.

Back to brass tacks. In March 2007 I was hired by a nondescript college in El Chaco (Argentina) to teach translation. Not one but four courses: traducción técnico-científica I, traducción técnico-científica II, teoría y práctica profesional de la traducción I, and teoría y práctica profesional de la traducción II. 2007 was, in a way, a watershed for me as a translator educator because I was given the chance to put my ideas to the test. I have many experiences to share here. Before I sign out for the day, let me just say that I had the opportunity to teach translation under trying circumstances. I discovered that students learn translation properly --and only-- from translators, from text, not from language. I experienced with my students a clash of cultures in that respect.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Do you like going to conferences?

I do. In fact, I enjoy grasping new information, networking and, whenever possible, giving of myself in the form of a presentation. Right now I am working on one speaking engagement-cum-workshop for translation students in the summer resort of Mar del Plata, Argentina, for October 20-21, 2006.

I got great news regarding my thesis proposal yesterday: it got approved! Obtaining approval for my thesis idea was the easy part. Now it's time to calendar it and work hard at it.

I recently finished reading an excellent book, El lenguaje de las ciencias, by Bertha Gutiérrez Rodilla (Editorial Gredos, 2005). A must-read title for translators interested in terminology issues.

Back to translator education and books: last week I received in the mail Don Kiraly's A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education and Dorothy Kelly's A Handbook for Translator Trainers. Although I haven't had a moment to review them, I hope to do it soon as I begin working on my master's thesis.

There seems to be a market for translator trainers outside of the university realm. As many universities in Argentina --to name one country in my experience-- hold on to a rigidly academia-centered translator training model, mostly objectivistic in its pedagogy, most of the 400+ translators graduating across the country have little or no knowledge about areas that are critical to their professional wellbeing: translation project management and translation environment tools.

Well-known translation tool crusader and writer Jost Zetzsche has said to translators that they should first look at their workflow to determine if a translation environment tool (otherwise known as a CAT tool) is needed or ideal before going to purchase it. Teddy Bengtsson, in an article published in the December 2005 issue of Localisation Focus, said this in regards to translation tools in Argentina:

I hope we will see a move towards availability of freely available satellite versions of TM software, as well as smart and affordable solutions for small- to medium-sized vendors, as this would help to progress and develop the local market.
More to come.