Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Different locales, different teaching aims

Back in 1998, my friend and mentor Leticia Molinero shared with me her concern that U.S.-based Spanish translators were losing projects due to outsourcing to translators residing in Third-World countries. She invited me to sign in a petition of sorts at the time. I can't say I signed or declined. I can have such bad memory for grassroots movements.

Fast forward to 2006. Yes, translation projects continue to be outsourced to third-world translators. I remember writing an article in 2005 for Apuntes magazine titled "Why you should prefer a U.S.-based Spanish translator." In this feature, I attempted to educate potential clients and Spanish translators about the pros and cons of outsourcing work. I suppose the best I could hope for was to help my fellow translators understand that market forces cannot be fought back with complaints and whining.

In January 2005, I wrote to Dr. Sue Ellen Wright, Kent State University (Ohio) and asked her, "What can be done to promote syllabus changes to bring it more in line with real-life realities for translators?" She replied:

One of the facets that I have encountered is that although there are certain universities in Spain that do a very good job, in particular, Grenada and a consortium of unis in Barcelona (Pompeu Fabre/Autónoma), as well as some institutions in the Luciphone [sic] area, there are nonetheless other unis [universities] in the Mediterranean area that are really, really averse to pragmatic approaches--Italy and Greece being cases in point, although Trieste in Italy is an exception. I know that many Italian and Greek academics feel that "this sort of thing" belongs in trade schools and not at the university level. I wonder if any of this rubs off on unis in Argentina; it wouldn't surprise me.

Yes, I could verify that the way things are done at Facultad de Lenguas (Universidad Nacional de Córdoba) is full of this aversion towards pragmatic approaches, deeming them more fit for professional (v.g., vocational) studies than the academics-oriented programs they promote.

I have recently been pondering about translator education after fielding some enquiries from a private college in El Chaco (Argentina). I drafted some ideas on how to teach translation skills in an interactive way to people who, despite their language skills, may be have to be deprogrammed --or disabused of their erroneous ideas about the translation process.

I believe we have to tailor translation education to the locale where translators live and plan to work. We cannot train translators residing in Europe or United States the same way we train translators living in South America; nor we can train translators who live in one country half of the year and in another the other half the same way we train translators who never left their motherland. For example, translators living in the United States who migrated to that country in childhood have a different linguistic competence than those who arrived in the U.S. in their 30s. So, in my mind, translator education and training has to be adapted to the desired linguistic and cultural competence in the translator, which is dictated by market forces.

Didactics of translation should occupy itself more on doing research on this proposed selective translator training. For example, a Chile-based translator might not need to be deeply versed in American culture if he/she translates mostly for his/her countrymen; for example, an American insurance company may not have to sell some of its products and services in Chile because of regulatory or market restrictions, so there is no need for the in-country translator to become familiar with such unapplicable products and services. I recognize that this point is arguable because, yes, we don't have the empirical research to discuss it in depth. However, I believe that didactics of translation and marketing have a lot to share, so that we can educate translators that can hit the ground running wherever they live. Ideally, every self-respected translator will live in the source language country for a few years to learn the culture represented by the language, but most third-world translators can't afford to do that.

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