Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Teaching informs research, which in turn informs practice

In a recent article written by Edwin Gentzler for the first ATISA Journal for Translation and Interpreting Studies, I was caught by the simple phrase up in today's title:

Teaching informs research, which in turn informs practice.

We career translators, regardless of our area of expertise, naturally distrust translation theorists because, well, we don't feel the benefits of TT in our daily working lives. To translation theorists throughout the world, I'd like to join in with Janet Jackson: What have you done for me lately?

As we hone our skillset, perfect our methods, increase our vocabulary and apply translation techniques, we take from translation theory what we need. Boy, and what a squeezing-blood-from-a-turnip enterprise this has been!

Yet there's hope. In "Can Theory Help Translators?" (by Andrew Chesterman and Emma Wagner), Chesterman describes what's been going on. He says that the prescripitive trend in theory has been turning descriptive in the last few decades. He adds that most of the translation theory that has been done involved literary translation because of the abundance of material for research (several classics have multiple translations in the same language). Then Wagner pointedly indicates: "Most translators, on the other hand, would be happy to have some concrete advice and guidelines, even doctrines, as long as they are practical and realistic. It is regrettable that 'prescription' has been out of fashion in linguistics for the past few decades --the same decades that have seen the emergence of the would-be professional translator." Regrettable indeed, Ms. Wagner.

At the school of languages where I am completing my master's, they still teach translation with an obsolete model. Yes, lots of linguistics, contrastive grammar and phonetics/phonology, plus courses on culture and literary texts, and a predictable variety of texts (journalistic, technical-scientific, medical, etc.) for the future translator to practice on. Nothing on translation tools, assisted translation, project management, professional services marketing. Nothing on pricing, searching and retaining clients or doing research. Of course, I am floating the question: should a translation program at a college level include the latter?

The first problem I see with this picture is the name of the school: a school of languages. The skillset a student needs to become a language teacher is different from the one for a translator. That may sound obvious to you and me, seasoned translators, but not to a 18-year-old girl who wants to be a translator on the outside but a language teacher on the inside. Or worse. Late last year, I was introduced to a senior from the translation program who wanted to be...a language interpreter for tourists! Why on earth did she spend 4 years of college education to do just that when a 2-year course on language and the tourism industry would have done it for her? Baffling, bizzare...and a bit dumb.

Next time, I hope to comment on the latest article written by Dan Kiraly for the ATISA Journal of TIS. Until then, bye.

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