"The Computer Geek/Geek Computri was entirely written by Magda and Albana, two 10-year-old girls of immigrant Albanian parents in London. It tells the story of Jordan, a boy obsessed with gaming on his computer, and how he becomes sucked into a dangerous adventure in a virtual world before his eventual rescue by his grandmother. The girls explained that the inspiration for the story came from films, television programmes and computer games. Having composed the story in English, their stronger language, they faced the challenge of translating it into their weaker one, as Magda explains: ‘For the English one, we have so many ideas, but this is harder!'By virtue of their method of learning Albanian, the girls are therefore Native and not Natural Translators. That's to say, although they haven't had any intentional training as translators, they've learnt by osmosis some of the conventions of translating. Furthermore, they've each built up an internal bilingual lexicon.
Having used dual language books extensively to learn to read with their mothers, the girls are familiar with their specific conventions and they have worked closely from the English text to produce the Albanian one. Working together from their own linguistic resources, without the use of dictionaries the girls have access to most of the basic vocabulary they need for their story in Albanian."
"The process of translation is negotiated between two children whose language skills are closely matched. The main approach to the task is to take a clause at a time from the English text and discuss it, phrase by phrase, word by word. Some words lead to lengthy exchanges as they attempt to find a shade of meaning or the correct grammatical form, before a whole sentence can fall into place. As a sentence is completed, one of them repeats it as the other transcribes.And so on.
A typical example of negotiation occurs at the very beginning of the recording. Starting where the English text says, ‘While he was talking to his Grandma’, Magda starts with a word-for-word approach, taking while and translating it as nderkohë.
Albana agrees with her choice of word: 'Oh yeah, we did that in Albanian class.'
Magda then realises that this approach is not appropriate: 'We need to do the rest because it won’t make sense.'
Then she has second thoughts about the word nderkohë and they discuss options:
Magda: 'Nderkohë . . . It doesn’t make sense.'
Albana: 'What about, like this: kur ishe, cfarë? [he was, what to put?].
Magda: 'I don’t know it’s not, it’s nderkohë. While . . . while . . . I keep thinking mbasi [maybe] but it’s not.'
Magda: 'That’s after.'
Albana: 'kur ishte . . . uhm.'"
[Later,] She [Magda] goes on to explain that the great debate over the use of nderkohë revolved round a shade of meaning:
'It’s like meanwhile. But we were trying to find while. And we couldn’t think of anything, so we just kept thinking.'
Magda explains that using that word required them to change the structure of the Albanian sentence: 'We used the word nderkohë but we changed the sentence a little bit in Albanian. So it could make sense.'
In a further [metatranslational] reflection on the process of translation, Magda notes that in contrast to the long negotiation involved in translating one word:
'Just sometimes we just read like, I don’t know, a whole, if it’s like a small paragraph, we read it all and it just comes in your head, you just know it . . . . And then you just have to change it around. You know all the main things, it just comes in your head, but then you add, like, more
words and things.'
But mostly she finds longer passages more difficult: 'But then, like long ones, you just, you do it sentence by sentence, but . . . I don’t know for long ones, it’s harder.'
It occurs to me that what we're witnessing here is think-aloud, but with a significant advantage for research over the classic think-aloud method; and the advantage is bestowed by the circumstance that this is a collaborative translation and the collaboration is between equals. Think-aloud (verbalised on-the-job introspection) has proven to be a valuable instrument for investigating translators' mental processes, but it has its drawbacks. For one thing, Ss have to be instructed to verbalise their thoughts aloud, because it's not normal for translators to do this as they work. Therefore it continually interrupts the normal thought processes. It's also subject to self-censorship in the investigated-investigator relationship. Whereas the collaborative method makes it natural to verbalise, and the collaboration between equals makes self-censorship less likely.
This paper is therefore of great interest for its story of a working friendship, for its revelations of the translating process and for its methodology.
On the pros and cons of think-aloud, see:
K. A. Ericsson and M.C. Fox. Thinking aloud is not a form of introspection but a qualitatively different methodology: Reply to Schooler (2011). Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 137, No. 2, March 2011, pp. 351-354. For an abstract, click here.