Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Juvenes Translatores

Each year, the European Commission's Directorate-General for Translation (DGT) organises a translation contest for secondary schools throughout the European Union. It’s called Juvenes Translatores, which, in case you’re wondering, is Modern Latin for Young Person Translators. The 2010 edition has been taking place this week. For the winners, their ’remuneration’ is that they get invited to an awards ceremony in Brussels.

The contesting students have to be 17 years old, which is somewhat elitist since so many youngsters leave school at 16. Any school can apply, but it’s clear from the ones I recognise on this year’s list, that’s to say the UK ones, that they’re mostly institutions of the grammar school type, where, I suppose, traditional language teaching is still strong even in today’s linguistically lazy Britain. A total of more than 1,600 schools applied this year to take part (13% up on last year) and each school can put forward five contestants – so quite a cohort.

The aim of the contest is “to promote language learning and translation” in the hope that it “promotes young peoples’ thirst to learn foreign languages.“ It’s gratifying to see language learning and translation linked together.

The rules state that “there is no compulsory minimum level of formal language studies.” However, it’s made clear that the competition is addressed to Advanced Native Translators – not explicitly, but that’s how I would categorise them because it’s certain that though they haven’t been trained as translators and so aren’t Experts, they’ve had a good deal of contact with translation in their language courses. Furthermore, they’re allowed to use dictionaries (paper ones, no computers), and dictionaries are a sign of translator sophistication.

Here’s a sample of the kind of text that contestants have to translate:
Travel broadens the mind, they say. Despite the old adage that you’re never too old to learn, never is this truer than when the travellers are young, and never, in this increasingly globalised world, has mobility been more important. Back in 1987, when it inaugurated the Erasmus programme, the European Commission was ahead of the game. Erasmus has since given over 2 million European university students and thousands of lecturers the opportunity to study and teach abroad in more than thirty countries.
The texts are about 450 words long and the time allowed is two hours; so there’s little time for reflection and revision.

Another telling detail: “The contest has proved hugely popular.” Of the schools that take part, 99% apply to participate again. Even if we put some of the enthusiasm down to inter-school competitive spirit, it still means, as I’ve said elsewhere (September 4), that for many bilinguals translating is like a game and is not necessarily motivated by communication imperatives.

DGT, European Commission. Juvenes Traductores. http://ec.europa.eu/translatores.

News on the contest as well as pictures and information from previous rounds are available on Facebook, and you can also follow Juvenes Translatores on Twitter. What more could you ask for?

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