Sunday, August 28, 2011

A Gift for Consecutive

Consecutive interpreting is of two types. The kind done by Expert Conference Interpreters is the long or full kind. In this, speakers go on for several minutes without stopping and the interpreters have to translate it all afterwards. Except for a few interpreters who have phenomenal memories, they take notes.

Some people have a natural gift for it. We used to hold an annual schools visit day at the University of Ottawa, when the School of Translation and Interpretation would try to give high school students a taste of what our work was like. One of the highlights was when we sat them in the interpretation lab and put them through them an exercise in simultaneous and consecutive. One year, a 15-year-old girl with no training or experience amazed me by giving a perfect consecutive rendition of an uninterrupted three-minute speech, a test usually performed by advanced students of the School.

Now Lionel Dersot has something interesting to say about consecutive interpreting ability. For the full account, go to his blog via the Liaison Interpreter in Japan link on the right of this page.

Here’s the source passage:
"If 100% of the population would eat fish at least once per week as recommended, there would be a need for an additional 148,380 tons of finished products, that is about twice as much in terms of raw catches."
And Lionel’s commentary (with my emphasis):
“With this kind of mathematics like a formula pattern of speech where the subject and vocabulary are not a major barrier for interpreting, only the logical minded students showed strong mastery. Real strong. I was stunned by the rendering and weaving in action (the concentration, some with eyes almost closed) of speech you don't usually deliver around the coffee machine. They were translating into Japanese, their A [first] language. None of them are professional interpreters, nor do they aim at it. Some are requested from time to time to deliver interpretation - consecutive - at work. The logical, strong analytical mind has an edge in such situations.
Incidentally, the post in question contains a neat example of the kind of notes that consecutive interpreters take and the usefulness of Chinese characters for them if you happen to know Chinese or Japanese.

Incidentally too, Lionel elsewhere refers to “the majority of untrained interpreters who practice on the planet without the credentials,” and says, “I am one of them and feel closer to a terp in a theater of war than to an AIIC member.” Well yes, so long as you understand that he rates at very least as an Advanced Native Interpreter. However, long professional experience constitutes on-the-job training and there’s no doubt he’s actually an Expert Interpreter.

AIIC: International Association of Conference Interpreters. The acronym derives from its French name, Association Internationale de Interprètes de Conférence, because the organisation was founded in Paris in 1953 and the founders were French speakers.

Lionel Dersot. The logical mind. The Liaison Interpreter blog, August 23, 2011.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Wikipedia's Native Translators

In my July 2 post, I called attention to a survey that was being done by Julie McDonough Dolmaya (see photo) of York University in Toronto. It concerns translators who participate in crowdsourcing projects. More particularly, she profiles 76 translation contributors to Wikipedia. What follows is just an extract focusing on what's of particular interest for this blog here. For the full picture, which she hasn’t finished painting yet, and for important information like her sampling method, go to her blog, which you can reach quickly via the Blogging about translation and localization link on the right of this page.

First some points about Wikipedia:
¶ A great deal of Wikipedia, especially in languages other than English, has been produced by translating. In general the translations are good as regards both content and language, indeed so good that sometimes it’s hard to tell which version of an article was the original. Even without exact figures, it’s certain that Wikipedia contains, semi-obscured, a vast corpus of technical translations, and therefore studies of those translations and of the translators who did them will be important for translation studies.
¶ All of Wikipedia has been written by crowdsourcing since before the term even came into use. (If you care to go back into history, you might also say that the first edition of the great Oxford English Dictionary a century ago and before computers existed was compiled partly by crowdsourcing, but that’s another story.)
¶ Its discourse is at a level that requires an advanced education. It lies well beyond the ‘everyday circumstances’ that’s part of the definition of the Natural Translation Hypothesis.
¶ Furthermore, each article requires expert knowledge of its subject field and of the accompanying terminology.
¶ In addition, Wikipedia users are very critical readers, as you can see from the discussions that accompany the articles. If translations are inadequate, one would expect readers to criticise them. Conversely, if they’re not criticised… In either case, it’s an aspect that calls for investigation.
¶ The language of Wikipedia writings, at any rate in the languages I can read, is formal, even academic, as befits the long tradition of encyclopaedias.
¶ Wikipedia doesn’t pay its contributors.

What then do we learn from Julie’s research?

¶ “When respondents were asked about translation-related training, most (51 respondents or 68%) responded that they had no formal training in translation.”
¶ Of the other 32%, most had taken anything from “a few courses” to a full degree or certificate at a university or college, and a small minority (about 8) replied, “I received training in translation at my workplace.” We may – with some generosity in the case of those who just “took some translation courses” – class them as Expert Translators.
¶ “52 of the 76 respondents (68.4%) had never worked as translators (i.e. they had never been paid to produce translations). Only 11 respondents (or about 14%) were currently working as translators on a full- or part-time basis, while 13 (or about 17%) had worked as translators in the past but were not doing so now.” Let’s lump them all together as Professional Translators and assume – again with some generosity, especially towards the part-timers – that they’re all Experts. Furthermore, as Wikipedia doesn’t pay for translations, it’s as Expert Translators and not as Professional Translators that they’re contributing to it.
¶ “Only two respondents were members of a professional association of translators.” Experts, of course. Probably they overlap with the set that had received formal or workplace training; but not necessarily, because some associations accept members without such training. Anyway, the number is tiny.

So what can we conclude? Subject to a few caveats which Julie mentions herself, the following. That given the nature of Wikipedia texts (which rules out Natural Translators), and Julie’s figures, over two thirds of Wikipedia translators are Advanced Native Translators.

Thank you, Julie, for a pioneering initiative.

Advanced Native Translator, Natural Translator, Expert Translator, Professional Translator: for definitions of these terms and the relationship between them, enter definitions in the Search box on the right and then select the post of November 12, 2010 from the results.

Julie McDonough Dolmaya. Wikipedia survey I (respondent profiles). Blogging about Translation and Localization, May 30, 2011.

Julie McDonough Dolmaya. Wikipedia survey II (types of participation). Blogging about translation and localization, June 12, 2011.

Image: JoSTrans

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Translation in Language Teaching

A book that’s making waves in language teaching circles is Guy Cook’s Translation in Language Teaching. Making waves? Well, last year it won the Ben Warren Prize, which is a prized awarded annually by the Ben Warren-International House Trust to an author or authors of an outstanding work in the field of language teacher education.

It’s a sign of the times. The so-called grammar-translation (GT) method was dominant in schools for centuries until World War II, when it was displaced by various applications of the ‘direct method’ (pattern drills, audiovisual learning, etc.) Cook deals with this in his historical introduction, though I don’t agree with him that the influence of private for-profit language schools such as Berlitz was determinant. I myself learnt four languages by GT and then lived through the changeover forcibly as a TESOL teacher in the 1960s. The reasoning behind the change was that (a) we learn our first languages from their use in context and not by studying grammar as such nor by translating, and (b) translating causes interference. These are valid arguments up to a point, and Cook doesn’t recommend returning to the nineteenth century. But now the realisation is dawning that translation can’t be shut out. Teachers who are teaching by the ‘direct method’ slip into using it anyway. Often it’s by far the quickest means for conveying to a student the meaning or the use of a new item in the second language. Then there’s the psychological fact that whatever the method, students are constantly translating to themselves in their own minds. Furthermore – and this is something that’s not emphasised enough – second language learning is hard work and so it needs motivation, and one strong motive for learning another language is in order to be able to translate speech and documents for oneself and for other people. The accent today is on language learning for communication, and translation is needed more and more for communication.

So translation never did die out in language teaching, but it did suffer great opprobrium. And now it seems the pendulum has started to swing. Cook’s conclusion:
“A great deal remains to be done before TILT (Translation in Language Teaching] can be rehabilitated and developed in the way that it deserves. The insidious association of TILT with dull and authoritarian Grammar Translation, combined with the insinuation that Grammar Translation had nothing good in it at all, has lodged itself so deeply in the collective consciousness of the language-teaching profession, that it is difficult to prise it out at all, and it has hardly moved for a hundred years. The result has been an arid period in the use and development of TILT, and serious detriment to language teaching as a whole.”
With all that, the most important statement in the book from our point of view is this: that translating is not only a specialist professional skill but “a major component of bilingual communicative competence.”

Bilingualism specialists please note.

Guy Cook. Translation in Language Teaching: an Argument for Reassessment. Oxford University Press, 2010. 202 p. Paperback £29.

Jonathan Marks. Review of Cook’s book in The Linguist, June/July 2011, p. 28.

For another proponent of translation in language teaching, Richard Vaughan, see the post about him on this blog by entering Vaughan in the Search box on the right.

Image: OUP.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Peter Newmark: Footnote

The last post recommended Peter Newmark’s article The Curse of Dogma in Translation Theory highly and gave a reference for it, but the original was published back in 1991 so it may be hard to find. Now I’ve added a reference to the more recent online reprint, but it’s very expensive to view unless you can access it through a library. So it occurs to me that I should give you at least a taste of his thinking and his style.

The article in question makes a critical tour of the schools of theory that were fashionable among academics at the time and indeed still are. I mentioned that when I last met Peter we were listening to a conference paper by a speaker who was saying that translation not merely involves culture transfer, it is culture transfer. So here’s what Peter had to say about that, the third in his round-up of theories.
“3. Translation is basically cultural substitution, or culture switching. This notion ignores the universal features of life and their correspondences in languages, as well as elements of culture that are shared in experience or through communication across boundaries. Cultures exist, but they are not the whole truth. The cultural component of language, which is prominent in forms of address, in phaticisms, in standard metaphors, is being exaggerated by linguists and translation theorists at a time when it is in fact declining, when a great world ideology is collapsing…

A dogmatic adherence to the `equivalent effect' principle [that a translation should have the same effect on the reader as the original had on its readers]… leads implicitly to the idea that translation is essentially culture substitution... Caricaturing the position, national games , dishes, drinks,recreations, fashions (say slimness or fatness) would be regarded as equivalent or intertranslatable, if they aroused equivalent emotions. Hence Shakespeare's summer's day becomes Arabic oasis or palm tree, which is nonsense. The fact is that the translator only rarely uses cultural equivalents, which are always inaccurate. More commonly, she takes advantage of cultural overlap (a rose is a rose in many cultures and languages, including some where roses are only heard or read about), or she introduces (transfers) and glosses the source language cultural word, or she adjusts communication by using the expanding, intertranslatable universal language of science and technology, which is mainly non-cultural, of international organizations (the European Commission as a promoter of literal translation).

The force of simple words like matador, which means `killer' [as well as ‘bullfighter’] is nullified when they are transferred into another language. Transferring a word often has an anodyne or obscurantist effect, where literal translation shows up the stark truth.”
On other hand, he was not dogmatic himself. He was well aware that some degree of cultural adjustment is desirable when translating to Expert standards. For example:
“[The Leipzig translation professor] Neubert notes that German academic papers differ from their English counterparts in their greater degree of degressiveness (their notorious excursuses). He does not make the recommendation which I would prefer, that is to reduce if not eliminate the digressiveness. To take another example, most German and English medical papers are superbly structured, so there should be little textual interference in translating say from the Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift into the British Medical Journal or vice versa, but many French medical papers have to be restructured at the sentence, paragraph and even text level when translated.”
You don’t have to agree, but my point is – as I said last time – that he kept his feet on the ground of translation practice.

Friday, August 5, 2011

In Memoriam Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has died.

He was a Grand Old Man of British translation studies and a very nice, helpful person. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of professional translators like me read his bi-monthly column in The Linguist religiously. There will be many tributes to him, and a memorial meeting is to be held in the autumn at Guildford, in the south of England, where he lived and – in recent years – taught. There will also be many personal reminiscences from his colleagues, friends and students.

In fact one such anecdotal tribute was published recently by a Spanish former student whom he had counselled, José Manuel Mora Fandos. He describes how Newmark’s Paragraphs on Translation delivered him from "the theoreticians who had never themselves translated anything." What José Manuel liked in Newmark’s writings about theory was what I liked. He kept his feet on the ground of translation practice and wrote in the British tradition of clear language. His attitude was well summed up in the title of one his articles: The Curse of Dogma in Translation Studies. I smile at the image of him towards the end of José Manuel’s article where he goes off to his university class by bicycle. He must have been in his eighties.

I got to know Peter in person when he spent a period as a guest lecturer in Ottawa in 1983. He did me two services around that time: he persuaded me to switch to using the excellent Collins English Dictionary, which was new then, and he introduced me to the research of Hans Krings. Krings was a pioneer in the use of the ‘think aloud’ technique in translation research. At that time his work was only available in German, in which Peter was fluent but not me.

However, the last time I met Peter in person was at a translation conference in London in December 1991, and there he did me a service of another kind that was to have far-reaching consequences for me. We were sitting together listening, as I remember, to a speaker who was of the school that says translation is a transfer between cultures rather than between languages. Peter had told me just beforehand that he thought translatology was too pompous a term for what we do in translation studies – an opinion he was to change but only much later. Afterwards, I told him that I was on a committee to select a new director for the School of Translation and Interpretation at the University of Ottawa. I also said that we weren’t making much progress because we couldn’t agree on a candidate we liked. Then he remarked, “Well, you have done it before” – I’d been director from 1975 to 1979 – “and you were successful. Why don’t you do it again yourself?” So I went home and thought about his assessment, which carried weight, and I did in fact offer myself as director and got the job. And that’s how I ended up my career at the University of Ottawa, thanks to Peter’s encouragement.

José Manuel Mora Fandos. Una anécdota personal con el maestro de traductores Peter Newmark. Globedia, 25 May 2011.

Peter Newmark. Paragraphs on Translation. Clevedon and Philadelphia: Multilingual Matters, c1993. 176 p. Paperback edition available from Amazon UK.

Peter Newmark. The curse of dogma in translation studies. Lebende Sprachen, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 105-108, 1991. PDF copy available online at

For his change of heart about translatology, see
Peter Newmark. Translation now - 60. The Linguist (Chartered Institute of Linguists, London), vol. 48, no. 6, p. 27, 2009.

Collins Dictionary of the English Language. Edited by Patrick Hanks, Thomas Hill Long, and Laurance Urdang. London and Glasgow: Collins, 1979. 1690 p. There have been several later editions.

Hans P. Krings. Was in den Köpfen von Übersetzern vorgeht: eine empirische Untersuchung zur Struktur des Übersetzungsprozesses an fortgeschrittenen Franzözischlernern (What goes on inside the translator’s head….). 1986. 570 p. Unfortunately it’s out of print and there’s no English translation. However, there’s another book by Krings with think-aloud data which is available:
Repairing Texts: Empirical Investigation of Machine Translation Post-Editing Processes. Translated from German by Geoffrey S. Koby. Kent State University Press, 2001. 635 p.