Despite the pandemia another year has passed of translation competitions for secondary school students.
The biggest of these competitions, which we have reported on several times in this blog, is the Juvenes Translatores, organised and funded by the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission across the whole European Union.
“The Commission has been been organising the Juvenes Translatores (Latin for ‘young translators’) contest every year since 2007. Its aim is to promote language learning in schools and give young people a taste of what it is like to be a translator. It is open to 17-year-old secondary school students and takes place at the same time in all selected schools across the EU. The contest has inspired and encouraged some of the participants to pursue their languages at university level and to become professional translators.”
The judges are drawn from the Commission’s professional translators, so the standard required is high. Contestants can choose any combination of EU official languages. The organisation required is necessarily elaborate since there are 27 countries in the Union and all the countries submitted entries. However, there’s a striking absence this year. It’s the United Kingdom, previously a strong supporter but now a victim of Brexit.
Yet the British are perhaps not losing out, because now they have their own annual competition since 2020. It’s the Anthea Bell Prize for Young Translators based at The Queen’s College, University of Oxford. (Anthea Bell, an Oxford graduate, was a well-known literary translator who gained popular recognition for her ingenious translations of the Asterix comics.) The Oxford prize has an advantage over the European one: it’s open to students from age 11 to 18. On the other hand the languages are more restricted: namely French, German, Italian (new), Mandarin and Spanish. The texts can be poetry, fiction or non-fiction.
And there are other school translation competitions that we don’t have space to describe here, for example the ones at the University of Sheffield for Year 12 and Year 13 students. In fact such competitions are becoming fashionable in the UK now that translation has once again become part of the General Certificate of Education.
We can draw several conclusions from these competitions.
a) Their aim is not translation in itself but as an aid to language teaching. “By providing teachers with the tools they need to bring translation to life, we hope to motivate more pupils to study modern foreign languages [MFL] throughout their time at school and beyond.”
b) For the Anthea Bell prize, “over 500 schools from across the UK registered for the prize resources in the first year (2020-2021), with 200 selected to take part in the final competition phase.” This is astonishing. It means that translating is still widely used in language teaching in schools in spite of the strictures against it.
c) There seems to be no difficulty recruiting contestants for either the British or European competitions. This suggests that translating is seen as a pleasurable activity by many teenagers – perhaps as a game akin to solving crossword puzzles. One teacher says, “These are my first thoughts about the benefits of teaching translation - I have been developing translation with my classes and most of my students love it - nearly as much as I do!”
d) It should not be thought that these students are naïve natural translators. They are teen-age students, many of them in the top years of secondary schools in their respective countries. As such, and as I know from my own school days, they have undoubtedly had some elementary instruction and exercises in translating as part of their language courses.
The Queen’s College Translation Exchange. The Anthea Bell prize for young translators. 2021.
European Commission. Jovenes
Translatores, a competition to reward the best young translators in the
European Union. 2022.J