Ever since the first social structures emerged
and human beingswho knows, may be even our
cave-dwelling ancestors!started to communicate
socially or emotionally with members of their own
species from other societies who had devised different
codes of communication i.e. those who used different
languages, they realized that there was a strong
need for a mediator to facilitate this process,
without which every such attempt would be like "talking
to a brick wall." That was how translation as one
of the earliest aids in international relations
came into existence. As the scope of these relations
broadened, people felt a need for experts with mastery
of two or more languages who were actually the 'signifiers'
of the former need in society. An attempt to meet
this need was made when the wheels of the first
educational centers were set in motion to satisfy
the increasing demand of society for experts in
different fields, including translation. Since then
there has always been a controversy over the issue
of teachability of translation.
Is translation teachable at all? If yes, to what
extent? It is crystal clear that no one can answer
this question off the cuff, and we need to first
define what the real nature of translation is. Is
it a science, a craft, or an art? It's only then
that one can decide whether it is something to be
taught in the classroom like any other field of
study and with the same existing teaching methods.
Focusing on this issue is beneficial in that many
problems regarding teaching translation arise from
the fact that a great number of experienced and
skilled autodidacts in the field who have been asked
to educate beginner translators believe that translation
is learned by experience and personal intuition
and can by no means be taught in the classroom.
Many of them also believe that translation theories
are all of no use. On the opposite extreme are people
who argue that translation is or can become an exact
science like any other. There are still others who
try to avoid the extremes and think of translation
as something in-between. These debates usually leave
students in confusion and bewilderment which results
in their lack of motivation, interest and trust
in the curriculum.
II. The state of translation as a science
Some people argue that translation is a science.
The most salient characteristics of a science are
precision and predictability. We can call something
a science only if it has scientific rules that work
all the time. In fact, scientific rules are so fixed
and precise that they are not called rules anymore,
but laws. For example, compounding two units of
hydrogen and one unit of oxygen will always give
us water or steam, or ice, depending on the temperature.
It is worth noting that some sciences, particularly
those dealing with the humanities, do not achieve
a 100-percent predictability level, and any theory
in those fields must stand up to strict, recurring
tests to be considered valid (Berkeley, 1991).
Translation uses scientific data, mainly taken
from different branches of linguistics (like neuroinguistics,
semantics, sociolinguistics, etc). It has also been
recently combined with computer science, giving
birth to machine translation and computer-aided
translation. But translation in itself is not a
Although translators use scientific data and theories,
they do it in a way that gives free hand to individual
taste, bias, imagination, and temperament. There
are sometimes several solutions for dealing with
a particular translation problem, and a creative
translator may find a new solution on the spot.
Translation problems may be similar, but it is impossible
to devise a scientific equation that would work
in the same way, every time, for each problem in
all languages due to the inescapable differences
among languages as well as their cultural contexts
throughout the world.
Translation, according to Newmark (1988a, p.5)
is "rendering the meaning of a text into another
language in the way that the author intended the
text." So, another major obstacle to having
a comprehensive translation theory is that of getting
a deep insight to what "meaning" is, something which
is still a matter of debate in the humanities.
To sum up this part, let us examine the purpose
and nature of translation theory. According to Newmark
"What translation theory does is, first to
identify and define a translation problem; second,
to indicate all the factors that have to be taken
into account in solving the problem; third, to list
all the possible translation procedures; finally,
to recommend the most suitable translation procedure,
plus the appropriate translation."
III. The state of translation as an art
Still, there are many others who believe that translation
is an art. Translation has a lot in common with
arts as well as sciences. It sometimes becomes highly
dependent on the idiosyncrasies and intuition of
the translator. Like composers and painters, translators
often find their own moods and personalities reflected
in their work. The major factor that prevents translation
from being considered an art is that, unlike translators
who have to solve a range of different problems,
the defining factor of an artist's work is esthetics.
IV. The state of translation as a craft
Categorizing translation breeds some fuzziness
since the field has traits in common with both science
and art. Therefore, we must choose the category
that is most congruent, or at least most convenient
and workable. That category is craft. In a similar
vein, Newmark (1988b, p.7) describes translation
as: "a craft consisting of the attempt to replace
a written message and/or statement in one language
by the same message and/or statement in another
V. The issue of teachability of translation
Up to now we found that translation is mostly a
craft. According to the Oxford English Dictionary,
a craft is "a skill or a technique"; if we are to
teach translation we should try to teach it as a
craft is taught, taking into account the merits
and nature of translation, the proficiency of students
in both source and target languages. and the objectives
of the translation course itself.
So much for the nature of translation; now let
us examine the possible teaching techniques applicable
to translation classes.
As the name suggests, the core of the grammar-translation
method of teaching is grammar (Larsen, 1986). Although
this method of teaching is seldom used nowadays,
some parts of it are still popular with some teachers
"especially for evaluating advanced students
or in specialized tests for translators or overseas
final exams of courses where translation is still
part of the curriculum" (Madson, 1983). Whatever
the role of translation in today's teaching and
testing methods, it is important to make a distinction
between teaching translation and teaching language.
Teaching translation to students who are learning
the target language at the same time necessitates
taking into account two major issues: first of all,
we should be aware of the fact that learning how
to cope with translation-related problems is not
exactly the same as learning the language itself,
although they go hand-in-hand. There are many difficulties
such as translation of figurative language, culture-specific
terms, translation of sacred texts, and other text
types with regards to their functions, (see Newmark,
1988a) which fall in the categories to be taught
as translation-related issues. Second, it is vital
to decide which language teaching method is better
to be used along with the method adopted for teaching
translation as a craft.
According to Pienemann's (1989) teachability hypothesis
in applied linguistics, there are two sides in learning
a language: one refers to the developmental sequence
for certain aspects of language that takes place
regardless of the learner, or the method of learning;
the second dimension, the variational sequence,
refers to the variation in language acquisition
based on the relationship between the learners and
their situations. The developmental sequence is
practically controlled by the nature of our common
language acquisition device. The variational sequence
is based on learner variables such as the extent
to which the learners are integrated into the target
In teaching translation, one has to take into
account these two factors because they are closely
related to both translation and language. Actually
we can say that the LAD (language acquisition device)
is important in translation in that it is effective
in the process of learning the language itself.
The second set of factors, i.e., those which constitute
the basis of the variational sequence, are important
in teaching translation due to the fact that they
are all intertwined with language and thus with
translation. Being familiar with the target language
culture is the best example of these factors.
So, in order to be successful in teaching translation,
instructors should be able to merge the language
teaching techniques they may deem best for their
students with those of teaching translation. The
techniques adopted for teaching translation should
be chosen with attention to both sides of the nature
of translation: first its objective and theoretical
principles and second the subjective part which
is mainly related to the student's intuition and
The first noteworthy conclusion we can draw from
this paper is that translation is teachable because,
on the one hand, it is a craft and consequently
teachable as are other crafts; on the other hand,
it is closely related to teaching language itself,
although it is vital to make a distinction between
Another important point is that those engaged in
teaching translation to students who are learning
the target language along with translation should
be aware that they are teaching two different things
at the same time and that they should use a congruent
eclectic method applicable to both. Believing that
translation is a teachable craft they should help
their students get an insight into the nature of
translation and recognize that it is vital for them
to pay attention to translation theories while honing
their translation and language skills. They should
also be aware that ignoring the above-mentioned
points leads to students' confusion, lack of motivation,
and loss of interest in the curriculum.
-Berkeley, Rouse, Begovich, (1991). The Craft
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-Larson-freeman, d. (1986). Techniques and Principles
in Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University
-Madson, H.S. (1983). Techniques in Testing.
Oxford: Oxford University Press.
-Newmark, P. (1988a). A Textbook of Translation.
Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall.
-Newmark, P. (1988b). Approaches to Translation.
Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall.
-Pienemann, M. 1989: Is language teachable? Applied
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