Essential Activities in Translator-Interpreter Training
The extremely fast pace of life, business and communications in our present world demands, more than ever before, the training of professionals in the field of translation and interpretation who are capable of successfully tackling a true mosaic of challenges in their linguistic and cultural endeavors, both in the field of written translation and in the field of interpreting or oral translation. It is not enough anymore to train a specialist by translating literary excerpts or hardly useful, outdated texts. It is of the essence to train specialists who can accurately translate and interpret in the fields of science and technology, health care, business, immigration, courts, media and other areas of great demand in today's fast-paced world. This article strives to illustrate what can be done in this respect, especially when it comes to training exercises and the creation of new translation-interpretation texts.Introduction
Brief Outlook of the Needs in T-I and the Response of Our Institutions of Higher Education
In today's world, Translation and Interpretation (T-I) Studies have become a must. In Europe, for instance, these activities have been part and parcel of universities' offerings for centuries. However, it is in the past 60-70 years when a special emphasis was given to training specialists in these fields. The European Union has seen its membership increased to over 20 countries, with even more knocking at its door, and its Directorates for Translation and Interpretation have proved they were ready for the challenge1. The United States, in spite of its leadership in NAFTA and developing expansion of other Central and South American Free Trade Associations, are only now slowly recovering from decades of misconceptions (for instance, "everyone else must know English") and, to various extents, from having neglected productive foreign language studies and translators and interpreters' training.
For many years, and perhaps as a byproduct of behaviorism, T-I activities in the US were unofficially banned from language teaching and learning. If and when translation courses were scheduled in a few colleges and universities, they often consisted of a short "literary" translation offering, without any foundation on or practice of general translation in fields of increasing importance such as health services, the law, social services, or the movie industry.
As it happens today in the U.S., there are only a few universities and colleges that offer T-I training. Although this situation is starting to change for the better, so far there exist just a handful of specializedand often very expensiveprograms that cater to graduates, fully bilingual individuals or already practicing translators-interpreters, thus elegantly sidestepping the tough responsibility of training undergraduates in the T-I field. The quality of said programs is praiseworthy, but, due to their own established goals, tuition and requirements, their reach and scope are limited.
As a higher education professor, this author had the opportunity to teach T-I courses, together with an occasional Theory of Translation course, first at the College of Foreign Languages in Havana, Cuba for several years, then at the University of Havana, T-I specialty, and at the University of Guyana, South America. More experience in this field was gained at Moscow Linguistic University and as a Cuban international interpreter in the combination English-Spanish. In the U.S. this author has conducted T-I teaching at UNE, at UNCO and for several T-I organizations and events.
In the U.S., the University of Nebraska had the privilege and the challenge of offering a T-I program for over two decades. This program started by offering basic general translation, a bit of literary translation and a bit of interpretation from Spanish and French and into English. However, no translation or interpretation into the foreign language in question, or very little, was implemented for a while. As a result, the very few graduates from this program, with rare exceptions, could mostly translate and interpret into English, but not always the other way around. It became thus imperative to overhaul this program and bring it up to contemporary times, in order to meet the current needs for T-I in the U.S.
Meeting the Challenge
For eleven semesters and several summer courses -August 2001-December 2006-the UNE T-I program, also a B.A. major, grew into a full four semester course package. This included two Intensive Writing courses: Translation I and II English -> Spanish and two Interpreting courses which covered Sight Translation, Consecutive-Bidirectional and Simultaneous Interpreting, both into English and into Spanish. Topics included the legal, medical, and social services fields. Some special independent study courses were also offered as Translation courses in the combination French-English by this author. Although T-I courses were aimed at undergraduate students, quite a few graduates of Spanish and native speakers of other languages took such courses to improve their knowledge and skills in combining and relating their native language or the lingua francaEnglish in most casesand their first or second foreign language. A certificate used to be issued if the student passed all T-I courses with a grade of B or higher (it had been C before 2001) and translation-interpreting activities were encouraged and performed in both directions, that is, from English into Spanish or another foreign language and vice versa.
During the period of time mentioned above, this program also benefited from the fact that the professor in charge of the T-I program had ample experience as a conference interpreter, as a translator and is also a Certified Federal Court Interpreter and has a background that includes degrees in two non-US universities, both of which had excellent T-I programs2. The combination of teaching methods, foreign language specialization, and theoretical and practical knowledge of both translation and interpretation enabled the UNE program to offer a mosaic of training exercises aimed at meeting the actual needs of our present-day society and its markets. Until the time the professor in charge of T-I at UNE left, classes in both T-I courses and in many other related Spanish courses (Intermediate and Advanced Spanish, Advanced Grammar and Composition, etc.) saw their ranks swell significantly. From a handful of aspiring translators and interpreters in courses before 2001, classes more than doubled and even tripled in number.
The T-I program, likewise, constituted an appeal for quite a few "bilinguals" and the very few "ambilinguals" (Catford, 1965)3 that lived, studied and worked in Nebraska and other states. This very fact posed new challenges and set new demands for said program. In it, an important component emerged: an exercise manual comprising various types of linguistic, cultural and T-I activities, many of them appearing for the first time in materials related to T-I training. This manual harmonically combined the need for translating-interpreting real-life short and medium-size texts with the use of contemporary, up-to-date longer texts in practically all fields of human endeavor, even with the inclusion of short literary excerpts during the advanced stage of Translation II.
Part of the professor's above-mentioned background and expertise found its way into a special manual for the training of translators and interpreters, first published in 2003, then twice in 2004 and again in 2005. This manual is already in use in several colleges and universities, and private companies and training specialists in the U.S. and abroad have shown their interest in it (González, 2003, 2004, 2005).
Among its many types of exercises, the Manual offers, perhaps for the first time together in a textbook, some of the following:
Boxeo -> pugilismo -> narices chatas, árbitro, cuadrilátero, la campana, KO, TKO -> Boxing, ring, referee, bell, knockout, technical KO, etc.
El árbol -> la ceiba, la palma, el pino, el abedul, el sauce, etc.
Automóvil -> auto, coche, carro, máquina, vehículo automotor, etc.
It is pertinent to mention here that, on more than one occasion, this author was called to "urgently" replace an interpreter who simply "froze" when the defendant she was interpreting for in court suddenly started to use the kind of language illustrated above, at its worst. In those instances, the "freaked-out" interpreter had had little court experience. In a couple of cases, the interpreter had only served as one for religious conferences and events. They were good, fluent linguists in both English and Spanish, but had never handled this kind of vocabulary in front of an audience!
All of the above, as well as other traditional exercises, is offered at three levels of competence: Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced, with in-between categories such as Beginner-Intermediate and Intermediate-Advanced. Some exercises are tailored for
translators, others for interpreters, but all can be very useful in developing the knowledge and skills any translator and interpreter should possess and display.
Whenever possible, students who major in T-I should also complete courses in Comparative Grammar, Spanish and Latin American Literature (and the equivalent in French) and other advanced courses that contribute to achieve a better all-around training. In some universities, a second specialty in a non-related field is recommended: engineering, architecture, health services, or the like. Language courses offered in universities abroad where the foreign language here is their native language, are also an important component in T-I training with the aim to satisfy T-I students' need for a solid, diverse background in the foreign language(s) and cultures of their specialties.
The use of the Exercise Manual for the Training of Translators and Interpreters has yielded, among others, the following positive results:
A new manual, enriched by the experiences obtained from the one explained above, but solely focused on Medical Interpreting and Translating, has been published in 20067.
Another of this author's proposals for future offerings included the requirement of a second foreign language for T-I students, especially so when one of the two foreign languages required is Spanish. In Nebraska this was only a recommendation for Spanish-English T-I students, but one that a few of them enjoyed following! This two-foreign-language combination in T-I training is common practice in other countries and quite a few of our college and university foreign students normally do it, by learning or improving their English while learning yet another foreign language in the U.S. As a result, when they graduate, they can usually handle two foreign languagesor morein addition to their mother tongue. Add to this the fact that in a few cases they also acquire a specialty, and the final result is a greatly competitive graduate. If U.S. students do not attempt to do the same, they risk eventually losing the edge as graduates, not only internationally, but in our domestic market as well!
Gone are the times when translation training only meant "Literary Translation Training." It would be an absurd proposition to claim we can train "literary" translators who cannot translate daily, basic matters, or do not yet possess the minimum knowledge and skills in their foreign language and its culture. The colossal development of cybernetics, electronics, computers and the sciences of information demand that any and all training should be able to cover most possible types of translation-interpreting, perhaps with literary translation only as an object of graduate, specialized courses for individuals with excellent writing skills and a solid background in literature.
The present output of millions of translation pages in the world on a daily basis (Sherr, 2004, and González, 2005) as well as a constant demand for qualified, knowledgeable interpreters and translators require diversification and multi-training. The U.S. and other countries in the Americas cannot afford to ignore such 21st century reality. To do so would mean loss of competitiveness, loss of business and fatal lagging behind strong world competitors and those who are emerging as the economic giants of the next few years. Among those competitors and giants we can find the European Union, The BRIC group of countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Japan and Korea.
The need to incorporate more and better T-I training courses in our higher education system can be met. New manuals and materials can and should be created to accomplish such objective, and such manuals and materials should reflect the current and developing tendencies of the languages in contact. The future for translation and interpretation, based on past and present tendencies, appears to be guaranteed. Such future involves not only scholars and linguists who choose this beautiful and challenging field of endeavor, but also specialists in other fields who often need translation and interpreting skills in one or more foreign languages. Such future is already at our door!
Notes1 When nine new languages were incorporated in the European Union organizations in 2004, there had been 245 translators from different departments already studying those languages since 1998. Conversely, for translators recruited from new member states, EU training is provided, if needed, in the most widely used languages, information technology and subject matters most often demanded. More information is available at EU web pages on its directorates, missions and overviews.
2 Reference here is made to Havana University and Moscow Linguistic University, formerly known as "Maurice Thorez" Moscow State Pedagogical Institute of Foreign Languages, where interpreters, translators and teachers were trained. Many of their graduates served in the Soviet and Russian governments as well as at the United Nations Organizations. Pavel Palazchenko, interpreter for Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, is one of their best known graduates and professors in modern times.
3 A bilingual person, according to Catford, is able to handle two (or more) languages, sometimes quite well, but there is always one language which is predominant over the other (s). An ambilingual person, on the other hand, is one who is capable of handling two (or more) languages at the same level of complexity and in any field of endeavor. The latter is, however, quite uncommon.
4 The term text is used in this work with the meaning of any segment of speech, be it oral or written, one word or a whole book: Fire! He's my brother; їme amas?; La revolución mexicana.
5 In the first examples, the speakers were of Mexican origin, and claimed to often travel between border cities in Mexico and the U.S. Due to the use of Code Switching as well as special "border" terminology, their idiolect could be almost incomprehensible to a speaker of "only" English or Spanish. In the other example, the speaker was from Miami, where there is a strong influence of Cuban variants, albeit not by far the only ones. Tens of thousands of Haitians, Nicaraguans, Colombians and other Hispanics also influence both Spanish and Spanglish in Miami and Miami-Dade County in South Florida. Rufero (techero/reparador de techos in Spanglish) can also mean, in Cuban slang, a bus driver (In Cuba, chofer de guagua, ómnibus) from rufa (bus).
6 Another example of "variants" or sub-variants of Spanish in our Hispanic countries: A Quintana Roo University colleague, while studying at a U.S. university for his Master's degree and taking translation-interpretation classes with this author, was shadowing me in court as part of his training. One interpreting act was performed between a U.S. Public Defender and a Mexican defendant. The Mexican gentleman spoke Spanish, but he used terms in his speech that belonged either to his "border" variant or to Spanglish. When the interview was over, I asked my Mexican colleague if he had understood everything and he confessed there were some terms used by his fellow countryman he could not understand at all!
7 This note refers to the Medical Interpreter's Bilingual Manual, published in August, 2006. It is written in a very accessible style and format: patients' visits to health providers within the framework of various specialties, dialogues, vocabulary and development exercises. Each lesson/visit includes bilingual explanations of language usage, variants, style, ethics, and so forth.
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