Translator Training: The Need for New Directions
The massive shifts occurring in the industrial (non-literary) translation profession/industry are rapidly altering the way in which industrial translators operate. So far, however, there seems to be little discussion about a possible need for changes in translator training necessitated by these shifts.
The first difficulty in terms of discussing changes in the current model of translator training is the variety of ways in which translation is practiced. There are professional translators who hold jobs in government or international agencies or in private-sector companies. There are professional translators (probably the majority) who operate as free-lances. There are employees of private-sector companies who are required to translate corporate correspondence and documentation on an ad-hoc basis when the need arises, but for whom this activity is only one part of their job duties.
The second difficulty is that the changes in the profession are creating a divide between (1) translators in the traditional sense of the term (translator-as-writer) and (2) translators whose work is closer to that of copy editors and proofreaders but with the addition of a knowledge of foreign languages and an ability to use computer programs for pre- and post-editing of machine translation (MT) output and for performing the fill-in-the-blanks operations required by computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools.
The need for specialized training for translation copy editors/proofreaders seems to me particularly acute. My personal experience indicates that many persons currently performing these functions have not the slightest idea of what professional copy editing/proofreading entails, and seem not even to know that there is a difference between the two activities. Many of them are also under the mistaken impression that copyediting means rewriting the translation to conform with their own writing style. (Disclosure: I earned a certificate in the Editing Program offered by the School of Continuing and Professional Education of New York University.)
Translators are first and foremost good writers, and while effective writing skills can be and are being taught, good writers and good writing ability reflect to a great extent an inborn inclination and ability and interest. The same holds true for editors and for editing and proofreading skills. In fact, it is a truism in the monolingual publishing industry that because of the existence of these differing inborn abilities, writers tend to be poor editors, and editors tend to be poor writers.
This situation has implications for future translator training, now that translators are currently being asked to perform functions more closely related to editing and proofreading than to traditional translation. Given this situation, it is possible that programs for training industrial translators and translation editors/proofreaders may eventually need to be structured with different tracks for the translating and the editing functions.
What form might a multi-track training program take?
It seems to me that translation editors/proofreaders no less than translators need to start with one or two basic language-pair-specific "introduction to X-to-Y translation and translation editing" courses introducing them to the process of translating, and editing translations of, a wide range of general (e.g. newspaper and magazine articles), personal (birth, marriage, and death certificates, academic records, etc.), commercial, legal, technical, scientific, and medical materials. After completing these basic courses, learners might then be able to select a specialization track or tracks.
Learners who are in corporate jobs that include a certain amount of translating might best opt for taking advanced specialized courses in translating commercial, legal, technical, scientific, and medical documentation, depending on their personal interests and the types of careers or companies in which they are employed. There seems thus far to be little use of CAT and MT programs in corporate settings, given the relatively limited need for translations in these settings.
In addition to thorough training in CAT and MT operation, aspiring translation editors/proofreaders need both general editing/proofreading courses and specialized courses in the editing/proofreading of machine output and of translations done by human translators.
The situation is somewhat more complicated for learners interested in a career as professional translators. The translation companies, the middlemen of the industry, now demand that translators be proficient in CAT operation skills. There is also increasing use of MT, on the theory that even if the product requires human pre- and post-editing, MT is faster and less expensive than using professional human translators ab initio. This means that in addition to translating, translators are now often required to perform the functions of editing/proofreading/CAT-MT operation, a situation that is likely to continue for quite some time.
Until the need for more specialization becomes generally recognized, determining the appropriate mix of required and elective courses for these jack-of-all-trades learners (how much emphasis on specialized translation courses? on CAT-MT operation courses? on editing/proofreading courses?) may prove difficult. Ideally, translators would focus on advanced specialization courses in translation. The current realities of the industry, however, would seem to require a mixed track, at any rate for industrial translators who want to earn a living in the industry.
All tracks could benefit from introductory courses in accounting, banking, the various sciences and technologies, and the medical sciences, depending on individuals’ interests and job requirements, and in basic terminology research using both hard and on-line resources. For all tracks, it is not possible to over-emphasize the importance of continual reading and continuing education in one’s specialization(s) in order to stay abreast of new developments and terminology.
This appears to add up to very lengthy training. It seems to me that the ideal program would consist in a combined B.A. + M.A. in Translation Studies, i.e., a program of approximately six or seven years in length. Real-world considerations militate against this. How many college freshmen are already so sure of their career orientation (and their financing) that they can commit themselves to such a program? (For that matter, how many college freshmen in the United States have even heard of translation as a potential career?) How many career-changing adults with jobs and families, and retired adults thinking about translation as a way of supplementing their pensions and Social Security, have the luxury of time and money for such a lengthy program? What is the likelihood that the U.S. Federal Government, for all its occasional pontifications on the importance of training Americans in foreign-language proficiency (read: in the military/political-need languages du jour), will take translation and translator training so seriously as to allocate funds for their advancement?
I think the most likely scenario is that changes in the training of industrial translators will come about gradually, incrementally, and on an ad-hoc basis, meaning that for some time to come, various types of training programs will continue to co-exist with self-training, the fragmented offerings of the manufacturers of CAT and MT programs, continuing education courses, and weekend seminars organized by translators’ associations. In the meantime, serious exchanges and discussion of the subject among translators, translator associations, and academic and corporate providers of training might help to move us more speedily toward an effective outcome.
Published - June 2011
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