Sunday, July 28, 2013

What Do You Learn from Studying Translation?

Obviously, people get a wide range of things from a BA, MA, or PhD program in translation, or even from just taking a class or two in translation. You can improve your language skills, you can learn about translation theory and its application to or influence on practical translation work, you can make contacts, you improve your writing and editing abilities, you can learn to analyze texts in a new way, and so on.

But recently, I had the chance to ask some of our MA students in translation how they’d changed or developed over the course of the year and what they’d learned about translation, and their answers were fascinating. There were a number of different replies and they had the variety one would expect, covering some of the things mentioned above. However, there was one response that every single student gave.

All the students said they’d entered the program thinking that translation was just about equivalence and they thought there was always a right or wrong way to translate a text. But over the course of the year, they said, they learned that translation is much more complex than that, and that translation is a broader task and field than they’d realized. They laughed at how na├»ve they’d been and said how interesting it was to learn about many different strategies and approaches for translation. They said they translated more thoughtfully now, not just picking the first word or phrase that came to them, but really considering a range of options before deciding on one.

It was amazing to hear that they all had this in common and that reminded me how worthwhile all the time and effort we put in to our teaching us. This shows how much you can develop over just a few months or a year, and how radically your ideas on a topic can change.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Translated Children’s Books

One of my PhD supervisors sent me this article, which talks about how there aren’t enough translations of children’s literature to English.

I firmly believe children should have access to works from all over the world and that this would be beneficial to them. I’ve been dismayed when talking to some publishers, as they’ve told me that children “can’t understand foreign people” or “don’t want” to read about “others”. It’s the adults who underestimate children and who are prejudiced in this case.

Here’s a quote from the article:

"Children need to read the best books by the best writers from all parts of the world," [author David] Almond said. "Of course they do. But the plain fact is that there is very little translated children's fiction published in the UK, and our children are missing out."

His comments coincide with the launch of a new imprint by Pushkin Press that will focus on international children's books – "a bold venture", according to Almond.

Pushkin Press plans to publish a best-selling Danish series about the adventures of a boy called Vitello. The series has been compared to the Horrid Henry books. It is also looking at a fantasy series by two librarians described as the French Harry Potter. The makers of the Twilight films have already bought the film rights.

Thursday, July 18, 2013


I’ve been used to saying that only 2-3% of all books published each year in English are translations, but according to this article, the number is now 4.5%. It’s a small increase, but it’s one worth celebrating. I hope the percentage gets even higher!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Working for Free

I wouldn’t usually promote working for free unless it was strictly for charity, but this site does sound interesting, especially for those just starting out.

Someone from Webflakes contacted me to tell me about it. She wrote: “Webflakes is a new lifestyle site that translates international content from leading bloggers worldwide via a community of  volunteer translators. Having just launched, Webflakes exposes English readers to influential international bloggers whose point-of-view reflects their unique cultures in categories such as wine, food, fashion, design, and architecture. The community of  translators are the heart of the operation at Webflakes as they utilize their skills to remove the language barrier while also raising funds for global charities in the process.”

Personally, I don’t have the time to do work for free unless it’s for a charity or other organisation/individual that I have chosen and have strong feelings about, and I do also worry about translators (or non-professionals who are acting as translators) being taken advantage of it, but it’s worth looking at this and similar sites.

Monday, July 08, 2013

When NOT to give up the PhD

Last winter, I wrote a post about giving up on a PhD. There were a lot of comments on Thesis Whisperer in response to that post, and it seems to have been a topic many could relate to. So I thought it was worth exploring a little further. Here, then, I want to talk about those times when you might feel rather low about your studies, but when you ought to be careful about making the decision to quit.

The question is: how can you differentiate between situations that suggest you should quit and those that might feel that way but don’t actually signal quitting time? And if it’s the latter, what should you do?

If you know for sure that you want to work in academia or in another research field, then you probably need to find a way of pushing on with your PhD. Not only do you need the PhD just because it’s usually a job requirement, but also because it shows that you are the sort of person who can do research on a high level and who can carry a major project to completion. Hence, the PhD is something you need to finish so you can move on with your life. Quitting won’t help you achieve your goals.

If you aren’t absolutely sure that you want a job in research but you haven’t ruled it out either, then you should consider completing so that you are giving yourself as many options as possible for your future. Some doctoral students don’t know what they want to do next, which is fine, but then you do need to keep your options open. Again, then, you might not want to quit.

If you want to go into a field that doesn’t require a PhD, but you know you could earn a higher salary or would have more opportunities to develop your career with a PhD, then you need to make a decision for yourself about whether the additional year/s and potential pain of the doctoral programme is worth that extra money or positions. For some people, it is worth it, while for others, they’d rather take a lower salary and leave behind the stress of their studies.

And, of course, if you want to have a career in a field completely unrelated to your PhD research or if you don’t want a career at all, then that’s something to think carefully about as well. You might find that you want to show yourself (and your friends/relatives) that you can carry out a project on a very high level and can get a PhD. You might just really want the pleasure of the title “Dr” or the status that can come with it. If either of those scenarios is the case, quitting probably isn’t the best option (then again, as I said in the last post, I’m not convinced that doing a degree just for the title is the best way to spend a few years of your life).

So what should you do if you’re currently not engaged by your research and you’re tempted to quit but you suspect that quitting isn’t the best idea?

The obvious first step is to talk. Talk to your supervisor/s, your colleagues, your family, your friends, and possibly your therapist. You need to get other people’s insight into what’s happening and what you can do. It could be that your supervisor think you’re taking the wrong tack; perhaps a shift in approach or methodology is what you need. Maybe you’re teaching too much and you’re left with no energy for your research, so you can arrange to have a lighter teaching load for the next term. Maybe you have too many hobbies and you’re not following a clear schedule for your research, and since you’re not accomplishing much, you feel upset about your research. In that situation, you need to work out a new schedule and learn to prioritise. Maybe you’re having a problem with your partner or your children but you’re avoiding it, so that’s causing you to blame your research for you feeling depressed.  Sorting out issues at home should take precedence then. Maybe you’ve recently lost a friend or relative, and you just need time to grieve before you can focus again. And so on.

For many people, feeling unhappy about their research is in fact caused by problems elsewhere in their lives and/or the lack of progress with their research is due to having little energy or low concentration levels. Take some time to talk to other people and to think about what is going on in your life. The problems you think you’re having with your PhD may not actually have that much to do with your research after all, and dealing with those other issues first may have a positive knock-on effect for your studies.

Also, as I said in my previous piece, there are times for all of us when we lose our research mojo. This is not a reason to give up on the PhD. Rather, it’s worth remembering that this is a temporary situation, and that there are ways of dealing with (taking a brief holiday, finding a new hobby, reading for pleasure, spending time with relatives/friends, meditating, going to a museum or a play or a concert, concentrating on teaching, even focusing on another part of the research project). We all need breaks and academics are particularly prone to not taking them because of our workaholic natures (yes, I’m generalising here), so if you’re feeling less than enthusiastic about your work, a strong likelihood is that you just need to do something different and to shift your attention for a little while.

Again, quitting really can be the best choice for some students. But before you make that decision, consider both other factors and also what you want to do after the PhD. It may turn out to be the case that you do want and/or need to complete the PhD, but that a short break or other solutions, such as marital counselling or a different schedule, will help you find your enthusiasm again.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Gulp and Translation

There are lots of reasons to love Mary Roach’s fascinating and funny books. But as a translator, one that I appreciate is that she employs translators and interpreters when needed in the course of her research and – and this is the part where she differs from many other writers – she actually mentions this and sometimes even gives their names in her work.

I really enjoyed her most recent book, Gulp, and I liked it even more when I noticed her references to translators. Who knows? Maybe she’ll even write a book on language and/or translation at some point!