Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom I

Late last year, I bought a copy of Maria González Davies’ Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom, which describes 70 activities, 23 tasks and 3 projects that can be used in the classroom to develop various translation skills. Activities are considered brief exercises designed to help practice specific points, tasks are chains of activities “with the same global aim and a final product” (2004: 23), while projects are “multicompetence assignments” designed to help students engage in professional and pedagogical activities and tasks while collaboratively completing an end product—either an authentic translation commissioned by a client or a simulated situation (2004: 28). For brevity’s sake, in this post, I’ll use the term task to refer collectively to the activities, tasks and projects Davies describes in her book. These tasks are suited to a variety of translation classes, including comparative stylistics, general and specialized translation, and, in some cases, even terminology. I’ve now had a chance to try out one of them in my Introduction to Translation into English class for anglophone students, and I plan to try a few others, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about my experiences.

I should start off by saying that I’ve found the tasks quite useful and well-designed. Each one is broadly grouped into categories (e.g. translation and cultural studies, degrees of fidelity, developing linguistic skills) so that if you’re interested in working on certain types of translation skills, you can quickly flip through four, five, or more tasks to use with (or adapt for) your own class. Each task is also prefaced with very helpful details about the aims (e.g. to learn to peer edit, to practice inter- and intralinguistic translation), the suggested level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), the length of time and the number of sessions that might be needed (e.g. 10 minutes for one of the activities, or three 2-hour sessions for one of the tasks), and the suggested groupings (individual, pairs, small groups). Each task has a sample text for the students to work with, but unless students are translating from English into another language (and ideally into Spanish or Catalan), the texts will have to be substituted with something similar. This isn’t really a drawback, though, as it’s the ideas and goals behind the task that are important, and many texts could be used to achieve the goals highlighted by Davies.

One complaint I had, however, was about the formatting of the book: I would have preferred the tasks to each begin on a new page instead of following one another with just a few blank lines in between. I found it hard to flip quickly through the book to get a few details about each task, as each one seemed to start somewhere near the middle or end of a page, hidden among all the bullet points and numbered lists. That’s a small complaint though, and it doesn’t detract from the overall value of the book.

This week, I tried out Task 4: Can translation expectations be fulfilled?
Although this task was supposed to take place over four 2-hour sessions, I adapted the exercise to fit into a single 1.5 hour class. Together, we analyzed a 350-word text to see what kinds of problems it would pose. (Ours, for instance had some slightly specialized healthcare terms, some direct quotations from a healthcare spokesperson, some organization names and some vague references to geographic areas familiar to SL readers but probably less familiar to most TL readers). I then asked students to decide who their readers would be and where the translation would be published (e.g. website, magazine, newspaper). Finally, I asked the students to translate the first three paragraphs (about 160 words) to meet the expectations of their imagined readers and client. We then took a look at some of the students’ translations, and they explained how they’d solved (or to tried to solve) some of the problems we had discussed before starting the translation. Although the original exercise involved having the students write a paper at the end of the translation to reflect on whether and how they were able to fulfill these expectations, I had students just write a short paragraph on this question and then submit their responses at the end of the class.

I think the exercise worked well as a back-to-classes-after-the-winter-break activity. Shortening it to just one session, though, was probably a mistake. Another half hour or possibly even an hour would have been useful, since students could have polished their translations (as some noted they didn’t get very far), and we could have spent some time discussing what the students thought about whether and how they were able to fulfill the expectations of their imagined audiences. Instead, students had to rush through their paragraphs about how the constraints under which they worked affected their translation strategies, and I didn’t have time to guide the discussion back to how translation expectations can be met or not. I’ll try to cover this point for a few minutes at the beginning of class next week.

From the student responses, though, I think the exercise worked well enough as a way to reflect on translation strategies. The students gave a few examples of why they had translated one of the problematic passages in a certain way based on their imagined audience. The justifications students offered were reasonable and well thought out. For instance, one student chose not to provide a translation for a local health agency (which has no official English name) because her audience was English-speaking Quebecers and she assumed they would be familiar with similar agencies and could recognize most of the French words in the name (e.g. agence, santé, services sociaux). Another student chose to add an explanation about how far away Abitibi-Témiscamingue is from Montreal, as he assumed his Ontario readers might not be familiar with the various Quebec regions but would know where a major urban area like Montreal is located. On the other hand, some students mentioned that they had trouble deciding how to resolve some of the problems, as knowing who their target audience was didn’t always help. For instance, one student who chose to translate for a general, English-speaking audience of newspaper readers couldn’t decide whether “stomach flu” or “gastroenteritis” was a more appropriate translation for “gastroentérite”.

I’d do this exercise again, but I’d plan it so that we could have about two hours to complete the task instead of a single 1.5-hour session. I plan to try a few other tasks this term, so I’ll blog about the results after we complete them.

Davies, Maria González. (2004). Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom: Activities, Tasks and Projects. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

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