Well, the Fall term is officially ending this week, and I’ve just taught my last Introduction to Translation into English class, where my students presented the Wikipedia translation projects they’ve been working on for the past month.
I really enjoyed listening to the students describe the challenges they encountered during the translation process, their experiences using the wiki markup language, and their justifications for adapting the French articles for the English version of the encyclopedia.
They had a lot of positive things to say about the assignment, which involved working in pairs or small groups (of up to four students) to translate all or part of an article of their choice, which I recommended they select from this list of 9000+ articles needing translation. They liked the fact that Wikipedia has (very broad) translation guidelines to follow, as well as advice about writing in an encyclopedic style. One of these recommendations was that translators should “avoid being overly influenced by the style of the original” and that “a useful translation may require more than just a faithful rendering of the original.” My students really seemed to like this flexibility: if they found some information irrelevant for English readers, they omitted it; if they found a word or section too subjective for an encyclopedia article (e.g. adjectives like “spectacular” and “great” to describe the historic site of Aigues-Mortes), they omitted it in the translation; if they found that important details about a subject’s life were missing (e.g. Octave Crémazie’s bankruptcy and subsequent flight from Quebec), they added them in. I haven’t marked the assignments yet, so this aspect may prove a little challenging for me, but I was happy to see the students taking such an interest in really making the texts fit the expectations of an imagined English-speaking audience.
On the other hand, students did find some aspects of the project frustrating: one group was annoyed that their translation was modified by another Wikipedian shortly after they posted it. They had spent a lot of time debating stylistic preferences such as hyphenation, spelling, and capitalization, and they felt that the changes the other user was proposing were not justified by the style guides they had consulted and–even worse–were not applied evenly throughout the article. Other students found that editing within the Wikipedia environment was tedious, and not everyone was able to figure out how to add references, post images and add hyperlinks to relevant English articles. (Others, though, were happy with the Wikipedia cheat sheet, which outlines most of the mark-up code for things like adding links, headings, and italics.)
In general, though, the students seemed to have enjoyed the assignment. They were able to choose articles that interested them, collaborate with others in the class to solve problems and research terms, and post their translations online for other Wikipedia users to see–although as one student mentioned, the collaborative nature of Wikipedia means that the translation might ultimately change, and it might eventually be hard for individual students to show exactly how they contributed to the version that is available online.
Once I’ve had a chance to mark these assignments, I’ll post a few thoughts about my experience with the project, in case other instructors might be interested in integrating a Wikipedia translation exercise into their classes.