“I realize now why professors say ‘don’t use Wikipedia'”, one of my students remarked during a group presentation about the challenges of translating a Wikipedia article from French into English. Once again, I had assigned Wikipedia articles as a final translation assignment for the 22 students enrolled in Introduction to Translation into English this past winter. This student’s remark came about after the group became frustrated with the French article’s lack of sources and occasionally promotional tone. In their final translation, they took a 2800-word text about French-Canadian singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe with 21 references and turned it into an 1600-word article with 47 documented sources and a more neutral tone. Another group’s article on reasonable accommodation went from 14 references in the source text to 66 in the English translation.
But references weren’t the only challenges my students faced this year. When they reflected on their projects, one group discussed the trouble they had trying to find the right translation for “la chanson française” as a genre (they finally opted for French chanson, since there is a Wikipedia article with that title), while another group struggled with “expulsé”, as in:
En février 2005, deux ambulanciers ont été expulsés d’une cafétéria de l’Hôpital général juif de Montréal parce qu’ils mangeaient un repas qu’ils s’étaient préparé.
Le 24 février 2007, à Laval, une jeune musulmane ontarienne de 11 ans est expulsée d’un match de soccer auquel elle participe et qui réunit de jeunes joueuses canadiennes.
(Both of which came from this article on reasonable accommodation in Quebec)
In this case, they settled for “ejected” in the first example and “sent off” in the second, after consulting various English media reports. A graduate assistant helped me correct these assignments, and since we both recommended different translations, I’d certainly agree with my students that this was a tricky case. In the end, I suggested “asked to leave” for the first example, because it seemed to depict the event in the most neutral way, which is one of Wikipedia’s core content policies.
Most groups took various liberties with their source material, rewriting and reorganizing the article to present information more effectively, remove details that couldn’t be verified, and update details that were several years old. In almost every case, these decisions made the final English articles much better quality than the original French articles, and it helped students look more critically at their source material (as the comment from the student I cited earlier suggests).
Due to a lengthy strike at the university this year, I had to extend the submission deadline for these projects, and consequently had to finish marking the translations long after the term had ended instead of doing so in mid-March. This meant that only a few groups have been dedicated enough to post their final, corrected translations to English over the past few weeks, something that is perfectly understandable given that most students are now working, travelling or taking summer courses and would therefore have trouble finding some free time to revise their work. So I was very happy to see that at least three articles have made it to Wikipedia. Want to check them out? Here they are: