Volume 2, No. 3 
July 1998

Denis Sánchez Calderaro was born in Cuba in 1970 in the city of Santa Clara. In 1988 he started his studies at the Teachers College of Villa Clara majoring in English language. Interested in teaching but looking for a broader professional spectrum he left the College in 1990 and moved to the Central University of Las Villas (UCLV) where he started the third year of English Language and Literature. He graduated in 1994 and was invited to stay working at the School of Social Sciences where he himself had studied. He immediately accepted his first job offer and joined the Language Department as a teacher of English language. Not long after he started teaching he was invited to work part-time as a translator/interpreter with the Center for Bioactive Chemicals (CBQ). He has been working there ever since and continued teaching at University. He is currently doing his Master's in English Language at UCLV and teaching Translation at the English Language Department. Lic. Sánchez can be reached at negrin@cbq.vcl.sld.cu.


Happy Birthday, TJ!
Index 1997-98
  Translator Profiles
It Needn’t All Be Boring...
by Derry Cook-Radmore
Dr. William I. Bertsche
by Gabe Bokor
  Translator Education
Considerations on Teaching Translation
by Denis Sánchez Calderaro
  Translation Theory
Translation As a Communication Process
by Frédéric Houbert
  Art & Entertainment
Translator, Adapter, Screenwriter
by Robert Paquin, Ph.D.
 Biomedical Translation
Immunology—a Brief Overview
by Lúcia M. Singer, Ph.D.
 Business Translations
The Language of Business Entities in Brazil
by Danilo Nogueira
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XII
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Events
Letters to the Editor
Call for Papers

Translation Journal
Translator Education


Considerations on Teaching Translation

by Lic. Denis Sánchez Calderaro
Departamento de Lengua Inglesa. Universidad Central de Las Villas, Cuba


The teaching of translation by our Faculty has reached a remarkably higher level in relation to the style followed some years ago, when this subject was first included in our syllabus. Trying to put forward new theories would be, at least for me, somewhat daring—particularly since some of the current staff were my own professors in the past. That is why the purpose of this paper is merely to air some quite personal considerations on the teaching of translation in the light of my modest experience as a translator; after all, and as L.W. Tancock would put it, “it’s all I have...”1
    The work of the translator is, undoubtedly, somewhat thankless. As opposed to the conference or business interpreter (in some cases), he hardly ever obtains public acknowledgment for his efforts. His place remains in the shadows, buried in dictionaries, glossaries, in the labyrinths of large or small libraries or within the endless branches of the Internet. Therefore, the main quality of a good translator is his endless love of his profession, which is characterized by continuous search and non-stop work. And this quality, whose absence will inevitably lead to poor-quality translations, should be inculcated in the mind of the would-be translator.
    The student who simply arrives in the classroom, makes his translation merely paying attention to language, then goes back home and returns next class to work with whatever material his professor has decided to bring to class, without any sort of preparation or conscious work, will never go beyond the limits of mediocrity.
    If a professional translator must go from the field to the text, and vice versa, countless numbers of times, then that is precisely the order we should give to our students’ tasks. Right from the start, the future translator should acquire the habit of insatiable research and learn to look for any piece of information necessary for his work. These habits and skills will develop only as a result of the professor’s guidance, orientation, instruction, and encouragement.
    Accordingly, the Translation professor should first guarantee that his students get hold of extralinguistic notions, a background on the field, the subject matter at hand. This stage of “familiarization” with the field or subject matter may be developed either in the target language (TL), the source language (SL), the translator’s mother tongue—should it be other than either the SL or the TL—in any other language known by the translator, or in all of them. The essence of this process is that our translator acquires a background that will allow him either to know the content of the text or, at least, grasp the elements that will facilitate his understanding thereof.
    The process as such should not be viewed as a linguistic analysis of the subject but rather as a cognitive approach to the notions it comprises. The inversion of the dynamics of this process would result in the apprehension on the part of our students of just a few phrases, collocations, and terms only in the form of equivalents. The processes and notions they identify, however, will never be understood, which in turn will probably lead to lexical misuse and loss of reference. If, on the other hand, the professor focuses his work on the learning of sciences and not merely on their nomenclature, the result will be that students will understand the whats, hows, whens, wheres, and whys of the processes and, implicitly, the terms that denote them, the ways to say things, the style, i.e. the linguistic means specialists like the author they translate employ to convey messages like his.
    However, as explained below, this shall not suffice.
    It is widely known that, in addition to the transference of certain pieces of information, translation deals with the conveyance of a set of nuances whose variety may increase or decrease with text typology. Thus, many an author has written countless articles on the various problems faced by literary translators, who must get hold of and convey the sense, cultural background, national features, period, tone, emotive nuances, etc. Technical translators do not face such a broad spectrum of difficulties. However, it would be a mistake to think that problems here are restricted to the search for equivalents. Not at all.
    Technical translators do not only have to transpose the scientific information contained in the original by using the right terms but also select the appropriate mode of expression according to the target audience, which does not always coincide with the source audience. Therefore they need to know:

  • The subject. Plenty has been said and published on this particular point. The total comprehension of the original requires extralinguistic knowledge of the subject. A translator will never be able to re-express what the author wrote for a lay public unless he is familiar with the subject matter he is translating. Likewise, such knowledge is the only thing that prevents translation from turning into a degradation of the scientific level of the original in the eyes of the scientific community. As for the ways to build that knowledge, I have already referred to that above, so I shall not be repetitive.
  • The source language style. Knowing the style that dominates the writing of articles in the SL enables us to know a large number of expressions not easily found in dictionaries, e.g. loans from Latin and other languages. Being able to identify style marks also gives us the chance to concentrate on the information and not to get lost in the labyrinth of conventions that editorial rules could create.
  • The target language style. This is very much related to the above, only that the problem here is seen the other way around. The TL, just like the SL, has its own style marks. It is important for the translator to know these because not including them in the translation would result in an awkward target text: it would be like playing a violin solo with a guitar; the notes might be the same but the sound will always be different. Omission of this important rule might lead to a “language of translation.”2 It is noteworthy that these “arrangements” are what many times cause the rejection of translations in scientific journals, legal proceedings, etc.

A very important issue to be acknowledged in relation to the TL style is what I will call the “user” of our translation.

  • A specialist user. Where the user is a specialist on the subject and the text is highly technical the translation must be focused on the TL style followed when writing articles like the original. Cases like this force translators to study articles on different subjects as the only way to learn the diction and wording used by scientific guilds. Here, once again, beware of scientific redundancies. The ultimate sin in the sciences is to ignore the current scientific development. Where a text indicates that a topical was used on skin, translators should not underestimate their user assuming his failure to understand that this is as logical as drinking by the oral gavage.
  • A lay user. Cases like this are a lot more difficult. Where the target public does not have a deep knowledge of the matter dealt with in the original, translators must, above all, contribute to the author-reader communication. In this instance it is essential to lower the degree of technicality of explanations and detect the exact moments when it is necessary to establish a balance between the scientific level of the author and the elementary knowledge the users supposedly have. Style in these situations will not be as significant as in the above case. In fact, the main purpose of this instance of translation is to have the reader understand the theory put forward by the author.

Based on the above, class activities should be focused much more on the aforementioned aspects. Students will have a lot more work to do but, in the end, they will be better professionals and above all, professors will be able to build in students a passion for this art that is translation.
    Let us start with the familiarization with the subject matter to be worked with throughout the semester. Students should have specific and general tasks leading them to study those notions they will interact with in their translations. What should they study? A bit of everything. The purpose here is not to have our third-year students become computer programmers just because they are translating computer science texts. It would be very useful, however, if they became somewhat familiar with the field. Magazines and journals are reference materials that help in this stage of familiarization and first approach to the subject.
    It is important that, at this stage, students do not dedicate themselves to reading and digesting only in the SL but that they feel free to use any source regardless of the language. This will provide them with an increasingly integrated view of the notional and linguistic universe of such subject.
    Once students master the source style it will be easier for them to understand what they read. Let us take as an example the following fragment taken from a company’s by-laws.

“day” means a clear day and a period of days shall be deemed to commence the day following the event that began the period and shall be deemed to terminate at midnight of the last day of the period except that if the last day of the period falls on a Sunday or holiday the period shall terminate at midnight of the day next following that is not a Sunday or holiday;

As it may be seen, the above paragraph is so repetitive that not missing the sense of the information would be really difficult for those not used to such a style. Repetition is a widely used, and I would add, exploited resource of legal parlance. Here there should be no room for doubts or second readings and, therefore, lawyers must cover all possibilities. This task has not found a better resource than repetition. In the above paragraph the word day, in particular, has been used seven times within the same sentence—a sentence that, additionally, includes several explanations. The translator who is trapped by the style will miss the message contained in the text.
    Students may become familiar with these stylistic features in their independent study. Consulting resolutions, acts, statutes, deeds, and all sorts of instruments is a must for the legal translator. That is the only way to enter the complicated world of legalese where the change of a word may lead to millions in losses and, sometimes, even to jail.
    There are a variety of exercises professors may design with the purpose of training their students not to fall in such traps. In fact, just as for all teaching methodologies there are as many solutions as professors in their pursuit.
    Very much related to this last issue is the familiarization of the student with the target style. The translation of paragraphs like the fragment above presents serious difficulties for a translator not trained in this style. Indeed, the best evidence thereof is a very simple experiment. Take that fragment and ask several bilingual individuals to translate it. They will rapidly find themselves before a really trying task: how is it possible to translate this sentence, where words are so simple, without falling into such an abuse of repetition that it will obstruct our rendering of the original message?
    Just as explained before, this problem has two solutions. Each of them depends largely on the extralinguistic knowledge of the user. If the translation is intended for a lawyer, there should not be significant difficulties, it will be necessary just to transpose the sense recreated in the source style to its equivalent in the TL. To this end, help may be sought from a lawyer, who would indicate the way the message “sounds” best in the TL. This is always the easiest solution and, hence that which so many prefer since it avoids the inconveniences of going to a library and endlessly checking books, dusting notebooks, and trailing the style in real documents until the relevant stylistic marks are found, then transferring them to the translation and adjusting it. However, easy and profitable do not always go hand in hand. Taking the second route, that which includes an insatiable search, will eventually avoid the inconveniences derived from a mistranslated legal document due to the imprecisions of some lawyer. Specialists in other fields do not always master some of the most elemental rules that govern ours, for instance, writing.
    The next solution to this problem would also be somewhat trying. However, many prefer this variant. In this instance the translation is intended for a lay public. This requirement forces the translator to go deep into the meaning contained in the text and then express it in the most comprehensible way for the public. Cases like this are not characterized by a large number of stylistic marks to be taken into account when writing. It would be quite careless, however, to let our imagination wander free and employ too pompous or technical a style in an outburst of exquisiteness. The second reader, just like the interpreter’s audience, always realizes when the translator/interpreter is being pretentious. The result: the translator always receives a negative reaction from his audience.
    An exercise that could be used to contribute to the familiarization of students with text styles and typologies is the writing of articles and/or essays on topics of interest within the subject matter under study. Thus, the student will be forced to use the relevant style in a creative fashion. This exercise is valid for both languages (SL and TL) since, as already seen, it is as important to master the source style as the target style.
    I do not think it is necessary to go deeper into these two variants. They themselves prove the usefulness of mastering source and target styles for students and translators in general. The ways to acquire such mastership are virtually the same for any language since the kinds of references are basically the same, just in one language or another.
    As seen, all the work described in this paper is independent. There are just a few references to cases where the professor has to devise a specific exercise for the classroom. This, of course, should not be taken absolutely. Professors of translation may design and insert in their classes as many tasks as they think fit. The reason why all tasks cited are performed out of the classroom is very simple. The extracurricular character of all these activities is closely related to the very nature of the translator’s profession. This is an on-the-field job, like the paleontologist’s. Here we look for traces, trails. We start from our knowledge of this fossil that we could aptly call a Meaningosaur, to later dig it up, clean it, and take it to a museum where we will exhibit it in a different shape. The skeleton (content) shall always be the same but the saurian (form) will be different. Then the quality of the job can always be controlled by an attentive visitor since, after all, the number of vertebrae cannot vary.
    Developing such skills in translation students will be an important contribution to their performance as future translators with the proficiency that shall ensure their walking up the steps of the quality ladder.

1 Tancock, L.W. Some Problems of Style in Translation from French.
2 Neubert, Albrecht. Zur kommunikativen Äquivalenz. Linguistische Arbeitsberichte. Vol. 16, pp. 15-22. 1976.

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