Word-for-word, General Meeting attendees learn to conceptualize translation and deliver a meaningful product. BY ELIZABETH STOKKEBYE
Let me start with some background: I am now a happy member of NCTA, thanks to my dear friend Sonia Wichmann. Sonia and I shared an office in the Department of Scandinavian at UC Berkeley during the years 2007 to 2009. We quickly became good friends as we taught Reading and Composition to undergraduates. In particular, we talked about the non-happy endings to most Nordic literature and film, and how the Nordic sensibility is difficult to convey to a group of American and international students. A frequently asked question was: “How come somebody always dies at the end?” As we were teaching works in translation, we understood that the English words alone would not deliver full understanding of the texts, but that we had to present the cultural, social and historical perspectives necessary for the complete meaning of the texts.
On the spot
This brings me to the May 12 General Meeting of NCTA. The keynote speaker Tanya Pound, of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, spoke on Sight Translation: A Translator’s Perspective. The concept of sight translation means to transfer written information in one language directly into spoken information in another, not unlike my job as a lecturer, where I read the literary text in Danish and then I present it to my students in English. The difference between my lectures and sight translation is that my students read the text, too, in translation; however, they still need a translated version from me to reach a full understanding of the text. This is where my lecture compares to the sight translation Tanya spoke about. As Tanya said: “to think conceptually over literally”—that is the key. Of course, when you deliver a translation on sight, you may be seeing the text for the first time and you are dealing with on the spot thinking, and therefore it is important to have the text in your hand, as you translate the gist of the text into the target language. As a lecturer I have read and worked with the text I’m discussing many times and have obtained a healthy distance from the text. However, the point is this: you have the information in front of you, you are immersed in this information, and you are trying to translate this information conceptually over literally to a listening audience—it is healthy to keep some kind of distance! And that means breaking the word-for-word translation habit! Think concepts (ideas) over words. Basically, that frees you up to deliver a more meaningful translation with a higher degree of understanding among your listening audience.
A smooth transition
Three months into my membership of NCTA, I am happy to report that I have prospective translation job opportunities, which is good news, as it is my intention to transition into translation work and away from lecturing and teaching. I know that words and languages have always been a big part of me, from when I grew up in Denmark, learning English, German and French in school until I entered UC Berkeley as a 45-year-old undergraduate student in 1999. My extensive linguistic knowledge of Danish and English has finally borne fruit and I am on the right shelf (Danish idiom literally translated!).
Finally, I would like to thank Juliet Viola for her invaluable help in setting me up as a professional translator: she helped me with my résumé and my on-line NCTA presence. Because of her help, my transition from academia into the professional identity of translator has been smooth, not only for myself but also for my prospective clients. Reading ATA chronicles and writing this article for the NCTA Translorial is a first step in the right direction. ES