Teaching Translation

I thought I wouldn’t enjoy teaching a translation course and only agreed to do it because there’s a huge demand. But I’m actually enjoying it a lot. It’s really easy to teach and requires very little preparation. Plus, plunging into the depths of linguistic nuances is actually a lot of fun.

It’s turning out to be really hard for the students, though, because in order to translate well you need to have a good ear for the language. You need to be able to feel when something doesn’t sound right. And that’s hard for many people. If you don’t understand why “let me position this question” sounds atrocious, it’s impossible to explain.

We haven’t even gotten into literary translation yet, and that’s where it gets really hard.


5 thoughts on “Teaching Translation

  1. I would imagine that the failure of American elementary schools to teach grammar would enter into it. When I was a student, I found learning foreign languages relatively easy, and wondered why so many of my classmates struggled with it. What I found out was that many of them hadn’t learned the basics of English grammar in elementary school. Some of them didn’t even know the parts of speech or what a verb tense was, and were having to learn all that from scratch. I was fortunate enough to have attended a very old-fashioned elementary school where English grammar was pounded into our heads year after year. A lot of kids hated it, but I loved it. (I thought diagramming sentences was fun,) When it came time to study Spanish (jr. high), Latin (high school), French (college), and Greek (also college), all that background really came in handy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “the failure of American elementary schools to teach grammar ”

      Well the traditional models are dysfunctional and don’t work… but for various reasons they can’t be replaced either. So the solution was ‘Don’t teach anything’….
      I hated grammar in school because it was so obviously… not true and even the teachers couldn’t follow the rules they were trying to teach….
      Learners of English as a second language are presented with much better models of grammar that do make sense and remolding grammar taught in school along those lines wouldn’t be the worst option.

      “When it came time to study Spanish”

      That’s actually how I learned about grammar in the first place and that’s a reason that foreign languages have always held an important place in the curriculum (until recently). A few years of a foreign language in school brings many secondary benefits above and beyond the knowledge of another language itself.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “If you don’t understand why “let me position this question” sounds atrocious”

    Translation requires achieving a kind of metalinguistic awareness* – it’s a barrier that can be pointed out to students but they have to cross it themselves, each one has to find their own way.

    And the way American academia is going I’m sure that even if “position this question” hasn’t been used already then…. it’s only a question of time….


    Liked by 2 people

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