I attended a round table discussion on education for literary translators organized by NOTIS last night, and it was fantastic!
I wanted to write my own thoughts regarding education for literary translators with resources and points that were discussed.
Education for Literary Translators
I’ve had a number of educational experiences for translation over the last 3-4 years:
- Received a first class honors in my MA of Theory and Practice of Translation from SOAS.
- Attended Translate at City, a week long literary translation summer school at University of London.
- Listen to multiple translation podcasts and read translation related blogs.
- Currently take Translation and Interpretation Certificate Program at Bellevue College, WA.
So I’ve had a wide variety of education and learned a lot from the success and pitfalls of all of those. Which I want to discuss here.
Higher Education – Is an MA Worth It?
The simple answer is: it depends on the MA.
There are many wonderful and successful translators out there who did not take MAs or even undergraduate courses! This was probably because they were not readily available. Many translators learn from trial and error, and talking with and learning from other translators.
Many aspiring translators find this intimidating though and feel like they need direction. MAs are often seen as the only way to get the education they need – but this isn’t always the case.
I’ve talked about this before in What an MA in Translation Doesn’t Teach You. But basically there are poor quality programs out there that won’t teach you how to translate. They won’t teach you how the translation business works.
If you’re interested in literary translation in particular they won’t teach you how to write well in English. They won’t teach you how to write a project proposal or an email in your source language to ask about translation rights. Or even anything about translation rights!
Saying that, there ARE amazing programs out there that teach you how to translate, how to market yourself, and how to run a translation business. But you need to find them.
So it’s important to DO YOUR RESEARCH. An MA costs a LOT of money and time and you want to find an amazing program that works for you and that you’ll get the most out of.
Luckily the American Association of Translators has put together a list of high quality programs they have vetted and approved:
<- The programs on this list are NOT all MA programs though!
Higher Education – Non-MA Programs
There are many programs on the ATA list that are not Masters, but offer certificates. They are often courses designed for full-time workers who want to transition into translation.
Again, do your research. You can check out each course on the ATA List of Approved Translation and Interpreting Schools but you can also ask other translators in your language pair for their opinion.
The program I’m taking at Bellevue College is one of these where your classes are in the evening, normally between 6-9pm once a week. It’s be a fantastic experience and every single class has been useful.
They really try to hone your skills and set you up for a career in translation.
Non-MA translation and interpreting programs are a lot cheaper than MAs. They don’t come with a fancy degree BUT it doesn’t mean the quality of teaching is worse.
(I.E For me, my MA was more expensive and no where near the quality of the certificate program I’m taking.)
Literary Education Isn’t Only Found in a Classroom
Whether you’ve studied translation at school or not everyone agrees that it’s important to continue learning as a translator.
This doesn’t mean you need to take any classes or credits, there are LOTS of ways you can learn without going to class.
The Business Side of Translation
Many people in the talk agreed that in-class programs often (but not always) lack the business side of translation. But you can learn from other translators in the industry through books, blogs and podcasts.
Here are some of the most popular:
- Marketing Tips for Translators (blog & podcast by Tess Whitty.)
- How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator by Corinne Mckay (pretty much ANY book by her is amazing.)
- Thoughts on Translation (blog by Corinne Mckay)
- Success by RX (free and pay for video lectures/courses; blog, by Jenae Spry)
Improving Your Translation, Language and Writing Skills
It’s important, not matter what field of translation you work in, to keep working on honing your skills.
But in Literary translation there are some particular points that came up in discussion. In particular it’s important to focus on your target language skills.
You can improve your target language skills through:
- Literary Translation Competitions
- Creative Writing Classes (such as Coursera’s Creative Writing Specialization)
- Summer Camps/Conferences (such as Bread Load Translators Conference)
- Peer Reviews (such as NOTIS’ Literary Translation Feedback Forum – held once a month!)
It was also mentioned that it’s very important to read!
Read books in your source language AND target language. It even helps to read books that were translated into your target language from your source language!
If you focus only on one or the other you may find yourself lacking in the other language. One woman said how she focused only on reading books from her target language but then found her translations began becoming too literal and wooden.
Also read texts translated by people you respect, your colleagues. Even if it’s in a subject you think you’re not interested in. You may be surprised by what you learn.
Write various types of texts and in various styles.
One great tip was to read for 15 minutes before bed, then in the morning try and write something in the style of what you were reading.
Even practicing changing and translation into a style of language you don’t normally use can be great.
Practicing to write in various styles is a great way to hone your skills because as a translator you need to know how to write in different ways. You need to be able to sound like the person you’re translating, not like you.
These were links and resources discussed in the round table, so they are focused on US based translators. I’m sure there are many other great programs and resources out there, but this a good place to start.
Higher Education (MA and non-MA) Programs
(I’ve highlighting this list because if you’re looking for a high quality educational program near you USE THIS LIST to research possible programs.)
MA in Translation with the University of Illinois (in-class and remote)
Literary Translation Resources
Bread Load Translators Conference (week long conference in Vermont)
Translate at City (week long literary translation summer course in London, UK)
NOTIS’ Literary Translation Feedback Forum (and other events!)
Coursera’s Creative Writing Specialization (not translation related but great course for improving English creative writing)