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Can translation be taught?

June 7, 2017

In this blog post, I will be reflecting on a topic which has stirred up much debate among translators in recent years: Can translation be taught? Can university programmes and summer schools really teach students to be good translators?


At the heart of this question, is our perception of translation itself: Is it a science, a skill to be developed, or an innate art form? Perhaps there is some truth to all these perceptions. Different approaches to translation come with fixed principles, there are skills and methods we can develop to become better translators, but ultimately translators must find the right words and the best solution to problems from somewhere within themselves.


“Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varied” (Noam Chomsky).


Whilst there is an art to good translation, and successful translators will need certain aptitudes, this can be said of many professions.


Translation programmes have their limitations. They can’t teach you an exact science to solve the problems you will face as a translator; these problems are often unique and there can be many viable solutions. However, they can help you to better understand approaches you can follow, give you the chance to discuss your translations with experienced translators and teach you how you can use available technology to help you as a translator.


Perhaps most importantly, translation courses focus firmly on quality. By assessing and discussing translations, translation courses help to promote a high standard of translation and encourage translators to value their own work. Educational programmes, alongside translation prizes, conferences, and company guidelines, look to set the bar for quality translations and raise awareness of the skill behind great translations.


So, do the benefits of studying translation outweigh its limitations? Is translation an innate talent or a skill that can be developed? Let me know what you think in the comments section below. 

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