I am currently pursuing my honours in translation at Stellenbosch University and it has been an eventful year. I have learnt a lot and my perspective of what translation really entails has changed significantly. As with any other experience, Translation Studies came with an unforeseeable challenge or two from the get-go – but you need to crawl before you can walk.
The most challenging part of my academic journey in translation has definitely been that there is no undergraduate degree that specifically prepares you for what awaits in Translation Studies. It’s a jump-in-the-deep-end-and-swim kind of situation. In the beginning, my translations were influenced by my world knowledge, personal experiences (or lack thereof) and interests. For instance, I had never received a lease agreement or a circular letter from a landlord so the style and jargon were unfamiliar to me. This is only one example of my shortcomings and unfortunately it made the process of practical translation and interpreting challenging due to the vast vocabulary you need to deliver an outstanding product. What I then realised was that a vocabulary is built over time and through experience, and that I won’t get it right on my first, second or even third try! On top of that, there’s a variety of texts and documents you are exposed to that you have never been exposed to before – translation requires a lot of research – and you’ll have to spend copious hours deciphering the jargon, and sometimes you’ll have to use your own discretion to decide what synonyms fit that specific document best. You’ll learn how to find the best solution to fit the problem – one size does, however, not fit all.
With this is mind, I would recommend the following “skills” to anyone interested in a career in translation:
- First and foremost, you need to have a passion for language. You’ll spend a lot of time together, so you’ll need to love it!
- You need to be proficient in the language(s) you are working with. This will enable you to fully understand what the text is trying to convey. A lot of the time, there are hidden meanings that are specific to the context.
- Understanding the language is not enough, you need to understand the accompanying culture and be sensitive to and knowledgeable about any taboos that can unintentionally be communicated, as well as any ideologies the language use may perpetuate.
- You need to be creative. You’ll often be faced with challenges that require you to think outside the box.
- You need to hone your problem-solving skills. I’m a very indecisive person – anyone who knows me can vouch for that – but I’ve had to work on making decisions and I genuinely think that my problem-solving and decision-making skills have improved significantly.
Despite the duration of my course only being a year, all of these abilities and skills were addressed throughout this time. I think there is still a misconception as to what Translation Studies, and language studies in general, entail. Language learning is compulsory at school, but you don’t get to explore what language studies are about and what they can actually teach you. Deep dives into language studies often include lessons beyond language that speak to the inclusivity and sensitivity towards others. I think it’s something we should value in our multi-cultural society.
I don’t remember much from school, but I know that “om te beklemtoon” is the one thing that stuck with the majority of Afrikaans First Additional Language students. This is due to most adopting a parrot-style of learning and never really being able to engage with language outside of grammar and a limited selection of literature. What I do remember is that the language policy has always been a problem within academic institutions. I believe that if implemented correctly, translation and interpreting studies can address the problem of inclusivity with regard to our official languages and aid the learning experience of children and students with various learning-disabilities through adapted texts. It can even allow the integration of children with hearing disabilities into mainstream schools.
With the continuous development and advancements in translation technology, the discipline has broadened to not just consider the transfer of message and meaning, but also accessibility. As a society, we’ve made being able-bodied the norm and neglected the right to access of persons with disabilities and sensory impairments. Audiovisual translation has thus expanded to include intralingual, interlingual and intersemiotic translations for various audiences in the form of subtitles, closed captions, audio descriptions, surtitles, sign language interpreting and more, readily available in various environments. While subtitling is usually associated with interlingual translation, closed captioning for the hearing impaired includes descriptions of the para-verbal elements of an audiovisual text to aid in conveying the verbal and non-verbal signs and enhances the cinematic experience for a hard of hearing audience. The newer laws and regulations around web accessibility also enable easy navigation of websites and web content for a wider audience of people with disabilities. Disability and impairment occur on a spectrum and these services promote easier access to the web, whether it be for educational or entertainment purposes. Sensory impairments are not limited to vision and hearing impairments, but also photosensitivity, speech disability, cognitive limitations, etc.
I believe the future of the industry is rooted in the collaboration between language practitioners and technology such as voice-recognition AI, to produce a product best suited for its audience. If there’s no audience, our purpose and services are futile. If we work in tandem with educational institutions and NGOs catering towards accessibility for all audiences, we could even improve the way in which children with learning disabilities are schooled and work to reduce stigma around them. Accessibility is a topic I’m very passionate about and I hope that research regarding the topic will soon take flight.