Review of Translation Workshop: French to English (Organized by Corinne McKay)

ata-fld-newsletter-logoBy Beth Smith

When I learned that Corinne McKay was going to set up a translation skills class rather than a business-oriented class, I was intrigued. How would it be set up? Who would the instructors be? Then when I saw the details, I knew immediately that I had to try it, even though the first time around with a new course risks some bumps in the road and hiccups. I don’t know about how it looked from the instructor side, but from my point of view, it was hiccup-free.

The course ran for eight weeks, starting on April 23. There were four instructors in four different specializations, each of whom taught for two weeks, starting with Michèle Hansen for medical, then Karen Tkaczyk for science and technology, Judy Lyons for financial, and finally, Tom West for legal. There were two live (online) sessions per week. On Mondays, the instructors did PowerPoint “lectures,” presenting information about their specialties, such as types of texts involved in the specialization, specific issues or problems you might encounter, and resources. Then the Wednesday editions were more informal question and answer sessions, where they answered questions students had posted in the class’s Google Group as well as anything else that came up along the way. Some of these questions were about the week’s homework assignment, but the instructors were very willing to answer more general questions about how they work, what they personally work on the most, and more.

All of the instructors had a different presentation style and emphasized different things, but I enjoyed every single recorded session. It was clear that they had all spent lot of time preparing for their sessions (or if they didn’t, they were really good at winging it). Even though Corinne wasn’t actually teaching the content of the workshop, she played a vital role during the live sessions, as she acted as a host/facilitator, asked questions, and discussed various issues with the instructors. So as a student, I never had the feeling that the instructor was just droning along while showing PowerPoint slides. I wasn’t able to attend the live sessions due to prior commitments (like teaching my 3rd-period class!), but the sessions were recorded, so I had no trouble watching them later (and even re-watching, especially when I was trying to follow everything Tom was saying about various legal concepts).

The main reason I signed up for the course was for the chance to do a weekly translation assignment and get feedback on my work, but as soon as I had actually registered, I started panicking about that very thing. My main goal throughout the class was to not humiliate myself in front of any of the expert translators.  I’m going to refrain from asking any direct questions about my performance, but my feedback was generally pretty good. Since this wasn’t a college class, we didn’t receive letter grades for each assignment; instead, the instructors rated them as outstanding, good, acceptable, fair, or poor. Each of these ratings was accompanied by a brief description. For example, the description of a “good” translation was, “A translation that would probably be acceptable to a professional translation client with a reasonable or expected amount of editing, that displays a strong command of the passage’s subject matter, and that is very solid in terms of accuracy, style, and flow.” In addition, the translation review sheet included instructor comments about overall impression, typos, accuracy, and stylistic quality. Plus the instructors also made comments and corrections on the translations themselves. As for the actual texts, they included part of a patient record, a product data sheet for an adhesive, an excerpt from an annual report, and definitions from a legal dictionary. The texts weren’t impossibly long; I believe they were all under 400 words. But they were definitely chosen to contain as much tricky vocabulary as possible, or so it seemed. There were times when I spent half an hour researching a single term. Then again, if everything were easy and obvious, there wouldn’t be much point in taking the class.

I was very happy with the course, from the way it was set up to the instructor feedback. I don’t specialize in any of the four areas, so for me, it was not only an excellent opportunity to get feedback from top-level translators in various fields and to learn as much as possible about each specialization, but also to test the waters to see if I should think about working in any of those areas. I discovered that I’m better at medical and technical than I thought, but in most cases, I should leave the financial and legal translation to someone else. Okay, I actually suspected that about legal and financial, but this class confirmed what I thought. But if I should need to translate any financial or legal texts, I now have a ton of resources I didn’t have before, and as I said earlier, I enjoyed those online sessions. It just turns out that if I have to spend a bunch of time researching something, I’d prefer it to be a medical procedure or a thingamajig described in a product description than legal or financial terminology.

For someone who already specializes in one of the four areas, it might still be worth considering the class, as we got tons of information and resources. Some of my fellow students had extensive backgrounds in finance, but they still seemed very happy with the course. If you work in a completely different field and have no interest in exploring any of the ones covered in the class, then this course might not be for you. But if you are a generalist or if you work in any of the four specializations, you might want to check out the course if it’s offered again. I would definitely be interested in taking another translation workshop class in the future.

Beth Smith is a French to English translator specializing in tourism, advertising/marketing, and the psychology of happiness (an accidental specialization developed when translating the book The Finance of Happiness by Renaud Gaucher). She currently serves as the FLD’s Facebook page moderator.