By Ana Lis Salotti
Photo: Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license.
I have been teaching translation courses in American universities for the last four years, both online and in person. During my teaching career, I have learned a great deal, possibly more than my students. One such instance of remarkable learning for me was when I rose to the challenge of teaching the first online, language-neutral Audiovisual Translation (AVT) course for the Certificate in Translation Industry Essentials at the NYU School of Professional Studies last fall (2018). This piece will attempt to summarize my pedagogical approach, share my teaching outcomes and challenges, and reflect on my practice as an AVT course instructor.
This course is currently part of the NYU SPS Certificate in Translation Industry Essentials, one of NYU’s many career advancement courses, and is taught completely online through NYU’s learning management system (LMS) called NYU Classes. Most of the students who take this Certificate are adults with a university degree. I taught a diverse group of students, based around the world and working in different language combinations.
When I first learned I would be teaching an AVT course, I immediately made a virtual bee line for my university library. I quickly noticed what Díaz-Cintas describes in his Didactics of Audiovisual Translation (2008): there is not a whole lot written about teaching AVT yet. I have used his book, along with Topics in Audiovisual Translation (2004) edited by Pilar Orero, to help me design this AVT course from scratch, and then teach it. Both are invaluable help to any AVT instructor, with discussion pointers, exercise ideas, and thought-provoking content for students.
After these first, essential documentation efforts, I decided to devise a “multimedia” syllabus featuring an introductory video with a dual objective—to hopefully encourage students to actually read the syllabus, and to mirror the nature of AVT. Maybe a next step would be to caption the video! I devised my syllabus around a 10-unit structure, each unit running for a week throughout the duration of the course. This structure was based on Amador et al’s article (2004).
Each unit was kicked off with a one-hour, more or less technical online class per week, I introduced a new topic. The class content was then reinforced by an accompanying weekly reading and assignment. I made a heavy use of the forum feature on the LMS, opening a conversation thread for each reading, posting questions to guide reading discussions and waiting to post my contributions to enable a conversation among peers. Throughout the years I’ve noticed that, once the teacher gives her opinion on a translation or technological issue, the discussion tends to end there, or very soon afterwards, no matter how much one tries to encourage others’ input. Discussions on the forums were very lively, with over 40 contributions in some of the threads.
The unit would close every week with a hands-on assignment. For example, in the first week’s class, I kicked off the course with an introduction of AVT and its main modalities. With only an hour lecture, I had to pack a lot in. I presented AVT as a distinctive, constantly changing field in translation, and introduced and compared the most essential characteristics of subtitling, dubbing (voice-over and lip sync), subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH), and audio description for the blind and partially sighted. The reading of the week, taken from Pérez-González (2014), not only reinforced my lecture on these modalities, but also introduced students to game localization, surtitling, respeaking and 3D subtitling as other AVT modalities. After that, they worked on their first, ungraded assignment. For this, I had them play around with the free online subtitling platform Amara. My teaching objective in this assignment was to have them intuitively create subtitles of a short video clip of their choosing, without much instruction from me. My teaching expectation was to show them how different an intuitively created “fan-sub” could be to a more professional one, based on my ultimate feedback and their own comparison between their initial subtitles and the type of subtitles they would be able to create themselves by the end of the course.
All assignments were hands-on and reflected real-world working conditions as much as possible. For example, students had firm, tight deadlines, and learned and implemented the subtitling and captioning guidelines that are widely used in the industry. Assignments required practice in applying style guides, show guides and glossaries when working in AVT, and they create subtitles using open-source captioning software, such as Subtitle Workshop, Subtitle Edit and Aegisub. Additionally, they had two group assignments: one student was the project manager of an AVT project from start to finish, another student was the AV translator who created subtitles, SDH, a dubbing script or an audio description script—whichever they chose—, and the third person performed quality control and proofreading. These group projects were designed to simulate real-world roles and working conditions, making them appreciate AVT as a team effort.
For some assignments, students worked without source language scripts, reinforcing the multimedia peculiarity of AVT: our “source text” is a video that no text document can replace. For others, they worked without timed templates, so they had to create and time their subtitles using captioning software. In yet others, they had a badly timed, badly structured subtitle template, and had to readjust timings, combine or split subtitles, readjust subtitle line breaks, and translate. These assignments allowed students to practice timing, or “spotting,” according to when an utterance starts and finishes, adjust for camera shot changes, and consider grammatically logical breaks in subtitles, among other technicalities. Other assignments had students find their own audiovisual material, including scripts and subtitle templates, by making an extensive use of internet resources. This task did not come without challenges.
While all this made for a very enriching and rewarding course both for my students and for me, it also brought about some hurdles, the main ones being technology-related.
In Díaz-Cintas’ words (2008): “Audiovisual translation in general, and subtitling in particular, shares an umbilical relationship with technology, which to a large degree determines it.” In retrospect, I am now convinced AVT technical expectations must be laid out clearly ahead of time. During course registration, students should know they’ll be expected to download various AVT software tools to their computers, spelling out all applicable software and hardware specifications, have a computer-savvy attitude, be fairly good at web browsing and Google searching, and be flexible and self-driven enough to try and learn new software, mostly on their own. Again, Díaz Cintas (2008) says it best: “One of the fingerprints of audiovisual media is its penchant for change […]” and later “[…] anybody interested in training or being trained in this field is expected to have very good ICT knowledge and to be willing to become familiar with constantly new and updated programs and specifications.” Additionally, students could profit from having an educational license to professional captioning software for a more real-world approach to the profession and appreciate its differences with open-source, free software. This, however, is not always financially possible for every university. And even if it were, it seems unrealistic to have troubleshooting and technical support specialized in AVT software within the university IT support desk. This task would invariably fall on the teacher’s shoulders.
Another challenge I experienced had to do with giving feedback to students. This was a neutral-language course: the classes, the readings and all course communication were conducted in English, but students were working from or into languages that sometimes I didn’t speak. In those cases, feedback was somewhat restricted. I provided comments on all technical aspects, such as timing, line breaks, synchronicity, guideline applicability and overall usability of the localized content, but nothing on translation itself. If they were working into English, I added comments on naturalness and smoothness of the language. This alone can sometimes shed some light on a meaning or sense problem in the language transfer, but not knowing the source language professionally, I couldn’t pinpoint the problem much further. Ideally in such a varied setting, the teacher should have various language teaching assistants that could go over the students’ assignments and comment on translation issues. Again, this is probably not financially or realistically feasible for every university.
Alternatively, in a language-neutral AVT course, one could also have students work more intra-linguistically, as opposed to inter-linguistically, i.e., concentrate more on the technicalities of AVT and on accessibility, creating same-language captions, SDH or audio description scripts instead of translating subtitles and dubbing scripts from one language to another. Having all students work into English could also be another interesting, albeit somewhat limiting possibility.
While undergrad and postgrad courses and degrees specialized in AVT are well established and thriving in Europe and to a lesser extent in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina, the US is still lagging behind. To my knowledge, no translation degree in the country focuses on AVT. There are some courses at the postgrad and certificate levels, like at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, University of Washington and now NYU, but they’re few and far between. Having said that, there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we are headed in the right direction. There is more and more writing on AVT, more reflection on its professional practice and more high-quality training opportunities. We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting closer.
Amador, Miquel, Carles Dorado, and Pilar Orero. “e-AVT: A perfect match – Strategies, functions and interactions in an on-line environment for learning audiovisual translation.” In Topics in Audiovisual Translation edited by Pilar Orero, 141-153. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2004.
Díaz Cintas, Jorge, ed. Didactics of Audiovisual Translation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins Publishing Company, 2008.
Orero, Pilar, ed. Topics in Audiovisual Translation. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2004.
Ana Salotti is a freelance English-Spanish translator with an MA in Translation. With over 12 years of experience, she has specialized in audiovisual and natural sciences translation. She started translating soap opera scripts back in 2006. She has subtitled numerous movies for large and indie film festivals. For the last three years she’s been performing quality control of subtitled and dubbed media content. She teaches translation courses at NYU and Hunter College, and is the acting Assistant Administrator of ATA’s Audiovisual Division.
Published in Deep Focus, Issue 2, March, 2019