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This paper aims to explain the meaning of “general translation” in order to prove its importance in translation and interpreting studies. To achieve this goal we will analyse some of the most common definitions of this type of translation and we will propose ours. We will continue with the objectives we will set in the classroom and the skills that we would like our students to develop. Next, we will try to establish the possible content of general translation as a subject. And finally, we will offer some didactic suggestions and methodologies that we could apply in our classroom.
Keywords: Teaching, General, Translation, Subject, Skills, Suggestions
General translation is a basic subject in translation and interpreting studies. In fact, it is a complusory subject in every Spanish university. In addition, it is supposed to be the first time that students will face translation activity. In Spain, English-Spanish is the most requested language pair. This is due to several reasons: their influence and their large number of speakers in the world. However, this language pair is not only popular in Spain, but in other countries and regions where Spanish and English are present, like the United States of America, Latin America, the European Union and many other places in the world.
With respect to general translation didactics, we find that conceiving and planning a course with these characteristics may be difficult for teachers, because multiple aspects must be taken into account: the usually large number of students, their different levels of language skill, and their lack (or even shortage) of previous knowledge of translation. Nevertheless, the hardest difficulty that teachers will have to deal with is how to define the content of the subject. The denomination of General Translation is quite broad and this makes it difficult to define what is going to be the content of the course: topics and textual typologies, among others. This is the reason why we will try to give some ideas about general translation teaching in order to help other colleagues with their lessons. They are just some suggestions that could be a good start to reflect about. They can be modified, applied to other language pairs or adapted for every classroom.
2. General translation
General translation is a subject that is taught in every Spanish university. In the University of Málaga it is a compulsory subject. Most of the current definitions of General Translation are those that contrast it with specialised translation, i.e. general translation is non-specialised translation.
Marina Orozco dedicates a paper precisely to the problem of the denomination and the concept of general translation. This author analysed some of the most characteristic definitions of general translation. We will summarize them and classify them into three main categories:
As we can see, general translation used to bring about conflicting ideas. Some of these definitions include negative connotations – even if they do not intend to – if we compare them with those of specialised translation.
Hurtado Albir (2006) aptly states that:
“‘General Translation’ should be conceived like the start to real translation, which used to be naturally ‘specialised’ in one or another field. It is consequently a didactic program where students should understand translation basic concepts. They will have to assume a work method that will let them face specialised fields.”
In short, we could define general translation” like the translation type that copes with texts that do not exclusively devote either their content or their vocabulary to one single regulated field, like mathematics, astronomy, geography, among others (UNESCO, 2013). General translation is characterised by its multidisciplinarity, flexibility and variety. It is the sort of translation that helps students to get started and to specialise in translation activity and process, not in other fields or disciplines.
In spite of everything, general translation is still undervalued, because it is commonly believed that it is the “easy” texts translation. However, a translator who passes this subject should be prepared to face whatever sort of specialised translation; it does not matter their field of specialisation. It also means that students have understood and learnt basic translation concepts: stages, strategies, etc.
3. Skills and objectives
The primary skill that students need to develop is the translation skill, which is defined by Hurtado Albir (2011) as: “The skill that enables translators to effect the required cognitive operations in order to develop the translation process”. The author adds: “It is the skill that identifies the translator and distinguishes them from non-translators”.
To analyse in depth all the objectives and skills that are required for general translation, we will follow the information established in the report of the new translation and interpreting studies, Memoria del título de Graduado/a en Traducción e Interpretación (UMA, 2011), of the University of Málaga. It is a document where the full program of translation and interpreting studies is described in great detail. There we can also find the main objectives to reach and the skills to develop. And now, we will sum them up:
Now, we will suggest the “possible” content of the general translation subject. With this purpose, we will take into account the above-mentioned skills and objectives.
4. The “possible” content of the general translation subject
Throughout this paper, we focus on the so-called subject general translation in the (American and British) English and (Spain) Spanish language pair, because, according to UNESCO, these two languages occupy respectively the second and third place of the world’s most spoken languages. However, all our suggestions for teaching general translation can be applied to any other language pair.
As we have previously seen in the first section, the general translation subject should be the one in which students learn the basic concepts of translation: stages, strategies, among others. From that moment on, they would be able to practice the acquired knowledge and to improve it during their studies. Then they will be able to apply it to specialised translation.
Theory is also important in general translation, and when we try to plan our theory lessons, we all have several authors and books in mind, but when we think about practice, the situation is different. What to teach in general translation? Along the same lines, some authors like Hurtado Albir (2011) declare that:
“There is a big heterogeneity between the translatable texts that do not belong to specialised languages; in addition to literary texts, we find others that do not belong to that category: advertising, journalistic texts, etc”.
Even if literary texts used to be considered general translation, we believe that it is a sort of translation that has a strong multidisciplinary nature. In literary translation, its formal aspects (aesthetic) have more importance than its function (to inform, to have fun, to thrill, etc.). This is one of the reasons why we will focus on the press and the journalistic texts.
Other benefits of using the press as a source for the content of the general translation subject are the following:
For all these reasons, we will focus on the press as the main source for general translation. Now we will offer a list with the main topics that we can address in the classroom. It is a list that we have made analysing topics in three of the most well known newspapers for the English and Spanish language: The New York Times (American English), The Guardian (British English) and Diario Sur (Spanish). In our opinion, these could be the main categories of the texts we can translate in a general translation course. They are ordered according to their level of difficulty or specialisation:
This list is illustrative. On several occasions there will be news that could be more difficult than we thought because of its length, terminological difficulty, etc. For instance, news about the economic crisis could have different levels of difficulty depending on the person who talks about it: a politician, an economist, a doctor, a teacher, a student, among others.
5. Methodologies and didactic suggestions
After having defined the main topics that could be part of our content in the subject so-called "general translation", we will explain the teaching methodologies that we would like to apply in our lessons to achieve most of our goals:
Next, we will introduce some examples of initial activities that can be useful for our students:
Suggestions for general translation lessons:
All these ideas are intended to be useful for general translation teachers, but every classroom is different and it is up to these professionals to adapt them in order to get the best results.
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i The author of this paper is also the translator of all the quotations. See the original versions in the references in the bibliography.