METM23 presentation

In search of style: using theory to fight source-language interference

Helen Oclee-Brown, Staplehurst, UK

How does a teacher of translation take a class of students – some of whom are L2 speakers – and help them craft elegant, effective texts? One of the tools we have at our disposal is translation theory. Though much derided or largely ignored by practitioners, translation theory can help students transform their target texts from awkward-sounding to ear-pleasing. My aim in this talk is to show you how.

Students often cling to the source-text structure, thinking it’s a safe bet. This strategy produces literal, bumpy translations, which aren’t fit for academic, let alone commercial, ends. But students need structure – to ground them, to give them the tools they need to analyse good model and parallel texts and, crucially, to help them produce successful, idiomatic translations.

In this session, we’ll look at skopos theory, Nord’s functionalist approach, and Chesterman’s practical strategies. We’ll explore how a solid theoretical framework can help students decode a source text, and then encode it in a different language for a different audience. Mimicry is one thing, but students must be able to unpack texts and understand how the cogs turn to replicate the target-language style across various text types and specialisms.

I’ll draw on examples and successful strategies from my lecturing experience to show how classroom activities have helped students move from interlineal, literal translations to freer, more communicative texts that are fit for purpose. In keeping with MET’s history as a forum where academia and practice meet, I’ll also invite attendees to perform interactive, theory-inspired tasks at each stage.

This talk is for anyone interested in university training on and theory-based approaches to translation. I also welcome sceptics to show them how theory can help students develop good reflexes and ward off bad habits.

About the presenter

Helen Oclee-Brown is an editor, translator from Spanish and French, and latterly a lecturer in translation at the University of Westminster, where she studied half a lifetime ago. Her work focuses on online communication, education, and architecture and design.