METM14 plenary talk

Lessons learned from a career spent adapting the translated text to the target audience in the news business


Martin Roberts

In both news reporting and translating, cultural as well as language barriers need to be overcome. In the news business particularly, it is not enough to merely render a text into the target language, it also needs to be comprehensible to a target audience unfamiliar with the context in which it was written.

News organisations have long addressed the issues of standardising terminology and other conventions by compiling style guides, in order to avoid “reinventing the wheel”, especially when it comes to avoiding potential controversy, but usually only in the language of their leading markets.

In this journalist’s experience, even in major news organisations, foreign correspondents do not have style guides available for the languages and countries in which they work and have to develop their own style on an ad hoc basis. This is usually done after much conferring amongst peers, but also runs the risk of being arbitrary and quite wrong. Working under pressure in a real-time news environment often compounds the problems, as do the considerable differences in legal and political systems, not to mention journalistic practice, so clearly a lot remains to be done.

The talk will be rich in real-life examples of how problems were solved in several countries, particularly in a Mediterranean context, as well as failures. Foreign correspondents and translators have a lot of experience to draw on, so pooling that – by whatever means – looks like the way forward.


Martin Roberts was a Reuters correspondent for 16 years, in which he was posted to five countries and reported from many more. His career has ranged from interviewing the Dalai Lama to covering a World Cup. He is a regular contributor to major UK newspapers and is equally adept at writing on train crashes in Spain and its debt crisis, or tense regional politics. He has appeared on ITV and the BBC, as well as Spanish radio and TV stations. He is the author of three critically acclaimed book-length translations from Spanish to English.
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