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Learning a foreign language versus Learning translation
Only after having studied one or more foreign languages can one begin to study translation.
It is in fact necessary to have higher education qualifications or a university degree in
order to be admitted to any translation course at university level. In both cases, when one sets
out to learn the artof translation, one has already studied languages for some years.
It is therefore necessary for the aspiring translator to have a clear idea of certain fundamental
differences between learning a foreign language and learning translation.
When studying a foreign language, one is exposed to the usual techniques used for teaching
the language: translation along with dictation, listeningcomprehension, conversation and
grammar exercises. It is not up to us to say what we think of this use of translation nor is it the
object of this course. What we want to establish is that translating in order to learn a foreign
language is very different from translating in order to produce a text, which is what one is
supposed to learn when studying translation at university level.
When teachinga language, the text is often created specifically for that purpose or adapted so
that students encounter certain difficulties and not others, and that the difficulties the student
encounters are at the same level as his knowledge of the foreign language.
The texts used are often the same and correcting becomes mechanical because the teacher
already knows what mistakes to look for. There maybe various translating solutions for one
same sentence, but they all have to satisfy one requirement: the teacher must be sure that the
student has acquired certain notions and has understood the meaning and the syntax of the
J. Delisle, one of the most eminent scholars in translation studies, has made this particular
point, the transition from the study of a language to thestudy of translation, very clear. [...]
Scholastic translation has little in common with professional translation. They do not have the
same finalities; the former is totally integrated with a method for acquiring a language whilst the
latter is a communicative process. Scholastic translation by definition precedes professional
translation. Consequently the methodology of the learning processmust be conceived with
professional translation in mind and not scholastic translation. To link up different concepts, in
order to reformulate a message following communication imperatives is not the same thing as
assimilating a foreign language or the culture which forms its habitat [...] ¹Delisle, pp. 45-6
The role of translation when teaching a language is that of providing the studentswith specific
entries in the dictionary and the most common syntactical structures, so that they can create
models applicable to different sentences.
For example this sentence was taken from an English textbook:
We're tired. We've been studying since 2 o'clock.
It is obvious the authors of the book invented that sentence in order to show how to describe an
action, which began in the past andhas not finished yet. It is also rather obvious that this
sentence is not really plausible except in a language-learning context . It is rather improbable for
a native speaker to use this kind of sentence.
When teaching translation, first of all it is important to say that the text is in no way artificial,
which is to say that the text has not been invented to cope with a particular languagedifficulty, it
is a "real" text created spontaneously by a speaker or a writer. This has various implications.
First of all, the sentence previously given in English does not present any interpretative
difficulties. The various translations can be marked "right" or "wrong", and this is exactly the role
of the teacher, who will then decide the language level reached by the learner....
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