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3 The translator as learner

We don't know nearly enough about translators. Who are they? What kinds of

childhood did they have? What got them interested in languages? Do they prefer to

learn languages from books, in classrooms, in relationships, in the "native" country?

Where do they work? How do they work? And so on.

This book makes many generalizations about translators, and how people become

translators. Because so little sociological research has been done on translators and

translator populations, these generalizations are highly problematic: based on the

author's own experience and anecdotes told by friends, colleagues, and students,

or postings to Lantra-L. Are translators really like this or that? Is this really the way

people become translators?

Generally speaking, whenever a student disagrees with some generalization this

book makes about translators - "This isn't true of me, or of any of the other

translators I know!" — it is worthwhile to stop and discuss the differences. Sometimes

they will be so minor as not to be worth extensive discussion. Sometimes they will

stem from a discrepancy between some translator ideal with which the student

identifies strongly and a specific claim this book makes about the professional realities of translation: the importance of sublimation for rapid translation, for example. In

these latter cases the teacher may agree with the book, but will want to get the

student to make the discovery on her or his own, by working through her or his own


But sometimes the discrepancies will arise from the fact that the complex variety

of translators is far greater than any generalization could ever hope to capture.

People translate for many different reasons, get very different satisfactions from the

job, hate different aspects of it, etc. And this chapter is devoted to some of those


Implications of learning-style theory for teaching

Traditional teaching methods favor a certain rather narrow learning-style profile:

• field-independent (willing to work in artificial contexts such as the classroom)

• structured-environment (a lesson plan, a set beginning and ending time, desks

in rows and columns, a teacher with authority and students trained to submit

to that authority)

• content-driven (it doesn't matter how a thing is taught)

• sequential-detailed /linear (take everything one step at a time and assume that

everyone will learn each step as it comes along and be ready to move on to the

next one)

• conceptual/abstract (it is more effective for both time-management and

learning to formulate rules and processes out of complex practical experience

and present them to students in abstract theoretical forms)

• externally-referenced (students learn best by submitting to the teacher's


• matching (counterexamples, deviations, problem areas, conflicted issues,

contradictions, arguments should be avoided in class, as they only distract

students from the main point being taught, which is a unified body of knowledge

that they are expected to internalize); and

• analytical-reflective (translation proceeds most effectively when translators have

been taught a set of precepts, which they then thoughtfully apply to every text

they receive before they actually begin translating it).

And as the chapter suggests, this approach does work with some students. Some

people do prefer to learn this way. Many, however, do not. It has traditionally been

assumed that those who do not learn effectively in the established ways are inferior

students and should either "shape up" (learn to conform to accepted teaching and

learning methods) or "drop out" (go do something else with their lives). Brain

research over the past two or three decades has shown, however, that everyone's brain

thrives on far more variety and change than traditional teaching methods have allowed — and that learners often scorned as "stupid" or "slow" or "disruptive" are

no less intelligent or creative than the "good" students favored by a traditional

classroom (Sylwester, 1995, Caine and Caine 1994). In this light, narrowly conventional

teaching methods are quite simply counterproductive. They discriminate

against large groups of learners, and that is inequitable; but even more importantly,

they severely limit society's access to the capabilities and ideas of its members, and

that is wasteful.

A more progressive classroom, therefore, one that remains open to the widest

possible variety of learning styles, will be structured rather differently than the

traditional one: it will

• keep field-dependent and field-independent learning in a fruitful tension,

switching frequently between hands-on experience in natural contexts and

more academic, conceptual, abstract, theoretical learning in artificial contexts

• keep contextual-global and sequential-detailed learning too in a fruitful tension,

switching frequently between intuitive and inferential formulations of the "big

picture" and sequential analyses of minute details

• model and encourage a constant shifting between external and internal

referencing, helping students to test the pronouncements of external authorities

(including the teacher) against their own experience and to test their own

opinions against the systems and ideas of translation theorists

• both match and mismatch, encouraging students to seek out both similarities

and dissimilarities, conformities and deviations, accepted models and problems

with those models, and to explore the connections between them

• keep the environment flexible, allowing people to move around in the classroom,

stand up or sit down or lie down, according to their own preferences;

it will sometimes be noisy, sometimes quiet; different types of music will be


• be relationship-driven, with the teacher and all the students being recognized

as important contributors to the learning process, and as much responsibility

placed on the students as on the teacher for learning; and

• be multisensory and multimodal, using as many different input channels as

possible, including visualization and dramatization as well as open-ended