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5 Experience

This chapter is about experience, the translator's experience of the world in general,

of language, people, and so on — an introduction to the series of experiences in

Chapters 6—10. What this emphasis on "experience" may not make immediately

clear, however, is that it is also about learning. In almost every way, experience is

learning. We learn only through experience — whether that experience is in the

classroom or out. We learn things by listening to other people talk about them,

reading about them, having them happen to us, or making them happen. People talk

to us about things in lectures, on the television and the radio, in church, on the

telephone, in cafes and restaurants and bars, in streets and stores, in living rooms

and kitchens and bedrooms. We can learn in all of those places. We read about things

in books — textbooks and novels, encyclopedias and nonfiction paperbacks,

dictionaries and travel books, humor and collections of crossword puzzles —

magazines and newspapers, letters and faxes and e-mail, usenets and the World

Wide Web. Things happen to us at work and at home, with other people and alone,

with lovers and spouses and friends and total strangers; the things that happen are

wonderful or devastating, earth-shaking or trivial, things that we plan and things

that take us by surprise, things that we want to tell others about and things that we

are ashamed to tell anyone. We make things happen by wanting to learn something

specific (play a musical instrument, learn a foreign language) or by vaguely craving

a change in a humdrum life; with ideas (democracy, love, salvation, change) and

with objects (guns, blueprints, fire).

These are obvious channels of learning, of course — but a surprising number of

students believe that learning only takes place in the classroom. It seems to be a part

of school culture in many parts of the world (possibly even everywhere) to believe

that school is the source and setting of all learning; that beyond the classroom walls

(in street or popular culture, in families and workplaces and bars) lies ignorance. If

you have students who believe this, their learning outside of school is probably

entirely unconscious. But even in school much of what we learn is unconscious: that

teacher X is an ignoramus who doesn't know how to teach, teacher Y is sad and

lonely and bitter, hates kids, and burned out years ago, and teacher Z is a pedagogical

genius who should be in the history books; that learning is not supposed to be fun

("no pain, no gain"); that "good" students always (act as if they) agree with the

teacher and only "bad" students dare to disagree; that a teacher who encourages you

to disagree or argue with him or her, or to develop independent and original views

on things, probably doesn't really mean it, and will punish you in subtle ways if you

act on such encouragement; or that (in teacher Z's classroom) learning is exciting,

challenging, chaotic, unpredictable, and mostly enjoyable, but may also make you

angry or anxious; that being a teacher would be the worst fate you can imagine (if

many of your teachers are like teacher Y) or the greatest job on earth (if even a few

of your teachers are like teacher Z). All of this is learned in school — but neither the

teachers teaching it nor the students learning it realize that this learning is going on.

Depending on how comfortable you are with challenges to your teacherly

authority, you might even want to get your students to talk about the unconscious

lessons you've been teaching them. Of course, the more uncomfortable you are

with such things, the stronger these lessons will have been, and the more adamantly

the students will refuse to enumerate them for you — unless you let them do so

anonymously (by writing a list of five things they've learned from you that you didn't

know you were teaching, for example). The more comfortable you are with such

discussions, the more likely it is that you have them with your students all the time

anyway: they are powerful channels of critical thinking, self-reflection, metalearning

— of getting students to reflect critically on how and when and why they learn,

so that they can maximize the transformative effect of their learning all through

their lives.

The important thing to bear in mind through Chapters 5—10 is that inductive

experience remains the best teacher — far more effective than deduction, the use of

rules and laws and abstract theories. Students cannot be expected to internalize an

entire deductive system of translation in the abstract and then go out and start

translating competently. In fact, without hands-on exercises and other practical experiences they cannot be expected even to understand an entire deductive system

of translation — not because they are students, but because they are human, and

human beings learn through doing. Deduction can be a powerful and productive

prod to learning; it can force people to rethink a rigid or narrow position, or to

return to their ordinary lives with a fresher eye for novel experiences, things that

their previous assumptions could not explain. But the prod is only part of the

learning process, which must continue long after the prodding is done — and

continue specifically in ways that build bridges between "knowing that" and "knowing

how," knowing something in the abstract and being able to do something in the real