Specialized Translation at the Ionian University, Dept. of Translation & Interpretation – A more detailed look

by Aphrodite Yeorgaliou, Marianna Tsatsou and Christina Apostolopoulou

Part 1 – Aphrodite Yeorgaliou – Literary translation

I started studying at the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting in 2004 and graduated in 2009 with a degree in translation and English, French and Greek as my working languages. For my thesis, I chose to translate the book by François Rubio «A quoi servent les ONG?» (“What do NGOs do?”). During my studies, I attended translation workshops from my native language (Greek) into English and French and vice versa, in all three specialisation directions offered by the Department, namely translation of (a) technical, (b) economic-political-legal, and (c) literary texts. DFLTI’s programme of studies sounds daunting, but that is what the Department does: it shows you very early on in the academic process what you are actually getting into, and the fact that you will most probably have to deal with all kinds of texts in your professional life. Later in your studies and as a professional, you may choose to specialise in a field, but first you need to get a taste of various fields of human knowledge and sharpen your skills. In any case, you cannot limit yourself to just one field of interest, at least not during your years of study. That is why all students must choose at least two areas of specialisation. After my graduation, I collaborated for some time with translation agencies, dealing with all kinds of texts (general, technical and legal, among others) and feeling constantly grateful for the fact that the Department had prepared me to anticipate such diverse demands. From October 2012 until the end of February 2013, I worked as a trainee translator at the Greek unit of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission. Thanks to my five-month traineeship, I also gained valuable experience in EU-oriented texts. I returned to Greece right afterwards and have since been working as a freelance translator. My many clients include Greek translation agencies and publishing houses.

Literary translation played a major role in my decision to study at the DFLTI. In my first two academic years, before the specialisation selection phase, I felt that literary translation classes could not come soon enough. In the meantime, the courses in English and French Literature, International Literature and Modern Greek Literature laid some very important groundwork for the courses in literary translation. In my third year, I attended the French-Greek and Greek-French courses, taught by Dimitris Filias, who still teaches those courses at the Department, and not without reason. His résumé is an impressive combination of academic experience, significant translation work in the field of literature, and numerous published studies on literary translation. [More details here] Those of us who have attended his courses owe him as translators our exposure to demanding works, such as  “Solitude” («Μοναξιά») by Pantelis Prevelakis, “Report to Greco” («Αναφορά στον Γκρέκο») and “Travelling – Spain” («Ταξιδεύοντας – Ισπανία») by Nikos Kazantzakis (a great admirer of Kazantzakis himself, he spent several hours during courses introducing us to the author’s life and work. We worked together on extracts of Kazantzakis’ works and essays on his writings), «Mémoires d’une jeune fille range» by Simone de Beauvoir, «Enfance» by Nathalie Sarraute, «L’été grec» by Jacques Lacarrière, and «Souvenirs d’enfance et de la jeunesse» by Ernest Renan.

In our final year at the DFLTI, upon returning from our semester abroad, we found out that the position of professor of Literary Translation in English had been filled by Paschalis Nikolaou. It was the first time in my academic life that I was faced with the challenge of translating poetry, including “Be Prepared” («Έσο Έτοιμος») by Kiki Dimoula, “Clean Curtains” («Καθαρές Κουρτίνες») by Nassos Vagenas, and “Games of Chance” («Τυχερά Παιχνίδια») by Υannis Kontos. Articles and book reviews by Paschalis Nikolaou have been published in journals and collective volumes such as Translation and Creativity: Perspectives on Creative Writing and Translation Studies (Continuum, 2006) and Translating and Interpreting Conflict (Rodopi, 2007). He has translated numerous Greek works and English-speaking poets and his translations have been published in magazines such as Modern Poetry in Translation, The London Magazine, MPT, Notre Dame Review, Parnassus, and Nea Estia (Νέα Εστία). [More details here]. One of the most interesting things about the course was team work. For the needs of the subject that my group chose to present in class (theatrical translation), we dove with enthusiasm into a challenging field which was completely new to us. The final classes towards the end of the semester were particularly rewarding, as we watched the presentations prepared by the other “competing” groups (some were extremely original, e.g. the one on translating the popular and much-loved Greek children’s book “Froutopia” by Evgenios Trivizas. It was then that I realised there were some incredibly talented people in my class) and talked about our own work. My final paper was on “The translation of cultural features in literature”.

[Information on literary translation from Greek into German and from German into Greek, here]

I am grateful for my four years of study in Corfu. No university department has solved all of its problems, and the DFLTI is no exception. Our time there as students was not a bed of roses and we realised in our first week as freshmen that we would experience a lot of frustration and face many obstacles on the path to professional achievement and recognition. However, I maintain that the DFLTI gives aspiring translators and interpreters a very good taste (although sometimes bitter) of the challenges that graduates will face in the labour market. In fact, what happens after graduation is – very simply – that you work on thousands of pages and at some point you are able to finally feel more confident as a translator: translation is a constant and ongoing learning process. It is my deep and unchanging belief that all of us translators and interpreters who managed to study there, despite the difficulties and frustrations, were very lucky indeed. Most of us are successful in our field, even in times of deep financial crisis, and that is no coincidence.

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Part 2 – Marianna Tsatsou – Technical translation

My name is Marianna Tsatsou and I am an official translator with English, German and Greek as working languages. My bachelor’s in Translation and master’s in Translation Science (Department of Foreign Languages, Translation and Interpreting or DFLTI, Ionian University) have been great assets in my professional life. During my undergraduate studies, I specialised in Technical and Literary translation, as well as in Economic-Legal-Political translation as a third option. I also studied translation at the University of Saarland (Saarbrücken, Germany) as part of the undergraduate programme. In the past few years, I have been working as a freelance translator for several translation agencies both in Greece and abroad, and a Greek literary publishing company. I am also a member of the Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators Graduates of the Ionian University (PEEMPIP).

As an undergraduate student, I was given the opportunity to study and specialise in several translation fields. The DFLTI offers a full programme of studies with various courses that can be combined to provide the skills that a translator might need. The professional and academic background of the professors plays a very important role; all of them have an in-depth knowledge of their fields, may it be Theory of Translation, Biochemistry, Anatomy, Biology or Law, while many of them have also been freelance translators themselves and, therefore, are able to give students useful practical advice. The Specialisation in Technical Translation comprises various translation fields, such as medical translation, IT- and natural science-related translation. IT translation is one of the essential fields for the digital age. As students, we were trained in translating website extracts and texts from the IT field, but also in IT terminology search and management methods. An elective course that provided us with further knowledge in this area was the “IT Application in Translation”, which introduced us to computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools.

Medical Translation is another quite important subfield of the Technical Translation specialisation. Assistant Professor Dr Sotirios Keramidas taught us English into Greek and Greek into English technical translation, based on texts from medicine, Biology, Pharmacology, Genetics and Chemistry. Much emphasis was placed on terminology. Moreover, we were taught the working methodology of a medical translator, how to compile glossaries and how to evaluate the sources of each term. We concluded that many medical terms used widely in medicine (and other fields) are not always accurate, and we were encouraged to propose new ones. Most importantly, we realised that dictionaries are oftentimes not of much use and we had to study medical journals in depth in order to deliver good translations. Apart from the abovementioned courses, the «Biological Texts Terminology» seminar offered is a good example of specialisation-related knowledge that can be further obtained by the student. A specialised translator has to be aware of context and choose the most appropriate context-based term. Context awareness becomes an automatic cognitive process via training and can be considered a primary differentiator between specialised translators and non-specialised translators (and, of course, machine translation). This is why such seminars have been especially helpful.

Another field of translation training is natural sciences, engineering, manuals and user instructions. Associate Professor Dr Anastasia Parianou taught translation in these specific fields. User instructions, manuals, patient information leaflets and risk communication texts were used to show us the translation methodology of such texts. In addition, we understood how specialised texts should be translated depending on certain target groups (e.g. I still remember the example of a mobile phone manual that needed translation into Greek aimed at elderly people and its differences from a translation aimed at the general public). We were also introduced to the concept of “localisation” and how technical texts and products need to be adapted to the specific needs of another market in order to reach the target audience. We were also given the opportunity to exchange knowledge and information with other German-speaking universities (from Denmark, Norway, Latvia and Austria) in the context of the WISSTRANS programme, which focuses on knowledge management and translation strategy in technical translation from German into minor European languages.

What a student at the DFLTI first learns is that “translation” per se cannot be taught; methodology, however, can be taught and further developed into a specialisation. Translation is much more than the knowledge of foreign languages and familiarity with dictionaries, as it is often believed. A professional translator needs to have an excellent knowledge of their mother tongue, and then specialise in various special languages and styles. Specialised translations require accuracy and consistency; that is why the glossaries I compiled as a student, to which I still add terms, have been a helpful tool. My studies helped me discover my interests and particular talents, but mainly the fact that specialisation is the alpha and omega of translation. A good example of how my studies helped me in my professional path relates to the two somehow contradictory specialisations I selected, i.e. Technical and Literary translation. Most recently, when assigned to translate a literary book from English into Greek, I had to combine these two fields and the knowledge gained by the optional course Elements of Natural Sciences in order to deliver an accurate translation. The main subject of the book had to do with physics, though it was not a scientific text (Albert Einstein/Mileva Maric – The Love Letters). Last but not least, my studies at the DFLTI helped me understand that I must keep developing as a professional and a person, how to work independently and as a team member, and how to build a “bridge” between different cultures. The semester I spent in Germany was one of the best parts of my studies, since we clearly expanded our horizons on how other universities work, about life in another country, the fact that collaboration among foreign students can be fruitful and that a translator needs to study, learn and love foreign cultures to be effective.

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Part 3 – Christina Apostolopoulou – Legal/Financial/Political translation

My name is Christina Apostolopoulou and I am a professional translator. I graduated from the Department of Foreign Languages, Translation & Interpreting (DFLTI) at the Ionian University, which is the only academic institution dedicated to training native Greek translators. Within the context of my undergraduate studies, I spent a semester attending courses at Marc Bloch University in Strasbourg and in particular at the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI). Thereafter, I obtained a master’s degree in International and European Studies from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration of the School of Legal, Financial and Political Sciences of the Athens National and Kapodistrian University.

As for my language pairs, I translate from English and French into Greek and vice-versa, while my field of specialisation is legal, financial and political translation. Following the completion of my studies, I started working as an in-house translator at a translation agency and then as a freelancer cooperating with various companies in Greece and abroad. Since I took my very first steps as a professional, I have been a member of the Panhellenic Association of Professional Translators Graduates of the Ionian University (PEEMPIP), a network of qualified professional translators who are passionate about their work, are keen on on-going training and who actively support each other.

In the last few years, I have been working as an in-house translator at a law firm. My duties include translation of corporate, legal and financial texts, linguistic review and proofreading of both original and translated texts, managing large-volume translation projects, cooperating with translation agencies, drafting translation templates for repeated texts, creating and updating translation memories and databases and dealing with documentation issues. Most of the time, all the above tasks need to be performed within tight deadlines, but always with optimum results.

What contributed substantially to the formation of my professional identity was the curriculum of my studies, among other things. The courses I selected from the curriculum offered at the DFLTI may be categorised as follows:

  1. Courses related to the working languages and the culture of the respective countries; that is, classes in Greek, English and French language, literature and culture, which enable students to delve into special issues affecting both Greek and the foreign languages that are not approached independently, but are rather placed in a historical and cultural framework, thus helping students understand their particularities.
  2. Introductory courses into several subject areas that enable students to build a strong background in the particular fields in which they are going to work as professionals. As far as my specialisations are concerned, law, political science, economics, EU institutions, external relations of the EU and economic geography-geopolitics contributed to my familiarisation with basic legal and financial concepts, language and terminology.
  3. Translation theory and workshops for the development of writing skills, text analysis, summary techniques and comparative stylistics gradually initiate the students into all stages of the translation process: analysis and composition, search for standards of textuality (cohesion, coherence, intentionality, acceptability, informativity, situationality and contextuality) and application of translation techniques (calque, literary translation, transposition, modulation, equivalence, adaptation). Then students are invited to implement such techniques in the specialised translation workshops, where they are taught to deal with translation problems in practice by applying the appropriate techniques, solving terminology issues and checking translation quality.
  4. Tools and applications of computer science in translation introduce students to the world of new technologies, which are indispensable for documentation survey, management of large-text volumes, terminology search and consistency, and thus translation quality.

I would like to note that, although Presidential Decree 169/2002 (Government Gazette 156/02.07.2002 issue Α) establishes and protects the professional rights of DFLTI graduates, neither translation studies nor registration with any professional body/association is required for anyone who wishes to provide translation services in Greece. The only prerequisite is to be registered with the tax authorities as a translation provider.

Nevertheless, translation is not only the art of written speech, but also a science that applies specific principles and rules. The professional translator has to learn and apply specific methodologies, techniques and processes, to develop special qualifications and to follow a code of professional ethics. Therefore:

  • Being a translator and being a linguist are two different concepts, and knowledge of a language does not imply translation skills. In other words, translation is not to be performed just by anyone with a command of two languages, irrespective of the level of proficiency. Even bilingual native speakers are not able to work as translators by default.
  • Translation is not interpreting. They may be perceived as similar professions, but in fact they require different training and skills. It would be like teaching foreign languages without appropriate language teacher training.
  • Translation requires specialisation. A professional translator always specialises in specific fields of expertise and pursues continuous training on special language and terminology issues.
  • Technology is a useful tool and not a threat to the professional translator, who uses technological applications for optimum translation results, time management and utilisation of translation resources.

To conclude, I would like to point out that professional translation should be offered by professional translators who have completed related studies, are specialised in one or more fields of expertise and have developed a professional consciousness. These qualities differentiate professional translators from amateurs.

Read the first part of out collaborative article about studying specialized translation at the Ionian University here.

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