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Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, offers a Master by Coursework in translation and interpreting (T&I), in two streams, translation only and translation & interpreting.
I completed the translation and interpreting stream in 2014. In this post I hope to share a little of my experience and the content of the course. A quick note first of all to say that Australia is a very multicultural country and has a high demand for community/public/service/liaison interpreting. This has resulted in the creation of the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) to regulate the industry and ensure a certain level of professionalism and competence for T&I professionals. Monash University is approved to test its students in order for them to gain accreditation on completion of the Masters, subject to their results. There is also a requirement for up to 160 hours of practicum to be completed over the three semesters.
The course at Monash is very comprehensive, covering translation theories from the 17th century onwards to court interpreting and the application of business skills as a translator. The first semester provides a solid theoretical foundation in both translation and interpreting as well as starting to develop essential skills and awareness of ethics as a translator and/or interpreter. Many of the lecturers are also T&I practitioners and the fact that they share their professional experience with students is an invaluable part of the course.
There is a hefty amount of academic reading in the first year which is helpful not only in understanding the historical and cultural development of the discipline but also in starting to understand how translators justify their choices. Whilst I must admit that I found some of the readings a bit tedious, they did help me to consider and identify professional and contextual issues as the course progressed. After a tour through various translation theorists such as Nida, Newmark, Nord, Toury, Schleirmacher, Venuti and more, and having studied equivalence and functional approaches as well as skopos theory and other paradigms, the first practical assignments enabled us to apply what we had already learnt.
The practical translation work was discussed in tutorials and often completed in the form of an Integrated Translation Diary (ITD). The purpose of the ITD was to set out the issues encountered in the translation, present an analysis of the text type and then explain what strategies were used to approach the text type and complete the translation. Whilst this could be considered as an overly intentional approach to translation, I found that it provided an excellent grounding in how to consciously make translation choices to ensure a target text fulfilled its communicative purpose.
The course introduced specific challenges and potential pitfalls involved in medical, legal, technical, advertising and tourism translation, often with guest presenters from these fields to help better comprehend the context in which these texts would be used.
Of course translation and technology was not forgotten, and included TRADOS lab sessions, audio-visual translation and how to use subtitling software.
Lastly, important issues related to the pre and post translation processes, quality assurance and risk in translation were considered along with translation as a profession. Previous graduates of the program came to present and provided helpful tips, advice and traps to avoid as newbies.
Once again, the emphasis here was on theory first as well as understanding the history of the discipline and how interpreting has evolved over the years.
What I perhaps didn’t realise at first but became clear to me very quickly was that interpreting is a skill and as such needs to be practised in order to improve. There are even different skills that can be practised in isolation. This is why the first few weeks are spent doing monolingual memory exercises in order to help students learn the importance of the concept of working memory in interpreting. Shadowing of texts is used to increase memory capacity and impromptu speeches to increase public speaking confidence.
Other skills that are developed include note taking (based of course on Rozan’s famous 7 principles), analysis of speech structure (descriptive, dialectic and affective types), anticipation and chunking. More recently, in a new addition to the course, students have also been attending voice training sessions to improve their presentation skills.
All modes of interpreting are addressed – dialogue, consecutive and simultaneous (including chuchotage), and the university has a fully equipped room with booths and microphones for simultaneous practice.
The community interpreting content is adapted to the nature of the Australian market with various system and situation specific elements being addressed through thematic dialogues from social security, education, health, legal, police and business settings. Sight translation of documents is also part of this training. Putting skills into practice is facilitated by several mock conferences organised around different topics as well as a mock trial to expose students to the realities of court interpreting. The interdisciplinary nature of the discipline is emphasised in workshops with students in law and international relations.
The concepts of cross-cultural communication dynamics, norms of behaviour, paralinguistic communication and power differentials are discussed alongside the ethical principles contained in the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) code of ethics.
Consecutive interpreting is based on short speeches on topics ranging from ecotourism, to pandemics, international education and the environment. The emphasis here was on the user experience and ensuring that students could take efficient notes and produce output that was fluent, accurate and maintained the same register and illocutionary force as the original.
Simultaneous interpreting skills follow on from consecutive, again with a theoretical and historical foundation. The concepts of working memory, split attention and cognitive load are presented. For me, it was clear once we started practising that these were not merely theoretical constructs but have a very real impact on speech production and efforts to maximise communication. Advice for conference preparation, strategies and coping tactics (such as the salami technique) are taught along with an in-depth discussion of Daniel Gile’s well-known effort model.
Overall, I found the course to be comprehensive and I learnt much more than I expected. The workload is not for the faint hearted but is definitely worth it if you are looking for a well-rounded theoretical and practical translation and interpreting training program.
Nicola Thayil is a conference interpreter and professional French to English translator based in Melbourne, Australia specialising in legal, marketing and business texts. She has over five years’ experience in marketing, a master’s in interpreting and translation as well as a background in international business. Conveying meaning accurately and bridging cultural barriers between people can be tricky. It requires not only an excellent grasp of terminology and linguistic knowledge in two or more languages, but also solid cross-cultural knowledge to convey true meaning.