WHAT IS A TRANSLATION?
The next graded assignment in ENGL 208 asks you to translate a short
document written for experts (in a specialized or technical style) so that
a nonexpert can understand it. This project challenges you to think about
AUDIENCE (see Chapter 2 in Reep). Specifically, it asks you to think about the
different backgrounds, needs, and expectations that expert and nonexpert
readers bring to their reading of a document.
The final version of the translation will be about 3-5 pages long, single-spaced. Use white space and other typographic devices (see Chapter 4) to create an effective, easy-to-read document.
As I mentioned in an earlier message,DEFINITION (see Chapter 6) will
probably play a key role in your translation project. With that in mind,
let me offer a *formal sentence definition* (see pp. 156-59):
A technical translation explains specialized terms, concepts,
and procedures in simpler and more familiar terms than the
original document for a reader who does not possess expert
knowledge about a subject but who is nonetheless interested.
The word "translate" is worth considering as one way of understanding this
assignment. It has its origin in the Latin word,translatus, which
means (roughly) "carried across." So what does it mean to translate or
"carry across" a document? Well, you want to carry the meaning, but where?
across to what or to whom?
Let's say you were trying to convey the meaning of the phrase "to diss
someone" across language and culture to a friend in Madrid, Spain. To
convey the meaning across both language and culture, you'd first need to
clarify the term (e.g., it's origin in the word "disrespect") and then give
some context such as when it's used, how it's used, by whom and to whom.
Translation usually requires more than a simple substitution of one term
for another. Sure, you could say that "to diss someone" means "falta de
respeto," but that's a little too simple--and not quite accurate. You
haven't conveyed anything about the level of formality or use--crucial
aspects of slang.
If you are translating a technical or specialized document for a nonexpert
reader, the process is similar: you want to convey the main ideas without
losing or transforming the meaning. You may well need to give a little
background information so that the nonexpert can understand the idea or
term in context. For instance, in explaining the translation assignment,
I've drawn on the *etymology* of the word "translate," given an example,
and drawn a comparison. These are all strategies that your textbook
discusses (among others) on pages 159-164.
WHY TRANSLATE SOMETHING ANYWAY?
Just in case one or two of you are wondering why on earth we ask you to translate a specialized document for a nonexpert reader, I thought a few examples from real life might provide some context.
You see successful translations everyday. You just may not be aware of them.
A good lecture in one of your classes probably relies on some degree of
The "Dear Nerd" column in the _Dominion Post_ guides novice computer users
through the basics--largely by translating technical terms and concepts
into simpler terms and by using lots of analogies and examples. In
addition to the _Dominion Post_, the column appears in the _Charleston
Gazette_ (WV), and the _Arizona Daily Star_ (Tuscon, AZ). Check out some
past "Dear Nerd" columns on author Chris Stout's website.
One of the most obvious examples of translation is the "For Dummies" series
of books. These books started out as guides to various computer programs,
but the series has now expanded to include _Bridge for Dummies_, _Wine for
Dummies_, _Accounting for Dummies_, Investments for Dummies_, _Bach for
Dummies_, etc. In other words, the publisher (IDG Books) has discovered a
FINDING AN APPROPRIATE ARTICLE TO TRANSLATE
If you are already familiar with the specialized academic journals in your
field, go browse recent volumes for an article that interests you. You
want an average length article (about 9+ pages). Something longer is
If you are not yet familiar with the specialized academic journals in your
field, you have three options:
- Ask one of the professors in your major to recommend the most
specialized and prestigious scholarly journals. Then go browse
current or back issues of those journals at the library and find
an article that interests you.
- Simply go to the current periodicals section of the library
and browse. (Evansdale for engineering, computer science,
nutrition, exercise physiology, and ag/forestry topics; Wise for
Communications, Humanities, and Social Sciences; Health Sciences
Library for Pharmacy, Dentistry, Medicine, and Nursing; Physical
Sciences Library for chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy).
You may want to concentrate on titles that begin "JOURNAL OF"
since these are almost always scholarly publications for a
- OR you can use a computerized periodical index in your field.
An index is a guide or a pointer. A periodical index is a guide
to the journals and magazines that are published on a regular basis
(say, once a month or once a quarter). By using an index within
your field of study, you are more likely to find articles written
for an expert audience. FirstSearch, available through the WVU
Libraries, lets you choose a general field (say, the Social
Sciences or Engineering and Technology) and then gives you access
to several computerized indexes, such as INSPEC, that help you
find articles on specific topics within that field.
Go to one of the libraries to use this tool, or access it from
the WVU Libraries' web page
WHAT ABOUT WEB-BASED ARTICLES?
I don't encourage you to use web-based articles for this assignment,
largely because it is sometimes tough to evaluate the status of web
publications, but I won't rule them out entirely. A web-based article is
acceptable, IF (1) it has been written for an expert audience, (2) it's
recognized in your field as a credible source, and (3) you are certain that
the article is current (within the last three months). If you do choose a
web-based article, please make sure you have the web address (URL), the
full title, an author, and the date it was written. If you can't document
the last two points, the source is probably not fully credible and, thus, a
poor choice for this assignment.
WHAT ABOUT TEXTBOOKS?
Textbooks are not acceptable. Textbooks are not written to an expert
audience. They are written to a novice audience in a given field.
WHAT ABOUT A CHAPTER FROM A BOOK WRITTEN TO AN EXPERT AUDIENCE?
I don't encourage you to use chapters--even if the book is written for an
expert audience--because you would then need to consider the context of the
I recommend that you limit the scope of your reading by concentrating on a
single, current article from a specialized journal.
WHAT'S DUE AT THE CONFERENCE
When you meet with your conference professor for fifteen minutes to discuss
your choice of article for the translation project and to decide what
specific passage you will translate for a nonexpert reader, please be prepared.
- Bring a photocopy or print-out of the article you've chosen.
- In a brief, informal note that you will leave with your professor,
- list the essay's author, title, journal title, date, and
page numbers using appropriate APA style (see pp. 248-54),
- write a paragraph that explains how and why you think
the article you've chosen is written to an EXPERT audience,
- list key terms and concepts that you know you will have to
define and explain to a NONEXPERT reader.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT THE CONFERENCE
Here's the agenda for your fifteen-minute meeting:
- Your professor will approve the article (or, if necessary, assign an
- You and your professor will decide on an appropriate segment of the
article which you will then translate for a lay reader. (The segment will
be anywhere from 1-3 pages of the original article, depending on the
density of the material, the format, etc.)
- You can ask your professor specific questions about the assignment.
PLANNING THE TRANSLATION
After you meet with your conference professor and you know what specific
passage of your article you will be translating for a nonexpert audience,
the next step is to plan your translation.
As you translate your passage, you may find that you need to re-organize
the information in the original. You will almost certainly need to
condense or omit the extremely technical in favor of simpler explanations,
and you will definitely have to ADD definitions, descriptions, and
Translating for a nonexpert requires you to step back from the article.
What's the MAIN POINT of the article? of your passage?
TAKE SOME NOTES
Here's one strategy for preparing to write the translation.
In one sentence, try to summarize in your own words the main point of each
paragraph or table in the passage you are translating. Then, put the
article aside and look at your sentence summaries. What does your reader
need to know to get these main ideas? Will you need to supply a little
background information? or draw from some information from other parts of
the article? or reorganize material so a nonexpert doesn't get overwhelmed
TRY AN OUTLINE
An outline of the translation assignment might look like this:
- APA citation of the article
- A GENERAL SUMMARY of the whole article for a lay reader
(like an abstract, but for a general readership). Take a look
at the TITLE of the article. That's the writer's attempt to
capture the main point of the article, so it's often a good
starting point for a summary. Other places to look: the opening
and closing paragraphs or sections.
- Identification of KEY TERMS/CONCEPTS from the passage you are
translating. What does a nonexpert absolutely have to know to
understand the passage? These terms cue your readers to let
them know what they will be learning about.
Try to list no more than FIVE terms.
(You may include more in the actual translation, but this list
covers the most crucial terms you want them to understand.)
- The TRANSLATION. You'll probably want to use a heading
that identifies the content of the specific passage
you're translating. Make sure that your heading uses language
that a nonexpert will understand.
(Go back to Chpt. 4 to review headings/format features.)
- The translation itself needs to consider the following questions:
- What organization is best?
- What context does the reader need, if any?
- What type of definitions will be most useful to my reader?
(See Reep, Chapters 6 and 7)
- Will all the definitions be in the text? Probably--but
it's worth thinking about the placement of them.
See Reep, pages 164-65 if you want to consider placing
definitions in an appendix, in footnotes, or in a glossary.
- Would a graphic help my reader understand the concept or
process that I am translating? (Refer back to Chapter 4.)
- Reference List
- Research is not required for this assignment, but you may
find that you need to consult a textbook or talk to a professor
in your field to make sure *you* understand the ideas that you
are trying to explain to people who do not have your expert\
knowledge. If you do seek information from a text or another
expert, just acknowledge that reference in a "works cited"
section at the end of your paper. See CHAPTER 9.
- For tips on how to analyze a reader's needs, please reread Chapter 2 in Reep.
- For examples and tips about how to develop and use definition, please
reread Chapter 6 in Reep.
- Attach your article to your translation. Make sure your name is on
- The final version should be 3-5 single-spaced pages (with double space
between paragraphs, use of headings, etc.).
EVALUATIVE CRITERIA FOR THE TRANSLATION PROJECT
Each assignment in ENGL 208 will build upon previous assignments. In this
second assignment, for instance, you will need to use the audience
awareness, organization principles, and document design skills that you
learned in the first assignment to help you present your translation in an
effective, easy-to-read format, well-suited to your readers' needs.
Each new assignment will, however, also ask you demonstrate new skills.
When we evaluate the translation project that is due on or before noon on
Thursday, Sept. 18, we will be looking for evidence that you:
- Show an awareness of nonexpert READERS' NEEDS when
translating material written for an expert audience (Chapter 2)
- Understand and apply the basic principles of global and
fine-tuning REVISION (Chapter 5)--especially as it applies to
translating for a nonexpert reader.
- Understand and apply the basic principles of DEFINITION
- DEVELOP your explanations and definitions in sufficient
- Present material in a well-ORGANIZED and well-FORMATTED manner
that uses headings, spacing, and typographic devices to create an
effective, easy-to-read document (Chapters 3 & 4)
- Accurately use APA CITATION style to list the article that
you are translating (Chapter 9).
We also refer you to the basic criteria for an A, B, C, D, or F outlined in
Questions? Contact your conference professor.
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