This post is more of a mini rant than anything else, so please take it with a grain of salt. I wish I had more to contribute on the matter, but I'd mostly love to hear my (very few!) readers' perceptions on translating into a non-native language.
It's often said that the best translators only work towards their native language and, while I simultaneously agree and disagree with this statement, I will say this: there absolutely are a precious few absolutely stellar translators who can knock it out of the park working into a non-native language.
A few days ago I came across this fantastic and relevant post by fellow Italian > English translator Wendell Ricketts. In it, he shines a spotlight on non-native translators working into English, or, what he's coined "scuolish," the abysmal English produced by Italian graduates of scuole superiori. Not only is the subject of Italian scuole superiori near and dear to my heart (as are all things Italy), it is also very timely: I am now proactively seeking ways of furthering my education, and an MA in translation seemed like as good a choice as any after a law degree. Given my background and my yearning to return to Italy, I immediately placed the Bel paese high on my list of places to go and assumed that I could study Italian into English. Now I'm not so sure that an Italian MA specifically in translation is the way to go. Why?
Italy's most prestigious translating and interpreting universities require applicants to translate into their second or even third language. Up until now, I hadn't known this was even standard practice anywhere outside of a few language combinations for interpreting or within a few former Soviet bloc countries. How is it possible in Italy? Doesn't everyone know that you can't really teach bilingualism, nor can you expect it of all of your students? Bilingual translators are really not the industry benchmark--it's infinitely better to know one active language like the back of your hand than to only passably work from and into three or four. This came as a complete shock to me, as I know many graduates from two of the country's most esteemed schools (Bologna and Trieste) whose work I would trust in a heartbeat. As I read this blog post--including excerpts from translations done by "bilingual" graduates--I couldn't help but gasp. As per Wendells' blog:
"The excerpts below are taken from texts translated by two different individuals. One is a “cum laude” graduate of the Gregorio VII “Scuola Superiore per Mediatori Linguistici e Culturali” and the examples were posted by him as a demonstration of his fine Italian -> English work. The other holds a degree from the Scuola Superiore di Lingue Moderne per Interpreti e Traduttori in Trieste and consults “widely” for translation agencies. Naturally, she claims to be “perfectly bilingual.”
Gregorio VII - In addiction to its endless technical and human resources, Linux clear versatility just represents a suitable tool for the national education system, especially for the Linguistics and Information Technology areas where the Italian Minister of Education Moratti signally failed to reach the goals of her announced reform of the education and training system because she wisely preferred a very urgent internal reform. With regard to schools, whether they are public or private, it is necessary to think about the way in which the future generations can be helped to be on a par with the world governing classes. Such technologic backwardness can not be accepted. [...]
University of Trieste - This is not the plot of a new film, but the incredible fact told today … of a young Sicilian couple. It all started with the honey money of the young Sicilians. A relaxing cruise, maybe too relaxing, especially for he man, who had to keep an eye on his wife. Because she, a blond 25-year-old, let herself go with a black waiter and had sexual intercourse. Just one, amongst the many had with her husband.”
The mind boggles. Does that seem like passable English for sending to a client? Italy, say it ain't so! I wanted confirmation for myself so I googled and found that it's indeed true: Italian schools do require you to actively and passively translate to and from Italian with a second or sometimes third language. See for yourself here and here.
I have less issue with translators considering themselves bilingual and marketing themselves as such than I do with actual institutions who deem work like this sufficient for a passing grade. in my own way, I'm hoping and praying for these students that it's just out of not knowing any better. Yet, it all feels kind of icky to me--almost as if these schools attract students by promising them translation work upon graduation ("Oh yes! You, too, can English!") and the students go along with it because they know no better. Then again, Italy is notorious for its use of native born Italians for translation into English, so this should come as no surprise. I guess that I'll be scratching an Italian MA in translation off my list, with a heavy heart of course. If this is the future of our industry, we're in for a bumpy ride. Looks like I'll have to go with an Master's in law after all.
Readers: are graduates in your countries expected to translate into a second or third language?
About the Author
Audra de Falco is a freelance Italian, Spanish, French and Sicilian to English translator based in New York, NY. She has been working in the industry since 2003 and is an advocate of fair industry practices and translators' rights.