• Black Country Translator

Marvellous Mentoring: How Two Seasoned Campaigners Have Transformed My Creative Translation Skills

Over the past few months, I have finally realised just how important CPD (continuing professional development) is. While I was studying for my MA in Translation Studies, I regrettably neglected the importance of CPD in my industry, arguably spending slightly too long doing coursework and reading up on translation theory, when I could have done more CPD. Also, despite a marked improvement in my language skills, I probably spent too long at weekends watching foreign-language series on Netflix, especially the 60-episode long Bolívar. I did do some CPD, of course, taking the odd hour out of my studies here and there to attend live online webinars hosted by SDL, for example, and reading the ITI Bulletin or MultiLingual with Soccer Saturday or the darts on in the background, but, looking back, I should have done more.

However, since starting out as a freelance translator, I have always made time to integrate CPD into my extremely busy schedule. As soon as I moved back home, I attended the West Midlands ITI summer gathering. I then started reading Corinne McKay’s “Finding and Marketing to Translation Agencies” – I would highly recommend this book - several weeks later, implementing her recommended marketing strategy. I also jetted off to Brussels at the time to represent the University of Leeds at the Translating Europe forum, taking two unpaid days leave from my teaching job in the process. The next big commitment I made in terms of CPD was signing up for Matt Stopporth’s excellent course aimed at improving the business skills of starting-out translators, which has massively helped me run both a legitimate and fairly lucrative business so far. I have also watched the most relevant webinars in the ITI library, listened to various translation-industry podcasts during my morning commute to my teaching job, and capitalised on many of the free resources and online courses provided by Virigina Katsimpiri, which I would highly recommend to any translator, especially her ultimate LinkedIn prospecting course.

Nevertheless, no matter how useful the above courses, webinars, etc. have been, I have specifically dedicated this blog post to my experience of working with the wonderful Cathy Dobson ( and Katherine Capaldi ( as part of the ITI French and Spanish Network mentoring schemes. I will be forever grateful to both Cathy and Katherine for their invaluable contribution to the development of my creative translation skills, whose expertise and willingness to give something back to the translation profession have led to me becoming equipped with the knowledge, strategies and techniques required to become an even more successful sports and tourism translator. My most recent translation project, which focused on the French women’s skiing team’s efforts during the 2020-21 FIS Alpine Ski World Cup, presented me with an opportunity to implement Cathy and Katherine’s recommendations, on which I am sure I will draw throughout my career.

I will discuss my experience of the French Net mentoring scheme first. Having decided that I wanted to focus specifically on sport and tourism – one field per scheme, ideally – I was paired with Cathy, a highly experienced tourism translator and copywriter. After briefly discussing my needs with her, she gave me an extract to translate from a travel brochure promoting the department of Yonne, Burgundy. The aim was to encourage me to distance myself from the source text as much as possible in order to entice and persuade the reader. With most of my earlier professional work being for the field of international development, I was more accustomed to sticking quite closely to the source texts (in my case, the original French, Spanish or Portuguese text), which, stylistically and linguistically speaking, are not too dissimilar to texts written in English for the same domain. However, replicating the typical phrasing, grammar and vocabulary used in French tourism-related texts in an English translation would sound unnatural and ungainly, and, in turn, result in the translation failing to achieve its purpose. To successfully persuade someone, a tourism-related text must be short, snappy, punchy and concise, so, effectively, tourism translations represent a form of rewriting, merely using the source text as a guide in terms of meaning. That is the impression I got while doing this translation, anyway, especially when confronted with expressions such as “laissez-vous enchanter” (literally, “let yourself be enchanted by,”), which sound overly flowery in English and can be effectively replaced with the second-person imperative form of verbs such as “to enjoy,” “to discover” and “to indulge.” Another issue with phrases such as these is that there are no clear and readily-available equivalents for these expressions in English on online bilingual corpora (resources pairing sentences side-by-side in two different languages for comparative purposes) such as Linguee, making creativity essential.

Another key point to consider was that this text contained far more cultural references than I would normally encounter in an international development-related text. In this domain, these references are far less frequent, meaning that an explanation can quite easily be embedded into texts, which tend to be extremely long, or provided as a footnote. Nevertheless, in a text intended to be published in a tourist brochure, long explanations may detract from the punchy, snappy nature of the text, as well as occupy too much space, of which there is often very little. There is also the danger of telling the reader too much, rather than arousing their curiosity and interest in discovering the destination for themselves. After all, why would someone want to go somewhere if they already know everything about it? How would it be possible, in this case, to persuade them to discover it for themselves? I therefore had to avoid spelling everything out to the reader, as I normally would, to facilitate my efforts to produce a succinct, idiomatic rendering of the source text in English.

The second text, meanwhile, posed a completely different challenge; I was asked to translate a text intended to be spoken. Cathy gave me an extract to translate from the script for a tourist-train audio guide. I therefore had to constantly think about how this would sound when read out loud and avoid using complex language and potentially convoluted sentences at all costs. The final product was intended to accompany a tour of the corresponding town, so a text requiring a great deal of cognitive effort from listeners to be understood would divert their attention away from the town’s attractions, and, in turn, detract from the quality of their overall experience. Another question I asked myself was: “How formal should my translation sound?” With tourism being closely linked to copywriting, the language used in the industry generally tends to be quite informal, except for certain cases concerning more sophisticated brands, but I believe this challenge is greater with regard to spoken language. Depending on many factors, including social class and geographical location, some people may speak completely differently to others in the same language in terms of the vocabulary and phrasing they use. In the end, though, I decided that it was best to write in a style similar to that typically used in tourism-related texts – in other words, relatively informal language adapted to the spoken medium.

The third text Cathy gave me was an extract on Cabo Verde in a tourist brochure promoting exotic destinations. The challenges posed were similar to those mentioned above, but the cultural references in this text were particularly difficult to deal with in my translation, not only because the destination itself, and thus, its attractions are largely unknown, but also because they referred to specific cultural terms in Portuguese – a language that some people do not even know exists in the UK, never mind speak. I therefore opted to spell out most of these references to the reader in the form of short explanations embedded in the text; canvas (space) constraints meant that these could not be too long, plus I did not want to reveal too much to the reader in order to maintain the element of exoticness in my translation in the hope of persuading them to visit the islands.

Although I am still currently participating in the Spanish Mentoring Scheme, I am now going to discuss the work I have done under Katherine’s stewardship so far. The first text Katherine gave me was a snowboarding review. Apart from doing a few tobogganing and ice-skating sessions at the Tamworth Snowdome and watching curling and ice-hockey whenever the Winter Olympics come around, I had very little knowledge of winter sports before I did this translation and worked on the skiing project I mentioned earlier in this blog post. As it turns out, snowboarding is a highly specialised field, not just because there are very specific terms for certain moves and turns, but also for parts of snowboards themselves. Although I have worked on many technical translation projects containing extremely specific terminology, I have always managed to find the correct terms in English via sites such as Linguee, IATE and Termium Plus, or by checking the website of the company that wrote the original text, for example. However, bilingual corpora and other typical translation resources proved pretty useless for this translation. Therefore, the only option was to read parallel texts, i.e. other snowboard reviews posted on the same website, descriptions of the snowboards themselves in English and articles published online about snowboarding moves, turns and techniques so that I could extract the relevant technology. These were the only techniques that enabled me to find out that “medium-radius turn” is the English equivalent for the Spanish term “radio medio,” and that “edge hold” was the correct way to translate “canto,” for example.

The second text I worked on as part of the Spanish Mentoring Scheme, an opinion piece on the Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal, was nowhere near as complicated in terms of terminology – I already had most of the tennis-specific terms mentioned in the text under my belt – but it contained many specific references to his career that were likely to be unknown to most English-speaking tennis fans. I therefore opted to explain these to my readers, but very succinctly. The main challenge, however, lay in replicating the style in a way that worked in English, especially due to strange metaphorical expressions such as the following: “Es como un frasco abstracto que se apodera de ti y te dice que te vayas un paso más allá de tus objetivos. Que tu umbral de exigencia nunca es lo suficiente grande.” Translated literally into English, these two sentences would read as follows: “It’s like an abstract bottle that takes over you and tells you to go a step beyond your objectives, that the dawn of your existence is never big enough.” In this case, I had to move completely away from the Spanish and change the image used to create a naturally sounding translation that would be meaningful to the intended readership. This was my solution: “It’s like a voice in your head that takes over you, telling you that you’re exceeding your objectives, and that your standards have never been set highly enough.” Since that particular part of the text spoke about Nadal being in the best form of his career, “exceeding objectives” and “your standards have never been set highly enough” accurately conveyed this idea in English, and arguably, far more clearly than the Spanish. Also, the fact of having a voice in your head is abstract in itself, as well as being a commonly used image in English, thus justifying my decision not to find an equivalent metaphor.

The third text that Katherine gave me was an article on the Spanish footballer, Álvaro Borja Morata. Even though football is one of my main translation specialisms, as some of you may already know, most of my translation experience in this field has been gained through projects involving legal texts, including players’ contracts, and medical texts such as injury reports. I have even translated an academic article on the historical ties shared between the Spanish political elite and Real Madrid since Franco’s dictatorship. This journalistic text therefore posed a new challenge; I needed to adopt a different approach and change my writing style, aiming to produce a translation sounding just like a BBC Sports, Sky Sports or newspaper article. This meant using football-specific phraseology such as “find the back of the net” or “more clinical in front of goal,” but not getting too carried away through my excitement and overusing such expressions. Moreover, with the Premier League being the best league in the world, I know that many British football fans tend to overlook foreign leagues. I therefore assumed that my readership would have some knowledge of Spanish and Italian football, but not enough to understand the many implicit references in the text. For instance, I completely ignored the Spanish headline La contundencia que le falta al Atlético la tiene Morata en la Juventus (Literally, “The ruthlessness that Atletico is lacking is with Morata at Juventus”) in my translation, which read as follows: “Just two goals in four games for on-fire Morata’s parent club Atlético.Despite my main aim here being to create a snappy, sensationalist headline similar to those found in British newspapers, hence my solution, I also felt that the Spanish headline implied that the article’s intended audience would already be aware of Atletico’s poor form at the time, with the Spanish team having scored just two goals in four games, including the 4-0 drubbing suffered at the hands of Bayern Munich in the Champions League. By including some of this information in the headline, I gave readers an idea of what was to come in the article, and thus, a reason to continue reading. Conversely, if I had stuck too closely to the Spanish headline, the lack of explicitation may have detracted from the interest of readers and discouraged them from reading the article in the first place.

All in all, both mentoring schemes have proven highly beneficial to me. I now have the confidence to distance myself from the original text and be more creative in finding the most suitable solutions for my readers, that is, ones that accurately convey the meaning of the original text without being unsuitable for the genre in terms of style, grammar, phraseology and vocabulary. I have also acquired new techniques and further developed existing methods to find phraseology and vocabulary when my trusted go-to resources prove ineffective, which is often the case for texts related to sport and tourism, as previously mentioned. Moreover, my experience of working with Cathy and Katherine has taught me that keeping up to date with changes in language use and text-typological conventions in my target country, the UK, are of paramount importance to my producing high-quality translations for my clients.

I cannot thank Cathy and Katherine enough for participating in the mentoring schemes and agreeing to take me under their wing. When I am experienced enough myself, I will most certainly do my bit to give something back to the profession by imparting my wisdom on newcomers in the exact same way.

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