Posts filed under 'craft'

In Conversation: Natasha Wimmer on Teaching Translation

Teaching translation feels like I’ve been lifting weights, and then I go to my own translation and it's like, whoa, these weights are so light!

What does it mean to teach translation? Many translators are self-taught, having honed their skills in careers as writers or editors, academics or language experts. But some universities in the United States also offer seminars in the craft of translation. The teacher-translator, then, takes on the unique challenge of developing new pedagogy for a field in flux, one that exists at the intersection of language study, theory, and the instructor’s own experiences in the creative practice of translation.

Today, translator Natasha Wimmer sits down with her former student and Asymptote Editor-at-Large in Brazil, Lara Norgaard, to discuss her approach to teaching translation. 

Lara Norgaard (LN): How did you begin teaching translation? What made you interested in education?

Natasha Wimmer (NW): Princeton approached me, actually. I had never taught a class. Not only that, but I also only have an undergraduate degree, so I had never even taken a graduate class. I was a little bit nervous about taking the job. A few years later I started at Columbia. In that case, I did a panel discussion with the other Bolaño translator, Chris Andrews, and the department heads enjoyed the discussion, so they asked me to teach.

LN: Was there a particular class you took or text you read that influenced the way you approached teaching for the first time?

NW: I actually imagined the course as the class I wish I’d taken before I became a translator. I had no formal education in translation at all. I had never taken a translation class and, in fact, I hadn’t even read anything about translation until about eight years into my translation career. When I was asked to give a talk about translation, I realized I had avoided reading about translation because I was afraid that I would discover that I had been doing it wrong, or that maybe I would mess with the instinctive approach that had somehow been successful so far. But then I found reading about translation really stimulating. I discovered that, not surprisingly, there was a conversation about the questions I had and about the things that I hadn’t articulated but had been working through as a translator.

I worked really hard the first year I taught the Princeton class. I spent a few months just reading translation theory and translation essays for material that I thought was interesting and put together a reading list. The first semester I taught at Princeton was very experimental. In retrospect, I’m surprised I survived. The format of the class changed a lot from the first year to the second.


An Interview with the “Turnip Princess” Translator, Maria Tatar

Beyond Brothers Grimm, beyond Hans Christian Andersen: "There's nothing like this collection in English."

The following is an interview with translator Maria Tatar, of Franz Xaver Von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, available here—and if you’d like a taste, check out our recent Translation Tuesday, featuring the short story “The Enchanted Fiddle!”

Could you talk about the Turnip Princess and what sort of fairy tales they are?

Schönwerth collected his stories from farmhands, domestic servants, artisans —people who worked for a living and were experts in the art of gossip, improvisation, talk, and storytelling. His official work took him into royal quarters, but he was deeply committed to capturing tales told by adults in workrooms and around the hearth. Unlike the Grimms, who were equal-opportunity collectors, begging and borrowing from all social classes, Schönwerth wanted tales untainted by literary influences—hence the rough-hewn quality of many of his stories.   He did not smooth out rough edges, add psychological motivation, or make stylistic “improvements.” The Turnip Princess lets us listen in to storytelling sessions from times past. And suddenly, once you’ve read a a dozen or so of these tales, you begin to see how they were put together and animated for audiences.

How did you prepare to translate this sort of writing?

I suppose I could say that I have been preparing for this work all my life. I was trilingual for a brief period as a child, speaking Hungarian, German, and English—never confusing them according to my parents, and thank goodness for that. My graduate work in German Studies took a literary turn, and I did not begin research on folklore and fairy tales in earnest until I started reading fairy tales to my children in the 1980s. Translating the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen for my annotated editions of their work was in some ways actually not the best training ground for Schönwerth. The Grimms and Andersen strive for a carefully constructed folksy tone; Schönwerth by contrast just puts on the page what he hears. I often had to resist the temptation to smooth out the rough edges and create a reader-friendly story. READ MORE…