WHAT DOES BEING A TRANSLATOR HAVE TO DO WITH LANGUAGE TEACHING?
Being equally passionate about teaching English and working as a translator, I decided very early to pursue both careers. I started teaching English to adults in 1996. I was 22. A year later I got the opportunity to do my first professional written translation. It was a part of a huge textbook on pension fund investments, nearly 200 pages long. I was terrified. What on earth did I know about pension funds? Nothing, but I needed some extra money and I could learn. So, I took up the challenge.
I was lucky enough to find a mentor, a university professor of economics. Every week I would bring my notes to this lady and ask her to explain and clarify the words related to insurance, financial markets, banking, and business in general. She opened a whole new world to me. I gradually started to understand the logic, the meaning and the register of business jargon, both in English and Serbian, which is my mother tongue.
Nearly at the same time, the director of studies in the private ELT school where I was working at the time entrusted me with organizing an in-company Business English course for a corporate client. I was wondering if I was the right person for that. I thought I was too young and inexperienced in business topics for that. Luckily, my director had more faith in me. I took on the client and conducted the course. It was a win-win for everyone.
Since then, as a Business English teacher, I have been fortunate to work with hundreds and hundreds of learners, and as a Business English-Serbian translator I have translated thousands and thousands of pages of business texts. In addition, working as a consecutive translator at business meetings and other public events contributed a lot to my teaching style.
So, how does translation relate to teaching?
First of all, by translating you learn new words every single day, both in the source and the target language. You polish your knowledge of the languages and about the languages. Even if you sometimes cannot see the point of learning something that is out of your direct scope of interests or work at a particular moment, surely time will come when your knowledge will be of great advantage.
Secondly, by translating diverse material you acquire an enormous amount of information on a huge variety of topics. Your brain literally becomes a depository of information you can use in your language training conversations with your Business English learners, be it banking, insurance, financial reports, accounting, auditing, different industries, corporate procedures or business contracts.
Thirdly, translation means discipline. It disciplines your writing and speaking. You learn how to convey the meaning from the source language in the target language with logic, accuracy, precision, clarity, and coherence. On top of all this, you learn how to be economical with words and avoid redundancy. A fellow translator once said: “The essence of writing is deleting.” I suppose he was right. All this can have a tremendous impact on your teaching style. All these skills pour over to your language training sessions with clients.
Fourthly, knowledge about various topics gives you freedom from ready-made course programs. As a teacher, you can be more flexible and independent, and follow your clients’ language needs and preferences. It makes it also easier to understand stumbling blocks and difficulties they encounter as learners of a foreign language. Translation experience enables you to better observe and notice the underlying logic of typical mistakes caused by the interference of their mother tongue.
In conclusion, pursuing a career as a language teacher and translator is not a matter of “either… or”. It is rather a matter of “both… and”.
Jasmina Radivojša is a Professional Neurolangauge Coach and Licenced Trainer. She has been working as a Business English teacher and technical English-Serbian translator for 25 years. In 2014 she set up EnglishWise Beograd (www.englishwise.rs) which provides Business English training and translation services for individuals and corporate clients. Her vision is to apply NLC in language training and bring the Neurolanguage Coaching course to teachers in Serbia and the Balkans region.