A Review of The Sound of Music: an ITI Conference masterclass by Ros Schwartz

by Katharine Mears

The Tyne Bridge, Newcastle

At this year’s ITI conference in Newcastle, I attended the masterclass The Sound of Music, run by renowned literary translator Ros Schwartz. The aim was to explore the overlap between literary and commercial translation to give ‘non-literary’ translators (such as myself) the confidence to draw on their creative writing ability in their day-to-day work.

Ros began the session by talking about the difference between ‘source-orientated’ and ‘target-orientated’ texts, explaining that every translation falls somewhere different on this scale. One example of a source-orientated text is a book, where the author has given careful thought to every word. Target-orientated texts are those required to do a certain job such a selling something or getting certain information across.

We were then provided with some practical tips on how to improve our target translations, some of which I have highlighted below:

  • THINK ‘WRITE’ (as opposed to ‘TRANSLATE’): Highlight the key ideas to be expressed, put the source text aside and write the paragraph in your target language.
  • THINK AGAIN: Beware of complacency – don’t make do with the first solution that pops into your head. Lapses of attention result in “translationese”. E.g. don’t translate the French “produits que respectent l’environnement” as “products that respect the environment”. We have a specific word for this in English: “eco-products”.
  • PRUNE RUTHLESSLY: Beware of “padding words” that give rhythm to the source language but have no function in English, e.g. the French use of decided to. A literal translation of such a sentence might be “In 2013 the company decided to invest in…”, when what they actually mean is simply “In 2013 the company invested in…”
  • BREAK AWAY: Liberate the translation from the sentence structures of the source text.
  • LATIN vs ANGLO-SAXON: If you are translating from a Romance language, avoid using too many Latinate words, which can make a text feel awkward and be overly formal and academic. E.g. “consulter” should rarely be translated as “consult”, and such words can often be substituted.
  • DIFFERENT CONVENTIONS: Be aware of these, e.g. French uses significantly more exclamation marks; English tends to favour the imperative.
  • A FRESH LOOK: Take a break before doing the final read-through; always print out your translation, ideally in a different font, and check a hard copy; try working with a colleague and revising each other’s translations.
  • BE BOLD: It’s all about confidence. See yourself as a writer, not as a humble servant.

We then went on to look at three texts of varying quality that had been translated from French into English. In groups, we considered where and how we felt they could be improved, as well as any positive aspects, focusing in particular on the points outlined by Ros above and whether the rhythm and flow (music) of the text had been disrupted by their being overly meaning-orientated. This proved to be an extremely helpful exercise, which I have already started applying to my own translations.

The Sound of Music was an invaluable masterclass that has really made me reflect on my own translation work. I came away with a host of concrete tips that I have been able to put into practice immediately with the aim of injecting more ‘music’ into my translations. I would like to thank Ros Schwartz for such an interesting and practical session and hope these tips will be useful to you also.




3 thoughts on “A Review of The Sound of Music: an ITI Conference masterclass by Ros Schwartz

  1. Claire Sjaarda says:

    Thank you for this very insightful blog post. I would have loved to attend the ITI conference this year (I am based in New Zealand so it is a bit far to travel!) and I would certainly have attended this masterclass. The points outlined above remind me of some of the techniques I learned while studying an MA in Translation (EN/FR) two year ago. The best translation often is an original text that draws on the translator’s ability to write in his/her target language.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Katharine Mears says:

    Thanks Claire. I agree that the ability to write well in your target language is a vital quality for a translator. Let us know if you ever make it over for any translation-related events in Europe!


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