Anthony Pym

Bionote of Prof. Anthony Pym






Anthony Pym holds a PhD in sociology from the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris. He is Distinguished Professor of Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, and Professor Extraordinary at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He has recently accepted a chair at the University of Melbourne, Australia. He has authored or co-authored 25 books in the field of translation and intercultural studies, the most recent of which is Translation Solutions for Many Languages – Histories of a Flawed Dream( Bloomsbury, 2016).




Keynote Speech by Prof. Anthony Pym


Title: For a Sociology of Translator Training    


Abstract: There are societies everyone becomes multilingual, so everyone can translate to some degree. In other societies, virtual monolingualism reigns, so translators become special people, perhaps qualified professionals from particular social groups. In the first society, translation becomes part of general language learning – it is the fifth skill, after speaking, listening, writing, and reading, and everyone can theoretically check on how everyone else translates. In the second society, translator training tends to become a specialized activity, probably separated from general language learning, perhaps accordance with notions that translation competence is not language competence; in this second society, translators have to be trusted; they could be incompetent or working in the interests of the other side. In between these two extreme models there are many possible mixes,most of them depending on the configuration of languages to be translated from and to. The extreme mix of these models is when online technologies allow everyone in a monolingual society to think they can all translate. Less radical mixes are necessary when, for example, the “everyone can translate” model comes under pressure from a sudden influx of new language demands, due to migration or changing trade patterns. Similarly, the “specialized translation” model isseriously challenged when a restricted language becomes a lingua franca, as might be the case of English or Chinese. When all primary school children in China start learning English, one day they will theoretically all be able to translate, to some degree. But when, for instance, the Chinese government wants to impress the world right now, then highly specialized translators are needed,with extreme selection processes, in addition to all the other levels of competence and trust that still retain their social functions. Opera singers have to be selected and paid well, but many other kinds of singers are listened to and appreciated, and all of us can enjoy singing badly.  


Awareness of these abstract models can help us avoid some of the major pitfalls in thought about translator training (including interpreter training):


-         We should be wary of dragging concepts from one kind of society to another: the kind of professionalization that develops in a largely monolingual society need not be the kind that is appropriate in a traditionally multilingual society.          


-         We should be aware that there are many different levels of translation performance: what is good enough on the time-pressured immigrant frontier is not good enough for state documents.


-         We should carefully consider the distribution of translation demands in relation to each language pair: training for work with a lingua franca does not have the same market outlook as preparing for interactions with minority or immigrant languages.          


-         We should include language teaching in our vision of where translator training is needed, since many very legitimate social demands can be met by ensuring that communicative translation activities are being used in the foreign language class.          


-         We have to admit that free online technologies make some forms of translation available to all, in a surrogate version of the “everyone can translate” society. When everyone can indeed translate from languages they don’t know, ourtraining has to work on the very specific skills that people are developing intuitively, improving what is being done, without condemning it.          


-         Above all, we need to be aware that translator training is not just one thing. Ite volves in human contexts, in relation to specific human demands, aspirations,and technologies. It should not be reduced to timeless principles and technicalities.


On one level, this returns to what all language educators know: you do your needs analysis first. On a more properly sociological level, though, the most urgento f our tasks is perhaps renewed attention to the role of translation in language teaching. Wrongly excluded both by the ideologies of translation as an independent discipline and by immersion ideologies of language acquisition, the communicative uses of translation in the foreign language class now demand to be explored anew.