Volume 13, No. 2 
April 2009

Rebecca Hyde Parker

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Index 1997-2009

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  From the Editor
The Invisible Articles
by Gabe Bokor

  Translator Profiles
Uniquely Typical or Typically Unique?
by Holly Mikkelson

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Ethics 101 for Translators
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini

  Translators Around the World
Bringing the Best Western Classical Literature to Turkish Masses
by Arnold Reisman, Ph.D.

  Translation History
Japanese Technical Translation a Quarter of a Century Ago
by Steve Vlasta Vitek

  Science & Technology
Detección de problemas en traducción cientifica
Olga Torres-Hostench

  Medical Translation
The Sounds of Clinical Medicine
by Rafael A. Rivera, M.D., FACP

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
The Cultural Transfer in Anime Translation
by Mariko Hanada

  Arts & Entertainment
Translating Humor in Dubbing and Subtitling
by Anna Jankowska

  Advertising Translation
Motocicletas, Internet y estrategias de traducción publicitaria
by Junming Yao

  Literary Translation
Translating Rape
by Irene Chen

  Translator Education
The Effect of the Translator's Gender on Translation Evaluation
by Ebrahim Golavar
Professionalizing Literary Translation Education
by Rebecca Hyde Parker

  Translation Theory
Is Translation a Rewriting of an Original Text?
by Tomoko Inaba

  Translators' Tools
From Mechanics to Managers
by Jost Zetzsche
Uncontrolled Terminology and MT: The Importance of Making Good Comparisons
by Rafael Guzmán
TranslateCAD—a software tool that enables CAT translation with CAD drawings
by Vicente Victorica
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translator Education


Professionalizing Literary Translation Education

by Rebecca Hyde Parker
University of East Anglia, UK



The aim of this paper is to examine how the role of literary translation teaching at university postgraduate level has changed over the last few decades. Presenting firstly an overview of the development of literary translation in British higher education, it is then suggested that literary translation programmes can currently be divided into three broad pedagogical categories. The third of these didactic groupings, the MA in Literary Translation, is identified and analysed in detail. The objective of this third type of translation programme is, in addition to teaching students literary translation approaches and theories, also to train them in the practical and vocational aspects of translation. It is therefore argued in this article that the traditional term 'literary translation teaching' does not fully cover the modern educational challenges facing teachers in literary translation at higher education level, where the objective is, in part, to prepare students for work in the literary translation market. It is therefore proposed that the term 'literary translator training' be used, in order to better describe and understand the increasingly professional nature of this field in current translation education at universities in the UK. By emphasizing the 'training' of learners, this type of translation programme, in addition to incorporating literary translation teaching, then takes into consideration the vocational and professional elements of translator education in an age where there is increased emphasis on professionalism in the translating industry.


his paper charts the development of literary translation teaching in the UK and examines how the role of literary translation teaching at postgraduate level has changed over the last few decades. It is argued that, in modern British higher education, literary translation teaching has developed to a point at which the field can now be divided into three broad pedagogical categories. In analyzing these didactic divisions it is suggested that the term 'literary translation teaching' does not fully cover the modern educational challenges facing teachers in literary translation. It is therefore proposed that the term 'literary translator training' be used, as opposed to the traditional description of literary translation teaching, in order to better describe and understand the increasingly professional nature of this field in current translation education at universities in the UK.

The emergence of formal UK literary translation courses

It is proposed that the term 'literary translator training' be used to better describe and understand the professional nature of this field in translation education.
Historically speaking, formal translation education has developed out of foreign-language teaching. Dating back to republican Rome times, translation has been used as a tool in language teaching in education systems in Europe (Lefevere 1992: 6). Munday (forthcoming) notes, that during the Victorian era, translation continued to be widely used in Classics teaching in British independent schools, and then at both Oxford and Cambridge University. Thus the concept of what is understood by modern day 'translator training' has developed largely out of the field of translation teaching that existed in this early university education, firstly in Classics departments, and later in modern language and English departments in the UK (ibid.). Greek and Latin teaching in these early academic environments relied heavily on translation both in the forms of 'prose composition' and 'unseen translation' (Round 1998: 12) and, as the popularity of modern language programs in higher education started to grow in the second half of the twentieth century, translation continued to be used as an educational tool in the same way to develop language proficiency among students. Although eventually discarded in 1960s as a means of teaching language, Round (1998: 14) observes that translation nevertheless offered a continued means of developing and practicing skills for foreign language students. This understanding led in turn to the development of translation classes as a means of exercising foreign language knowledge in a more informal 'workshop' environment (ibid.). In this new environment, students were encouraged to be creative and to move away from the traditional mimetic approach to translation that had been typically used in foreign language education. The workshop environment developed and flourished, particularly in creative writing programs run by American universities such as Iowa and Dallas (as mentioned by Venuti 1998: 314), where the field of translation also went on quickly to become the subject of research and study in the areas of creative writing, comparative literature and cultural studies.

During the 1960s British universities began to take an interest in North American developments in translation (Round 1998: 14-15), and convenors started to introduce options in translation on taught undergraduate and postgraduate language and literature programs in the UK too. This was first made possible by the introduction of the first taught Master's degree at the University of Essex after support from, amongst others, Donald Davie (poet and critic) who was Professor of Literature at Essex from 1964-68. Round credits Arthur Terry, the MA course external examiner for Essex University, with being the first to introduce a translation studies option on a language course, when he incorporated a translation module on the undergraduate Spanish BA course which he taught on at Queen's University, Belfast. Following this move other translation courses were thereafter gradually introduced into other undergraduate and postgraduate programs run by other academic institutions and set up in the subjects of English and comparative literature as well as in modern language courses.

The introduction of taught courses in translation has thus provided the basis in this country for the rapid growth in modern translation training, and in translation research, that Caminade and Pym (1998: 283) note is being seen today. As the demand for translators rises and the desire by the translation industry to formalize the profession increases, so the number of under- and postgraduate programs in applied translation has increased over the last two decades. These developments in translator training mirror the considerable growth that has also been noted in the field of translation studies over the last few decades in Britain (see e.g. Bassnett 1991). In 2008 there are, according to the Learn Direct website (http://learndirect.co.uk), more than 100 full-time taught/research courses in the UK that lead to a postgraduate award alone in translation.

Alongside the big increase in applied translation and translation studies programs, a number of literary translation programs have been created in the UK (examples of which are discussed individually in detail in the next section of this paper). This creation of literary translation programs within universities has formalized a profession that has previously for the most part attracted self-taught translators, or that has seen apprentices emerge as translators after having been taught informally by a more experienced individual. Indeed back in 2000 Boase-Beier (2000: 1381) noted that: 'literary translation is by no means a new phenomenon, but its study as an academic discipline is a relatively recent development and it appears to be growing rapidly.' Yet as the demand for literary translators is not as great as it is for technical translators, courses in literary translation have not experienced the same growth in numbers as applied translation and translation studies courses have seen. Moreover it is widely recognized that literary translation as a profession is not a lucrative one; indeed there is so little financial gain for full-time literary translators in the UK that some translator training convenors believe there is no financial justification for the teaching of literary translation at all (Robinson 2003: 59-60). Nevertheless, the specialization of literary translation programs over the last fifteen years or so has presented individuals with the opportunity to study literary translation as an independent academic qualification for the first time in the UK.

Program classifications

As we have seen, literary translation has clear links with a variety of other disciplines in higher education, such as modern languages, linguistics and language studies, comparative literature and cultural studies. The varying nature of literary translation means then that, as with the field of translation studies, the subject can be viewed as an interdiscipline (see e.g. Snell-Hornby et al. (eds.) 1994 & 1996) and therefore studied and taught from an integrated approach. However the affiliation that translation studies shares with other academic disciplines is fluid (Munday 2001: 190) and this movement is evident in the relationship that literary translation shares with other fields of study too. Thus, if viewed from a pedagogical point of view, literary translation has been taught using many theoretical approaches over the last few decades: from a linguistic perspective (e.g. Nida 1964; Newmark 1981 & 1988/2001; Baker 1992); and more recently from a descriptive and cultural stance (e.g. Hermans 1985; Lefevere 1992; Toury 1995); and from a viewpoint that applies modern theories such as cognitive studies (e.g. Gutt 1991). These varied approaches to teaching literary translation in higher education generally reflect the interdisciplinary nature that it has been mentioned is evident in the field of translation. But, nonetheless, it is proposed that literary translation courses can be broadly classified in three distinct pedagogical categories:

Category 1

The first type of approach deals with the academic study of literary translation as a part of a traditional literature program. Hence the main focus is on studying the theoretical aspects of literary translation within the more general field of comparative literature. The emphasis of this type of program is, therefore, not only on studying different theoretical concepts in translation studies but also on studying the practice of translation by analyzing original works and their translations in the context of different genres and ages. Current examples in 2008 of literary translation being taught on this type of academic program include: on the MA in Comparative Literature at University College London (literary translation modules are also offered on UCL's MA in Translation Theory and Practice program); and on the MA in Translation and Comparative Literature at the University of Essex. The MA in Translation Studies at Warwick University, although not a literature program as such, offers a literature-driven perspective to its course. Here, literary translation is predominantly taught from a cultural approach, that is to say as an aspect of intercultural transfer, as well as taking linguistic aspects into consideration.

Category 2

The second broad classification includes literary translation as an optional module within a traditional 'pure' translation studies program, or within an 'applied' translation program, which are both aimed at providing students with a broad understanding of the theory and practice of the field of translation in general. Here, literary translation is studied on an optional, modular basis, as a part of a wider program, predominantly as a means of furthering students' interest in the specialized field of literary translation from an academic or research perspective. The emphasis of literary translation courses within the wider field of translation studies or applied translation studies tends can be theory-based, but some literary translation units can focus on translation practice too. Literary translation modules in this category are mainly offered on a non-language specific basis, although exceptions where courses are language-specific include modules such as Advanced Language and Literary Translation offered by King's College, London as apart of its MA in Literature and Culture in the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies. In 2008, British universities such as Manchester currently offer specialized modules in literary translation, presented as a practice-orientated option, within its wider MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies program. Similarly the University of Westminster runs a Literary Translation: Theory and Practice unit as an optional module on its MA/Postgraduate Diploma and Certificate in Technical and Specialized Translation. The University of Newcastle, along with offering a unit in translating poetry, also offers literary translation as an optional component for its MA in Professional Translating program. Here, in addition to studying the theory and practice of different forms of literature, the syllabus also in part takes into consideration the professionalization of the field by examining the professional relationships between writers, translators, publishers and editors.

Category 3

The third classification contains specialized MA courses that are solely concerned with literary translation. This type of program presents a theoretical approach to the process of translation, but also focuses to a greater extent on the practical and vocational elements of translation. As well as aiming to provide for those who aim to pursue research in translation studies, MAs in literary translation also place a greater emphasis on practical and theoretical training for those wishing to follow a career in the literary translation industry. A more vocationally-based course such as this is therefore also designed to provide a means of formal qualification for currently practicing translators in a field which is largely unregulated. The emphasis on vocation in literary translation programs is applied through the introduction of practical workshops held by visiting professionals. The workshop environment also provides students with the means to put different translatorial approaches into practice within their own translation projects.

Of course the pedagogical challenge in professionalizing literary translation programs in this way occurs in incorporating and balancing vocational and practical training elements into what is, as we have seen, traditionally and predominantly a theory-based field of study. Although it makes sense that this type third type of program seeks to provide students with training in practical translation by increasing translation skills and proficiency and preparing them for the translation market, the need to give students a scholastic grounding in translation studies is also recognized by universities (Anderman and Rogers 2000), through teaching the theoretical aspects of literary translation. Yet merging the practical translation skills and vocational knowledge needed to compete in today's translation market with traditional course structures in this way has been made considerably easier now through the modularization process that has affected the structure of most HE institutions in the UK. The restructuring of long degree programs into a greater number of short courses means that a wider range of modular options can represent the various theoretical, practical and vocational elements of a specialized literary translation program.

The first course of this third type of program was founded in 1993 by Dr Jean Boase-Beier at the University of East Anglia as an MA in Literary Translation. Middlesex University followed suit a few years later with Peter Bush setting up a full-time literature-based MA in The Theory and Practice of Translation in 1996. In 2008 in addition to the two aforementioned programs there are two further literary-based postgraduate courses on offer in the UK of this nature; firstly, the MA in Literary Translation at Exeter University and, secondly, the MA in Literary Translation at the University of Wales, Swansea. Generally speaking, curricula in these translation programs feature a taught stage consisting of theoretical as well as practical elements and an independent research stage consisting of a written dissertation or extended translation. Syllabi introduce students to the translation of a wide range of both contemporary and non-contemporary literature, through which they will encounter a variety of cultural issues (e.g. religion, gender) and linguistic issues (e.g. text analysis, grammar, syntax and vocabulary).

Modules in specialized postgraduate literary translation programs are broadly grouped as follows:

a) Practical literary translation: translating prose, poetry and drama from and into a wide variety of foreign languages. Learners traditionally translate into their native language, but it is becoming increasingly common for programs to present the option of translating out of the students' native language (s).

b) Theoretical translation modules: examining theories and methodologies within the field of translation studies, and how they are applied to practical translation, for example: current ideas and thinking in modern translation theory (e.g. skopos theory and polysystem theory); literary theoretical 'notions' (e.g. the translator as 'author,' intertextuality and heteroglossia); the historical development of the field of translation studies. Critical theory and stylistics can also be presented as modules, examining language and text-type in literature through use of stylistic devices such as metaphor, repetition and iconicity.

c) Optional modules in literature and culture presenting texts from different literary genres (e.g. women's writing, drama, contemporary and historic writing) and examining the problems of translating literary texts that may have major linguistic or cultural differences to the students' own native language and culture.

d) Workshops taught by professional translators, covering topics such as: readerships, issues in publishing, briefs, revising and editing.

e) A dissertation, where topics can include an extended essay based on an area within translation studies, an extended translation exercise and commentary/analysis of the text, or a critical evaluation of a previously existing translation work.

As mentioned, although approached from an academic or research perspective, this third classification of literary translator training seeks to familiarize students with translating as a profession. Therefore this type of program can incorporate workshops, as illustrated in the module description above, where professional developments and trends are examined, as well as criteria relevant to the industry, such as issues concerning ethics, codes of practice, copyright law etc. It is therefore essential that the vocational aspect of the course has input from experienced professional translators, who can relate industry criteria through form of presentations and question and answer sessions. For example the University of East Anglia hosts an annual series of professional workshops for students of the MA in Literary Translation (and the MA in Applied Translation). For the year 2008 the workshop schedule includes topics relating to the process of literary translation, such as translating poetry and children's literature. The program also deals with professional aspects of literary translation, presented by Ros Schwartz, a freelance literary translator and manager of a translation company. Literary translation students are also invited to attend presentations given by speakers for the applied translation program, for example, in subtitling and in computer-aided translation tools as used in translating in public and commercial sectors, amongst others.

Literary translation teaching or literary translator training?

Although translation students have traditionally been 'taught,' as opposed to 'trained' in higher education, there has in the last few years in translation studies been an increased tendency to refer to translation education as 'translator training.' If the term 'literary translator training' is applied to literary translation education then this expression implies that there is an element of professionalization to the translation program's curriculum (as, for example, in the third, pedagogical category described above). Yet the expression also shows an underlying assumption that students can be trained to become literary translators rather in the same way that technical translators can be trained. However literary translation and its didactic considerations differ broadly from those for non-literary translation. This is because, as Boase-Beier (1998: 33) points out, a literary text is one 'in which the style is as important as, and indeed underlines and augments, the meaning' and therefore, she continues, literary translation is a type of translation which '[...] involves style as much as meaning and in which the style cannot realistically be separated from the meaning.' Thus, if literary translation is, due to its stylistic considerations, a more composite process than of non-literary or technical translation, then teaching literary translation skills to students is not a straightforward exercise either. Boase-Beier (1998: 41) summarizes the challenge thus, that '[w]hat training of translators involves is showing them how language works, above all how literary translation works [...].' If literary translation is to be taught largely on the basis of showing students the ways in which literature is creative, and how stylistic features contribute to the meaning of the text, then this objective is largely dependent on students being able to recreate these features in the target text. This objective is therefore also dependent on the ability of students to have a strong flair for creative writing themselves (Bassnett 1998). Indeed, such is the creative nature of literary translation that some professional translators are skeptical of the whole concept of institutionalizing translator training at all, on the grounds that the ability to translation is a 'gift' or an 'art' that cannot be taught, only cultivated with experience over time (see e.g. Baker 1992: 3, Nida 1981, cf. Hermans 2002: 14). Put another way, Boase-Beier (2000: 1384) admits that '[e]ven the best program will hardly teach a student to become a literary translator, but it can teach a literary translator to become a better one [...].' It is therefore possible that instructors cannot perhaps teach the art of literary translation to students, but can provide them with a grounding in language and its function in literature, together with an understanding of the different approaches and strategies that can be used in translation.

On the other hand, if it is accepted that the objective of literary translation programs is to 'teach' students how to become better literary translators, then vocationally orientated courses also have a duty to 'train' students in the ways of the profession, much as technical translation students are. This emphasis on practical and vocational aspects in literary translation programs means that students can then be prepared for the demands of the modern day translation industry, which have been defined in recent translator training surveys (such as the one by Li, 2000). Thus, if program convenors, who introduce an element of professionalization into their teaching, structure their courses with the view of developing students' translation competence (for a current definition see PACTE 2000), then they will meet these demands set by the industry. This is because the modern understanding of 'translation competence,' as defined by the PACTE team (2000: 100), acknowledges a number of components which their research studies have identified as being needed in order to be a successful translator in the modern translation industry (cf. Pym 2003). Amongst other areas, their attempt to define translation competence reflects the attempts to professionalize translator training through the inclusion of the sub-component 'instrumental professional competence,' which comprises the knowledge and skills needed that relate to the tools of the translation trade and profession. The notion of teaching students translation competence is not a new one (see e.g. Wilss 1982; Nord 1991), but Kiraly (2000) develops the idea of translation competence further in order to take the needs of today's translation industry into consideration. Thus he argues that the goal of modern translation programs now should be to encourage trainees to develop their translator competence as well as their translation competence in order that they are properly prepared for the translation market. In other words he suggests that trainees should be required to hone the qualities and skills needed traditionally to develop their competencies and skill base, but additionally should also have to develop the competencies and knowledge that exist beyond the concept of translation. These additional competencies include the professional and interpersonal skills and knowledge that Kiraly highlights as essential for a translator to function successfully in today's translation industry.

With the growth of translation programs in higher education in the UK it has been suggested that three broad groupings for literary translation have emerged. Of these, the category containing MAs specializing in literary translation provide student translators with an opportunity to gain a formal qualification in this field. Although it is acknowledged that relatively few students of literary translation will join the profession on a full-time basis (Munday: forthcoming), the attempts to standardize the profession have meant that there is an increased obligation to training trainees in the practical and vocational aspects of translation, as well as to teaching them translation approaches and theories. It is therefore proposed that the third category of literary translation courses identified in this paper should provide students with 'literary translator training.' By emphasizing the 'training' of learners, this type of translation program, in addition to incorporating literary translation teaching, then takes into consideration the changing nature of translator education in an age where there is increased emphasis on professionalism in the translating industry.


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