Still trying to cook without recipes?

Still trying to cook without recipes?

When our textbook of translation, Handboek voor de vertaler Nederlands-Engels, was first published 20 years ago now, we decided that cookery books provided a neat metaphor for the difference between our own approach and the traditional textbook approach to translation. We tried to illustrate this difference with the aid of a cake-baking sketch: surrounded by a huge range of ingredients, a vast array of utensils and mouth-watering pictures of the delicious cakes that were to form our end products, we set about mixing, beating, adding, whizzing, turning, blending and folding in some of our ingredients. Without a recipe, it was bound to end in disaster. And it did. It was a huge mess. Every time.

The sketch was intended to introduce an analysis of a number of textbooks for Dutch-English translation, all of which were tantamount to cookery books without recipes. After all, most of them contained texts (i.e. ingredients) with or without model translations (i.e. cakes). Some also contained basic grammars (i.e. utensils). We used various examples to show that this approach simply did not work, the problem being that it failed to provide student translators with the tools and techniques (i.e. the recipes) they need in order to negotiate the structural differences between two languages. Our thesis was that we can simplify the process of learning how to translate by offering students clear, systematic translation strategies based on an analysis of common translation problems.

So have things changed in the meantime? Do translation textbooks still consist almost solely of great wads of text, generally taken from newspapers and magazines? Is the notion that you can learn how to translate simply by practising over and over again still the conventional wisdom? Time for an update.



About the facilitators

Tony Parr and Marcel Lemmens are professional translators and translator trainers. Both have extensive experience as translators (freelance and in-house) and as teachers of translation, principally at the National College of Translation in Maastricht. They are the authors of Handboek voor de Vertaler Nederlands-Engels and, operating under the name of Teamwork [], have been organising short courses, workshops and conferences for language professionals in the Netherlands since 1993. 

Marcel is also an English-Dutch translator and editor of English textbooks for a leading Dutch publisher of teaching methods for secondary schools, while Tony is also a Dutch-English translator and English language editor.