(An Extract from My BCLT 30th Anniversary Edition)
July 2015, a short flight from Amsterdam to Norwich, the day after a violent summer storm that has left the ground below littered with torn-off branches. The woman sitting next to me is typing away on a laptop, and I accidentally catch a glimpse of what she’s working on: a translation. As I get off the plane, I also spot David Colmer (renowned translator of Dutch-language literature) and the Dutch writer Jeroen Thijssen. At the airport I run into even more translators, from all over the world – the US, South Korea, Italy and Hungary. The BCLT Summer School has officially begun!
I was in Norwich to present the PETRA-E project (petra-educationframework.eu): a joint initiative by the Dutch Centre of Expertise for Literary Translation and eight other European organisations to develop a framework for literary translation training programmes. The framework describes the competencies that translators can develop during their training, in addition to outlining the steps in their development from beginners to experts. This allows translators to determine their level of proficiency and helps them plan their course of study. The framework can also be used by teachers in designing their syllabi and classes. An important underlying objective of the project was to stimulate cooperation between the various academic and non-academic training programmes available to European translators, for which it received a grant from the European Erasmus+ programme.
BCLT was a crucial partner in launching the PETRA-E project, especially thanks to Duncan Large and Cecilia Rossi’s participation in all of our workshops. In the space of two years, over the course of a number of sessions, we managed to modify the framework developed in Dutch and incorporate the feedback from our partners, then translate it into nine different languages. In addition to the eight project partners, other advisors also took part in the meetings to ensure maximum support. What made the process special was that the framework had to do justice to countless translation contexts, traditions and approaches. It had to include countries which offer academic degree programmes in literary translation, but also countries where literary translation is not taught at all in higher education. It had to include the perspectives of individual translators, but also those of the advisors tasked with developing the admissions criteria for the European Master’s in Translation Network. And finally, it had to include official degree programmes, but also unaccredited workshops and courses offered by translation organisations. Add to this the (supposed) historic chasm between the abstract world of translation studies and the much more holistic everyday practice of translation – and let’s not forget about the many, many different views on and approaches to literary translation – and you might be able to picture what our meetings were like.
It wasn’t always an easy process, which is why we’re all the more proud of the results. We managed to create a framework that does justice to an enormous number of differences while at the same time bridging those very same differences. It should come as no surprise that emotions often ran high during this process, and that discussions sometimes got very heated. The BCLT team really played a vital, harmonising and indeed diplomatic role throughout, but especially during highly charged discussions on topics like: are translation-specific linguistic skills more important than general professional skills, such as the ability to negotiate with a client? Are they perhaps equally important? And what about the question of talent? Can creativity be taught or is it innate, and how should this be incorporated in the framework? And should translators be able to reflect on translation theory? But every time I started to lose hope, Duncan would weigh in with solutions everyone could agree on, carving a path forward. Cecilia’s efforts were crucial too, especially when it came to formulating a mission statement for the PETRA-E Network, which we started after the framework was completed to ensure its continued development and implementation. To absolutely no one’s surprise, Duncan Large was chosen as the first chair to head up the Network. The PETRA-E project also spawned another initiative: the European School of Literary Translation (ESLT), which now hosts an annual ‘Training the Trainer’ Summer School in Rome. Here too, BCLT is a partner, filling key slots on the programme’s teaching roster.
What makes BCLT such a valuable partner is its ability to combine profound scientific and literary erudition with a practical, hands-on attitude and organisational efficiency. Case in point: the 2015 Summer School in Norwich. There were a host of workshops for many different languages, as well as multilingual workshops on poetry and prose, all led by renowned writers and translators. The 2015 programme also saw the introduction of creative writing workshops – an important addition to the Summer School. And despite the large number of participants and the small team of organisers, it all went off without a hitch. The rich diversity of languages, cultural backgrounds and genres was truly inspiring.
In many ways, getting projects like PETRA-E, the ESLT and the Summer School off the ground requires the same combination of professional and practical talents we look for in translators, with both sets of talents contributing to the end result in their own way. If there were a framework for this, the BCLT team’s score would be very impressive indeed.
Karlijn Waterman is senior policy officer at the Nederlandse Taalunie (Union for the Dutch Language). She coordinates the Union’s programs for Dutch as a foreign language, which covers the support of academic Dutch departments worldwide and the teaching of Dutch in primary and secondary education in countries bordering with the Dutch language area (Western Germany, Wallonia, Northern France) and the education of Dutch as a Foreign Language in the Caribbean Islands that are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Besides, she was one of the initiators of the European literary translation project PETRA-E and of the European School for Literary Translation. She is board member of the European PETRA-E Network on the education of literary translators, that succeeded the PETRA-E project. She is board member of the Literary Foundation Haarlem, in her home town Haarlem.