Literary translation course: problems and solutions

Not once it has been mentioned in our articles that developing courses in the academic environment which lacks academic freedom and sufficient autonomy appears to be quite challenging [1, p. 64]. Indeed, Kazakhstan where much is said about integration into the global education space, participation in such international associations as Magna Carta Universitatum, etc. yet dictates too much to universities as to the curricula and the content of each course. Not underestimating the advantages of many regulations we must note that inability of higher educational institutions to adapt courses to the needs of the regions they work in and to revise the course content does not help university teachers to work effectively. In our opinion, some imperfections of the standard state programs can be improved by proper selection of teaching materials and the choice of most effective approach to teaching the course.

In the given article one of Translation Studies majors, Literary Translation Techniques, is analyzed and ways of its improvement are suggested.

The relevance of the work is predetermined by the fact that at present growing cooperation and closer links with international companies and organizations led to the increase of texts and discourse which require mastery of various functional styles and professional use of literary translation techniques.

Thus, Literary Translation Techniques is extremely important for the professional training of future translators. The course is designed for third-year students with Translation Studies major. It is a three-credit course which lasts two semesters. To achieve the goals of the course, to make it comply with the requirements of the Kazakhstan State Educational Standards of Higher education and to meet the demands of students and employers we have developed some principles on which the course is to be based.

Translation is a complex language skill resulting in the reproduction of a decoded text in a different language so as with any reproductive skill it first requires the development of the ability to perceive the text of the original [2, p. 11]. It is only possible if a future translator reads a lot.

Firstly, to become a good literary translator a student needs to read translated texts seeing both their literary merits and drawbacks.

To perfectly render the style of a literary text in translation one should know much about stylistic and genre peculiarities of the language of translation. To render an expressive means or a stylistic device adequately, one should know what this device is like and what effect it gives. To make adequate translation one should be able to “see beneath the lines”, that is, to understand the message of the author. For that knowledge of history and culture of a certain period is necessary. For a translated text to be readable the translator must observe the rhythmical pattern characteristic of the original text and its genre, in general.

To success in the above mentioned tasks one needs much: excellent language proficiency in his native and foreign language, knowledge of culture, theory of literature and language, erudition, good reading skills, developed critical thinking and creativity. It is most important that knowing translation rules and mastering translation techniques should not prevent the translator from being flexible and creative in what he does. These goals may seem unrealistic but it is they that make a literary translator. Achieving them is itself challenging and some imperfections of the State Obligatory Educational Standard (SOES) of the Republic of Kazakhstan (RK) dd. 2006 for the undergraduate program in Translation Studies specialty make it even more aggravating.

The objectives of the course presuppose it that the student who is taking it should have good knowledge of language expressive means and stylistic devices, English and Russian literature, literary styles and genres. As Literary Translation is a special translation theory as it deals with form-oriented and appeal-oriented texts [3, p. 12] it requires specific approaches to rendering the text in a foreign language yet in many cases general translation techniques are applied. It is impossible to learn specifics without studying some basic norms and rules first. So, teaching literary translation should be only done on the basis of general translation theory. Understanding extralinguistic information which is found in any text is also vital as without it adequate perception of the plot and the message of the author is not possible. The above-mentioned knowledge would make the course quite effective. However, the courses which should be studied before Literary Translation are either its corequisites (Translation Theory, Russian Language, Cross-cultural Studies) or even its postrequisites (Functional Styles) [4].

In our earlier articles we mentioned that Literary Translation Techniques is a practical course, however, the themes obligatory for studying are mostly (70%) theoretical [4]. So, the lecturer who has to develop this course, faces many challenges, i.e. there is the necessity to fill the gap between the theory students are already to know to accomplish the course, to find an opportunity for both studying the literary translation theory and developing practical skills in translation of literary texts, to enhance further development of students’ mental abilities and motivate them to read both in English and Russian.

As Kazakhstan universities which have licenses for providing educational services are to strictly observe regulations of the State Educational Standard and the Standard Program for 5B050207 – Translation Studies specialty, the only way for the lecturer to make his course really effective is to develop adequate teaching materials which may illustrate various literary styles and main problems of literary translation, be of literary value and get students interested in reading.

The nine-year experience in teaching literary translation techniques and continuous work at improving the course has enabled us to develop our own approach to the course and teaching materials development.

It is well known that normally four major ways of teaching translation are used – teaching translation of certain language means, combining translation with the philological analysis of the text to be translated, developing an ability to give many variants of translation and learning from a highlyqualified translator [5, p.136-147]. Undoubtedly, each of these ways has its own advantages but we are sure that for our course only a complex way which will include elements of all the ways mentioned above. We have subdivided the course into three parts. The first part is meant for acquainting students with basics of literary translation theory and constituents of a literary text, training them in the pre-translation analysis of literary text and techniques of rendering various expressive means and stylistic devices. We should point it out that studying theory in Literary Translation Techniques is not at all theoretical – any theoretical theme is studied by the example of a literary text and either its professional translation or by its back translation. The point is not to give students a lecture but make them do some practical work, analyze and discuss certain issues connected with the original text and its translation and come to their own conclusion. The role of the lecturer here is to generalize the conclusions made from the point of view of literary translation theory. A very good example to that is studying equivalency of literary translation and text invariant. The students are asked about the essence of literary translation then they are given the text “The Geese” to read and analyze its structural and semantic peculiarities. The students are not informed that it is a translation of a Russian fable written by I. Krylov (adapted by Stella Mead) [6, p. 116].

They are asked to define if the text is English or not, to what style it belongs, what form and plot it has and what the idea of the author is. The questions and the students’ answers are written down on the whiteboard. After that the students are given the original Russian text and asked to analyze the same points in it. The comparative analysis of the two texts lets the students come to the conclusion what rendering of a literary text can be considered an adequate translation and what equivalency in literary translation is like.

The pre-translation analysis is taught level by level together with expressive means and techniques of their rendering. It starts with the graphical level (graphons) where their rendering is first trained in the translation of sentences. Here we first show how graphons in various functions can be rendered and give algorithm of work, then students analyze functions of graphons in sentences and make their own translation, after that translations are style;

  • they are thrilling or humorous;
  • they have stylistically colored, exprescompared, discussed, corrected if it is necessary and most adequate variants are chosen. 

Then students work with short extracts from literary texts both written and video (we use not only classical literature like B. Show’s “The Pygmalion” and J. Jerome’s “Three Men on the Bummel” but also popular modern texts and movies, e.g. “Big Bang Theory”, “Night Watch”, etc.). Only after all text levels are studied and translation techniques are learnt students start to analyze long extracts from literary texts of different genres. And at this stage they do a lot of preparatory work reading about peculiarities of a certain literary genre and to get acquainted with some literary works written in Russian and in English.

The second part of the course is work with written texts which includes pretranslation analysis, analysis and review of several variants of professional translation and then translation of another chapter of the same text or an extract of some other work of the same writer. Much attention is paid to the pragmatic aspect of translation, i.e. either adaptation of the translated text to the norms of the language of translation or focus at rendering the unique style of a writer.

The third part of the course is dedicated to interpretation of literary texts which focuses on adequate rendering expressive and cultural elements in oral literary translation.

The objectives of the course, those translation skills which are to be developed in students and certain problems caused by the inconsistency of the curriculum and limitations of the State work program require thorough selection of teaching materials for the course. As one of the priorities for me as a teacher is to teach students to see all the layers of the literary text and render information considering not only microbut macro context as well, after students learn techniques of rendering certain stylistic devices and expressive means translating sentences they are taught to translate texts.

The texts selected for the course meet the following requirements:

  • they are of different genres and represent different rhythmic patterns;
  • their authors are renowned for their sive or cultural elements;
  • they are written in different variants of the English language, in different styles (literary, colloquial), in different literary trends and epochs.

As one of the challenges in training students with Translation Studies major is insufficient erudition which results in lack of knowledge about literary styles and genres both in the English and Russian languages, scant vocabulary, inability to feel the individual style of a writer. So, one of the tasks I set before myself is to acquaint my students with quality literature and to make them interested in reading.

Thus, in this course students work with “The Lord of the Ring” by J. R. R. Tolkien, “Pride and Prejudice” by J. Austin, “The Pygmalion” by B. Show, D. Brown’s “The Lost Symbol”, “Darkly Dreaming Dexter” by

J. Lindsay, “The Catcher in the Rye” by Sallinger, J. Durrell’s “My Family and other Animals”, etc. In every literary text an extract for analysis and an extract for translation are selected in such a way that students should get interested in the plot and want to read the book. The texts for pre-translation analysis are supplied with several variants of translation made by prominent Soviet and Russian translators which gives us a chance to compare different variants and discuss the translation techniques used.

Studying every theoretical problem in work with an interesting literary text helps students to better understand and remember it; pre-translation and comparative analyses develop critical thinking; teaching rendering expressive elements improves translation skills and prepares for text translation, text translation develops creativity, teaches pragmatic adaptation of the text and develops interest in reading and culture, in general. All this helps make a course which corresponds to the general requirements of the State Educational Standard and helps solve many problems caused by its inconsistency.



  1. Gersonskaya V.V. Modification of the state standard in the development of the literary translation course// Вестник КазахстанскоАмериканского свободного университета, №2, Общие проблемы филологии, 2010. С. 64-69
  2. Комиссаров В.Н. Теория перевода (лингвистические аспекты): учеб. для ин-тов и фак. иностр. яз. / В.Н. Комиссаров. – М.: Высшая школа, 1990. – 253 с.
  3. Виноградов В.С. Введение в переводоведение (общие и лексические вопросы) / В.С. Виноградов. – М.: Издательство института общего среднего образования РАО. : 2001. – 224 с.
  4. Мinistry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan (2007). Standard Program for profession 050207 – Translation Studies. Almaty: Мinistry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
  5. Алексеева И.С. Профессиональный тренинг переводчика. – СПб.: Союз, 2004 – С. 136-142.
  6. Попович А. Проблемы художественного перевода : учеб. пособие. Пер. со слов. / А. Попович. – М., 1980. – 199 с.
Year: 2014
City: Almaty
Category: Philology