Earlier this semester, I noticed a senior student had signed up for an intro-level conversation course. I asked her what she was doing there, and she just kind of shrugged. When I told her that she and I both knew she didn’t need the course, she told me it was a requirement for graduation. Now, a sensible administration would provide a simple test for students to qualify for a waiver on this particular course… which by definition makes it impossible for us to have such a system, because our administration is useless and intractable.
So I told her, point blank, that the class would be a waste of time, and to talk to me after class. In the end, we agreed it would be a better use of her time to take on a practical area of study that is related to the field she wants to work in, and I could so a kind of “special studies course” with her. We cast about some ideas, and finally ended up with the idea of a translation project.
We just had our first really, honesty-to-goodness meeting to discuss her work so far — she’s working on a short story by 정이현 — and it was pretty interesting for me.
There’s a lot about the Korean language, and the way Korean literature seems to work, that makes it challenging to translate it, intact, into English. The author this student has chosen is one I’d not heard of before, but who was apparently quite controversial a while back. From what I gather, she writes critically of the changing status of women in Korea — not just as a feminist critic, but also (from what I’ve seen so far) a critic who is quite consciously uncomfortable with the corporatization and commercialization of Korean life.
I must admit, my feedback is much less about translation technique and theory, and much more about the mechanics of writing readable, engaging prose — but then, my student has already studied translation theory and done technical exercises in her translation classes. We’re focused more on questions like what to do with a sentence when, in the Korean original, the use of an adverb seems natural, but it seems awkward or redundant in English; how to really nail down the nuance of a sentence using the right verb; how to figure out the tone and implication of a story, and apply that understanding to its translation.
In other words, I am learning from the experience too. Not in terms of the mechanics of prose, but in the other, more translation-related areas. This is interesting for me, in part because it gives me another way to look at writing generally.
I do find myself possessed of a newfound respect for people teaching translation… it’s not easy, especially when you’re struggling with the nuance or meaning of the Korean text, or dependent on your Korean student to unravel it for you. While I’m focusing on the stuff I am qualified and able to teach, I’m still picking up on the stuff that is farther from my experience. That makes it rewarding and interesting, too.
Which is also to say that, although I am ridiculously overloaded this semester, and stressed out by that fact, the work is somewhat interesting, at least. My other classes are going relatively well… and I wonder if it’s not because I don’t have so much time to overprepare them?