How language students, teachers and translators can benefit from Tailored Texts
There's not many language resources out there specifically targeted towards intermediate-advanced learners. I’ll explain here why the study of literature on Tailored Texts is one of the best, especially if you're studying literature, teaching literature, translating literature.
Literature is great for language learning but it’s by no means easy!
There’s a reason why many universities prioritise the study of literature. Who best to learn the language from than those authors who dedicated their lives to masterfully manipulating it?
It’s a fact, however, that many language students struggle with books when faced with 20+ unknown (and often obscure) words per page. Told to study up to 10 x 300 page novels a semester, students often find themselves confronted with more time spent in the dictionary than in the set text. Firstly, there is no way for the student to be sure that he has found the exact meanings when trawling through the dictionary. It also goes without saying that the level of enjoyment derived from the story is affected. Sadly, many turn to full translations in order to save face in front of their classmates/professor but in doing so, they completely miss the point of studying the book in the first place.
With Tailored Texts, none of this is necessary any longer! Let me illustrate why:
- Imagine you are part of a class. You set up a project group and invite your classmates. Upload the books you’ve been assigned to read and each of you picks a text to start with.
- You do a really thorough job on the book you’ve picked, making notes on all those words you don’t know and really improving your language. Meanwhile, your classmates are hopefully doing the same...
- You finish your book and go on to read the second book (annotated once). Suddenly, you no longer have to spend 3+ minutes every time you come across unknown words. Click and hover and, hey presto! You have a context-specific definition/explanation (still, you can make a competing entry if you think you can do a better job).
The net result of this after, say, reading 4 books, is:
- You have saved yourself time! Also, you have spent a lot less of it with your nose in the dictionary and more of it reading the original-language text!
- You have improved your language knowledge!
- You have really got to grips with the text - better than you would have with a dictionary or a full translation!
- Any questions you had are now public and you will be notified when someone answers them.
- Any errors you may have made should be picked up on. Again, you will be notified!
- You’ve also had space to discuss the book itself; to note down any ideas you may have had, perhaps provoking discussion with your peers; to reflect and discuss what critics have said about the text.
- You have harnessed the power of the web (blogs/images/forums/books) to help you get the job done!
Even if you are not part of a class and are working solo, the benefits outlined above still apply. It's just that the group we're talking about is much larger. It's the Tailored Texts community!
Teaching Literature? Get your students on the ball!
Are you setting your students challenging works of literature but find that they lack the sufficient language skills and come to lessons suffering from a severe lack of comprehension? Do you find, as the course progresses, that their language simply isn’t improving enough to keep up with the increasing difficulty of your set texts? Tailored Texts might be able to help you, for free!
Tailored Texts provides scaffolding around original-language texts. Students interact in the space around a text, making, discussing and responding to translations/ explanations/ grammatical observations as well as more general comments on the text. They can also ask questions to the community.
It takes just one person to write a compelling translation/explanation/definition of a word on a book and it will stay on Tailored Texts forever! If one of your classes were to collaborate on a book:
- Overall understanding of the work would improve.
- The focus of students would be entirely on the original language of the text (this certainly isn’t the case when students read parallel or full translations which, sadly, they do in great number).
- Motivation would grow. Students would find themselves supporting each other in what has always been a difficult but, traditionally, isolating task.
An edition of the text, tailored towards speakers of your students’ mother tongue, would thus come into existence. It would stay on Tailored Texts, free forever. You could then suggest this edition to all future students, thereby preventing a large number of them from struggling unnecessarily with the original text/ falling into the temptation of reading full translations.
Finally, if parts of the text require specialised knowledge, you the teacher may provide this by providing support to your class at the exact moment that they need it (i.e. when reading).
Your students will come to class with a much higher level of understanding of the text and will have finally understood what it is to "study" a text in detail. Where’s the harm in that?
Did you know that the title of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest has had 10 or more different translations in both French and Italian?
Imagine you had been given the task of translating it. Your first task is to translate the title.
You start by reading the original and come up with a few suggestions. You then decide to consult some existing translations in order to see how other translators went about it. This gives you a few more ideas. You then consult some language specialists on the question, perhaps in an internet forum or in person. Your list of alternate translations is now quite substantial. The next step: you have to decide which one is best. There’s obviously no clear answer to this one and it might well be that you debate it with fellow translators...in several separate places. Eventually, after much research and toing and froing, you make a choice.
Now, let’s imagine a different scenario. You log onto Tailored Texts and go to The Importance Of Being Earnest (in its original language, like all books on the site). You ensure the "entries" are in the language into which you are translating. You look at an entry next to the title. A large number of different translations are listed and there’s a discussion about the merits of each term. Perhaps you join in, perhaps you don’t. You make an informed choice.
Doesn’t the second scenario sound more appealing? You’ve saved time and can immediately participate with others who have already considered the issue.
In addition, if the book has a good readership on the site, it is not just the title which will have received this "translator treatment." A good number of the difficult terms in the book would have been discussed in a similar fashion - if not, you can start the discussion and receive notification when someone responds!
That is the vision. Truly collaborative work on the text in its original language.
It goes without saying that discussions of terms like in the scenario above would also greatly benefit the language learner more than any final, polished translation ever could. By allowing language learners to access that stage of translation when the translator is reviewing the many different possible renderings of a word, they become privy to the true meaning of the original word. This is what language learners who read books need. It is very hard for them to find it at the moment. We can help them, whilst learning ourselves!