This is a question that has troubled translator trainers and translation students for a number of years. Is it at all possible to learn the skills needed to become a professional translator or are we born with a ‘gift’ for translation? Those attempting to answer this question fall neatly (and obviously) into two groups:
1. No, translation is an inborn gift.
2. Yes, translation skills can be learnt and taught.
This leaves translation scholars in an uncomfortable predicament because if there is no consensus as to whether translation is inborn or acquired then how on earth can we teach the subject. Someone who believes translation requires an element of innate knowledge on the part of the student will approach the teaching experience wholly differently from someone who believes that all the skills required for translation can be acquired.
For scholars who believe translation is an innate gift, the future may appear bleak and the teaching of translation futile. Hope for the betterment of translation studies rests on the polishing of gems that need to be found. In other words, the scholar’s role is to discover and then polish rough diamonds. Discoveries may well be accompanied by a feeling of euphoria but the polishing part is more mundane and frustrating.
For those who believe that translation can be taught and learnt, the future is more optimistic as it does not depend on the constant search (and hope) for new talent but rather the skills of the teacher – anything can be taught. The more skilled the trainer, the greater hope there is of these abilities being passed onto the translation apprentice. However, the process can be long and also fraught with frustration.
Both students and teachers of translation have met people from both these groups. It would be easy to simplify the attitudes of each group and state that the former group is marked by a form of exclusive elitism whereas the latter group are more open, tolerant and perhaps more flexible in their approach to translation. Yes, this is a simplification, but is it not true?