Training to Translate

Training to Translate

by Marla Browne

Humid open-air hallways, chilly air-conditioned classrooms, and coqui frogs make studying at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras Campus (UPR) a unique experience. Bright sun and balmy air fill the morning walk to class, thundering rainstorms thrash throughout the campus during the afternoon hours, and chirping coquis reverberate in the dark.


Beginning to offer courses in 1970, the graduate program in translation at UPR is a small and well-rounded program. Housed in a corner of the historic clock tower and with only two classrooms and six professors in its department, students are brought into a close-knit community of experienced and aspiring translators. The program consists of 45 credits, a graduate exam, and a thesis. Courses are offered in Spanish, English and French; however, Spanish <> English translation is the program’s emphasis. There are also opportunities for paid internships as the in-house translator for the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.


The first-year curriculum focuses on syntax and writing courses in both the students’ native and second languages. Because the classes are mixed with students from different backgrounds, native speakers provide insights of their language to the other students, and vice versa. This approach offers students an invaluable current perspective of the language from which they will be translating.


Seminars on practical translation techniques and various subject matters balance the linguistic side of the curriculum. These courses include translating financial subject matter, print media, poetry and literature, and lessons in sight translation. The program also covers different translation theories, semiotics, and computer-assisted translation tools.


Once the courses have been completed, it’s time for the graduate exam. Students are given the choice between two 250-word passages of assorted styles and subject matter, and have three hours to complete the translation. With a passing grade on the exam, the thesis process can begin.


The thesis involves the translation of a text containing 15,000 to 17,000 words under the supervision of an advisor whose native language matches the target language of the text. The student will first prepare a proposal explaining why the chosen text should be translated, what the expected specific translation challenges are and how to overcome them. The student will also include a preliminary bibliography showing that resources are available and accessible for any needed research.


When the translation is finalized and the student has written a translator’s preface, he or she will select a panel of readers. The panel is made up of translation professors, translators, or specialists on the subject of the thesis. Finally, a defense date is set. During the defense, the student will defend the thesis and the translation decisions made before the panel. The panel will then come to an agreement and announce the final grade…and hopefully pop open a bottle of champagne!