- The Translation Studies cross-school minor at NYU is a collaboration between Global Liberal Studies and the Department of Comparative Literature.
- Students take classes in Global Liberal Studies, comparative literature, and other collaborating departments in the College of Arts and Science. Also, they can take courses in the School of Professional Studies Master in Translation and Interpreting program.
- Translation studies helps students think more critically about language, culture, and power—both in their studies and everyday lives.
Translation plays an integral role in nearly every facet of society, from cultural production to governmental relations. However, in many places around the globe, translators and their work often go unnoticed. This lack of visibility is one of the main reasons Professor Jennifer Zoble and her Liberal Studies colleagues, in partnership with the Department of Comparative Literature, launched the Minor in Translation Studies at NYU in 2022.
“A big vision for the program is to build awareness for translators and show how valuable their labor is to promoting mutual understanding across cultures and languages,” says Professor Zoble. “There continues to persist various perceptions of translators and translation as a sort of menial role or practice. This program teaches students what translation actually entails. Additionally, it gives them a new lens for thinking critically about the texts they read, the shows they watch, and how international relations are negotiated, among other translation contexts.”
The Nuts and Bolts of the Minor
To complete this 16-credit minor, students take an introductory course. They can choose between a class in either Global Liberal Studies (GLS) or the Department of Comparative Literature. Additionally, an elective course in translation theory and/or practice must follow the introductory class. Then, students take two additional electives from either GLS, comparative literature, or one of the collaborating departments in the College of Arts and Science. Students can also take courses from the Master in Translation and Interpreting program at the School of Professional Studies, so long as they meet any prerequisite requirements. These courses are more preprofessional, says Professor Zoble. Furthermore, the courses focus on topics like transcreation, legal translation, medical translation, and conference interpreting.
Highlighting the Impact and Influence of Translators
Throughout their coursework, students learn about the history, theory, and practice of translation. In fact, they read translated works and discuss their social and cultural impact on different communities. Students also complete translation projects and exercises that show how translation always involves complex questions of language, culture, and power.
“When students receive a text to translate, their assumptions break down quickly,” says Professor Zoble. “They realize, ‘Wow. This is much more complicated than I thought.’ And they’re usually very excited by that. Although they might have had informal encounters with translation before, whether in school or in their personal lives, they most likely haven’t had any formal academic conversations around those experiences. Now, through the Translation Studies minor, they can read about translation, discuss it, and learn how it’s done and theorized.”
Impact Beyond the Classroom
After presenting a translation of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (Section 2) at a poetry festival last year, Public Policy major Anand Kumar says he started gravitating toward the Translation Studies minor. “That was the first time I used Bhojpuri, my mother tongue, in public,” he says. “I performed the poem in five languages: Bhojpuri, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, and Angika. It was empowering to use my own voice and present myself authentically. That was all possible through translation.”
As Anand completes the minor’s introductory course, he already has big plans for the skills he’ll gain over the next few semesters. “Since I’m a Public Policy major, I’d like to use these skills in a legal setting,” he says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the guidelines presented by the World Health Organization were in English. But for that information to move through the masses, it had to be translated into different languages. The more information you’re equipped with, the more empowered you are. Translation is a tool that can help with that.”
For Vivian Văn, a student at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study who grew up in a multilingual household, the Translation Studies minor gave her a great opportunity. Now she can advance her bilingualism in her studies. “To speak two languages and see how tiny choices can greatly impact the overall meaning of a message but not have a full grasp on how these languages connect was frustrating,” she says. “I would try to do short translation projects as practice. But I’d find myself at a loss for what lens to apply for those tiny judgment calls. Studying translation seemed like a natural next step to put my bilingualism to better use.”
Vivian also realized that studying translation theory would help her better understand the topics she’s examining as part of her Gallatin concentration. “I’m studying educational reform, which requires the consideration of culture. It includes learning pedagogical theory translated from source languages I do not speak. As with any case in which one is studying culture through a translated text, the baggage of the translation itself will surely affect the messages, explicit or implicit, thus found. Even if I don’t know the source language, understanding translation theory will help me critically engage with the texts I encounter in my studies.”