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The fine art of collaborative translation

Collaborative Translation is a broad term but generally means when two or more people collaborate in some way to produce a translation. It highlights the power of translation to create connections and understanding between people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

‘Collaborative translation’ is a broad term but generally means when two or more people collaborate in some way to produce a translation. It highlights the power of translation to create connections and understanding between people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Victoria-based not-for-profit TransCollaborate Incorporated uses collaborative translation methods to facilitate creative and literary outlets for a diverse range of people. Multilingual writer Bree Alexander facilitated two of TransCollaborate’s workshops and shared her experience with LEXIGO.

The name is self-explanatory but collaborative translation can be many things, Ms Alexander explains. Collaboration means working in a group; translation means you’re taking some text from a “source language” to a “target language”. In principle, collaborative translation is not created by one person working alone; the critical element is group work.

‘Collaborative translation’ is fundamentally inclusive thanks to the process through which everyone can contribute to the final text.

“As a facilitator, I worked to include all the participants’ voices,” Ms Alexander highlights.

“The final output is a text, but the conversation and negotiation around that are key.

“Participants have to think about the voice, texture, and rhythm of a text.

“If you’re working with more literary texts, you need to hold on to the meaning of the source text.”

This method’s beauty allows people to work with and share texts that might not otherwise get translated into English or read in Australia. For example, Ms Alexander facilitated an event with Romanian language collaborators with literary and strong English language skills. The positive learning and sharing process resonated with her. Even if she couldn’t read Romanian, by talking with her collaborators, she understood the text’s structure in that language and the broader socio-political context, which then influenced how she proposed translating it into English.

It’s an adjustable model to many contexts; TransCollaborate has seen it used with academics, English language learners, and theatre directors. It can even be used to create a mixture of visual and text outputs – it’s translation beyond the text.

More broadly, TransCollaborate promotes translation as a process that is open to anyone, and that can help share a greater diversity of voices and stories.

Writing can be a solitary experience, Ms Alexander reflects. Exploring models such as collaborative translation is about achieving something with others. It’s a challenging and fun process with an outcome collectively achieved, quite in contrast with the literary world’s often competitive nature. Collaborative translation allows a decentring of the self.

Well before COVID-19 forced everyone online, TransCollaborate was connecting people from all over the world through their events.

If you would like to participate in one of their activities, email transcollaborate@gmail.com. You can also follow them on Twitter @TransCollabProj or TransCollaborate.

30 September is International Translation Day, and collaborative translation is a great way to have a go, no matter what your language skills are.


Written by Sophia Dickinson, LEXIGO: Sophia is a writer and communications consultant with 10 years’ experience in the public service and not-for-profit sectors. She has also taught English in France and spent a year working at a local NGO in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. She is passionate about writing, intercultural communication and languages (she speaks French, Indonesian and is learning Spanish). Read more about her experiences here.