ViceVersa: German-Arabic Translation Workshop
The dialogue continues: "We translators are all in the same boat."

Vice Versa Übersetzerwerkstatt im Literaturhaus München
© Goethe-Institut

After the positive feedback we received from the July 2017 German-Arabic ViceVersa translator workshop, all of the participants – the toledo program of the Robert Bosch Foundation, the Deutsche Übersetzerfonds, the Literaturhaus München, the Litrix program of the Goethe-Institut, along with the two seminar leaders, Leila Chammaa and Hebatallah Fathy – have joined forces again for yet another workshop in May 2018.

The large number of applications we received allowed for a truly diverse group of participants: the number of translators coming from both language directions was balanced and several Arabic countries were represented. During the workshop we discussed a wide range of texts and genres that perfectly demonstrated the various facets involved in the process of translation.

At the beginning of each day there was a "warm-up" module called, "Basics in the Morning," which included brief brainstorming sessions on general topics such as: Cultural Contexts & Dissimilar Connotations," or "Destruction and Construction in the translation of texts." In the discussion that followed, participants were sensitized to linguistic and stylistic phenomena, a priori knowledge was activated, and various examples were used to play through possible approaches for dealing with the daily challenges translator's face in the process of translating.

The module "Basics in the Morning" perfectly prepared the ground for the text work that followed: aspects touched upon in the session influenced how participants discussed each other's translated texts, stimulated changes in perspective, and led them to reflect on different strategies available for translators. Among other things, they discussed how to deal with culturally specific connotations in the two languages, how to find an authentic voice for the protagonist, the commensurate relationship between text and image in the translation of an Arabic comic into German, and the liberties one might take in the translation of poetry.

As diverse as the approaches to fiction, children's books, comics and non-fiction may be, they all have one thing in common: we translators must ask ourselves certain questions throughout the process of translating that make us aware of the decisions we have made and be able to articulate them. This gave all participants the sense that - despite the lonely work of the translator - we all are sitting "in the same boat"; a metaphor that accompanied us through the entire workshop.

The event "Sound, Style and Perspective" with the renowned translator Frank Heibert addressed precisely these questions: As a translator, how can I succeed in reproducing the tone of the original text? Which voice speaks to me in the original text? What does the target language have at its disposal that would enable me to reproduce this perspective? But these theoretical concerns were just the beginning: many examples illustrated a wide variety of approaches and practical finger exercises made it possible to apply Frank Heibert's critical reflections on translation directly.

As in the previous year, the organizers made an effort this year to integrate practical aspects of translation into the workshop: Mahmoud Hassanein reported on the reception of translations from German in the Arabic world. In addition to statistical material on the Arabic book market, the amount of translations from German into Arabic as well as the relevant publishing houses, Hassanein also introduced us to various cultural agencies and funding institutions for the exchange of German-Arab literature. His personal experience as a translator of German-language children's books was also discussed. The editor Dima AlBitar Kalaji presented the project, "Weitererschreiben jetzt", a portal for literature from crisis areas, and opened up possibilities for the participants of the workshop to get involved. The visit to the publishing company, C.H. Beck-Verlag provided insights into their publishing program and how editors work with translated texts.

The stimulating dialogue from the previous year was continued, while also incorporating new aspects and challenges of translation between Arabic and German. This form of continuity has been a great benefit for everyone involved and once again demonstrates the success of the ViceVersa format. After all, we translators are sitting in the same boat!
Hebatallah Fathy is Professor of Modern German Literature at the University of Cairo and a freelance literary translator.
Translated by Zaia Alexander