CPD and training for legal translators: the good, the ho-hum and the mind-breaking

Most translators recognise the importance of continued professional development (CPD) or training. It’s probably a requirement for just about all jobs these days. But are all kinds of CPD equal?

Under some definitions, just about everything remotely related to your job, even just doing your job, counts as CPD. CPD activities include going to conferences and workshops and doing degrees, courses and any kind of self-directed learning. Regardless of its form, however, I believe we can make a distinction between types of CPD based on the impact had on how you work and what kind of change it causes in your brain.

The good

Good CPD increases your awareness and understanding in a particular area. It noticeably extends your knowledge. By “noticeably” I mean that the next time you come to work in that particular area, you notice some kind of improvement thanks to the training activity—you work better because of it, even if just in a very small way.

Good CPD doesn’t necessarily involve changing the way we do something; it’s more about doing it better. It makes a difference, although the difference is generally expected, planned and hoped for and does not involve too much trauma.

I suspect that learning how to translate is a long string of good CPD experiences. Whether self-taught or otherwise, a translator’s development is a long-term, on-going improvement in a desired direction—to learn and hone the skills of translating.

Examples of good CPD for legal translators (who already translate to a professional standard):

  • Doing a course or reading to deepen your knowledge in a particular area of law.
  • Getting a colleague or an expert in your specialist field to proofread a translation of yours.
  • Improving your subject knowledge while translating in a particular field by making a conscious effort to deepen your understanding through research and reading (i.e., going a little further than you need to complete the translation to standard to acquire more specific or background knowledge that will serve you in good stead for future translations in this field).
  • Examining authentic target-language documents of a particular type to learn register, style and other details that might be of use in your translations.
  • Doing a course on legal English/Spanish/etc. or legal writing.

The ho-hum

There are two types of or at least facets to ho-hum CPD: (i) maintenance CPD, which is necessary but not very exciting, and (ii) negligible CPD, which doesn’t make much of a difference. For example, watching TV in your source language is maintenance CPD if you live in your source country and you’re quite in touch with your source language anyway. It’s something you do often that helps to maintain your skills in some way although does not make a very big difference to what you already know or affect how you work.

An example of negligible ho-hum CPD is translating (when you’re already an experienced translator), particularly in areas you’re familiar with but also in new areas—depending on how you go about it. Researching for a translation does not always take you to a new level of understanding. Sometimes it’s just a case of looking up new equivalents, and if you didn’t have to look up the term today, you’d just look it up tomorrow or whenever it came up. You’re just learning a new equivalent. And when you already know many similar ones, that’s not really such a big deal. Knowing more equivalents in a particular field doesn’t mean much after a certain point and certainly doesn’t mean you’re developing as a translator.

Working in a slightly different or even a completely new area can help you develop as a translator, but I believe you have to be making an effort to understand the subject matter and the dynamics for translating it. Just doing a translation in an unfamiliar field will not make you a better translator. It could actually make you a worse one, or at least look like one.

Ho-hum CPD:

  • “Just” translating (negligible CPD).
  • Reading, writing or speaking in your source or target language if you already do a lot of this (maintenance CPD).

The mind-breaking

Mind-breaking CPD changes the way you do or at least look at things, sometimes quite radically. It can happen with a bang and may even hurt a little. I find this most noticeable when I go to talks or workshops that turn out to be interesting (especially if I didn’t really know what they were about beforehand). I come home feeling quite lost and stupid. It usually takes me a few days to recover my balance, which is probably the time it takes my brain to reorder the scheme of things to make room for the new piece of learning or insight.

Sometimes the opposite happens. You listen, read or hear something that appears obvious and far from earth-shattering. You may have heard it before, but a seed is planted nevertheless. And a few days later, that learning experience takes on a new light and changes something or causes you to change something.

Whether or not mind-breaking CPD comes with a bang, it will always cause at least a little bit of brain disorder and reordering. You might learn a new way of doing something or gain a new insight in a particular field that breaks your previous framework.

In terms of translating, most of the biggest discoveries probably come fairly early on in the development of translators, probably as part of the more run-of-the-mill good CPD mentioned above, which would include just translating if you’re a beginner.

Of course, established translators will probably find areas often associated to translating and working freelance like administration, marketing and IT as the most likely candidates for a bit of mind-breaking CPD. Improvements in these areas might not make you a better translator, but they can spell big improvements in your job or business. However, I suspect there is always room to improve your translation and writing skills. We can always learn something new or at least how to apply something we already knew in a new way.

The trick is coaxing out impactful learning experiences related to a skill or subject area you’re quite to very proficient in when you’re not really sure what these CPD experiences are going to be, as, by definition (my definition, it should be said, which probably doesn’t mean much 🙂 ), they’re not usually expected. (If you knew what they were, e.g., learning a new IT tool for speeding up your work, reading up on a new area of law you want to work in or improving your writing, that would be good CPD, and you’d just go out a do a course on it or read about it.)

While mind-breaking CPD is nothing more than just learning new ways of doing the same old things (translating, term research, etc.) and further understanding the dynamics of a particular  field (law, translation, etc.) or understanding them from a different perspective, we may stumble across it at any turn and in unlikely places, and it may take any form.

Possible ways of coaxing mind-breaking CPD experiences for legal translators:

  • Visiting a court (attending a session, doing on a tour or doing work experience of some kind).
  • Stepping in the shoes of the client and buying a legal translation.
  • Checking out something translation related that you always considered a waste of time (e.g., some type of productivity tool or terminology tool/process that you’ve always ignored).
  • Spending a day in the office of a client.
  • Doing a writing course not specifically on legal writing or translation (e.g., creative, journalistic or technical writing). Who knows the effect it could have on your writing or what it could spark?

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

2 comments to “CPD and training for legal translators: the good, the ho-hum and the mind-breaking”
  1. Very nicely put, Rob! However, I have to slightly disagree that “Just translating is negligible CPD”. It may not fall into the ‘mind-breaking’ category, but it is not negligible. Imagine someone stops translating for a year or two – the effect would certainly not be negligible.
    A very well written article with valid points.

    • Hi Alina! Yes, you’re right: Translating does do more for you skills than not translating for a stretch of time (unless you learn how to do it better when you start translating again). I suppose in that sense it’s more maintenance. Although I’d still argue that just going through the motions does not improve your skills very much after a certain point. Thanks for commenting and your kind words.

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