Moving Translation Forward: Interview with Dr. María Sierra Córdoba Serrano

2016-2017 Issue 1

Today’s translators are dynamic and expected to go beyond traditional roles. Dr. María Sierra Córdoba Serrano, Associate Professor and incoming lead of the Translation Unit at the School of Continuing Studies, strives to invest in industry-relevant trends and cross-cultural understanding.

Her most recent projects include translating the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s annual letter into Spanish, taking part in knowledge transfer in Peru, and co-editing an issue of the International Journal of the Sociology of Language on translation policies and minority languages. Translators are managing complex cross-cultural projects, using powerful technologies, and having hybrid roles more than ever before. We sat down with Córdoba Serrano to discuss the trends driving translation forward.

“The field evolves so fast, that you always have to keep updated with current skills and new technologies,” explains Dr. Córdoba Serrano. Staying current with new technologies is no longer optional. Computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools improve productivity and terminological consistency and can be translators’ allies when used judiciously. Courses that instruct translators how to make use of tools effectively are needed across Canada. “The use of translation memories is now a given,” explains Córdoba Serrano. “You cannot be competitive if you don’t know how to use these tools.”

The ability to manage cultural and social complexity is another must-have skill. After studying and working in Spain, Belgium and the U.K., and completing a Master’s and a PhD in Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa, she landed a full-time academic position in California. Throughout this international career, Córdoba has made an effort to expose herself to new environments. “I always liked the idea of being a foreigner and always being in the middle of several cultures. [I enjoy] trying to understand how different or similar they are, and negotiating that difference,” says Córdoba Serrano.

Supporting translation studies and work in languages other than the two official languages is important to Córdoba Serrano. The School of Continuing Studies is one of only few educational institutions offering Spanish translation programs in Canada, despite Spanish being the third most spoken language.

Connecting with the Hispanic community is a priority. “I go to eat at Hispanic restaurants in Montreal to see what they read on a daily basis, as we are trying to promote to reach that community – a very educated community that has previous backgrounds in law, political sciences, anthropology, business, engineering, and all kinds of specializations,” explains Córdoba Serrano.

Specialized translators are growing in importance. Everything from law to health care to marketing needs translation tailored to specific needs. “If you’re a lawyer in Bogota, that doesn’t mean you can be a lawyer in Quebec,” adds Córdoba Serrano. “[However], you can use your specialized skills as a translator.”

The recently launched Graduate Certificate in Legal Translation is just the first in what Córdoba Serrano hopes will be a series of programs offering specialized translation and other language mediation skills. Translation and interpreting for healthcare is one area with a big demand. “Imagine somebody that has come [to the hospital] with no education and they don’t have the help that they need to be able to tell the doctor what is wrong,” explains Córdoba Serrano. “It’s bad for the system.” Investing in translation and interpreting is good for the society in the long term.

Thinking of delving into translation? Consider that training is a must to maintain quality. “It’s not enough to be bilingual…that’s the base, and then you need training,” states Córdoba Serrano. Learning how to effectively use technologies and deepening knowledge of your native language is essential.

Investing in technology, cross-cultural understanding, and specialized translation skills will be a focus for the future of translation at the McGill School of Continuing Studies. From her time in her previous academic position at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in the U.S., Córdoba Serrano is ready to bring new ideas. “I learned some new business models and offerings that are really relevant to the translation industry and its future, and that’s what I’m bringing,” says Córdoba Serrano.




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