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The structure of Translation and literary translation Training at the Institute of English and American Studies of pázmány péter university

"One of the – if not THE – best literary translation training in Hungary is at the Faculty of Humanities and social sciences of Pázmány Péter Catholic University.” (muforditas.bloglap.hu)

Preparation, introduction to translation

English and American BA Studies – translator and literary translator specialization (organizer: Somló Ágnes)

Students of the English and American Studies BA programme can take specialization courses during their studies, and through this, students can pursue deeper, more extensive studies and receive a specialized further training that is not originally part of the BA programme. The English and American Studies BA programme offers two specializations at the moment, among which one of these is Literary and Technical Translation, which offers 25 Kr, and provides a practical translator training. (Here you can find more information on the English and American Studies BA programme.) The specialized courses include (two of these recommended each semester):

  • CAT tools, and theoretical and cultural background (TS)
  • Literary transl. (1) Style and genre + chosen individual translation → E–H / H–E
  • Literary transl. (2) Special field (drama, exotic culture) → E–H / H–E
  • Introduction to translating technical texts → E–H / H–E

(You can find general information on BA program courses here, on the courses of the current semester here. The courses of the specialization are under codes BBNAN05000-BBNAN06700.)

Additional courses to the BA program are organized by Műfordító Műhely (Literary Translation Workshop):

  • Special issues; guest lecturers
  • Drama translation workshop
  • Literary translator’s holiday: readings, conferences, symposiums
  • Literary translator’s contest (for every English BA student) (not regularly)
  • Publications (our professors publications here and here)

The webpage of Műfordító Műhely



Drama translation workshop, Oradea, July, 2013





The specialization can be continued three different ways: first, the two postgraduate specialist training courses help with literary translation and technical translation courses. Secondly, technical translation can be carried on to the Translator and Interpreter MA program as well, where students can choose this specialization, or – and this is where a new branch comes in – interpretation.

What comes next:

1/ Translator and interpreter MA Studies (4 Semesters)

(Organized by: Sohár Anikó. For further information, please visit the website of the training.)

2/ postgraduate specialist training courses:
  • Technical translation (3 semesters) (its role has been gradually taken over by the MA programme, so this training does not start each year)
  • Literary translation (3 semesters)

(Organized by: Somló Ágnes. You can find further information on the trainings here.)

The Literary translation training in detail: (Pázmány University was the first to introduce this type of graduate specialist training course, and it is the only one that is currently available in Hungary.)

General knowledge:

  • foreign language skills
  • knowledge of different language varieties (reading comprehension)
  • cultural knowledge
  • Hungarian language skills, language varieties

Introductory skills:

  • general translation techniques
  • CAT tools (and text editing)
  • style, genre and communication exercises
  • theoretical and historical questions of translation
  • copyright and professional organizations
  • editorial skills
  • revision of texts
  • word processing

Professional skills:

- the different genres of literary translation:

  • prose (historical and language varieties)
  • children’s literature
  • drama
  • poem
  • dubbing
  • comics, manga...

- literary-translation review and editing

- literary translation exercises → E–H / H–E         


“...how many great things can a sufficiently smart student learn at these literary translation courses…” (Quotations)

Literary aspects:

  • sophisticated use of language
  • learning the stylistic features of different literary genres and implementing these into Hungarian
  • discovering the significance of wording (nuances, the significance of word-length etc.)
  • literary research
  • discovering works that have not yet been translated, but merit translating
  • discovering and using already existing Hungarian works (learning to choose the right vocabulary so that the translation conveys the message of the original work the most accurately, and at the same time, it is understandable for the Hungarian reader as well)
  • learning new and foreign ways of thinking and implementing this knowledge into Hungarian
  • “financial” aspects (for those, who don’t particularly care about the literary ones)
  • changing the attitude towards a foreign text – whoever makes attempts at literary translation in their life will soon discover that there are certain things one simply cannot achieve by themselves – working on a humble attitude towards all foreign language texts
  • learning different stylistic features can be useful in all walks of life:
  • rhetorical devices (writing political speeches, legal texts, business meetings, media etc.)
  • adequate understanding of foreign language texts (contracts, articles etc.)

Thus, we can clearly see that even if a university does not want to train great literary translators, only other great professionals, it is still worth organizing the literary translator course. In fact, it is not only because the classroom is small that we cannot fit in, but because so many students are interested in the literary translation course.

http://muforditas.bloglap.hu on our literary translation postgraduate course (the Hungarian original is available here):

Literary Translation Trainings I.  - Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Piliscsaba

When I decided that literary translation would be my main carrier path—after all, that’s why I chose English Studies as my BA programme—, I began looking for possible (further) training courses, mostly because it became clear that a programme of 2x30 hours of translation courses would still require extra work. Enthusiastic as I was, I began looking for other possibilities, and it took me some time until I found the literary translator course of Pázmány.

Figuratively speaking, the education scene is as full as an egg with technical translation courses, but, as its name indicates, in most cases special texts are required for translation and it is also initially necessary to speak at least two languages at a high level to be admitted to these courses. I personally would like to translate literature, mostly contemporary prose, for now, only from English to Hungarian (Hun-Eng), and at the same time, I would like to develop my Italian skills.

In the first couple of rounds of the quest, I found three translation courses, that focused on literary translation. They were somewhat like trainings, they were affordable, and the list of teachers was promising as well. They were also located in Budapest, although, it depends whether this is great for some or not so much for others. I will elaborate on this in a future post. Until then, I will find out what are the entry requirements, how frequently are the courses started, what are the opinions of previous students, what are the chances for getting a job, what does the training fee include and last but not least, what "documents” do they give after successfully finishing the course. The fourth option appeared on the horizon after many rounds of my looking around. Somewhat hidden from sight, as my brother Áron would put it, "amongst the mountains of Mordor”. When we were driving to Piliscsaba on a late winter day, I nodded smilinghe was right.

 Eeriness of Tolkien – Image: Áron Zelenai

That was because Áron was studying at Pázmány, and when I was once looking for something for him on the website of the Catholic University, this caught my eyes:

Literary translator/Literature translator postgraduate specialist training course
Language: English
Semesters: 3
Tuition fee: 120.000 HUF/semester

Could this be real?

Great subject list, affordable tuition fee – too good to be true? I talked it over with my husband, kids, grandmothers and I decided: I will embark on the journey. Application form, copy of diploma – and all you can imagine – sent. And then, I was told, that unfortunately, they are not able to start the training this year. I called the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Pázmány, where a well-informed, nice assistant lady was at the end of the line, and she told me that they received five applicants but the training can only be started with at least ten. They are not able to reimburse the application fee, but if I would like to apply next semester as well, then I would not have to pay the amount again and I would not have to bother with the application documents either. Seemed great, very much so. But I realized that it was not only me who had difficulties finding the training, and so suddenly I had an idea and contacted Ágnes Somló, who is not only the heart and soul of Hungary’s literary translator training but has an impressive professional translation profile. We arranged a meeting at the Piliscsaba campus. Fortunately, the road to her office does not go through the Mines of Moria.

What is going on here?

During the hour we spent together, we had the pleasure of talking about the practical element of the training and we even drifted to the topic of the basic knowledge of literary translation. Therefore, I will try to collect the essential points of our talk and present it in order of my original questions.

 No one on the outside could possibly know what is going on on the inside… Image: Áron Zelenai

Ágnes Somló claims she is „addicted” to translation. While her classmates cooked something great and made clothes after their university exams, she translated a short story to relax. She graduated at the Humanities Faculty of ELTE University in History and English language and literature, but she is constantly training herself in other fields as well, because the interdisciplinary fields related to literary translation are quite diverse, so she believes a literary translator should be very much open to many other fields. She has been teaching at Pázmány since 1997, where she initially taught translation techniques.

The literary translation course was at first a special language skills course for students of English Studies, but it soon became popular among students from other majors as well, because where else could you learn the means of communication in Hungarian in such depth?she began enthusiastically. There was a time, when three courses were running parallel, so over time, it was transformed into a specialization. This meant more practical lessons, where students were given literary translation tasks in both language pairs (English↔Hungarian). As the next step, students of the English Studies BA programme could receive a translator/literary translator additional qualification, the postgraduate specialist training course started ten years ago. Then, technical and literary translation were running together as one course.

Could the literary translation group start then, because it seems it is not as easy to gather even only ten people?

Yesshe added proudly.The first fully literary translation training started in February, 2011 with 11 people, and in June, 2012 nine students completed the training. Now, four among these students are published, and two of the students translate frequently, even if not for publishers, and one of the students make use of the knowledge that the training offered at her job. Two of the students disappeared from sight, but this does not mean that they don’t translate…only that I may not know about it.

What are the essential experiences?

That students open up. They soar. Finally, they can concentrate on the actual work process, because they don’t have to figure things out by themselves. There are certain texts that highlight certain translation issues that can be solved consciously, students receive guidelines, learn special approaches and the translator’s mind-set.

What does the training include exactly?

There are the „General knowledge” courses, including foreign language skills and knowledge of language varieties (dialect, register, jargon…), analysing and understanding these types of texts; cultural studies and Hungarian language skills. The “General knowledge” courses include general translation techniques, the basics of CAT tools, that is computer assisted translation; exercises related to style, genre and communication; the theoretical issues of translation, copyright rules, Hungarian and foreign organizations, editing, revision of texts, word processing. And there are the special “professional skills” as well: the theoretical aspects of the different areas of literary translation; the main fields and trends of contemporary literature, editorial and translation criticism exercises and, of course, literary translation exercises with the help of typical and actual text samples from these different fields.

I believe it is not enough to have an intermediate language exam for completing the course. What type of prior education do you need for starting the course?

Literary translation is essentially a profession, the basic techniques and tricks can be acquired. But. But! It requires excellent target and native language skills, sense of style, and it is a significant advantage if the applicant has good writing skills as well. Vonnegut once said, he expects from his translator to be as excellent a writer as he himself is. The majority of these skills can be developed. And it is important to be open, because the texts to be translated cover a lot of subjects that the translator has to be comfortable in as well. Because there are usually several solutions to a single translation problem, and the translator has to be able to logically explain why the chosen method is the most suitable for that problem. Objectively, however, one of the following qualifications is required for applying:

  • English and American Studies BA programme
  • at least a college level English language and literature /teacher degree
  • appropriate foreign BA qualifications
  • other higher education degree + proficiency level (C type) English language exam (or an equivalent language exam accepted by the institution).

However, the oral aptitude test reveals many things.

I was browsing the subject list, and next to Your name, I found several other famous translators. Ágnes Gergely used to teach poetry translation, István Tótfalusi used to teach children’s literature, and Ádám Nádasy’s expertise is drama translation.

We are trying to be excellent regarding both list of subjects and teachers as well.

There were no doubts. Moreover, the former students I could find also had great things to say about the three semesters spent at Pázmány. For example:

"Being a literary translatoris love, a calling, an addiction, a lifestyle. Being continuously attentive and open-minded, that is (as if quoting Ágnes Somló’s words) immersing oneself incessantly in a foreign language text. The training gave me the opportunity to learn from professionally active people with impressive professional history and an established network of connections. As students, we can gladly say, that we work(ed) (!) together with them in a familial atmosphere. We know, that after completing the course, we will still be able to contact our teachers with any translation related questions. It is not only us students, who are looking for and sharing with each other book and poem translation opportunities and competitions, but our teachers also help us by sharing them with us. Why do I believe that the training is important? Today, it seems that the demand for trustworthy, professional, and high-quality translation is arising, increasing even. Our aim is to maintain and increase it, and be able to meet the demands by being professionally prepared but with a responsibility this great, even if this seems conceitedfor the benefit of the public. In the 21st centurywithout being exhaustivewe would like to convey a valuable, selected literary collection from „all” around the world in our native language, that educates, informs and offers quality entertainment. On the other hand, we would like to attract a little worldwide attention by promoting the less well-known gems of Hungarian literature (not only contemporary) and films to the public in English, thus increasing the public domain beyond our borders. We know and feel, (I did not consult with the others, I’m just saying by experience) that being a literary translator poses a great challenge to us, where preparedness and dedication are not enough to ensure success. We must consider the demands of the market, the publishers and society, we must face competition as well. Still, we feel that by equipping ourselves and harnessing our skills, we will be able to participate in the education, quality entertainment and trustworthy information of the public, even if it is only to a small degree individually. Even if the process begins with translating articles or nursery rhymes (that is just as much a responsibility), or localizing advertisements, each and every translation serves our improvement, proves our credibility, and establishes our networkin short, it points forward."
Ágnes Móczárné Mikola, former student

Practical details:

It is worth knowing that we don’t use course books, but the tuition fee includes the necessary course materials that the students receive. Students can also work from their own material, so if anyone has a text that they have already begun translating, they can work on those as well in the courses. In a semester, students need to spend 5-6 weekends in Piliscsaba, but it is worth keeping in mind that the other weekends (or an equal amount of time during the week) must be 100 % dedicated to working on exercises for achieving the optimal results.

An ATM machine, print and copy services, a canteen and a cafeteria are available at the campus. There is an Aldi and a petrol station within walking distance from the Campus.

Any questions?