Turning ‘Stenenbrug’ into Spanish. A Collaborative Translation


Translator and Catalan and Spanish editor Josep Llober Capllonch reflects on his collaborative translation with translator Heli Pärna.

Read Capllonch and Pärna’s ‘Stenenbrug’ here.

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Collaborating with Heli Pärna to translate ‘Stenenbrug’ from Dutch into Spanish was a very interesting experience but also quite a challenge. I had never done a collaborative translation before, not because I held any prejudice against its practice but because I’d just never come across a situation in which there was any need for it. My normal translation practice had always consisted of translating a text alone and then relying on editors and proofreaders to double-check my final draft.

However, this time, my assignment was to find a Dutch to Spanish translator for the short story ‘Stenenbrug’ by Lisa Hilte. Well, I can tell you now this is not an easy business but, after a few days, Heli Pärna (originally from Estonia) offered to take on the task despite Spanish –– and Dutch! –– not being her first language. Having written my master’s dissertation on the topic of L2 translation [non-native translation] and how L2 translation can be received with scepticism (especially in English speaking countries), I was very happy to find a translator willing to make her way through this added difficulty on what it is already a very arduous endeavour. I found the whole thing encouraging and, so, assigned the translation to her and promised to help her with any doubts about the Spanish language she might encounter in the process.

After that, we agreed she would create a first draft of the translation and then I would go through it to assess the weaknesses and strengths of her Spanish. It was a way for us both to find out the best way to collaborate. After a few days, her first draft arrived in my inbox. It read well in the eyes of a native Spanish speaker. If I remember correctly, there were just a few sentences that were not 100% grammatically correct and some issues related to style, which remained to be tailored for a native Spanish audience. The main problem with me looking at her first draft, and trying to improve it, was that I didn’t know any Dutch at all, so I couldn’t refer to the original to ensure I would replicate the style of the original. So I gave her my feedback and we started to exchange e-mails about the author’s style. This way, after she had incorporated my corrections and handed over to me her second draft, I was ready to edit it, maybe not completely confident, but at least not completely blind either. In turn, when my editing ended, I sent my final version over for her to approve. After tweaking it a bit more together, we came to the final draft we published.

All in all, collaborative translation implies abandoning the idea of ever having absolute control over the translation, due to the indeterminate nature of the process itself and the fact that both translators have to allow certain leeway to each other to take their respective decisions. But, when is it that anyone has ever had absolute control over a translation anyway? Besides, the importance of collaborative translation doesn’t rely on its exactitude but on the fact that the translation might have never happened had it not been for the fact that two translators eventually decided to compensate for their own shortcomings by combining their strengths to work as one.

Josep Llobera Capllonch (tr.)

Josep Llobera Capllonch is a Mallorcan writer-translator based in Edinburgh. He writes both prose and poetry in Catalan, Spanish and English. He self-translated his novel La necesidad es un pato into English as part of his MSc in Translation Studies at the University of Edinburgh. His academic research brought him to Charles University where he presented his paper “Self-Translation: Breaking the Traditional Axioms in a Tongue not Mine” in the last L2 Translation Conference.

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