Course: FRE 407
Instructor: David Bellos
Description of Course Goals and CurriculumThis course is designed to give students practice at translating texts between French and English, and to help them understand many of the challenges translators face and how to overcome them. At the beginning of the year, Professor Bellos will give you a packet of texts in both French and in English (around 8 of each), which you will tackle in class. These texts are all in prose, but are very diverse in era, style and genre: we translated famous works of Balzac alongside instruction manuals and a comical article on pencil sharpening! You will end up translating about half of these texts on your own for homework, so paying attention in class helps a lot! I would recommend making sure you are comfortable in French before taking this course, as there are many language subtleties you will encounter when translating that are hard to notice if you are not accustomed to the language.
Learning From Classroom InstructionThe course is organized into two 1.5 hour long precept-style classes each week. Typically, during each class, Professor Bellos will go over one of the texts in our packet and help us find major challenges or issues with translating it; some (but not all) of these texts will later be assigned to us to translate on our own. He also dedicates some sessions to go over the translations we were assigned as homework and help us understand solutions to some common challenges we faced, as well as some to investigating the syntactical differences between French and English and how to translate particularly difficult formulations. Throughout the classes, Professor Bellos will invariably share some of his boundless knowledge of historic and literary facts, which is quite entertaining (in addition to being a valuable addition to your general knowledge!) The classes, in particular those dedicated to texts that are assigned as homework, as extremely useful for completing assignments: pay attention and be engaged during the classes, and never hesitate to ask questions.
Learning For and From AssignmentsThere are 8 assignments in total for this course, the top 5 of which will be used to calculate your final grade. Professor Bellos grades them out of 20 in traditional French style, so don't be surprised or discouraged if you start off with a less than stellar mark (in the French system, a 15/20 is a very good score), in particular because he will drop the lowest three grades. I would definitely recommend taking your time on the assignments: sometimes you won't think of the precise word you're looking for when you tackle the text for the first time, so I'd recommend coming back to your translation at least once before submitting it. You should also be ready to contact Professor Bellos anytime you have a question or concern, he is very approachable!
External ResourcesDuring one of the first classes, Professor Bellos will recommend several sources for your translations. You are allowed to use any sources you want for the assignments (evidently excluding a word for word translation if you stumble across it), and many of these can be extremely useful. I found that the online Trésor de la Langue Française (TLF) was very useful, and simple internet sources / google translate can be sufficient for technical terms. I also borrowed a copy of the Harrops French English dictionary from Firestone at the beginning of term, and it was a complete lifesaver! Although the course does not require any textbook purchases (which is wonderful for a Princetonian's pocketbook) there are more than enough resources online and in the library to help you in this course.
What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course SelectionThis course counts for your LA requirement, and as a 400-level language course can satisfy the language requirements for various programs. It definitely helps you gain a very good taste of the challenges faced in the field of translation. It also will significantly help your vocabulary and language skills in both French and in English. The course is not too much of a time commitment: 4-5 hours a week should be largely sufficient for a good translation, though it still offers plenty to learn even for a native French speaker! You will leave this class with a completely different way of looking at language in general.