At a University with approximately 5,000 international students from over 120 countries, sometimes things are bound to get lost in translation.

Translation, this fall’s LSA theme semester, is focused on language interpretation and understanding different perspectives of the human condition. The theme is intended to be a continuation of last winter’s language theme and a bridge to next winter’s race-based theme, according to Yopie Prins, chair of the Department of Comparative Literature and co-director of the fall 2012 theme semester.

LSA departments are invited to submit theme semester ideas, before a final decision is made by the LSA dean’s office. Throughout the semester, the theme is incorporated into the college’s departments, classes and student life.

Prins said the translation team is encouraging student participation through a variety of mediums, including activities, contests, blogs, events and games. Faculty members are also teaching translation-themed courses, such as the Comparative Literature class “22 Ways to Think About Translation,” which is co-taught by Prins and Comparative Literature Prof. Christi Merrill, the other theme semester co-director.

“There are so many ways in which we can connect translation to the debates and concerns and realities that students live in,” Prins said. “The goal of this theme semester is to make translation visible, because so often it’s invisible in our culture and yet it’s everywhere.”

Prins said the Department of Comparative Literature has already incorporated the theme into its program, and other departments will also feature classes and speakers to demonstrate the meaning of translation through various lenses.

Merrill noted that translation is not just about language, but seeking to understand each side of events and arguments. She pointed to perspectives on slavery, explaining that one translation may argue that owning another human being is morally wrong, while another may suggest it is a justified practice.

Prins added that another goal of the theme semester is to highlight less popular languages taught at the University.

“Michigan is pretty unique because it is a very interdisciplinary university … and still committed to languages … and integrating humanities with social science,” Prins said. “We feel that translation as a theme really captures the mission of the University.”

Each Monday, the theme semester will host an event at the North Quad Residence Hall called “Translation Mondays,” which will offer speakers, films, panels and more pertaining to the semester.

Julie Evershed — director of the Language Resource Center and the Language Bank, a resource for translation services — said the semester’s theme is helping to bring together different perspectives on the meaning of translation. She added it is encouraging collaboration between University departments in an effort to emphasize the theme semester’s importance. Evershed added that the theme semester will help establish a broader definition of translation.

“A lot of people have a preconceived notion that you translate this word for that word … and you’re done,” Evershed said. “But when you really start working with it, you realize all of the difficulties and intricacies involved and sometimes it’s a real art.”

She added that understanding the significance of translation can help develop cultural sensitivity.

“Hopefully it will raise awareness that when you’re dealing with someone, you’re not just dealing with the linguistic challenges, but the cultural challenges,” Evershed said. “I think this campus is pretty open in general, but it will help open people’s eyes and minds to what the other person is saying and different points of view.”

The translation team also incorporated technology into the semester’s structure, including a smartphone application, titled “That Translation Game.” In the game, a host chooses an image, text, or video for a player to translate. The host then awards points for the content of their translation based on grading expectations.

Developers of the game said it will hopefully be used in courses this semester.

LRC instructor Johnathon Beals, the game’s project manager said its purpose is to increase student participation in the theme in a creative way.

“The goal was to show how something can be fun and to provide a novel way to get people to think about translation and interact with it instead of just writing down a text,” Beals said.

Pranay Sethi, a School of Information graduate student and another developer of the application, said the game adds depth and complexity to students’ understanding of translation.

“Translation for everybody can be subjective,” Sethi said. “This idea tries to convey the idea that everybody’s translation can be different, you just need to justify your translation.”

In addition to the app, the theme semester has a website that promotes upcoming events and allows students to blog, interact and get involved.

LSA sophomore Theo Munch said the theme is relevant to University students.

“We have a very diverse student population, so I think it’s important to have a good translation of everyone’s different ideas,” Munch said.

LSA junior Julia Hickey is on the student advisory board for the theme semester and is head of the translation forum within the Residential College. She said she is enthusiastic about having additional resources and opportunities to learn about translation.

“Translation is a way of connecting with people from different cultures and getting a better understanding of different experiences of the world,” Hickey said. “I’m personally really excited about it because it means a lot of events that my club gets to go to and a lot of exciting opportunities for us.”

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