Skip to main content

Danger! Translator at Work: Live translation events


Terry J. Bradford
French Department, School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds


This article is the final stage in an experiment which began – in 2018 – with a view to exploring the potential of live translation events (LTEs). Having organised such an event, the project evolved, as did the Target Text (TT) produced as part of the event. The publication of the TT (revised) in 2022 provided the opportunity for reflection – this involved research into how other practitioners and academics have conceived of LTEs. This paper discusses three different approaches to LTEs – two pedagogical, and one as a form of activism – and seeks to consider the variables at play in their organisation. Close analysis of changes made to the TT arising from my LTE before its publication is included, here, by way of illustrating – and remedying – what I perceive to be a flaw in the design of my LTE. In the wake of discussion of the three LTE case studies, this work of (experimental) scholarship embraces discussion of the potential for LTEs – in the real world as much as in the classroom. In so doing, it pushes slightly further open the door to their potential uses in pedagogy, as well as their relevance – in Translation Studies – to notions of ‘performativity’ (Wolf, 2017) and ‘visibility’ (Venuti, 1995).

KEYWORDS: live translation, public translation, translation event, translator visibility, performativity


Translation – certainly, literary translation – is typically viewed as a solitary activity[1], a private affair conducted in the safety of the office or home.[2] Traditionally or historically, the translator remains invisible: they are exposed, at a distance – over time – only insofar as the product of their work lies open to scrutiny.[3] The process – including stages of post-editing, for example – typically remains unseen. However, over the last few decades, translators have been making themselves quite visible[4]: through writing their own books[5] or blogs, getting their names on the covers of their works, even to the point of eclipsing original authors[6]. The experiment discussed in this paper may be seen as part of this ‘turn’ in the field of translation.[7]

One way to make the translator visible is to stage a translation act with a viewing public. We can use this as a working definition – albeit rough – of ‘live translation events’ (LTEs): a real-time act of translation that takes place before and/or with an audience. Live translation – as public event – is a relatively new phenomenon. It would seem that it has sprouted – organically – over the last 15 years only, perhaps in tandem with improved access to technology and as a response to louder calls in Academia for ‘innovative teaching’, and increased ‘impact’, ‘outreach’, and ‘engagement’. A similar or overlapping type of event – that of the Translation Slam – seems also to have developed over the same timeframe, and perhaps for similar reasons.[8]

Experimentally, in organising a LTE, I sought to explore what happens when the curtain is pulled back – though not quite à la Wizard of Oz – to reveal the translator at work: that is, in situation, in medias res. There is currently very little academic discussion in English of examples of this phenomenon. Using the work of Marko Miletich (and José Dávila Montes) and Yong Zhong – constituting the only extant research into LTEs – each shall be presented and discussed as a LTE case study in lieu of a literature review. This will allow for comparison with the experiment of the present study.

Post hoc, the stages in the present LTE experiment may be broken down as having evolved as follows:

i. live translation event (producing a first draft)
ii. revision, proofreading, editing
iii. post-editing
iv. publication (of a final draft)
v. reflection (on differences between the first and final drafts)

The relatively innovative nature of LTEs raises a myriad of potential research questions. Here, they are limited to just two: What forms might ‘public’ or ‘live’ translation take? What might be the potential or benefits of such acts? The rationale underpinning this project lies in giving more definition to the currently hazy phenomenon of LTEs with a view to exploring their potential. Indeed, LTEs have great potential, on a number of fronts – as shall be seen. This paper seeks to share discussion of that potential with a wider community of academics, students, and translators. With their capacity for enabling activism (Zhong, 2016), LTEs may appear to have a wider reach than that which may be presumed.

By way of methodology, this paper will begin with discussion of the two aforementioned case studies. In light of these forerunners, the LTE that I organised in 2018 will be described and compared. To account for the product of translation deriving from my LTE – as but a part in the process – discussion of the post-event evolution of the TT produced at that event seeks to remedy what I see as a flaw in the design of that LTE. This study then concludes with reflection on the possible forms and functions of LTEs such as those described in this paper.


In this section, the aim is to review relevant extant research and academic writing regarding LTEs. This should allow for some discussion of the potential – and possible directions – of LTEs in their relation to pedagogy as well as to translation theory and practice, more generally.

As a live ‘performance’ – with an audience – any translation event such as those discussed in this article relate, in theory, to ‘performativity’ (Wolf, 2017). To clarify, however, the focus – in this context – is on the practice and process of translation and not on ‘reenactment’ (Johnson: 2019, p.169). Translation events as conceived in this article certainly chime with the increased visibility of the translator: they also have the capacity for providing data regarding – and insight into – the ways in which translators work. By now, it should be clear that LTEs, as conceived here, are different to situations involving interpreting, chuchotage, or sight translation.[9] They should be seen, moreover, as particular – and distinct – forms or situations of translation, as any instance of translation can be styled as a ‘translation event’.

Live translation and pedagogy – Marko Miletich & José Dávila Montes
As far as I have been able to ascertain, the first LTE was organised by Marko Miletich and José Dávila Montes in 2010 at Barnard College in New York City.[10] In the abstract for a paper given by Miletich in 2015, he explains the format of the event. In short: ‘The event paired two students translating in front of an audience while their actions were projected into two adjacent screens.’ (Miletich, 2015) Furthermore, he explains the use of technology in the experiment: ‘Camtasia and Translog were utilized to record visited websites and keystrokes.’ Other defining aspects to this experiment – Miletich (2015) explains – were ‘reflection and comments’, ultimately enabling discussion between the translators and audience members.

Figure 1. Photo illustrating the set-up for the 2010 LTE – provided and reproduced by kind permission of José Dávila Montes.

This LTE began with a 30-minute presentation discussing research methodologies in Translation Studies given by Dávila Montes. Thereafter, the translators were set to work on a short story (112 words) in Spanish. They worked publicly – on adjacent screens – whilst being ‘isolated’ from the public in two ways: they were seated with their back to the audience and they wore ‘headsets with mild classical music’. Miletich gave a running commentary on their work ‘on the fly’. When the translations were completed, time was given over to discussion.[11]

Live translation and activism – Yong Zhong
In stark contrast with the above experiment is an instance of a LTE with an utterly different approach and function, as discussed by Zhong (2016). His research into LTEs takes a very different situation as its material. His case study concerns ‘a goal-driven activist’ (Yuan Tianpeng) whose live translation was ‘part of his activist campaign of achieving social change and promoting a democratic orderly way of assembly in China’. Zhong (2016, p.45) goes on to provide a definition of live translation based on his material, which is very different to the forms of LTE as staged by Miletich/Dávila Montes and myself:

[I]t is a form of translation delivered live and directly to the audience. It is activist, purpose-driven, and intended to serve a cause. It is dynamic, fluid, inventive and improvisational in the style of delivery. It aims to produce (and co-produce with the audience) new wisdom informed by existing wisdom, and from a foreign source. It involves the use of alternative media and multimedia. (Zhong: 2016, p.53)

The aims of this form of live translation are not purely performative, intellectual, or pedagogical. Rather, the process seeks to have a positive real-world impact on the everyday lives of local communities.

Zhong’s translator (Tianpeng) used a much wider range of techniques and technology than were used in the experiment for the present study or in that of Miletich/Dávila Montes. Zhong (2016, p.47) reports that his translator interacted with his audience in a great variety of ways: this included ‘[showing] slides, [playing] videos, and [staging] role-plays and mini-dramatic acts’. This may be linked to the different – and very specific – goal of Zhong’s translator:

[The translator] was working together with his audience to create a new procedure, whereas interpreters and sight translators would usually work with a text and negotiate meanings with the source text or source speaker without active and dedicated engagement of audience and readers. (Zhong: 2016, p.44)

What is clear from this description is the idea that the role of the audience – in this context – is much more active than in either of the pedagogical settings outlined in the present study. In fact, it is a key constituent of Zhong’s/Tianpeng’s ‘staging’ of live translation. Illustrating this, Zhong explains how Tianpeng – who may be seen as a translation guide or facilitator – ‘changed his tactics [or strategy] in real time’ (Zhong: 2016, p.46) when it was observed that the participating audience were struggling with the content and concepts of the Source Text (ST). It is in this sense that Tianpeng’s approach to live translation can be seen as more ‘dynamic, fluid, inventive, and improvisational’ (Zhong: 2016, p.45) than either of those adopted in the pedagogical settings.

A final point: Zhong’s eloquent analysis emphasises that his translator ‘de-prioritizes’ the written word as the focus or mode of translation. Thus, his case study illustrates alternative approaches to – and forms of – live translation, including casting the translator as facilitator in the ‘co-production’ of meaning, and offers an innovative approach to translation itself.

Figure 2: Home-made poster for my LTE.


The LTE that I organised took place in 2018. It was recorded for the purposes of reflection.[12] I organised the event in my dual capacity as a lecturer at the University of Leeds (UK) and as a practising translator. As a snapshot or synchronous stage of translation practice, the event in question provided public insight into one translator’s working methods and strategies – albeit in an unusual or artificial setting – in real time. Beyond the limited duration of the live translation, however, the excerpt translated during the event was subject to subsequent stages of revision and proofreading prior to publication. The public attending the original event were not party to this.

As the blurb of the poster explains, a public – primarily made up of students and fellow teachers, but ‘All welcome’ – was invited to attend an event entitled ‘Watch a Translator at Work’. (See Figure 2.) The presentation – promising ‘thrills’ and ‘danger’ – was designed to be tongue-in-cheek. The blurb reveals that the material for translation was an excerpt of Boris Vian’s Vercoquin et le plancton. It also indicates, therefore, that the genre – roughly speaking – is literary, as opposed to medical, legal, or otherwise technical, for example.[13] The direction was French to English.

The vague plan was to attempt to recreate the way I translate – privately, from the comfort of my sofa at home – in a public setting. The venue was a Leeds University seminar room, equipped with a computer and monitor, digital projector and screen, as well as seating. Before the advertised start time, I opened Word (and the working Word document containing my draft), I accessed certain online tools (namely,,,, and shared the lecturer’s screen with the ‘big screen’.

The session began with a short introduction (8 minutes long), which sought to explain the genealogy of the event[14], some of my motivations, how I imagined working in this environment, and how the audience might interact. Regarding motivations, they may be listed as follows:

  • To engage students in the theory and practice of translation;
  • To show students that my approach to translation is as a slow process based on research, reflection, and revision;
  • To demystify the process of translation;
  • To learn from the observations, questions, and comments of the audience.

As part of my introduction, I announced that I anticipated that I should be happier working and not commenting on what I was doing.[15]

Following the short introduction, I began working. From the recording of the event, a number of general observations can be made. For example:

  • The rate of work varies from quite fast to painstakingly slow;
  • Attempts to correct ‘typos’ and errors in consistency in presentation are made as part of the process of translation (and not solely at the stage of (post-)editing);
  • Constant recourse to research is seen when online tools are used and when certain websites are consulted.

Whilst these aspects of translation do little by way of engaging an audience, they are intrinsic parts of translation that generally remain unseen.

Audience participation
Unsure as to whether or not the event would be as exciting as watching paint dry, I hinted – in the introduction – at the idea of audience participation. I had in mind this quotation from Bourdieu (1979):

The most radical difference between popular entertainments – from Punch and Judy shows, wrestling or circuses, or even the old neighbourhood cinema, to soccer matches – and bourgeois entertainments is found in audience participation. In one case, it is constant, manifest (boos, whistles), sometimes direct (pitch or playing-field invasions); in the other it is intermittent, distant, highly ritualized, with obligatory applause, and even shouts of enthusiasm, at the end, or even perfectly silent (concerts in churches). Jazz, a bourgeois entertainment which mimics popular entertainment, is only an apparent exception: the signs of participation (hand-clapping or foot-tapping) are limited to a silent sketch of the gesture (at least in free jazz).[16]

The event was not styled as a form of entertainment. Nonetheless, it can be seen as a performance – albeit an artificial insight into a much longer process.[17] Designed as an informal event – intended to be engaging, at least, on some intellectual level – the idea of audience participation is an attractive one in pedagogical terms. However, the relatively unprecedented nature of the event – in other words, live translation as an event has not had time to develop ‘ritualized’ forms of participation – meant that audience participation in any form would be spontaneous, unpredictable. Even so, more formal aspects – given the university setting and the unfortunate hierarchies of power that can often separate staff and students, for example – might justify the expectation that participation would be genteel and not take the form of heckling, for example.

Whilst I did not expect boos, whistles, or applause, nor did I expect stony silence. This perhaps explains why – in the little introduction – I actively courted and encouraged some form of interaction. In the event, audience participation came in a number of forms. For example, having finally corrected a typing error – which had lain exposed on-screen for some minutes – one member of the audience shared a comment (expressing relief that the error had been spotted and corrected). This perhaps drew attention to the fact that the correction, revision, and editing of the draft is a continual process. A later comment – generous in nature – reassuringly stated that the event itself was that audience member’s ‘idea of fun’. An early obstacle, over which I spent some time dithering, was seen – helpfully – as an opportunity for a question: would I ever leave a difficult bit and come back to it? This raised a very practical issue about the process of translation. At about the same point, another question came – regarding more the text itself. (The question was intended – I think – to help me find a solution.)

In short, participation came in the form of comments and questions – all useful, whether general or particular, in reflecting on the process, and different aims and strategies, of translation. Aspects discussed as a result of such comments and questions included onomastics, equivalence, and voice. Questions about the text itself were asked to facilitate contextual understanding on the part of the audience. Participation also took the unexpected form of a request to take a photograph. (See Figure 3, below.)

Figure 3: Photo – showing the shadowy translator dwarfed by the text – reproduced by kind permission of artist/writer Emma Bolland.)

After an hour of translation, a more ritualized form of participation – Q&A – allowed more comments and questions and more exchange of ideas. As I did not think to provide any forms for feedback, the opportunity to record audience responses to the event was missed.[18] An informal assessment of the ‘success’ of the event – for example in engaging the audience with the theory and practice of translation – can nonetheless be made independently by watching the recording.

If the motivations behind this experiment can now be re-framed as aims, my belief is that this LTE succeeded in engaging the audience and in revealing typically hidden aspects of the translation process. I certainly learnt from the event – but what I learnt (other than that discussed in the following section) is beyond the remit of this paper. More relevant is what I see as the greatest flaw in my LTE: as the audience did not share in seeing how the in-event draft evolved subsequently, the event perhaps mystifies rather than demystifies the translation process.


During the event, a draft TT of 379 words was produced from a ST of 334 words. Four years after the event – almost to the day – the final translation was published by Wakefield Press. (See Figure 4.) Changes made to the first draft in the final version – highlighted in yellow (See Annexe) – can be summarised as follows:

i. Superficial changes – particularly regarding punctuation and presentation;
Correction of errors (linguistic), including typing errors;
ii. Changes in vocabulary;
iii. Omission;
iv. Transposition;
v. Changes in syntax, including choice of tense;
vi. Correction of errors (meaning/sense).

These are listed according to a subjective appraisal of their order of importance. Thus, they range from the ‘mechanical’ – involving, for example, consistently following and checking given guidelines for presentation – through issues relating more to style, to finish with the utterly important matter of accuracy. Briefly, the aim now is to discuss examples of these changes, in turn.

Figure 4: Cover of the final product (published by Wakefield Press, USA: November 2022).

i. Superficial changes
Many of the final changes were superficial in nature, involving the adaptation of British-style to US-style punctuation. Some changes, purely presentational – such as converting the draft ellipsis (‘…’) into the final version (‘ . . . ’) – were prompted by the house style of the publisher. Also noteworthy is the difference in approach to punctuating and presenting dialogue. Other than making the point that it is helpful to know which style to adopt at the start of the process, there is little to add about this fairly mechanical aspect of the translation process.

ii. Correction of errors (linguistic), including typing errors
Despite constant attention to – and continual correction of – typing errors, during the event, three significant ‘typos’ remained at the end of the LTE. The most obvious ‘typo’ was ‘agrre’, which should have read ‘agree’ (Excerpt 1). The final version addresses this, just as it adapts the punctuation required for dialogue.

The third ‘typo’ involved an omission:

This error was remedied in revision. In some ways, these examples represent another more mechanical aspect of proofreading and post-editing. Notionally, therefore, this presents as one of the easier aspects of quality control.

iii. Changes in vocabulary
Certain changes in vocabulary may seem just as superficial as the adaptation of punctuation to house style. However, such changes – precisely at the micro-level of sense-making and accuracy – are significant.

Whilst ‘magical effect’ is a better collocation – quantifiably – than ‘magical result’, it was perhaps felt that the latter was more appropriate in the somewhat scientific context of the novel.

In Excerpt 3, we can see that it was decided to change ‘lagging behind’ to ‘following’.

The draft solution is certainly idiomatic, expressive, and evocative: as the Fromental character has just suffered a ‘defeat’, in the context of the preceding scene, his ‘lagging behind’ corresponds to his feeling sheepish, subdued. Perhaps, however, it was felt that this was unnecessary over-translation – after all, the French reads simply as ‘[…] suivi de Fromental […]’. In reverting to a translation closer to the strict meaning of the ST, the English-language reader is left – as is the French-language reader – to imagine or infer how Fromental is feeling, with no additional cues or clues.

iv. Omission
The one example of omission concerned this sentence:

In this sentence in the draft translation, there are no fewer than four ‘that’s. This arguably has a negative impact – because repetitious, inelegant – on style. The suppression of just one ‘that’ serves to mitigate this, however slightly. Even so, the remaining ‘that’s arguably retain the formal register and verbosity of the speech in the ST.

v. Transposition
The intended translation ‘I agree completely’ of the first draft was revised and finalised as ‘I am in complete agreement with you’. This revision – in expanding expression of the same sense through transposition – seems to be based solely on considerations of style. It is perhaps a slightly more accurate reflection of the formality and verbosity of the ST: ‘je suis tout à fait de votre avis.’

The draft translation ‘The Major was abuzz with excitement’ was transposed – in revision – to become ‘The Major was buzzing with excitement’. It can be noted that an initial decision was made to avoid a closer translation of the French idiom ‘frissonner d’excitation’ – which could translate, perfectly idiomatically, as ‘to tremble/tingle with excitement’. In the course of the event, I made a comment about this, which sought to explain my thinking. During the process of revision, clearly having stood by this decision – informed by Vian the Zazou’s fondness for words with ‘z’ in them – ‘abuzz’ was changed to ‘buzzing’. Whilst this may be viewed as an intralingual transposition, the final draft solution is more in line grammatically with the ST: ‘Le Major frissonnait d’excitation.’

Another factor influencing this final decision may be Vian’s penchant – in this novel – for zoomorphism.[19] That the Major ‘buzzes’ rather than tingles or trembles therefore fits with this aspect of the novel.

vi. Changes in syntax, including choice of tense
In the ST, we can note that the subject of both verbs in the opening line of Excerpt 1 is Fromental.

He bit his lip and he was bleeding. The draft and final versions recognise the idea that it is more idiomatic in English for one’s lip to be bleeding. (One would not say: ‘He was bleeding from his lip.’) This – in part – might explain the shift from imperfect (‘[…] it was bleeding’) to simple perfect (‘[…] it bled’). The draft solution –descriptive, visual, and immediate – perhaps works. Indeed, the only advantage that the final version may have is that it is more concise. However, it is arguably more narratorial than descriptive in tone. All in all, this is a very subtle decision based on an assessment of style.

Another change informed by style can be found in this re-structuring of the draft:

The corresponding ST sentence (Excerpt 3) is quite long. It includes dialogue, adverbial clauses, an odd simile – of which, more shortly – and a relative clause with its own participial construction. As a result of splitting this long sentence in two, the final draft is easier to read/follow in English. The style – in avoiding the quick repetition of ‘as’ – is also arguably less ‘clunky’.

vii. Correction of errors (meaning/sense)
The draft translation contained three mis-translations or errors regarding sense/meaning. The simplest error to ‘correct’ – in this experiment – concerned the omission of a detail:

It is not uncommon – in practice – for a translator to omit a detail, or sometimes even a whole sentence or paragraph. Not for conscious reasons of censorship or cultural adaptation, but owing to simple oversight or a lapse in concentration, for example. In the case above, the omission is minor and does not alter the overall meaning. Nonetheless, this illustrates how the translator must check their version against the ST, and seek to ensure that any such oversights are remedied.

That said, another omission of detail – perhaps judged to be unimportant during the event itself – was left uncorrected:

In this example, it was deemed unimportant – even in the first draft – to reiterate the nature of the location. The omission of any reference to the ‘Consortium’ is not a barrier to comprehension. As the last line of Chapter VII, it may be argued that this omission makes for a punchier ending. Again, this is a question of style.

Another interesting feature of this example – lest we overlook it – is the switch from ‘the sixth floor’ to ‘the seventh floor’. In this instance, the American editor and proofreader recommended this cultural adaptation – from British conventions to US.

A second mis-read concerns the following part of Excerpt 3:

In the Q&A following the in-event translation, one audience member gently pointed out that the near-literal translation of ‘se tenir’ was a mis-translation.[20] Whilst understandable – and even logical, coherent – in the romantic context of the scene, this mis-translation – based on a literal reading of the idiom ‘se tenir’ (to stand, to be) as ‘to hold each other’ – was corrected in the process of revision. It cannot be known if this mis-translation would have been picked up independently by either the translator, editor, or proofreader. What this example illustrates, nonetheless, is the ease with which a translator can fall prey to ST influence. Once more, this is something that must receive particular and close attention throughout the editing and revision processes.

The Q&A was useful in exposing another mis-read – this concerned the expression ‘secouer comme un prunier’.

This is a very good example of Vian’s unique – and surreal – writing style. The mistake lies in trying to make sense of a surreal simile which can be explained in terms of a technique that Vian uses frequently. Briefly put, much of the surrealism in Vian derives from wordplay, roughly taking the form of word association (or ‘rallongement’). The standard expression (‘to shake someone’s hand’) has been extended through the splicing of an idiomatic simile, ‘secouer comme un prunier’ (literally, ‘to shake like a plum tree’).

A near-literal translation of the ST, therefore, would read as follows: ‘whilst shaking the hand of the Delegate like a plum tree as he left.’ Helpfully, another audience member had – during the event – done their own research and consulted the dictionary of the Académie française. In so doing, they discovered the following entry: ‘Secouer quelqu’un comme un prunier, lui faire de très vifs reproches.’ Thus, ‘to shake someone like a plum tree’ is usually used figuratively – not literally! – to express reproach and extreme disapproval. The ST shoe-horns the figurative into the literal, producing a comic – or, at least, confusing – effect by making concrete the metaphorical. The solution in the final draft sought to replicate that by somehow incorporating a common simile in English – ‘to shake like a leaf’[21] – into the mundane act of shaking hands.


LTEs – in the different forms illustrated and discussed in this article – would seem to offfer great potential, in myriad ways, depending on the intended function of any given live event. A number of significant differences in approach may be styled as variables:

  • number of translators;
  • translator experience;
  • text type/length;
  • language combination;
  • varying degrees of ‘closure.’

We can review these variables – with an eye on the potential and future directions of LTEs – in terms of variety in function. Roughly, we can consider this as involving minimal or maximal audience participation.

Minimal audience participation

A. The aim is to produce a finished/publishable TT within the time constraints of the event itself.
B. The event seeks – more soberly – to produce a draft, a work-in-progress, for subsequent revision.

In either case, the event could serve both pedagogical purposes and ‘real-world’ applications, as well as providing material for more scientific investigation into how translators work. They both provide a window onto the work of translators for a public or audience. To focus on pedagogy, the work produced at the event could constitute coursework for submission and assessment. Alternatively, it could be used as a source of reflection – for a translation commentary, for example.

One obvious drawback of the approach taken by the present study is that ‘closure’ is a long time in coming. In contrast, in the case of the experiment run by Miletich and Dávila Montes, the working translators were given a text short enough to make its translation manageable within the timeframe of the event. In my experiment, the audience saw just a snaphot of the ST – with little preparation – and left the event with no idea as to how the draft produced at the event would evolve, or how it would be finalised.[22] This arguably limits the usefulness of the ‘snapshot’ approach. And it probably mystifies the process of translation rather than achieving the stated aim (see above) to demystify it. In Zhong’s case study, closure came – after what was in fact a long series of sustained LTEs – in the form of a working document.

Remaining more in the context of pedagogy, as one of the variables is the number of translators participating – or working – at the event, another way of framing the event could be along these lines:

A. The event is a ‘masterclass’ or merely a ‘window’ providing insight into one translator’s approach to translation.
B. The event allows for comparison of two (or more) translators’ approaches. It might even be styled as a competition.

Both options arguably present certain risks. In either case, irrespective of the level of experience or expertise of the translator(s), there is great scope for exposing – making public – weaknesses in the skills and competence of the translator(s) at work. Some individuals might be mortified at being seen to make mistakes, to struggle with so-called ‘easy bits’, or to utterly mis-read the ST.

The ’masterclass’ approach could have the negative effect of perpetuating the myth – in the minds of many students – that there is a ‘right answer/solution’ to a particular translation problem. More positively, a teacher-cum-translator can at least show students how they work. This exposure has the potential – at this level, at least – to demystify the process. Students might thereby be reassured – when they see their teacher’s hesitation, level of research, and their mistakes. It might also be of benefit to those whose learning styles owe more to seeing than doing or learning by rote, through illustration – in action – of ideas and concepts explained in lectures. In this light, live translation might inspire students or give them new tools or new ways of working.

Differently dangerous, the ‘competition’ approach – win or lose – has a different potential for bruising Egos. Furthermore, one might wonder if it is ethical – for example – to oblige students to ‘compete’ in this way, especially if under the auspices of assessment. However, if students are prepared to participate in such an event, that could easily overlap with – or morph into – a Translation Slam, which has the potential to be fun and engaging as well as extremely fruitful in terms of the discussions it could generate at the levels of theory through practice.[23]

Maximal audience participation
Whether the aim is to produce a draft for pedagogical purposes or more – as in the case of Zhong’s study – to produce a final draft for practical application, the role of the translator(s) can be framed differently in terms of co-production:

A. The translator – taking centre-stage – is assisted by the audience.
B. The translator acts as facilitator and assists the audience in coming up with a collaborative translation.

In the context of co-production involving real-world applications, activism, and impacts on local communities, the focus might well be more on the product – ultimately – than on the process. Nonetheless, as Zhong’s work shows, theoretical benefits accrue to discussions about the process of translation and, indeed, to theories of performativity and modes of translation.


In considering three approaches to live translation, this article has sought to consolidate past takes on varying approaches to live translation as an event (or a series thereof), whilst considering other possible forms and functions of LTEs. We have seen that the tag ‘live translation’ has been attached to a variety of different theories and practices relating to translation. My staging of live translation was different to that of Miletich/Dávila Montes. Comparison of the two university-based experiments has exposed some of the potential that a LTE – and further, different takes on the idea – might have in a pedagogical setting. In contrast, Zhong’s analysis of Tianpeng’s work shines a light on an alternative approach to live translation – one with a very different function.

In organising a LTE – somehow involving a public – we have seen that a number of variables are at play. Decisions regarding these variables would be informed by the intended aims or function of any given LTE. We have discussed some of the implications of certain choices – for example, staging a professional translator as opposed to two students or amateurs. These include ethical considerations such as impacts of the event on both translator(s) (their Ego) and the audience (having a sense of closure). The failure of my experiment to demystify the process of translation has been mitigated – it is hoped – by the inclusion, here, of some discussion of the post-editing process. It has also been included – as a cautionary tale – to illustrate the aspect of ‘closure’ perhaps essential if any LTE is to have any meaningful impact in a timely manner.

One variable not discussed thus far is that of language combination. In a Zhong-/Tianpeng-style approach, the language combination will probably involve a Source Language (SL) not known to the public – however, the Target Language (TL) will necessarily be their own. In a pedagogical setting, there is a lot more freedom. In the examples provided by Miletich/Dávila Montes and the present study, the TL was English – for the benefit of predominantly anglophone audiences. The SL was dictated by the context – i.e. either French or Spanish, depending on the University Department organising the event. Spawning further possibilities, however, it could be interesting – in a variety of settings – to experiment with LTEs in which the audience is unfamiliar with the SL.[24] Alternatively, the language direction could be flipped – for example, a predominantly anglophone audience might watch – and perhaps contribute to – translation from English into a TL with which they are unfamiliar.[25]

This discussion has attempted to outline possible features, forms, and functions of LTEs. It might serve to encourage other scholars, teachers, and/or translators to organise their own LTEs. A final reflection… As the Age of Artifical Intelligence asserts itself more and more, LTEs might be privileged in the potential they have to serve as loci for mounting resistance to AI and machine translation. They can showcase how only humans can interpret certain texts and respond to them creatively. And this enterprise must, we soon realise, be based not on the chance finds of machine-learning algorithms, but on discerning research into – and understanding of – the material, as well as its author(s), genre(s), function(s), and audience.

Address for correspondence:


Acknowledgements: The author wishes to offer profound thanks to Marko Miletich (Buffalo State University, NY) and José Dávila Montes (University of Texas Rio Grande Valley) for their kindness, enthusiasm, and generosity in providing him with more detailed information about their innovative work than is currently publicly available.



Aguilar, R.P. and Guénette, M.-F. eds. 2021. Situatedness and Performativity: Translation and Interpreting Practice Revisited. Leuven: Leuven University Press.

Bourdieu, P. 1979. La Distinction. Paris: Minuit. Translated by Zlotnick, S. and Nice, R. 1984. Distinction. Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Bradford, T. 2022. Translating Boris Vian’s ‘Vercoquin et le plancton’: Does it mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing? French Cultural Studies. 33(1), pp.74–90.

Briggs, K. 2017. This Little Art. United Kingdom: Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Ehrensberger-Dow, M. and Englund Dimitrova, B. 2018. Cognitive space: Exploring the situational interface. Translation Spaces. 5(1), pp.1–19.

Gouleti, K. and Misiou, V. 2021. Crossing swords while crossing boundaries: teaching translation through intermedial translation slams. transLogos Translation Studies Journal. 4(1), pp.1-25.

Hernández, J.R.M. 1986. Onomastique et jeu dans ‘Vercoquin et le plancton’ de Boris Vian. Anuario de estudios filológicos. 9, pp.179-189.

Johnson, K. 2019. Performance and performativity. In: Agnew, V., Lamb, J. and Tomann, J. eds. The Routledge handbook of reenactment studies. Key terms in the field. Abingdon: Routledge, pp.169-172.

McGuinness, P. 2019. The Permissions of Translation. In: Louth, C. & McGuinness, P. eds. Gravity and Grace. Essays for Roger Pearson. Cambridge: Legenda, pp.207-26.

Miletich, M. 2015. The Translator as Performer. 5th IATIS Conference. Innovation Paths in Translation and Intercultural Studies. Book of Abstracts. p.201. [Online]. [Accessed 17 June 2023]. Available from:

Razlogova, E. 2020. The liberation politics of live translation: global south cinemas in Soviet Tashkent. Journal of Cinema and Media Studies. 59(4), pp.183-188.

Venuti, L. 1995. The Translator’s Invisibility. London: Routledge.

Vian, B. 1947. Vercoquin et le plancton. Paris: Gallimard. Translated by Bradford, T. 2022. Vercoquin and the Plankton. Cambridge, Massachussetts: Wakefield Press.

Wolf, M. 2017. A ‘performative turn’ in translation studies? Reflections from a sociological perspective. TranscUlturAl: A Journal of Translation and Cultural Studies. 9(1), pp.27-44.

Zhong, Y. 2016. Translate live to generate new knowledge: A case study of an activist translation project. Translation Spaces. A multidisciplinary, multimedia, and multilingual journal of translation. 5(1), pp.38-58.


Source Text (Excerpt 1)

Si fort se mordit Fromental la lèvre inférieure qu'il en saignait comme un tapir.

— Monsieur le Délégué, conclut le Président Lavertu, pressé d'aller rejoindre sa petite amie dans un bar zazou, je suis tout à fait de votre avis et je vois que notre ordre du jour est épuisé. Messieurs, il me reste donc à vous remercier de votre attention. Nous pouvons lever la séance.

Les mots « lever la séance » avaient une résonance magique et parvenaient dans certaines conditions opératoires favorables à réveiller les Inspecteurs généraux.

Le Délégué s’attardait dans un coin avec Miqueut.

— Ce projet est excellent, monsieur Miqueut, je pense que vous y êtes pour quelque chose ?...

Target Text – in-event draft (Excerpt 1)

So sharply did Fromental bite his lower lip that it was bleeding like a Vietnamese potbellied pig.

‘Dear Government Delegate’, Monsieur Lavertu said, in a hurry to get back to his girlfriend who was in a jazz bar, I agrre completely and I see that we have reached the end of the agenda. Dear Sirs, it remains only for me to thank you for your attention in this matter. The meeting is hereby adjourned.’

The word ‘adjourned’ echoed round the meeting room and had the magical effect, given the favorable conditions in which it worked, of waking the General Inspectors.

The Government Delegate had stayed behind and was having a word with Miqueut.

‘This an excellent draft, Monsieur Miqueut. You had something of a hand in this, I believe…’

Target Text – published version (Excerpt 1)

So sharply did Fromental bite his lower lip that it bled like a Vietnamese potbellied pig.

“Dear Government Delegate,” concluded Monsieur Lavertu, in a hurry to get back to his girlfriend who was in a jazz bar, “I am in complete agreement with you and I see that we have reached the end of the agenda. Gentlemen, it remains only for me to thank you for your attention in this matter. The meeting is hereby adjourned.”

The word “adjourned” echoed round the meeting room and had the magical result, given the favorable conditions in which it worked, of waking the General Inspectors.

The Government Delegate had stayed behind and was having a word with Miqueut.

“This an excellent draft, Monsieur Miqueut. You had something of a hand in this, I believe . . .”

Source Text (Excerpt 2)

— Mon Dieu, dit Miqueut en souriant avec modestie, ce qui était moins dangereux car ses dents restaient couvertes..., il a été rédigé par mon adjoint M. Loustalot..., en somme...

Le danger passé, il se regonflait.

— Je vois, dit le Délégué. Vous êtes toujours modeste, monsieur Miqueut... je regrette d’avoir soulevé la discussion de tout à l'heure, puisqu'elle était sans fondement, mais il m'arrive tellement de documents que je n'ai jamais le temps de les lire, et les indications de Vercoquin - qui est un débutant, et par conséquent, zélé et excusable - m’avaient paru... enfin, l’incident est clos. Au revoir, monsieur Miqueut.


Target Text – in-event draft (Excerpt 2)

‘Goodness!’ cried Miqueut, with a humble smile, which was less dangerous as it meant that his teeth remained unseen. ‘It was drafted by my deputy, Monsieur Lustalot… in short…’

Having narrowly escaped, his confidence came back.

‘Ah, I see’, said the Government Delegate. ‘You’re always so modest, Monsieur Miqueut… I’m sorry that I raised that matter, back there, in the meeting, not least because there was no substance to it, but I receive so many documents that I never have time to read them, and the advice that I got from Vercoquin – who has only just joined us and who is, understandably, somewhat overenthusiastic, and can therefore be forgiven – had seemed… well, that’s all in the past, now… Goodbye, Monsieur Miqueut.’


Target Text – published version (Excerpt 2)

“Goodness!” cried Miqueut, with a humble smile, which was less dangerous as it meant that his teeth remained unseen. “It was drafted by my deputy, Monsieur Lustalot . . . in short . . .”

Having narrowly escaped, his confidence came back.

“Ah, I see,” said the Government Delegate. “You’re always so modest, Monsieur Miqueut . . . I’m sorry – I raised that matter, back there, in the meeting, not least because there was no substance to it, but I receive so many documents that I never have time to read them, and the advice that I got from Vercoquin—who has only just joined us and who is, understandably, somewhat overenthusiastic, and can therefore be forgiven—had seemed . . . well, that’s all in the past, now. Goodbye, Monsieur Miqueut.”

Source Text (Excerpt 3)

— Au revoir, monsieur, au plaisir, et merci bien de votre amabilité... dit Miqueut, le nez levé, en secouant comme un prunier la main du Délégué qui s’éloigna, suivi de Fromental exsangue. Au revoir, Monsieur le Président, au plaisir... Au revoir, monsieur... Au revoir, monsieur...

La salle se vidait lentement. Le Major attendit que tout le monde fût sorti, puis il emboîta le pas à son chef et regagna le sixième étage du Consortium.


— Il avait bien mauvaise mine, tout de même, dit Zizanie avec une odeur de pitié dans la voix ;

C’était l’après-midi du même jour. Le Major et sa souris se tenaient dans l’antre de Miqueut qui venait de descendre à la manille. Le Major frissonnait d’excitation.


Target Text – in-event draft (Excerpt 3)

‘Goodbye, Monsieur, I look forward, er… and I thank you for being so kind…’ said Miqueut, with his nose in the air, shaking Requin’s hand as if were shaking an apple tree, as the Government Delegate tried to leave the room, with Fromental, ashen-faced, lagging behind him. ‘Goodbye, Monsieur, I look forward to, er… Goodbye, Sir… Goodbye, Monsieur…’

The meeting room emptied slowly. The Major waited until everyone had left, but then he followed his boss up to the sixth floor.


‘He looked awful, didn’t he?’ said Zizanie, with an aroma of pity in her voice; XXXX

It was the same day. The Major and his darling were embracing in Miqueut’s lair. The mogul had just gone downstairs to play cards. The Major was abuzz with excitement.

Target Text – published version (Excerpt 3)

“Goodbye, Monsieur, I look forward, er . . . and I thank you for being so kind . . .” said Miqueut, with his nose in the air. He was shaking Requin’s hand like a leaf, as the Government Delegate tried to leave the room, with Fromental, ashen faced, following him. “Goodbye, Monsieur, I look forward to, er . . . Goodbye, Monsieur . . . Goodbye, Monsieur . . .”

The meeting room emptied slowly. The Major waited until everyone had left, then followed his boss up to the seventh floor.


“He looked awful, didn’t he?” said Zizanie, with a whiff of pity in her voice.

It was the afternoon of the same day. The Major and his darling were – in Miqueut’s lair, as he had just gone downstairs to play cards. The Major was buzzing with excitement.

[1] Whilst this is a commonplace, this is acknowledged by Miletich (2015, p.201) in the context of his pioneering research/practice. It is also recognised by Zhong (2016, p.44), whose research is equally relevant and useful. Nonetheless, there are many well-known exceptions to this assumption: for example, Hergé’s English-language translators, Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner, and Michelle Léglise and Boris Vian, who worked together to translate US crime fiction and sci-fi into French.

[2] The Romantic view of the solitary translator is at odds with reality when it comes to most translation work. And even if many translators create drafts on their own, their work is often collaborative – the final product will almost certainly be the result of the efforts of others, including proofreaders, editors, post-editors, or project managers.

[3] Thanks to campaigns such as ‘#NameTheTranslator’, this has begun to change, in recent years.

[4] This is in the wake of Lawrence Venuti’s seminal work (1995), The Translator’s Invisibility.

[5] For example, see Kate Briggs (2017), This Little Art.

[6] In the realm of ‘pseudo-translation’, there are many instances of writers who have ‘translated’ non-existent Source Texts. In doing this, they by-pass original authors and become at once author and translator. For a most elegant introduction to this meta-translational phenomenon, see McGuinness (2019).

[7] For more specific discussion of the ‘situatedness of the cognitive act of translation’, see Ehrensberger-Dow and and Englund Dimitrova (2018, p.1).

[8] As Translation Slams typically focus on the product of translation – rather than exposing the translator in the act of translation – they stand beyond the remit of the present study.

[9] In her research into the ‘live translation’ of film screenings, Razlogova (2020) is clearly using this term differently to how it is intended in the present study. This underlines the need to clarify one’s conception of ‘live translation’. Razlogova’s focus on ‘live translation’ is as a way of facilitating participation for different audiences. In the present study, the focus is on the event itself.

[10] At the time, Miletich was at Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY), while Dávila Montes was at the University of Texas Brownsville.

[11] I thank Marko and José for generously providing me – in private email correspondence – with details shared here.

[12] The recording of the event can be accessed via this link: It is also accessible – in five parts – via YouTube. Part 1 is available here:

[13] Whilst I have worked as a professional translator since 2001, I had only ever preiously dabbled – for fun – with literary translation, and never with a view to publication, before embarking on translating Vian’s second novel. The idea for the event-cum-experiment came as I was halfway through a first-draft translation of this novel, which had attracted me as a peculiar and peculiarly challenging text to translate. See Bradford (2022).

[14] I also briefly explained the surrealist nature of the source material.

[15] In fact, I ended up commenting quite frequently – perhaps to explain or justify what I knew would appear to be a strange decision or strategy, or to explain something of the context of the scene/novel. Comments on my part – whilst spontaneous and ad hoc – were also doubtless born of a nervous fear that the experiment would prove boring, and so were formulated in an attempt to maintain the interest of the audience.

[16] Bourdieu, Pierre, La Distinction (Paris: Minuit, 1979) translated by Susan Zlotnick and Richard Nice, Distinction (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1984), p.490.

[17] Nonetheless, care should should be taken not to confuse this with the concept of performativity as understood by Aguilar and Guénette (2021, p.13), for example, which emphasises ‘the repeated social and cultural practices as well as historicized norms shaping translation’. Even so, live translation – as a phenomenon characterised as a process – does have the potential to serve as a tool in the scholarly pursuit of the ‘sharpening of the sociological focus on transfer and translation processes.’ (Wolf, 2017, p.27)

[18] This was an oversight on my part. Depending on the function of a given LTE, organisers of future LTEs may wish to consider gleaning feedback on different aspects of the event.

[19] One Vian scholar (Hernández, 1986, p.184) has described many of the characters as constituting ‘la faune bureuacratique’ of the novel: he illustrates – at some length – a number of the ways in which Vian ‘animalistically’ portrays his ‘fauna of the office’.

[20] This is a good example of how LTEs – with the potential for a collaborative approach – might serve to produce translation with improved quality.

[21] Other existing options might include: ‘to shake like a jelly / crackhead / chihuahua / wet dog.’ More vulgar variations on the canine theme include ‘to shake like a shitting dog’. Whilst comical, the latter option – like the others listed here – was rejected in favour of a simile retaining at least the arboreal aspect of the original.

[22] It is for this reason that discussion of the post-editing process – however belated – has been incorporated into the present study.

[23] For discussion of the potential – and innovative use – of translation slams in teaching translation, see Gouleti and Misiou (2021).

[24] For example: an audience unfamiliar with Chinese might find great interest in learning how a translator produces an English-language TT from a language that uses logograms rather than letters.

[25] Some British universities still use English-French translation as a form of assessment. Whether styled as a ‘masterclass’ or collaborative task, such a LTE – even if only in the confines of the classroom – could be useful to students.