Staff writer

The new campus of the Babel University Professional School of Translation is no different from regular college campuses in its offerings and facilities; it has classrooms, professors’ offices, a library, counseling room, campus bookstore and student lounge.

The one difference is that they all exist on a computer screen. Students need a computer, instead of a commuting pass, to get to the school, which will award master’s degrees in translation.

The school, opening in June, is run by Babel Corp., a U.S. affiliate of Tokyo-based Babel University, which is touting it as the world’s first online professional translation school.

Babel University is a 25-year-old translation school that boasted an enrollment of 30,000 students last year, including those taking correspondence courses. The online school will have an initial enrollment of 50.

Babel officials said the growing importance of the Internet in the translation business provided the main impetus for the online school, a project that took three years to realize.

“The Internet has brought about tremendous changes in the translation business, creating both chances and challenges for us,” said Miyoko Yuasa, president of Babel K.K. and chancellor of the new school. “We call this the ‘Big Bang’ of translation,” she said, likening the trend to ongoing reforms in the financial sector.

As the popularity of the Internet grows in Japan, so does the demand for translators because the majority of overseas Web sites are in English, she explained. “Translation software? It is not sophisticated enough (to satisfy consumers). People want to read good Japanese,” Yuasa said.

The work of translators is also being transformed by the Internet, which translators can use as a database, as well as a means for teammates to communicate, according to Yuasa. “(This mode of communication) is really great at a time when dividing work among translators is becoming more important,” she said, citing more voluminous work with shorter deadlines.

At the same time, it can be painful for those who don’t catch the wave of the new technology.

Some experienced translators have lost their jobs because of their lack of computer skills, Yuasa said.

The online professional school, which is to be “located” in Burlingame, Calif., will offer majors in literary arts and film translation, business and management translation, and technical and scientific translation.

Students must complete 60 credits to graduate. “Courses are to be taught by top-of-the-line professional translators and some native speakers,” said Kazuo Imoto, a senior official at Babel K.K., the parent firm of Babel University.

Through the computer, students can attend lectures just like they would for a regular class. A professor speaks in front of a blackboard, and pupils listen and respond to questions.

Students are given assignments for each session, which are later returned with corrections and advice for improvement — annotated in red — by professors.

Students can also seek professors’ advice outside of class via e-mail. At a recent information session held at Babel’s Tokyo School, attendees who packed the school’s large hall varied in age and occupation.

“I came because I am interested in both the Internet and translation,” said Ushio Ogawa, a 62-year-old retiree who has a computer at home. “Because I used to work for a trading firm, I want to use my experience and do some financial translation here, but I am also interested in literary works.”

One 22-year-old woman said she came to the seminar because she found a master’s degree in translation appealing. Asked whether she would apply for the professional school, she said she was hesitant, referring to its $9,000 annual tuition on top of a $1,000 entrance fee. “It is kind of expensive, I need more time to think.”

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