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User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all

By Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords

Defining disability is not an easy task due to its multidimensionality. This paper begins with a revision of some of the most common models to define disability. The second part of the article examines end user profiling in articles, European funded projects and PhD thesis’ related to one of the media accessibility modalities: audio description. The objective is to understand the approach taken by researchers. The final part of the article will propose a new approach in the study of end users in experimental research in Translation Studies, Audiovisual Translation, and Media Accessibility. This new approach gives a response to the International Telecommunication Union’s suggestion of leaving the biomedical approaches behind. Our suggestion is based on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach, which has not yet been applied to user profiling in media accessibility studies. The article finishes by illustrating how this approach can be applied when profiling users in media accessibility questionnaires.

Keywords: media accessibility, capabilities, models of disability, audio description

©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all"
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1. Introduction

Defining disability is a daunting task given its connotations when applied to human conditions: physical, cognitive and social. Disability holds a human element in regards to a medical condition, associated with social and financial backgrounds that cannot be measured or simplified by one single definition or theoretical model (Albrecht et al. 2001). Theoretical models are useful and necessary, although it is important not to overlook the fact that they are simplistic and imperfect (Albrecht et al. 2001). Yet, models and definitions facilitate the task of researchers, as they offer a theoretical background and a methodology to work with. There are several models disability can be framed by, the medical one being among the earliest. Nonetheless, since studies into Disability began in 1994 at Syracuse University, there has been a radical, academic departure from it. This change of mindset has facilitated the emergence of other models that see disability as the result of a plethora of factors that have little or nothing to do with the person’s impairment.

This paper is divided into five sections. First, it will present some of the most popular models of disability. Second, it will look at research performed using these models. Third, it will describe a new approach from which to investigate disability within Media Accessibility (MA) studies. Fourth, some examples on how to apply this new model will be provided. Finally, some conclusions are drawn.

1.1. Models of disability

Fisher and Goodley (2007) explain the medical approach to disability:

A growing preoccupation with ‘normality’ meant that illness and disability became separated from everyday life and were constructed as forms of individual pathology. In this process the medical profession came to exert almost complete jurisdiction over the definitions of normality and abnormality (Fisher and Goodley 2007: 66).

The Medical Model is still dominating research in general. This is reinforced by our following of its linguistic composition, with the prefix “dis” changing the meaning of the word “ability”. In line with this, the lack or limitation on the capability of a person is classified by their condition. The Medical Model focuses on a biological reality being the cause of the impairment and it sees impairments as a personal condition that needs to be prevented, rehabilitated, or taken care of (Marks 1997). Despite its popularity, this model has been criticized on different grounds by activists and academics, for its failure “to acknowledge the defects in the environment” (Marks 1997: 87).

In contrast, the Social Model shifts the focus from health to society. It was mainly developed by Michael Oliver, who “sees disability, by contrast with impairment, as something imposed on disabled people by oppressive and discriminating social and institutional structures” (Terzi 2005: 201). This model has at least nine different versions (Mitra 2006) and deals with human diversity (Edler 2009). Disability is not the result of having a physical impairment, but the failure of society to consider individual differences (Bøttcher and Dammeyer 2016). Therefore, disability is not an attribute of the individual, but an environmental, social creation (Mitra 2006). However this model is not exempt from drawbacks. On one hand, and according to Shakespeare, “the simplicity which is the hallmark of the social model is also its fatal flaw” (Shakespeare 2010: 271). This author claims that the denial of impairment is an important factor in many disabled people’s lives and that the unrealistic concept of a barrier-free utopia, in which all barriers are removed are among the weaknesses of this model. On the other hand, Terzi (2005) considers there to be an aspect of over-socialization of sources and causes of disability, as well as the model overlooking the complex dimensions of impairment.

Even though these two models are paradigmatic, there are others worth mentioning. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) was initially drafted as a human rights convention that aimed to substitute the Medical Model for the Social Model. Yet, according to Degeners (2016), the drafters went beyond the Social Model and wrote a treaty based on a new approach: the Human Rights Model of Disability, to be implemented by the CRPD. It encircles many human rights: political, civil, economic, social and cultural. It goes beyond the anti-discrimination rights of disabled persons (Degeners 2016). Regarding its weaknesses, Berghs et al. (2016) underline that lack of enforcement has been issue and in turn, the lack of defined penalties. This is true for some world regions, but is not the case for the US, Australia or Europe, where laws have been enforced through heavy penalties applied by the CRPD. The Netflix caption lawsuit is a good example. In June 2011, the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) filed suit against Netflix for their lack of closed captioning for video streaming as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The judge ruled in favor of the NAD and Netflix was ordered to provide captions in its video streaming library in 2014, and to continue captioning content published from that moment on, along with having to pay a hefty sum for legal fees and damages.

The Nagi Model (Nagi 1991) has a dynamic approach based on the differences between four different but interrelated concepts: active pathology, impairment, functional limitation, and disability. Disability is an “inability or limitation in performing socially defined roles and tasks expected of an individual within a sociocultural and physical environment” (Nagi 1991: 315). These roles and tasks are organized into spheres of life activities, such as work, education, family, etc. For instance, think of a 10-year-old girl with a severe hearing impairment who does not attend school but stays at the farm where she lives with her parents helping with farming chores. If she lives in a society where young girls are not expected to go to school, then she cannot be labelled as “disabled” under this model. Conversely, she will be labelled ‘disabled’ if she lives in a place where girls her age go to school, as she is therefore not performing her socially expected role.

The Biopsychosocial Model is a response to the over-medicalisation of the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH). The UN World Health Organisation in 2001 published the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). The ICF was intended to complement its sister classification system, the International Classification of Diseases (ICD) (Brown and Lent 2008). The ICF Model sees disability as the result of a combination of individual, institutional and societal factors that define the environment of a person with an impairment (Dubois and Trani 2009). It is set in motion by the World Health Organization Disability Assessment Schedule II (WHODAS II), and covers all types of disabilities in various countries, languages and contexts, which makes it suitable for cross-cultural use. Dubois and Trani (2009) consider the ICF to be limited in its scope and use, since its primary purpose is classification. They believe the complexity of disability requires a wider and more comprehensive analytical view. Ellis (2016) also raised this issue, highlighting the difference between disability and impairment.

In 2017, the UN agency International Telecommunication Union (ITU) released a report addressing access to telecommunication/ICT services by persons with disabilities and with specific needs that stated the following:

Besides the more commonly used “medical model of disability”, which considers disability “a physical, mental, or psychological condition that limits a person’s activities”, there is a more recent “social model of disability,” which has emerged and is considered a more effective or empowering conceptual framework for promoting the full inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. Within this social model, a disability results when a person (a) has difficulties reading and writing; (b) attempts to communicate, yet does not understand or speak the national or local language, and (c) has never before operated a phone or computer attempts to use one – with no success. In all cases, disability has occurred, because the person was not able to interact with his or her environment. (ITU 2017: 2)

Contextualised within the realm of research in MA; this implies that simply knowing whether or not the person has a hearing or a visual impairment is of little to no use. The ITU is calling for a new approach that analyses different aspects of each individual that might have an influence on what researchers are testing. This has already been found relevant in previous studies (Romero-Fresco 2015). Romero-Fresco (2015) pointed out that reading subtitles was related to a person’s educational background rather than to their hearing impairment. This is the point from which we depart. How to approach the question of demography among persons with disabilities when the objective of the study is not to restore their sensory impairment.

2. Approaches followed by previous researchers on audio description (AD)

User profiling is often carried out through questionnaires which gather demographic information. How to formulate questions is very often related to the model of disability adopted (Berghs et al. 2016). The following 14 publications, which focus on user-centred research in AD, have been analysed: Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Szarkowska 2011; Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012; Walczak 2010; Romero-Fresco and Fryer 2013; Fresno et al. 2014; Fryer and Freeman 2012; Fryer and Freeman 2014; Szarkowska and Wasylczyk 2014; Udo and Fels 2009; Walczak and Fryer 2017; Walczak and Fryer 2018; Walczak and Rubaj 2014; Chmiel and Mazur 2012a. Three experimental PhD dissertations were also included in the analysis (Fryer 2013; Cabeza-Cáceres 2013; and Walczak 2017 (framed within the EU-funded project HBB4ALL), as well as other research results from major/extensive/wide-scale projects such as DTV4ALL,[1] ADLAB,[2] the Pear Tree Project (Chmiel and Mazur 2012b), OpenArt (Szarkowska et al. 2016), and AD-Verba (Chmiel and Mazur 2012).

The studies in question show different approaches to the profiling of users with disabilities as part of the demographic questionnaire prior to any test. There are two questions common to all: gender and age. When asking about gender, there is always a choice between “male”/”female” but the option of not answering the question or selecting another option is never offered. In relation to age, it is often asked by offering intervals; although in some cases it can also be an open question where a figure has to be entered.

Most questionnaires also query level of education. This is presented in various forms: items can be very detailed (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015), with a choice of three options (primary education, secondary education, and higher education) (Szarkowska 2011) or contain a moderately detailed list (primary, vocational, secondary, college/university student, university degree) (ADLAB project).

As for the occupation of the participants, it is not generally asked for but with the exception of one study (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015).

With regards to the language participants generally use, the majority of questionnaires do not refer to it. The exceptions are the questionnaires in DTV4ALL and the Pear Tree project.

Technology and AD exposure of participants were asked in most questionnaires. The objective of such questions was to corroborate whether the participants were familiar with a given technology and service, how well they knew it, and how frequently they used it. Information about participant habits regarding consumption of audiovisual content was also a point in common for all questionnaires, by means of closed or multiple-choice questions.

Regarding how disability is profiled, researchers take two approaches: self-reporting (Szarkowska ahd Jankowska 2012, Walczak and Fryer 2017) or responding to a question regarding physical condition (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014). How the condition is classified also has three different approaches:

  1. Using WHO binary classification: blind and low sighted (Fernández-Torné and Matamala 2015; Fresno and Soler-Vilageliu 2014, Szarkowska and Jankowska 2012).
  2. Adopting RNIB classification (Szarkowska 2011, TV3 in the DTV4ALL project, and the AD-Verba Project):[3] “Which of these best describes your sight with glasses or contact lenses if you normally use them but without any low vision aid? Imagine you are in a room with good lighting and answer yes, no or uncertain to each part, please. Can you see well enough to: Tell by the light where the windows are?/ See the shapes of the furniture in the room?/ Recognise a friend across a road?/ Recognise a friend across a room?/ Recognise a friend if he or she is at arm’s length?/ Recognize a friend if you get close to his or her face?/ Read a newspaper headline?/ Read a large print book?/ Read ordinary newspaper print? (Possible answers: ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘uncertain’)”.
  3. Beyond WHO and RNIB, Walczak and Fryer (2017) included:
    • self-reported sight loss (mild, considerable, complete) and visual acuity specification;
    • age when registered as visually impaired;
    • and the medical name of the visual condition.

Also, all researchers requested information regarding the origin of the condition. In most cases the question of whether the sight loss is congenital or acquired was included, sometimes by giving two options (congenital/acquired), and other times (less often) by giving more options, such as intervals (e.g. from birth/for between 1 and 10 years, etc.).

After analysing the most recent experimental research with end users in the field of AD, it can be said that all demographic questions follow the medical approach when profiling. Although other sociological oriented questions are also present, still the ultimate matching of disability and technology proficiency is performed by an inductive inference by the researcher.

3. The Capabilities Approach

Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate economist, developed the Capability Approach, which has been used as a framework to analyse different concepts in welfare economics (Mitra 2006). It was later complemented by philosopher Martha Nussbaum (Terzi 2005). This approach can be useful in other disciplines, such as Disability Studies (Mitra 2006). The Capabilities Approach revolves around two main concepts:

  1. “capabilities”, which are seen as a person’s “practical opportunities”, such as having the chance to eat something if you feel hungry, and
  2. “functionings”, viewed as “actual achievements”, such as actually eating. In Sen’s words:
Functionings represent parts of the state of a person–in particular the various things that he or she manages to do or be in leading a life. The capability of a person reflects the alternative combinations of functionings the person can achieve, and from which he or she can choose one collection. (Sen 1993: 31)

Sen (1993) claims the interaction between these concepts can have an impact on peoples lives. This author illustrates his point through an example, contrasting the two terms: two women have the same functioning (not being well nourished) but very different capabilities. One has the capability, this is, the opportunity to be well nourished but decides to starve for her religious beliefs, whereas the other cannot afford to buy any food. It can, therefore, be seen that a person’s capabilities and functionings are influenced by external factors (in that particular example, religious beliefs), which can be grouped into three categories: commodities, personal characteristics and structural factors (see figure 1 for a simplified version of how the Capabilities Approach works).

Figure 1. A simplified version of Sen’s Capabilities Approach (Mitra 2006: 240)

Sen (1993) emphasized the plurality of purposes for which the capability approach can have relevance. Mitra (2006) suggests applying the Capabilities Approach to Disability Studies to define “disability” on a conceptual level:

Under Sen’s approach, capability does not constitute the presence of a physical or a mental ability; rather, it is understood as a practical opportunity. Functioning is the actual achievement of the individual, what he or she actually achieves through being or doing. Here, disability can be understood as a deprivation in terms of capabilities or functionings that results from the interaction of an individual’s (a) personal characteristics (e.g., age, impairment) and (b) basket of available goods (assets, income) and (c) environment (social, economic, political, cultural). (Mitra 2009: 236-237)

Mitra (2006) understands that disability may occur when there is a health impairment, but also other factors that result in a deprivation of capabilities or functionings. If a person is deprived of practical opportunities because of an impairment, Mitra believes we are talking about what she calls “potential disability”, whereas if the person’s functionings are restricted by the impairment we are talking about “actual disability”. The difference between these two types of disability can be seen through an example. If an 18-year-old visually impaired person wants to attend college but lacks the opportunity, they can be seen as a “potential” disabled person in comparison with someone who has a similar background. In this case it can be seen that health impairment reduces a person’s practical opportunities, and this can lead to disability. A person is actually disabled if they cannot do something they value doing or being, which, in this example, would be going to college.

The Capability Approach contributes to a new and useful insight on disability by differentiating between the two levels of the problem: the capability level and the functioning level. It proves to be a different approach because, for instance, unlike the Social and Medical Models, it provides a comprehensive account of the variety of factors that might lead to deprivation. In contrast to the Medical Model, the impairment is not always the cause of disability, and, unlike the Social Model, the environment is not always the reason for disability (Mitra 2006). The ICF, although initially thought of as an integration of the strengths of the two main models, it fails to achieve its objective and could benefit from becoming open-ended. It should also recognise that not all dimensions of life may be specified and classified, and thus the classification does not, and cannot be expected to offer an exhaustive account of the lived experience of health deprivations (Mitra 2018). It can therefore be concluded that this new disability approach conforms to what the ITU has recently required and can be applied to studies dealing with disability, such as those working on MA.

4. Applying the Capabilities Approach

The Capability Approach developed by Sen is a useful framework for defining disability and understanding its consequences (Mitra 2006). Its usefulness in defining disability and formulating disability policies was considered by Mitra (2006) but to date no applications regarding the methodological approach have been followed in MA studies. This is what this section will deal with.

The way to implement this model in any discipline is by drafting a list of capabilities and functionings that are relevant to the object of study:

The full range of the disability experience can then be covered, by shifting the focus away from the restricted view of identifying types of impairment. The fact that each individual is asked about the level of difficulty he/she experiences in functioning in the various dimensions of well-being makes it easier to assess the level of disability in a comprehensive manner. [...]However, specific information is required to assess and measure disability within this paradigm. Data are related to individuals’ potentialities, the possibilities that they can “be” what they wish to be, their aspirations and what they value. It also entails gathering information about vulnerability, which expresses the risk of suffering a reduction of the capability set, measured by the probability of falling to a lower state of well-being. Finally, it requires information about the opportunities offered by the environment. (Dubois and Trani 2009: 198).

Sen’s theoretical Capability Approach proposal is open. It does not offer an application model since it does not make a complete list of capabilities functionings, personal characteristics, commodities and environmental factors (Mitra 2006). Sen does not propose a prescriptive method to rank capability sets (Mitra 2006; Terzi 2005). This voluntary incompleteness makes the capability approach difficult to implement operationally, but in turn allows for adaptation to every scenario. For example, in the field of Media Accessibility, it should be adapted to the tested technology. The capabilities and functionings may vary according to relevant personal factors, resources, and structural factors. It will also vary depending on the object of study. Therefore, the demographics of the study should be adapted to the study characteristics.

In the field of MA, researchers could implement the following steps:

  1. Think of an access service that could prevent one or more groups of persons from being potentially or actually disabled whilst accessing audiovisual content. Measuring disability is perhaps an impossible task, but for research purposes, where the focus is not on how to restore medical conditions, selecting relevant capabilities or functionings to form an “evaluative space” is needed (Mitra 2006). What needs to be done is drafting a set of functionings (or capabilities) that our access service can provide.
  2. Carefully analyse the group or groups of persons that could benefit the most from this service. This should be achieved by not only taking into account their sensorial impairments, but also the personal, structural and environmental factors. For example, a person with sight loss may not be able to access a TV series because the menu EPG (Electronic Programme Guide) is not accessible and they cannot activate the AD function. The same situation can occur for someone with reduced motor skills such as dexterity, or a person with learning disabilities who finds it challenging to interact with the TV remote control. The final result is that neither the person with sight loss, learning disability nor dexterity can enjoy a TV programme.
  3. Carry out, for example, some focus groups in which all the target groups are represented to confirm which particular service could amplify their capability set and, therefore, avoid disability from occurring or from being a possibility. These occasions should also be used to elicit more information regarding what features the service requires in order to offer a better and more enhanced experience. Listing relevant functionings and capabilities should be a user-centered activity. However, members of groups may be so deprived in specific dimensions that they lack self-critical distance. A good example is the addition of subtitles in some opera theatres (Oncins 2015). While sighted people enjoy subtitles, people with sight loss may have an audio description but not audio subtitles. Blind and partially sighted audience members may not be aware of the existence of subtitles and subsequently do not request the service.
  4. Develop the service according to what the target groups have requested.
  5. Test the service to ensure that what has been developed complies with what users require so that they are no longer disabled in that particular field or occasion. Obviously, the users taking part in the tests should come from all the various target groups that were considered initially.

It is precisely in this last stage that questionnaires should reflect the variety of users taking part in the tests and, therefore, the need to mainstream accessibility. This can only be done by expanding the section that contains the demographic questions. Were this to be done, the plethora of factors leading to disability could be better observed. As we have seen, MA research tends to include questions regarding physical impairments but does not always consider other factors that could cause or are already causing a person to be disabled. This is precisely what needs to be solved but, again, we cannot provide a one-fits-all solution because the questions depend on the object of study, i.e., on the particularities of the technology or service tested.

Questions asked in focus groups or questionnaires should not mix health issues with impairments, functionings and capabilities because they would reduce the empirical relations between the different concepts of the Capabilities Approach. The question “are you limited to the number of movies you can watch due to a visual impairment?” would be an example of the type of question that should be avoided. Also, in MA studies, there is no reason beyond statistic to ask for gender-related information, unless a capability falls under a cultural or religious category. Regarding age, most studies request age as with gender, in order to have a statistically comparable representative group. In some cases, requesting age was associated to the origin of the condition, for the researcher to assume some impact on the object of study. According to Sen’s model, requesting age will have a direct implication on questions such as: “do you consume AD?”.

The EU-funded EasyTV project (https://easytvproject.eu/) aims at easing the access of audiovisual content and the media to the functionally diverse and to the growing ageing population of Europe. This will be achieved by developing new access services, such as customised subtitles, subtitles for colour-blind users and a crowdsourcing platform with which videos in sign language can be uploaded and shared. These access services are expected to grant an equal and better access to audio-visual content in terms of both choice and quality. The project was started off by discussing with users precisely what capabilities they would like to have when consuming audiovisual content. For the initial focus groups, “super end users” were recruited. Not all of them suffered from a physical impairment. In addition to being regular users, they had some knowledge on the technologies that would be tested. This knowledge was deemed crucial since they were requested to advance their expectations to match the innovation. It would have made no sense to consult end users with no prior knowledge or experience of functional diversity or technological background because at that stage what we required was not their acceptance of the final service, but issues related to technology development. This allowed us to apply Sen’s theory to a concrete case. During the focus groups carried out at that stage, the following list of questions were drafted:

  1. How is your current experience using TV?
    “It is not easy to access the TV”.
    “It is very difficult to use the remote control”.
  1. Which modalities do you use to interact with the TV?
    “Using the remote control is very difficult without audio feedback”.

The response to the difficulty to access TV elicited possible technologies and the following opinions.

  1. For image magnification two important issues emerged:
    - “It would be useful to magnify a specific portion of the screen (for example objects that need to be recognized) or overlaying text that is not clear, so I can read it better”.
    - “It is important to stop playing the image to let me magnify the screen or a portion of it”.
  1. For audio narratives the following features are considered crucial for blind and low vision persons:
    -“It is useful to have this service available both automatically (without user interaction) and manually (using the remote control or speech commands) to manage the volume of available audio tracks”.
    - “For example, when listening to opera I am only interested in the music, so I should be able to lower the volume of the audio description”.
    - “During live programs, it is very useful to know what is happening and what the TV is showing during silent time. When I am with my family they tell me what is going on, but when alone, nothing can be done”.
  1. Regarding the speech interface to control TV functionalities, blind people consider voice control and audio feedback to be very important when using the remote control. It is also very important to export content (audio and video) into a mobile device.

The above are all practical opportunities (capabilities) that end users would like to have and should be taken into account by developers. The beneficiary of these solutions is not isolated to the collective of persons with disabilities, since these solutions will be of great help also to the ageing population, people with reading issues, and by default to all. This universal approach has already been accepted with subtitles, which are no longer for the deaf and hard of hearing community, but also for the 80 per cent of people who watch media content in public spaces with the volume turned off.[4]

Testing in Easy TV has profiled the user requirements of people with sensorial disabilities: deaf and hard of hearing and visually impaired. Yet, results from tests do not correspond to sensorial disabilities. An example is the use of Smart TV functionalities and access to set up controls. Expectations and needs defined by user interaction with Smart TV are in fact related to age or behaviour, rather than disability. This real example extracted from test results in the EasyTV project show the need to adopt the Capability Approach. If it were to be implemented, in future stages, for each capability detected, a list of demographic factors surrounding it should be drafted. Another good example suggested while testing object-based audio (OBA) was to develop audio description on 360º video. It was found that OBA will benefit audio description since layers of information are added regarding sound directionality (Orero, Ray and Hughes forthcoming). Since OBA can be mixed by the audience, it turned out that people with hearing loss enjoyed OBA as mixing the dialogue track with the sound track allowed for a better dialogue intelligibility, producing a clean audio effect. This goes to show that a technology developed for one group was also beneficial for another group, something that would have never been tested if users were selected on the basis of their disability. 

5. Conclusions

MA research has been using the medical model to profile end users for their experimental research. This is probably due to research being framed within the UN CRPD, where accessibility is considered a tool towards achieving a human right (Greco 2016). The UN convention CRPD motto “nothing about us without us” has also conditioned participants for accessibility tests. After a decade following this research approach, results point towards the need to consider a wider audience for testing. Ellis (2016) has already clarified the difference between impairment and disability. Research data gathered from visually impaired persons apply to society in general. By applying the Capability Approach, research will not consider disability/health conditions as individual attributes. Focusing on impairments resources, structural and personal factors should yield data closer to the research objective than to a medical solution of health restoration. Failure to use an interactional model may generate an unnecessary focus on prevention/rehabilitation through the Medical Model or social oppression through the Social Model (Mitra 2018). The Capability Approach can be used by MA researchers and technology developers, since they need to find out what capabilities and functionings users would like to have. They also need to verify whether the technology they develop provides opportunities the target groups that are currently missing. This approach is also interesting for them as they can start recruiting users with a more varied profile and not just people with physical impairments. MA academic researchers are also within the stakeholders, since they are often the ones in charge of testing access services within projects or PhD thesis’ and need to be aware of the fact that sometimes the results yielded are due to the informants’ personal or environmental factors rather than them being partially sighted.

The Capability Approach will also work towards solving a negative feature in most existing research: the low number of participants. Profiling beyond medical prognosis opens participation to a wider audience and a higher potential participation. This Capability Model will also do away with the user representativeness required for statistical validity. For example, the number of blind people in a country will no longer have to be taken into consideration to determine the number of users needed in the tests. Mainstreaming accessibility will have an impact not only in research but also in its application to industrial sectors working within investment frameworks. MA services are valid to society and especially to persons with disabilities. This reduced sector should be the gatekeeper for quality, since in some cases access marks the threshold to deprivation.


This paper was funded by the EasyTV project (GA761999), RAD (PGC2018-096566-B-100), and ImAc (GA 761974). Both researchers are members of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113).


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About the author(s)

Irene Tor-Carroggio is a Ph.D student in Translation and Intercultural Studies at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and is also a member of the research group TransMedia Catalonia (2017SGR113). She holds a B.A. in Translation and Interpretation from the UAB (2013) and also an M.A. in International Business from Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (2017). She is part of the EU-funded project EasyTV, http://easytvproject.eu.

Dr. Pilar Orero, (http://gent.uab.cat/pilarorero), PhD (UMIST, UK), teaches at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Spain). Member of TransMedia Catalonia research group (2017SGR113). Recent publications: Anna Maszerowska, Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2014) Audio Description. New perspectives illustrated. Amsterdam. John Benjamins. Anna Matamala and Pilar Orero (eds) (2016) Researching Audio Description. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Leader of numerous research projects funded by the Spanish and Catalan Gov. Participates in the UN ITU agency IRG AVA http://www.itu.int/en/irg/ava/Pages/default.aspx Membe.r of the working group ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 35. Member of the Spanish UNE working group on accessibility. Led the EU project HBB4ALL http://pagines.uab.cat/hbb4all/ Leads. the EU projects ACT http://pagines.uab.cat/act/ and UMAQ (Understanding Quality Media Accessibility) http://pagines.uab.cat/umaq/ She i.s the UAB leader at the 2 new H2020 projects EasyTV (interaction to accessible TV) http://easytvproject.eu and ImAc (Immersive Accessibility) http://www.imac-project.eu 2017-2021. She is an active external evaluator for many worldwide national agencies: South Africa, Australia, Lithuania, Belgium, Poland, Italy, US, and UK. Co-founder of the Media Accessibility Platform MAP http://www.mapaccess.org

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©inTRAlinea & Irene Tor-Carroggio & Pilar Orero (2019).
"User profiling in audio description reception studies: questionnaires for all"
inTRAlinea Volumes
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This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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Translating Echoes

Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17

By António Lopes (University of the Algarve)

Abstract & Keywords

In 1812 the Farrer family established their wool trading business in Lisbon. Samuel Farrer and, a couple of years later, James Hutchinson remained in regular correspondence with Thomas Farrer, who owned a textile mill in the vicinity of Leeds, then centre of the wool trade in England. Their correspondence, spanning the period 1812-18, offers a vivid account of life in Lisbon and its hardships and troubles in the aftermath of the Peninsular War. Those letters mirror the turbulent politics of the time and articulate an attempt to narrate otherness and the way it kept challenging their gaze. The translation of the letters has posed some challenges, especially on a stylistic level. In order to confer a sense of historical authenticity on the target-language text and to attend to the stylistic features of the source-language text, the translator has been forced to revisit the Portuguese language of the period as it was spoken and written by the urban middle class in Lisbon. In this article I discuss some of the issues, both theoretical and practical, that have arisen in the course of the translation process.

Keywords: travel writing translation, commercial correspondence, private sphere, estrangement, displacement, double disjuncture, Peninsular Wars

©inTRAlinea & António Lopes (2013).
"Translating Echoes Challenges in the Translation of the Correspondence of a British Expatriate in Beresford’s Lisbon 1815-17"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Translating 18th and 19th Century European Travel Writing
Edited by: Susan Pickford & Alison E. Martin
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/1967

1. Introduction

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
Saint Augustine

During my research for the British Travellers in Portugal project – an ambitious initiative that has been carried out for almost three decades by the Anglo-Portuguese Studies group at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (Lisbon and Oporto) –, I chanced upon a rather curious collection of letters housed at the National Archives in Kew.[1] Written by James Hutchinson Jr. (1796 - ?), a young Yorkshire merchant working in Lisbon, and addressed to his brother-in-law, Thomas Farrer, who headed the family’s wool business back in Farnley, Leeds, these letters span a period of approximately two and a half years (from 22 July, 1815 to 29 November, 1817), at a time when Portugal was struggling hard to stand on its feet after the scale of destruction caused by the Peninsular War.

Originally, the primary purpose of my undertaking was to contribute to an anthology of translated accounts of the city of Lisbon by British travellers. This meant that a considerable portion of the original text, most of it dwelling on private affairs or matters of commerce, would have to be excised in order to leave only those passages where explicit references were made to the Portuguese capital. However, it soon became evident that the scope of the content of these letters called for a differentiated approach and so the editor commissioned me to translate the complete set. The investment in an unabridged translation would give readers the opportunity not just to satisfy their curiosity about Lisbon, but above all to gain a sense of the complexity of the historical, social and economic issues with which the letters engaged, all the more so because translation is not about impoverishing the original, but about giving it a new lease of life: translation is not just a question of making a text accessible to another community of readers by acquiring a new linguistic and cultural dimension, but above all of allowing the letters to transcend their immediacy and the original purpose for which they were written, and inscribing them in new discursive practices.

So, instead of publishing excerpts of the letters in the anthology, both the editor and I decided to publish the complete set in two issues of the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses (CETAPS, Lisbon) (see Lopes 2010). This would allow us to preserve the integrity of the letters and, given the fact that the Revista is aimed at a scholarly readership (historians, philologists, cultural anthropologists, sociologists, and so on), to invest in a more detailed and in-depth approach, marked by philological accuracy and by a consciousness of the challenges posed by the hermeneutical inquiry. This would also give me the opportunity to set my own translation agenda, not just in terms of style and method, but also in terms of the future of this project. As a matter of fact, the files contain dozens of other letters and papers written by other members or friends of the family which, in view of their historical value, are also worth translating. I decided to amass all of them with the aim of publishing the whole collection in one single volume. That work is now underway.

Since translation is necessarily always a reflexive process (in more than one sense: on the one hand, the translator has to speculate about the meanings that the source text does not immediately disclose and about the readers’ responses to his/her choices; on the other, the target text always presents itself as a mirror image of the source text), the task of rendering this piece of nineteenth-century English prose into contemporary Portuguese prompted a series of theoretical and empirical questions which I set out to explore in the present article. The next section seeks to set the letters in their political, social and economic context. The meanings they contain are rooted in a specific historical setting, which has to be revisited so as to enable the text to function simultaneously as a piece of documentary evidence and as an instance of resistance: in the case of the former, substantiating that which historiography has already validated; in the case of the latter, defying or even rebutting historical theories. The third section (‘An Englishman in Lisbon’) touches on issues of estrangement, displacement and the quest for a sense of belonging, all of which are central to travel writing. The fourth section (‘Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence’) discusses the ethics and the challenges of translating the intimacy and confidentiality of private correspondence, and how the author’s objectivity gives the translator a foothold in the factual validation of his translation. The last full section (‘Translation as a Double Disjuncture’) focuses on issues of spatiality, temporality, representation and re-representation, as well as on some of the solutions to the problems posed by the historical dimension of the texts (modes of address; anachronisms; outdated terminology; formulaic language; and the need for historical research).

2. The Letters in Context: Portugal and her British Ally 1809-20

The Farrers were one among many of the local families whose lives revolved around the woollen and worsted manufacture and trade in Yorkshire. The success of their business went hand in hand with the economic growth and technological development of the period, a process which would leave an indelible mark on the landscape of the Midlands and the North of England. These developments led to major changes in the social structure, with a generalised phenomenon of rural-urban migration meeting the industry’s need for labour (Fletcher 1919: 77-84). The Yorkshire region soon became the chief export centre for manufactured woollen goods. In a world of cut-throat competition, those who succeeded in business were of an unrelenting entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit that often looked beyond the confines of Britain.

Industrial expansion forced traders to look further afield and open up new markets; Portugal swiftly became a key destination. Since Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, decreed in 1806, was firmly in place, the first industrial nation found itself in a worrying predicament. Portugal, where Britain’s commercial stakes ran high, was also left particularly exposed. It was only through Lisbon that it was possible to gain access to the Brazilian market, which had long become the mainstay of the intensive southern Atlantic economy, responsible for the capitalisation of the European market in the Early Modern period. Besides, the Portuguese could not afford to lose the support of the old ally, whose navy provided protection for the trade routes between the metropolis and its colonies. The French invasions of Portugal pushed it to the periphery of the very empire it had founded. If the demise of both commerce and industry had a terrible impact on the economy, the destruction the war wrought in the provinces proved no less damaging. Looting, extortion and massacres left a trail of blood, hatred and revulsion across the whole nation that was to remain unabated for generations. Wellington’s scorched earth policy – aiming to deprive the French troops of victuals and other supplies – aggravated the situation even further. Agriculture and husbandry practically ground to a halt and farmers were unable to produce the foodstuffs required to feed the urban centres. Famine set in and with it a period of demographic stagnation.

Freeing Portugal from the chains of Napoleonic imperialism was not without its costs. Unable to overcome such complete vulnerability, the nation was at the mercy of British interests. Certainly a significant part of the Portuguese economy had for a long time depended on Britain. Whether Portugal benefited from this trade relationship or not is a matter of controversy (Borges de Macedo 1963; Bethell 1984; Maxwell 2004; Pijning 1997; Pardo 1992). However, at least since the Methuen Treaty (1703) Britain had been undermining the Portuguese industry with a substantial influx of cheap manufactured goods undercutting all competition. In January 1808 the opening of the Brazilian ports to Britain represented a fatal blow. Two years later, the protective mechanism of customs duties was removed precisely when the Portuguese economy was most in need of it. The prospects for the manufacturing sector grew dimmer as British cotton and wool cloths flooded the Portuguese market.

The political power that William Carr Beresford, commander-in-chief of the Portuguese troops during the invasions, held during this crucial period in the country’s history played a decisive role in protracting this position of economic subordination. He ended up gaining considerable ascendancy over the representatives of the Prince Regent. In the post-war years he headed the military government, a position which rapidly eroded his earlier prestige as a war hero. People started protesting against the way public funds were being squandered to pay for the presence of British troops on national territory. Portuguese officers likewise harboured deep-seated resentment towards the British officers, who were now apparently being granted all sorts of privileges and promotions (see Glover 1976). Beresford’s radical intransigence in politics led to the repression of those who advocated a more liberal agenda, namely those who were suspected either of sympathising with the ideals of the French Jacobins, or of defending a constitutional monarchy. As a stern defender of Tory absolutism, his views were in line with the ones shared by two other Anglo-Irish potentates, namely Wellington and Castlereagh (Newitt 2004: 107). His absolutist values, along with his thirst for power, left him isolated in a world riven by deep-rooted hatreds. The revolutionary clamour heard in Oporto on 24 August 1820 was to put paid to Beresford’s ambitions. Paradoxically, partly thanks to the influence of the British officers, the British tradition of liberalism ended up taking root in a country lacking in ideological coordinates to define its political future.

When James Hutchinson first set foot in Lisbon, the country was going through a period of economic depression. His letters mirror the upheavals and the social unrest of the period and therefore help to shed light on historical processes, since they testify to the way in which individuals perceived reality and (re)acted accordingly. Popular reactions to the new king, news of the uprising in Pernambuco (Brazil), political persecutions, and hangings are well documented elsewhere,[2] but here we are given a view from the inside. Moreover, rather than just affirming the picture that the extensive historiographical literature on the subject has already established, the letters also disclose new facets. They prove that, despite the impressive growth of Britain’s exports in this period, British trade did not run smoothly in Portugal. Hutchinson could hardly be said to be the definitive model of the successful businessman. His efforts, nonetheless, were mostly undermined by factors that lay beyond his reach. General poverty, scarcity of money, shortages of food and other essentials, and rationing, for example, became recurrent, if not obsessive, subjects in his letters, betraying his sense of frustration and underachievement. Moreover, Hutchinson was forced to deal with fierce competition within the Portuguese market and the incompetence of the Customs officials, not to mention liabilities and bad debts, marketing obstacles and, curiously enough, an increasingly demanding clientele, all of which imposed psychological costs he found ever more difficult to cope with. And although he was not so forthcoming in discussing political issues, such as Beresford’s repression, his fears and silences about the persecutions are no less telling.

Each letter contains, as it were, the very essence of history and, through the picturesque and sometimes disconcerting episodes they feature, they help us recreate a reality long buried by time. Precisely because this is a genuine voice that has remained hidden amidst other archival material for almost two centuries, unscathed by later misappropriations or misinterpretations, we are able to salvage pristine fragments of the historical experience and to retrieve for our collective memory some of the particularities and singularities that are usually overlooked in the construction of the historical grand narratives of the nation. In a letter dated 18 October 1816, for instance, Hutchinson speaks of the funeral ceremonies of Queen Maria I and clearly enjoys recounting the peculiar causes of the accidental fire that burned down the church where those ceremonies were being held. In a later letter (22 October 1817), he provides a first-hand testimony of the horrendous hanging of the men who followed Gomes Freire de Andrade in his revolt against Lord Beresford’s roughshod rule. Elsewhere he laments the shortage of foodstuffs and the rise in prices which mercilessly strike the poor (letter dated 25 January 1817), but he cannot help relishing the story of a woman arrested for stealing bodies from the cemetery to produce black pudding to be sold to the local shops (9 August 1816). In another letter he speaks of an earthquake that threw the city ‘into the most dreadful alarm’ and the scenes of panic that ensued, while rejoicing at the fact that he remained ‘during the whole of the night in a sound slumber’ (3 February 1816).

3. An Englishman in Lisbon: Estrangement, Displacement and the Quest for Belonging

Notwithstanding the rapid decline of the Portuguese economy during and after the Peninsular War, British traders rapidly resumed their investments in the country. Samuel Farrer & Sons were amongst them. Samuel Farrer Jr. established the family’s business in Lisbon in 1812. The family’s entrepreneurial effort must have paid off somehow, for upon his death, in February 1815, they decided to keep on investing in their Portuguese venture. It would be up to young James Hutchinson Jr. to take up the business. His inexperience notwithstanding, James was not entirely at a loss. The need to account for every transaction and to keep his brother-in-law posted about how business was being conducted resulted in a correspondence of considerable length, which lasted until his departure from Lisbon at the end of 1817. The letters were permeated by the young man’s comments, remarks and anecdotes about life in the Portuguese capital. Being an outsider in customs, language and feelings, Hutchinson tried hard to accommodate himself to his new setting.

In his letters, however, the affectionate attachment he exhibits towards his sister and the other members of his family indicates that his stay in Lisbon was, emotionally speaking, hard to bear. He often complained about her silence and the fact that she now seemed to have forsaken him altogether. But then, it was not just the separation from his loved ones that threw him into a state of melancholy. His life in the Portuguese capital was infused with a sense of estrangement he was unable to overcome. He felt uprooted and disengaged.

It becomes all too apparent that his gaze is that of an outsider, of someone struggling to succeed in a strange, disturbing world, whose social and political environment contrasts in many respects with that of his native land. He soon realised it would not be easy to fit in. Despite the support that other British expatriates residing in Lisbon gave him, he complained to his family about living conditions there. Blatantly ironic, he confessed that he ‘suffer[ed] very much from the Muschetos [sic], Bugs & other filth with which this sweet City so much abounds’ (11 August 1815).

His difficulty in understanding the Portuguese is particularly visible when he is faced with the lack of patriotic fervour of the man in the street, a fervour one should expect from a nation that had been recently freed from the Napoleonic terror:

On Saturday last the King was proclaimed throughout the City and Sunday was appropriated for the acclamation.—The Troops were reviewed by Marshal Beresford, yet never did I witness their going through their manoevres [sic] in such an inanimate manner:—never was such a Viva given by the Portuguese to their Sovereign; scarcely did one Soul open his mouth, excepting the Marshal and his Staff Officers:—it was a complete ‘Buonapartean Viva’ a forced shout of applause dying away in a groan. (11 April 1817)

Since most of the time he was consumed by work, it becomes difficult for the contemporary reader to detect such feelings of estrangement in the midst of commercial jargon and ledger accounts. He sought to be meticulous in his book-keeping and reports and sensitive to changes in market conditions, especially as far as fashion, trends, tastes and purchasing power went. He struggled to prove himself worthy of the trust and respect not just of his brother-in-law, but also of other foreign merchants who had already established their names in the Portuguese market. He even got carried away by the idea of opening his own establishment in order to fend off competition and to tackle the problem of low bids, which often forced him to keep the bales in store for unusually long periods of time.

In order to perceive how displaced he felt, one has to read between the lines. When his enthusiasm waned or his health gave way, an undeclared anxiety and irritation would surface. His less than flattering comments on Portuguese customs officials and the tone of his replies to his brother-in-law whenever suspicion of laxness or mismanagement hung in the air prove the point. He became impatient when ships from Brazil, New York or Falmouth were unduly delayed. He was unnerved by the negligence of long-standing debtors, who often turned a deaf ear to his entreaties. Besides, in spite of the considerable sums of money that passed through his hands, James was far from leading an easy and comfortable life. In a sense, it was through his own body that he first measured the degree of his maladjustment. He was constantly ill, poorly dressed, and found his lodgings uncomfortable. The weather did not suit him and he feared death might creep up on him. For some time he had to resign himself to ‘a Bed Room fitted up for me in the Warehouse, without any other convenience or sitting room’ (11 April 1817). He would wear the same clothes for months on end, winter and summer alike. Disease would take hold of him and he would be confined to bed for several weeks. His neat copperplate handwriting would then degenerate to illegible scribbling. In the spring of 1817 he would confess that ‘I have suffered very materially in my health since I came here’. Convinced that he was no longer fit for the job, he would then ask Thomas to let Ambrose Pollett, a friend of the family, replace him in the firm. His physical condition would not let him endure another winter in Lisbon. In his last letter, dated 29 November, he once more complained about his health, saying that the cold weather caused him to ‘spit blood in considerable quantities from the lungs’ and that he was afraid he would never be able to return to his homeland again ‘since I fell [sic] persuaded I shall never get better of the severe illness I had in the Spring of the year 1816’. To him Lisbon, thus, ended up representing the proximity of death, that ultimate moment of displacement. His fears, however, were unfounded and he went back to England where he remained in convalescence, before returning to Portugal. But once more the climate did not agree with him. His health worsened, especially after hearing the news of his nephew’s death in December 1818, and he was compelled to leave Lisbon one last time.[3]

In the course of his stay, James was badly in need of a focal point to keep things in perspective and letter writing served such a purpose. More than anything else, it allowed him to keep his sense of belonging alive. These letters ended up being the only bridge not just to his origins, but above all to his own identity. He felt so helpless when his sister failed to reply to his letters that ‘it even grieves me to the heart when I reflect upon it’ (17 February 1816). This sentimentality towards his family is in marked contrast with his attitude as an observer. Although Hutchinson cannot entirely detach himself emotionally from what he witnesses, there is a kind of Verfremdungseffekt in his writing, a journalistic objectification of the topics he covers, whereby the distance between himself and the other is never to be entirely spanned.

4. Prying into a Gentleman’s Private Correspondence: Issues of Intimacy, Confidentiality and Objectivity in Translation

Translating something as intimate and confidential as private letters has the potential to border on voyeurism. It raises issues that concern the ethics of translation, since the translator, unlike the casual reader, is supposed to leave no stone unturned in his struggle to reach communicative effectiveness. His labour consists in unveiling all meanings, in ransacking the secrets of the author’s mind, and, if necessary, in exposing the frailties of his body. The innermost thoughts are not fenced off from the translator’s dissecting tools. In this sense, translation is to be viewed as an act of intrusion and, simultaneously, of extrusion (in other words a disclosure and a close examination of that which pertains to the private sphere). The former constitutes a form of violation, of disrupting that which belongs to the realm of the confessional and becoming, to borrow the words of St. Augustine, ‘privy to the secrets of conscience’; whereas the latter manifests itself in the form of violence, destroying the integrity of the textual body, vivisecting it and exhibiting it to the public gaze. Nevertheless, such violence is mitigated by the transmutational properties of time. Over time, these texts have acquired the status of archaeological evidence, which does not necessarily mean that in this respect the position of the translator is less delicate. After all, he was not the addressee of the letters and that fact alone poses some problems. An outsider may find it difficult to penetrate the referential fabric of the letters. Unlike travel accounts or autobiographies written for publication, these texts were not intended for a wide readership. They were personal in tone and content, and the writer knew what responses to expect from his only reader living across the English Channel. The writer did not project an ideal or fictional reader to whom he might grant full right of access to the world recreated in his prose. As a consequence, his world remains sealed off from a larger audience and the translator is forced to break into the textual space like a trespasser. Implicatures lie hidden within this corpus of letters but they can never be entirely unravelled: whatever inferences the translator may draw, he or she will always lack the necessary background knowledge to establish their validity. Such implicatures, one must not forget, are a symptom of the close relationship existing between the two correspondents. Implicit meanings result from a common experience, excluding other readers. Fortunately, the text in question is generally far more objective and factual than one would suppose, and this alone gives the translator significant leverage over the hidden aspects of the correspondence. It is in the terrain of factuality and narrativity that the translator moves free from major constraints, although it is certain that the faithfulness of the representation can never be taken for granted (see Polezzi 2004: 124).

Of course one cannot expect to find in such letters a precise and exhaustive portrait of Beresford’s Lisbon, systematically organised in such a way as to cover all possible angles. What we get instead is a myriad of disparate images that can hardly be coalesced into one single picture. The reason is obvious: the stories he tells do not follow any thematic pattern, other than the fact that all of them revolve around the city itself. Apart from the town of Sintra, a popular tourist resort in the nineteenth century, where he spent some time ‘for the benefit of my Health which, thank God I have recovered beyond my expectation’ (14 June 1816), he never set foot outside of the capital (or at least there is no archival evidence of him doing so) and therefore he apparently did not know what was going on in the rest of the country. His letters lack the ‘horror and pity’ William Warre experienced as he crossed the country chasing after the fleeing French army and encountering ‘many people and children absolutely starving and living upon nettles and herbs they gathered in the fields’ (Warre and Warre 1909: 222). Not even Sintra, that ‘glorious Eden’ with its ‘views more dazzling unto mortal ken than those whereof such things the Bard relates’, as Byron wrote in his celebrated Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1812), succeeded in enrapturing our author, who preferred to remain faithful to whatever notable occurrences Lisbon had to offer the outsider’s gaze.

Hutchinson’s short narratives appear scattered throughout the letters in a rather random way, and it is their reading as anecdotal collages, rather than as a set of tightly-woven, interrelated stories, that allows the reader to gain a taste of the spontaneity of the narration and the ingenuousness of the narrator. Although the anecdotal episodes themselves are self-contained and refer only to fragments of both individual and collective experiences in early nineteenth-century Lisbon, they play an important part in the process of historiographical reconstruction of the past. The historiographical value of the letters lies in the fact that they contain accounts that were neither censored nor doctored: no one ever scrutinised or edited the stories, which were simply committed to paper without any concern for accuracy, trustworthiness or factuality. The ensemble of letters forms a sort of scrapbook containing clippings or mementos that were never meant to be published. Such moments, however, were bound together by a common genetic code: they all emerged out of the drive for novelty, a drive partly explained by the way the processes of cultural displacement affected the author.

However, when it comes to Hutchinson’s values and ideological assumptions, they are not readily easy to detect. He preferred to position himself as an observer rather than as a commentator, and avoided getting entangled in elaborate considerations. If the translator wants to gain a glimpse of his ideas and opinions, then he/she must proceed by engaging in a symptomatic reading of the letters, observing, for example, the way he framed and skewed the subject matter, or how he got himself more or less emotionally involved with the events he narrated, or simply how he refrained from passing judgement on what he saw. Far from highly opinionated, the letters nonetheless give us the chance of peering into his personality, albeit obliquely.

Sometimes, however, he felt compelled to take sides, such as when he dared to air his own opinion on Beresford:

...being the weaker power & finding himself defeated in all his projects, it is reported that he is about leaving [sic] the Country, which in my opinion is the wisest step he can take, else a worse fate may attend him. (11 April 1817)

Such explicitness was rare. Shortly after the rebellion in Pernambuco, Brazil, Hutchinson censured himself for letting slip his views on the political turmoil that had gripped the country and decided to not to return to the issue for fear of reprisals:

You are well aware that it is necessary to be very cautious how we treat upon political subjects in this Country, for which reason I avoid any thing of this nature, only sofar [sic] as I suppose it may be connected with the interests of Mercantile Affairs. (4 July 1817)

His fears over the consequences of political dissent were not wholly misplaced. The horrific hanging of the Conspirators he watched on 22 October 1817, shortly before his departure, left a lasting impression on him:

[C]uriosity led me to be one of the spectators of this awful scene & however disgraceful hanging may be in England I can assure you it is not less so here. The Executioner is obliged to ride astride the shoulders of every man he hangs.—It was about four O’Clock in the Afternoon when the Prisoners arrived at the foot of the Gallows & was about midnight when this melancholy scene closed.—After the Execution of all 7 out of the 11 were burnt on a Funeral Pile on the spot.

Here, his voyeurism matched his horror as he came to the full presence of death—that dark character that kept resurfacing in his writing.

5. Translation as a Double Disjuncture

As we have seen, what was once private acquires, over time, an archaeological value: the status of artefact is conferred on language as privacy metamorphoses into historical evidence. In translation, chronological distance is of the essence: one might even argue that every translation has embedded in its genes an indelible anachronism. In sharp contrast with our contemporary world, where synchronous forms of communication and instantaneous access to information seem to have taken hold of the way we communicate with each other, the art and craft of translation necessitates the slow transit of time. It is a painstaking process of problem-solving, reflection and maturation. It takes time and perseverance. And when it involves the representation of past historical phenomena, as in the present case, the temporal dimension acquires critical significance. On the one hand, the translator cannot help excogitating his own condition as a historical subject: he becomes conscious of the relativity of values, of the differentials separating lifestyles, habitus (in the Bourdieusian sense) and Weltanschauungen. On the other, the target text ends up constituting the representation of a representation and, as such, it is, as Althusser once stated of ideology, a representation of an ‘imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence’ (Althusser 1971: 162). And here, in the translation process, the time gap separating source and target texts functions not so much as a thread linking both acts of writing along a historical continuum but rather as a lens, generating several simultaneous optical effects, where light shifts in unsuspected ways and where appearance must be understood in its composite and elusive nature. The world of the (author’s) ‘present’ can never be reconstructed as such in the target text. The translator necessarily operates in the time gap between two ‘presents’ (his/her own and the author’s). That is why the translator’s labour must be that of a conscious re-representation of history. This, of course, entails much scrupulous work of detailed historical research, as well as the ability to articulate it within the translational process.

The crux of the matter lies in being able to dwell in the interstices between two languages, two cultures and two historical periods. This is the translator’s privilege and the source of many of his tribulations. To be able to lay claim to the ability to contemplate the insurmountable differences that separate not only languages but also cultures, one is required to perceive how far one’s own consciousness depends not only on λόγος and on the chains of meanings that help one make sense of the world, but also on the points of rupture of discourse, those points where signifiers and signifieds (regardless of the language) can no longer encompass those phenomena that keep resisting appropriation, including the culture of the other. In other words, one must learn to come to terms with the undecidability which undermines the certainties offered by our ingrained logocentrism.

As the translator shifts, in the course of the translation process, from one logosphere (in the Barthesian sense) to another, he realises that the movement itself does not (actually, cannot) entail the loss or gain, subtraction or addition of meanings. Meaning does not constitute some sort of universal currency (that is, manifestations of a universal language common to all human beings) that can be subjected to a process of direct exchange or transaction. Meanings cannot migrate freely from one language to another. I can only subtract meanings within the system they belong to. Languages weave their own networks of meanings and the exact value of each meaning, if it can ever be assessed, is to be determined only symptomatically by the effects generated by its presence or absence in one particular social and cultural context. To believe in the transferability of the meaning and its capacity to survive as a whole in two distinct linguistic and cultural environments (as in a process of ecesis) is not to realise something that Derrida pointed out: that even within the same language meanings not only differ (a problem of spacing), but are forever deferred (which is the condition of their temporality). One of the main problems of translation, therefore, is not just spatiality but also temporality, particularly the historical condition of the texts.

And this, I think, poses an obstacle far more difficult to overcome, since it has to do with the impossibility for the translator to render two externalities compatible in one single (target) text. Just as Hutchinson was compelled, as an expatriate, to come to terms with the social and cultural reality of his host country[4] (which is, for all purposes, a question of spatiality), so the translator, like a migrant travelling through time, is forced to come to grips with an ancient world governed by laws long forsaken and now irretrievable (the question of temporality). And since both writer and translator are forever barred from a fully unmediated contact with the unconsciously lived culture of the Other, both seeing it as something external to themselves, though not necessarily negative, their attempts to assimilate cultural elements and national idiosyncrasies can only take place on the terrain of the imaginary, which enables them to crop, select, filter and reshape elements and idiosyncrasies in order to discursively tame the otherness. It is when the translator is trying to tackle texts of this nature that he feels – to allude to one of Derrida’s most quoted metaphors, borrowed from Shakespeare – that ‘time is out of joint’, namely that he is supposed to take up the writer’s voice, but without being able to adjust either to the discursive and ideological framework within which the texts once gained their coherence, or to the past ‘structure of feeling’ (to use one of Raymond Williams’s concepts of cultural analysis) that informed the emotions, thoughts and actions of the original writer (Williams 1965: 64-6).

Translators of travel writing therefore have to operate on a double disjuncture. On the one hand, they have to deal with the cultural gap that exists between the author and the people he visits (Hutchinson and the Portuguese), a gap which over-determines the perceptions, constructs, responses and projections of otherness of the British expat, but which -- since it is barely made explicit in the text -- can only be detected by means of a symptomatic reading. On the other hand, translators have to negotiate the disjunction that will always separate them from the time and the concrete conditions under which the texts saw the light of day -- a disjunction that is further amplified by the impossibility of mapping the exact location of the intersection of cultures which gives the letters their characteristic intercultural tension (see Cronin 2000: 6). Therefore, the translator is left with no choice but to try to overcome these two disjunctions, both of which constitute distinct moments of resistance to interpretation.

The translator’s path is strewn with obstacles, for the minute he or she starts translating the text that distinction is no longer clear: the two moments overlap and the barriers between them become blurred, since his or her gaze is constructed in and through the gaze of the expatriate. How can we then circumvent the limitations to translation that such a double disjuncture imposes? Of course a careful, detailed investigation into the empirical elements offered by the letters and the issues broached therein must always be conducted, but this is not enough: it can only be through a critical awareness of these tensions and resistances that translators may decentre themselves and avoid the pitfalls of identification and idealisation. It is this decentring at the core of translation that ends up being in itself a form of travelling. After all, ‘translatio’ in Latin means ‘carrying across’, ‘transporting’, ‘transferring’, and, in contrast to what we may think, it is not the source text that is ‘carried across’ to a target culture. It is rather the translator and his reader who are invited to venture across a frontier -- the frontier that sets the limits to their identities, values and representations, and that is both spatial and temporal.

In fact, the main challenges to the translation of these letters were posed by the problem of temporality, that is, by the difficulties of bridging the time gap. The first issue to be tackled was the stylistics of the Portuguese target text. It was not just a matter of finding the best equivalents and transferring contents from the source text into the target language without major semantic losses. It was also a matter of finding a style and a register that could somehow match the original ones. In order to do that, I compared the letters to similar archival and bibliographical sources in Portuguese. Two manuals of commercial correspondence proved invaluable: Arte da correspondência commercial ou modelos de cartas para toda a qualidade de operações mercantis [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or Letter Templates for all Sorts of Trade Operations] (Anon.; 1824) and Monlon’s Arte da correspondência commercial ou escolha de cartas sobre o commercio [The Art of Commercial Letter Writing or a Selection of Business Letters] (1857), the only key style manuals of the day in this area still available for consultation in the Portuguese National Library. The analysis of the examples of letters allowed me to determine the way in which the target text was to be drafted.

One of the most complicated aspects I had to deal with was choosing the mode of address: the original letters invariably start with ‘Dear Brother’, and then the addressee is always referred to with the second person personal pronoun ‘you’. In Portuguese, this is not so linear. In the early nineteenth century, modes of address would have varied according not only to social class, age or degree of familiarity, but also to written language conventions. ‘You’ could be translated either as ‘Tu’ (too informal; the verb is conjugated in the second person singular), ‘Você’ (slightly more formal; the verb is conjugated in the third person singular), ‘Vossa Mercê’ (idem), or ‘Vós’ (more formal; verb conjugated in the second person plural), among several other possibilities. Back then, a relationship with a brother-in-law, close as it might have been, did not necessarily imply the use of the informal ‘tu’, since informality and closeness are not synonyms. The way Hutchinson closed the letters (‘Your ever Affectionate Brother’) bears witness to such emotional proximity, but it is far from being indicative of a relaxed, informal manner. The solution to the difficulty in ascertaining whether we were dealing with informality or politeness was partly given by the 1824 manual. The plural ‘Vós’ is used when addressing both singular and plural persons, but in some cases all we have is the initial ‘V—’, which could stand either for ‘Vós’, ‘Você’ or ‘Vossa Mercê’. When the ‘V—’; form occurs, the verb is conjugated in the third person singular, midway between formality and affable politeness. This was the form I resorted to throughout.

Another difficulty had to do with wording. The manuals proved useful in guiding my lexical choices. I wanted to give the translation a distinctive period flavour to represent the historical dimension of the original letters. For example, ‘company’ could be translated either as ‘sociedade’ or ‘empresa’, but these words barely appear in the 1824 manual, especially when referring to one’s own company. Instead, the commonest word is ‘caza’ [House] sometimes ‘caza de commercio’ (dated spelling), which I decided to adopt. Many more old-fashioned or outdated Portuguese words that appear in the manual were likewise retrieved: ‘embolço’ [imbursement]; ‘estimar’ [to believe; to guess];  ‘fazer-se de vella’ [to set sail]; ‘governo’ [management]; ‘sortimento’ [assortment]; ‘sortir’ [to sort; to provide]; ‘praça’ [exchange or financial centre; market]; ‘rogar’ [to beseech]. The manual was equally useful in providing formulaic language that was pretty close to some passages in Hutchinson’s letters: ‘Sacámos hoje sobre vós pelo importe da factura (…) L... a 60 dias á ordem de…’ [Today we drew on you for the sum of £… at sixty days]; ‘Vosso reverente servidor’ [Your very Obedient Servant]; ‘Por esta confirmamos a nossa circular de (…) desde a qual ainda não tivemos a satisfação de receber alguma vossa…’ [Without any of your Favors since mine of the … I have now to inform you…].

Another challenge was related to the commercial jargon both in English and in Portuguese. Nowadays commercial terminology in both languages is much more complex, but most of the neologisms that currently exist in Portuguese are English words. Back then, that influence was more tenuous. In any case, the search for the right equivalent would have always been time-consuming. ‘Bill’ alone, for instance, could be equivalent to as many things as ‘letra’, ‘letra de câmbio’, ‘saque’, ‘promissória’, ‘papel comercial’, ‘título de comércio’, ‘factura’, or ‘facturação’. If we multiply this by the wide spectrum of nomenclatures related to those areas of economic activity Hutchinson was directly or indirectly involved in, we have an idea of the complexity of the task.

To start with, there were the inner workings of the wool trade business. I had to unwind the ball of yarn of the English wool and worsted industry, including all the details concerning the different stages of the manufacturing process: recognising the provenance and differences in quality of the raw wool available in both the Portuguese and Spanish markets, the various patterns of the warp and weft, the way the cloth should be cut or dressed, specific types of woollen cloths, their designs and colours, and so on. One particular stumbling block was the enigmatic ‘37 R., 6 F., 4 S., 1 T. & 11 A.’ (letter dated 9 August 1816). It took me a while before I learnt from a magazine published in London in 1804 (Tilloch 1807: 239-42) that the initials did not stand for any English or Portuguese words, but for Spanish ones. They referred to the way Spanish wool (which also included Portuguese wool) was classified: Primera or Refina (R.), Fina (F.), Segunda (S.), Tercera (T.) and Añinos (A.).

Moreover, since conducting business ventures overseas back then was not without its risks, I had to acquaint myself with the idiom used in cargo and shipping insurance, learn about risk-assessment, shipping deadlines, storage conditions, bills of lading, types of merchant ships crossing the Atlantic, and so on. But then there are also taxes and duties, customs procedures and the requirements of port authorities, the valuation of the bales in the Cocket,[5] goods lodged at the Custom House not yet dispatched -- all of this wrapped up in a language of its own, which has to be patiently disassembled, explored, digested, and then reassembled and fine-tuned in the translation process. In order to penetrate that language I had to resort to historical research once more. I visited the ‘Torre do Tombo’ (the Portuguese National Archives) and consulted the records from the customs houses that existed in Lisbon at that time: the ‘Alfândega Grande do Açúcar’, the ‘Alfândega das Sete Casas’, the ‘Alfândega da Casa dos Cinco’ and the ‘Casa da Índia’, the first of which provided invaluable information about the duties on wools and worsted, the classification of wools and of all sorts of cloths, their quantities and provenance, and so on. In the records of the ‘Casa da Índia’, the inventory of the cargo of the French ship Le Commerciant [sic], seized in the summer of 1809, reminds us of the risks faced by merchants like Hutchinson.

I adopted a domesticating approach to a certain extent, adding explanatory footnotes whenever words, phrases or referents might challenge the modern reader’s understanding of the target text. However, since the Revista de Estudos Anglo-Portugueses is aimed at a scholarly readership, it proved unnecessary to insist on the explanation of cultural or linguistic aspects that they are supposed to be already acquainted with. Differences in style between early nineteenth-century and early twenty-first-century Portuguese are noticeable, but they do not make the text less intelligible. In any case, stylistic conventions should not pose a problem for all the scholars who are used to working with documents of that period. So I kept the footnotes to a minimum. The future publication of a book containing the complete correspondence of the Farrer family, this time aiming at a more general readership, will entail a different explanatory methodology, but not a different stylistic treatment.

6. Conclusions

Writing narratives of displacement and travel is in itself a translational act, where the author is always seeking to translate into his mother tongue the manifestations of the culture of the other.[6] The translator of travel writing, in turn, operates on a double disjuncture – the gap between the author and the visited culture, on the one hand, and the gap between the translator and the author, on the other – threefold if you include the inevitable temporal disjuncture. In the process, the translator is forced to question his identity, values and the representations of his own nation and people, especially if the original text is non-fictional and therefore stakes a claim to the immediacy and truthfulness of the experience. The translator thus has to achieve a tour-de-force in bridging all three gaps and rendering the text accessible to the contemporary reader. However, the meanings in the target text will always have but a spectral relation with the ones in the source text: they are constructed at the same time as a re-apparition of a former presence (that does not present itself as full presence) and as the apparition of a new presence –a new text in its own right. This distance between the source and target texts becomes more difficult to span when historical time – fissured as it has been, in this particular case, over these past two centuries by sudden ruptures and discontinuities – keeps eroding the paths that could render the source text recognisable to the reader: hence the importance of the translator’s historical consciousness and the necessity of articulating historical research with the translation process, since any translation of historical material that disregards the intelligibility of historical processes lacks the authority to stake claims to accuracy and credibility.


Althusser, Louis (1971) Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays, trans B. Brewster, London, New Left Books.

Bethell, Leslie (1984) Colonial Brazil, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Borges de Macedo, Jorge (1963) Problemas da História da Indústria Portuguesa no Século XVIII, PhD diss, University of Lisbon, Portugal.

Casas Pardo, José (ed.) (1992) Economic effects of the European expansion, 1492-1824, Stuttgart, Steiner Verlag.

Cronin, Michael (2000) Across the Lines: Travel, Language, Translation, Cork, Cork University Press.

Fletcher, J. S. (1919) The Story of the English Town of Leeds, New York, Macmillan.

Gentzler, Edwin (1993) Contemporary Translation Theories, Clarendon, Multilingual Matters.

Glover, Michael (1976) “Beresford and His Fighting Cocks”, History Today 26, no. 4: 262-8.

Lopes, António (2009) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (1.ª parte) [“Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817” (1st part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses, no. 18: 93-133.

--- (2010) “Cartas inéditas de um jovem burguês 1815-1817” (2.ª parte) [‘Unpublished letters of a young bourgeois 1815-1817’ (2nd part)], Revista de Estudos Anglo Portugueses no. 19: 175-204.

Maxwell, Kenneth (2004) Conflicts and Conspiracies: Brazil and Portugal, 1750-1808, London, Routledge.

Newitt, Malyn (2004) Lord Beresford and British Intervention in Portugal, 1807-1820, Lisbon, Imprensa de Ciências Sociais.

Pijning, Ernst (1997) “Passive resistance: Portuguese diplomacy of contraband trade during King John V’s reign (1706-1750)”, Arquipélago – História 2, no. 2, 171-191.

Polezzi, Loredana (2004) “Between Gender and Genre: The Travels of Estella Canziani” in Perspectives on Travel Writing, Glenn Hooper and Tim Youngs (eds), Aldershot, Ashgate: 121-37.

Tilloch, Alexander (1807) The Philosophical Magazine: Comprehending the Various Branches of Science, the Liberal and Fine Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce. vol. 27. London, R. Taylor.

books.google.pt/books?id=fp9JAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (accessed 15 April 2011)

Warre William, and Edmond Warre (1909) Letters from the Peninsula, 1808-1812, London, John Murray.

Williams, Raymond (1965 [1961]) The Long Revolution, Harmondsworth, Penguin.


[1] Ref. No. E 140/34/1. Records of the Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Exhibits: Farrer (and another) v Hutchinson (and others). Scope and content: Letters to Thomas Farrer from his brother-in-law, James Hutchinson (Jnr.), in Lisbon. Covering dates: 1815-1817.

[2] Manuel J. G. de Abreu Vidal. Análise da sentença proferida no juízo da inconfidencia em 15 de Outubro de 1817 contra o Tenente General Gomes Freire de Andrade, o Coronel Manoel Monteiro de Carvalho e outros... pelo crime de alta traição. Lisboa, Morandiana, 1820; José Dionísio da Serra. Epicedio feito, e recitado em 1822 no anniversario da sempre lamentável morte do General Gomes Freire de Andrade. Paris, 1832; Joaquim Ferreira de Freitas. Memoria sobre a conspiraçaõ [sic] de 1817: vulgarmente chamada a conspiração de Gomes Freire. London, Richard and Arthur Taylor, 1822.

[3] He outlived Thomas (who died circa 1820) and was appointed executor of his brother-in-law’s estate.

[4] A process E. Gentzler (1993: 37) calls ‘domestication’.

[5] A customs office in Britain where detailed records of exports were kept.

[6] On the relation between travel and translation see Lesa Scholl (2009) “Translating Culture: Harriet Martineau’s Eastern Travels” in Travel Writing, Form, and Empire: The Poetics and Politics of Mobility, Julia Kuehn and Paul Smethurst (eds), London, Routledge; Susan Bassnett and André Lefevere (1998) Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation, Clevedon, Multilingual Matters; and Susan Bassnett (2002) Translation Studies, London, Methuen.


About the author(s)

Antonio Manuel Bernardo Lopes, PhD in English Culture, MA in Anglo-Portuguese Studies (specialty in English Literature) and BA in Modern Languages and Literatures
(English and German), is Senior Lecturer (Professor-Adjunto) in English Studies with the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at the School of Education
and Communication, University of Algarve, where he teaches English language, literature and culture, literary analysis and supervises ELT postgraduate projects. He is
also the director of studies of postgraduate programmes in ELT and translation. He is a researcher at the Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies
(FCHS/UNL and FLUP), working with the following research groups: Anglo-Portuguese Studies; Literature, Media and Discourse Analysis; British Culture and History. He
has also participated in several European-funded projects related to teacher training and computer-assisted language learning. He is currently the EUROCALL
representative in Portugal. His doctoral dissertation is entitled The Last Fight Let Us Face: Communist Discourse in Great Britain and the Spanish Civil War.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

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inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
Edited by: Roberto Menin, Gloria Bazzocchi & Chris Rundle
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About the author(s)

Christine Heiss is Professore Associato in German Language, Translation and Linguistics at the University of Bologna’s Advanced School of Modern Languages for Interpreters and Translators (Forlí campus). She is the author of numerous essays on the German adaptation of Italian films, particularly the commedia all’italiana genre. She was the director of the Master’s programme in The Multilingual Translation of Audiovisual and Multimedia Texts of the University of Bologna at Forlí for the academic year 2002/2003, and has coordinated several post-graduate courses in the same field.  In 2008 she edited Between Text and Image. Updating Research in Screen Translation (together with Delia Chiaro and Chiara Bucaria). Since 2000 she is working on the Multimedia Database Forlixt 1 (together with Marcello Soffritti and Cristina Valentini).

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©inTRAlinea & Christine Heiss (2019).
"Amarcord Ricordando Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
Edited by: Roberto Menin, Gloria Bazzocchi & Chris Rundle
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“Qui in nessun luogo”

Per Giovanni Nadiani

By inTRAlinea Webmaster

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2019).
"“Qui in nessun luogo” Per Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"“Qui in nessun luogo” Per Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Dichter und Dialektübersetzer zu Besuch im hohen Norden

Professor Giovanni Nadiani in Memoriam

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"Dichter und Dialektübersetzer zu Besuch im hohen Norden Professor Giovanni Nadiani in Memoriam"
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"Dichter und Dialektübersetzer zu Besuch im hohen Norden Professor Giovanni Nadiani in Memoriam"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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At salut Zvan

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"At salut Zvan"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"At salut Zvan"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Giovanni Nadiani: Extranjero en la Tierra

(Invel, Insen..., Best of e’ sech/ In nessun luogo, Insieme..., Il meglio di e’sech)

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"Giovanni Nadiani: Extranjero en la Tierra (Invel, Insen..., Best of e’ sech/ In nessun luogo, Insieme..., Il meglio di e’sech)"
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"Giovanni Nadiani: Extranjero en la Tierra (Invel, Insen..., Best of e’ sech/ In nessun luogo, Insieme..., Il meglio di e’sech)"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Nel primo anniversario della morte di Giovanni Nadiani

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"Nel primo anniversario della morte di Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"Nel primo anniversario della morte di Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Per Giovanni Nadiani

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"Per Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"Per Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Q Travels

Giovanni Nadiani in memoriam

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"Q Travels Giovanni Nadiani in memoriam"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"Q Travels Giovanni Nadiani in memoriam"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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“Sarebbe più bello semplicemente andarsene…”

Ricordi di Giovanni Nadiani

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"“Sarebbe più bello semplicemente andarsene…” Ricordi di Giovanni Nadiani"
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"“Sarebbe più bello semplicemente andarsene…” Ricordi di Giovanni Nadiani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Un manovale di parole

By Gloria Bazzocchi (Università di Bologna, Italy)

©inTRAlinea & Gloria Bazzocchi (2019).
"Un manovale di parole"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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About the author(s)

Gloria Bazzocchi has been an associate professor at the University of Bologna since 2010. She researches mainly in translation and language, as well as in the contrast between Italian and Spanish. She is particularly interested in the translation of children’s literature, the translation of terminology used by young people, the translation of poetry, as well as the teaching of translation. She has participated in several national and international projects and collaborated with study centres and magazines in Spain. She is currently teaching Translation from Spanish into Italian and Translation for the Publishing Industry (Spanish).

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©inTRAlinea & Gloria Bazzocchi (2019).
"Un manovale di parole"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Gli amici traducono Giovanni

Trauzioni della poesia "Ciò nonostante"

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©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2019).
"Gli amici traducono Giovanni Trauzioni della poesia"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2019).
"Gli amici traducono Giovanni Trauzioni della poesia"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Nadiani tradotto

Note alla traduzione in napoletano di alcuni testi di Giovanni Nadiani e su "Terminal, blues di un broker fallito"

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"Nadiani tradotto Note alla traduzione in napoletano di alcuni testi di Giovanni Nadiani e su"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"Nadiani tradotto Note alla traduzione in napoletano di alcuni testi di Giovanni Nadiani e su"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Leardo e’ re: un affresco teatrale a sei mani

By inTRAlinea Webmaster

©inTRAlinea & inTRAlinea Webmaster (2019).
"Leardo e’ re: un affresco teatrale a sei mani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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"Leardo e’ re: un affresco teatrale a sei mani"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Johnny’s Blues

By Chris Rundle (University of Bologna, Italy)

©inTRAlinea & Chris Rundle (2019).
"Johnny’s Blues"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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About the author(s)

Christopher Rundle is Associate Professor in Translation Studies at the Department of Interpreting and Translation of the University of Bologna, Italy. He is also Honorary Senior Lecturer in Translation and Italian Studies at the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures of the University of Manchester, UK. His main research interests lie in the history of translation, in particular translation and fascism. He is the author of the monograph Publishing Translations in Fascist Italy (Peter Lang, 2010), and co-editor with Kate Sturge of the volume Translation Under Fascism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010). He is also the editor of the recent Special Issue of The Translator (Vol. 20 No.1, 2014) on Theories and Methodologies of Translation History. He is the coordinating editor of inTRAlinea.

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©inTRAlinea & Chris Rundle (2019).
"Johnny’s Blues"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Beyond the Romagna Sky
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Fluid Images — Fluid Text

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Studien zur Übersetzungsgeschichte

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Translation and translatability in intersemiotic space

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The Cultural Ecology of Translation

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Traduire les minorités linguistiques des sphères anglophone et francophone

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Genealogies of Knowledge II: Evolving Transnational,Transdisciplinary and Translational Epistemology

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NPIT5 - 5th International Conference on Non-Professional Interpreting and Translation

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The potential of reflective translator training

By Paulina Pietrzak (University of Łódź, Poland)

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"The potential of reflective translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
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As the title of the special issue reveals, the purpose of this collection is to contribute to the quest for new insights into effective translator training by defining the objectives and current issues in the discipline of translation pedagogy. Over the last two decades, there has been an increasing recognition of the need to promote authentic experiential translator training with a view to helping translation students develop real-life skills and thus empowering them to meet market demands. This special issue gathers a series of contributions that reflect on what effective training can be taken to stand for in both academia and contemporary translation market. It outlines the theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the current pedagogical debate.

The last two decades have seen a significant increase in research interest in curriculum design and educational policies intended to improve autonomous translator training. If an attempt is made to identify the goals of contemporary translation education, the prerequisites are “raising students’ awareness of the factors involved in translation, helping to develop their own translator’s self-concept, and assisting in the collaborative construction of individually tailored tools that will allow every student to function within the language mediation community upon graduation” (Kiraly 2000: 49). In the face of dynamic changes occurring on translation services market, the main objective is making sure that translation students are able to adapt to changing circumstances and particular demands of the market. Self-regulatory skills such as the ability to adapt to new conditions build up the translator’s self-concept defined by Kiraly (1995: 100) as “a sense of the purpose of the translation, an awareness of the information requirements of the translation task, a self-evaluation of capability to fulfil the task, and a related capacity to monitor and evaluate translation products for adequacy and appropriateness”. Ehrensberger-Dow and Massey (2013: 105) observe that self-concept has gained popularity and “various psycholinguistic and cognitive models explicitly (e.g., Kiraly 1995, Göpferich 2009) or implicitly (e.g., PACTE 2003) consider this a fundamental aspect of translation competence”. As Muñoz Martín (2014: 31) states, translators “understand and handle situations and face difficulties in ways coherent with our current activated self-concept and avoid courses of action that are not consistent with it”. Therefore, in order to enable translation students to consciously make up for any gaps that result from constantly changing market demands, the emphasis must be placed not on teaching but rather on learning.

With emphasis on the need for empowering students (see Kiraly 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2015, 2016a, 2016b), a social constructivist approach to translator training seems most pertinent as it focuses on having students engage in the process of their own learning and take responsibility for their own development. This is the emergentist view that considers learning to be “subconscious, authentic and complex in a dynamic, largely unpredictable and uncontrollable but clearly emancipatory, embodied, enactive and empowering process” (Kiraly 2016a: 136). Similarly complex and dynamic in nature, the concept of translator competence has been variously defined, ranging from minimalist (Pym 2003) to more multicomponential models (e.g. González Davies 2004, PACTE 2003, 2009, EMT 2009). Due to a number of factors that influence the professional work of the translator, such as financial, organisational, economic and psychosocial conditions, translator competence cannot be regarded as mere qualification for professional translator work (cf. Wills 1976). Since there is no specific unified vision of translators’ job demands, the skills that translators need and the expected outcomes of translator education vary significantly. There has been numerous attempts at the identification and exploration of the concept of translator competence (e.g. Lörscher 1992, 2005; Köller 1979; Grucza 1985, 1993; Schäffner and Adab 2000; Gile 1994, 1995; González Davies 2004; Göpferich 2009; Gouadec 2007; Kelly 2005, 2008; Kiraly 1995, 2000, 2005, 2015, 2016; PACTE 2003, 2009, 2011; Pym 1991, 2003, 2011, 2013), but, in fact, these are future translators who must be able to identify what translator competence means in their particular case and adapt to changing environments and market needs.

This introductory article aims to signal the importance of metacognitive aspects of developing translator competence enabling students to gain more insight into the nature of the processes involved in translation through active monitoring, regulating and orchestrating their own practice (cf. Flavell 1976: 232). Rising up to the challenges of the today’s translation market requires certain metacognitive expertise on the part of the translator, which involves “the ability to reflect upon, understand and control one’s learning” (Schraw and Dennison 1994). Predicated on the assumption that we learn more from reflecting on our experiences than from the actual experiences themselves (Dewey 1933), implementing reflectivity into the translation classroom has the potential to positively influence translation trainee learning and development. Students who are invited to (self-)reflect gain a more collaborative relationship with their translation trainer, which ensures a more empowering distribution of power and control in the translation classroom. Translation students who attempt self-reflection gradually become more self-reliant since they realise and express their own ideas, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses (e.g. Pietrzak 2016a, Pietrzak 2016b), which in turn can serve as invaluable feedback for translation trainers.

The role of reflection is by no means restricted to rethinking the translational choices in the target text, but it can be implemented in the translation classroom in the form of broadly understood investigation and observation. According to Schön (1983: 31), reflective practice is “a dialogue of thinking and doing through which I become more skilful”. It is based on three main processes: knowledge-in-action, reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action (Schön 1987) and is therefore embedded in experience. In the translation classroom, reflective practice is always empirical and experiential; it does not need to be restricted to reflection on the product, but – more importantly perhaps – on the process of translation as well as the process of training.

The translation classroom can therefore serve as a space for reflection; it needs to be noted that reflection in the translation classroom involves reflective translating, reflective learning and reflective teaching. Whether this is the translator trainer or the trainee who (self-)reflects in translator training and on translator training, reflective translator training holds the potential to contribute to the reformulation of the translator classroom as the space of dynamic and holistic education. Reflection can therefore be incorporated into both teaching and learning to observe how the understanding of translator training process develops.

The tools that are used to both facilitate (self-)reflection and gather the data emerging from reflective practice are think aloud protocols, retrospective verbal protocols triangulated with screen recording or eye-tracking, Integrated Problem and Decision Reporting - IPDR (Gile 2004), questionnaires, cover statements, commentaries, peer reports or drafts, student correspondence (email exchanges, online collaborative tools, e.g. Google Docs suite), pre- and post-learning reports, changes tracked in a document, interviews, journals or portfolios, etc. The manner of reflective practice can be either collaborative (peer reflection or group reflection) or introspective (self-reflection) and it can take place before the action (prospectively), during the action (concurrently) or after the action (retrospectively).

It is crucial that translation students have a clearly defined object of reflection which can be the product of translation, the process of translation or the process of translator training. The possible forms of reflective activities are pre-translation and post-translation tasks, shared assignments within a project, sense negotiation, peer assessment, group assessment, self-assessment, self-observation, collaborative brainstorming, peer or group revision, peer or group feedback, peer or group interviews, self-learning, etc.

Apart from the usefulness of introducing reflective practice into the translation classroom, what needs to be emphasised here is the role and power of translation classroom communication (see Klimkowski 2014 and his article in this special issue). Lack of effective communication between translation trainees and their trainer can result in misconceptions about the whole idea of learning and, consequently, in unnecessary deception, fight for exercising control and putting up defences. In situations in which communication fails, the only aspect of the translator’s self-concept that is being practised is self-defense. In order to avoid situations in which the learner’s self is threatened, a safe communicational environment needs to be created to redirect efforts from defense to cooperation and, thus, facilitate learning (cf. Rogers 1951).

For instance, authentic projects provide translation students with the opportunity to work together, communicate, negotiate, discuss, compare, contrast, solve problems, make decisions and, gradually, move to what Kiraly (2005: 1107) calls “autonomous stage of social and personal knowledge construction”. Project work requires joint experiments which involve team planning, performance and reflection. “Competence and autonomy are necessary by-products of such a learning process” (Kiraly 2005: 1109). Integrating (self-)reflection in the translation classroom can therefore serve as a valuable form of practice for skills that are needed in the future career as professional translators.

With emphasis on the role of reflective practice for the construction of the translator self-concept and the need for reflectivity both on the part of translation students and trainers, the article opens a series of contributions whose central axis is training a self-reflective and self-reliant translator. The issue is divided into two sections: Part I which explores recent methodological trends and approaches to translator training and Part II which is devoted to more specific issues in translator competence development and translation classroom practice.

Part I includes five articles. In the first article, Catherine Way (University of Granada, Spain) begins by exploring the nature of self-regulated learning in the translation classroom. The author discusses the ways of supporting and developing self-regulated learning through effective feedback and motivational interviewing. In the second article, Gary Massey (ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland) proposes an approach that facilitates co-emergent learning and empowers institutions to train not only translators but also teachers, researchers and the organizations in which they work. The idea of authentic, experiential and co-emergent learning, where learning process is considered to be a communicative and reflective practice, is further developed in the third article by Konrad Klimkowski (The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland). With particular emphasis on the empowering role of assessment and self-assessment, the author advocates optimising classroom communication to enable learners to reflect on their performance and then use this reflection in further learning.

The fourth article by Cécile Frérot (University of Grenoble Alpes, France) shows the potential value of authentic project-based translation environment in raising collaborative awareness of translation trainees. Drawing on the notion of ergonomics, the author investigates the didactic integration of ergonomic factors within programmes in translation. The translator’s professional development is also the subject of investigation in the fifth article by Ewa Kościałkowska-Okońska (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Toruń, Poland). The author discusses the training provisions that need to be reformed so as to keep up with the dynamically changing translation market.

Only seemingly in contrast to such a practically-oriented approach, the first article in Part II by Daniela Di Mango (University of Passau, Germany) draws on translation theory to look into the apparent gap between theory and practice. The author provides a review of the ways in which theory can have an impact on the development of translator competence and analyses the possible contribution of translation theory to the professional practice.

In the next article, Anne Neveu (Kent State University, USA) analyses reading and critical thinking in translation and emphasises the role of reading tasks in the improvement of professional translator development. The third article in Part II, by Nataša Pavlović and Goranka Antunović (University of Zagreb, Croatia), picks up on the issue already discussed by Gary Massey in his article in this special issue, that is, the competence of the professional translator trainer. The article reports on a study investigating the perception of a desirable translation teacher profile among professional translators and translation teachers themselves.

Next, Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, Poland) analyses the concept of cluster equivalence and argues for a collaborative corpus-informed teaching approach and peer corrective feedback in translator training. The fifth article in this part illustrates and analyses the mechanisms involved in the audiovisual translator decision making processes. Drawing on work in cognitive psychology, Mikołaj Deckert and Patrycja Jaszczyk (University of Łódź, Poland) discuss the data which display some didactically useful characteristics of the processing of visual-verbal representations in subtitling. In the next article, Barbara Heinisch (University of Vienna, Austria) focuses on exploring the concept of accessibility in translator education. She demonstrates the results of case studies conducted within two research projects and dedicated to two different aspects of accessibility, i.e. more inclusive translation programmes on the one hand and the training for future accessibility managers on the other.

The article by Jun Pan and Billy T.M. Wong (Hong Kong Baptist University, China and The Open University of Hong Kong, China) stands out from the rest of the contributions to this special issue in that it focuses specifically on training interpreters rather than translators. The authors report on an exploratory study on the use of pragmatic markers as a parameter revealing the quality of performance and competence of interpreters. The last article focuses on the application of process research results for teaching purposes. In this article, Michał Kornacki (University of Łódź, Poland) analyses the potential of using eye-tracking research results in the translation classroom as a method of familiarising translation trainees’ with the actual translation process, which potentially helps trainees become more aware of the metacognitive aspects of the translator’s work.

This special issue brings together the voices of translation scholars and translator trainers representing several cultures to present their experiences and views on the contemporary traslator education. All the contributions to this special issue cover a wide range of issues in translator training and thus provide a coverage of the recent advances in the field. Various methodological approaches applied here reveal a highly interdisciplinary nature of the contemporary translator education and offer a round view of the research that is being carried out on translator training. The issue does not purport to offer a balanced view of various pedagogical options but hopes to encourage to consider or reconsider introducing (self-)reflection into the translation classroom.


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About the author(s)

Paulina Pietrzak has been affiliated with University of Łódź, Poland, since 2008. She did her PhD on translation education and developing translation competence. She teaches LGP and LSP translation and interpreting in the Department of Translation Studies. She is also a freelance translator and interpreter. Her main research interests include the theory and practice of translation and interpreting, specialised languages and translator training.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Paulina Pietrzak (2019).
"The potential of reflective translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2431

Fostering Translator Competence:

The Importance of Effective Feedback and Motivation for Translator Trainees

By Catherine Way (Universidad de Granada, Spain)

Abstract & Keywords

Recent studies suggest that emotions or self-efficacy and confidence (Haro-Soler 2017a; 2017b; 2018a) and the effect they may have on translator task performance are attracting attention in research on translator education (Rojo and Ramos 2016), with data suggesting that students improve if attention is paid to these psychophysiological aspects. Empowering students to become self-regulated learners, who can monitor learning processes, relies heavily on their motivation and behaviour during that learning, which in turn relies on feedback and formative assessment (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006). Within the model for Self-Regulated Learning (SRL) suggested by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, we will consider the principles they propose for good feedback practice (ibid.), taking a further step by introducing motivational interviewing (MI) (Miller 1983; Miller and Rollnick 1991) in translator education. We will present three case studies where students displaying different SRL strategies and motivational problems were selected as a pilot study implementing motivational interviewing. The MI process will be described and the results for the three cases discussed.

Keywords: translator training, feedback, self-regulated learning, motivation, translator trainer competence, pilot studies

©inTRAlinea & Catherine Way (2019).
"Fostering Translator Competence: The Importance of Effective Feedback and Motivation for Translator Trainees"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2430

1. Introduction

Translator competence models (TC) have clearly prevailed in translator education in the twentieth century. More recently, however, TC models have been deemed to be flat or static by Kiraly (2015: 24). For this author, the next step forward in translator education is into complexity thinking and to progress from “enaction” to “emergence” as postpositivist principles (2015: 10), in line with Risku (2010). Project-based, authentic, collaborative learner-centred translation classes have become widespread, whilst the ability to continue developing TC and expertise and to monitor one’s own performance as translators in multiple roles has also been addressed (Way 2008: 100). Pedagogy, or how course content and objectives can be grounded in a situated context by promoting learning strategies that encourage a cognitive learning process, which is significant for the students, has often been neglected. Obviously, how we teach, including student-teacher interaction and the classroom environment, particularly evaluation and feedback, are paramount in translation pedagogy. Trainers often devote time to enhancing their classroom environment, attempting to engage students in a joint learning experience through effective feedback, which is closely linked to assessment, particularly formative assessment. Nevertheless, despite trainers’ efforts, we often observe that the same methodology and practices have quite different effects on individual students. Encouraging students to become autonomous learners, thereby preparing them for lifelong learning too, is no easy task. One approach which addresses this problem is presented by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006: 199) who, by reinterpreting research on formative assessment and feedback, have suggested that trainers can adjust their assessment and support of trainees if they are conscious of the fact that trainees can manage their own learning processes by becoming self-regulated learners. As Pintrich (2000: 453) reminds us self-regulated learning (SRL) is:

an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment.    

Key to Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick’s (2006) proposal is that trainees also assess their own work and progress, thereby creating their own internal feedback. In the following sections we will consider Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick’s proposal of seven principles of good feedback practice for trainers and how we can develop self-regulation in translator trainees through motivational interviewing, thereby enhancing their cognitive learning process.

2. Self-regulated learning and feedback

The term Self-Regulated Learning became popular in the eighties and is further defined by Zimmerman (2002: 65) as follows:

Self-regulation is not a mental ability or an academic performance skill; rather it is the self-directive process by which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills. Learning is an activity that students do for themselves in a proactive way rather than as a covert event that happens to them in reaction to teaching. Self-regulation refers to self-generated thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are oriented to attaining goals.

As Zimmerman (ibid.: 66) reminds us, self-regulated learners are more likely to attain academic success and be more optimistic about their futures when they are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses; they are guided by personally set goals and task related strategies and they monitor their behaviour and self-reflect on their tasks, which can lead to greater self-satisfaction and motivation. Self-regulation is also very important for the development of life-long learning skills. In translator training, Shreve (2006: 32) has highlighted the importance of self-regulation in attaining expertise and considers that analyzing the differences between students in different phases of fulfilling their tasks: planning, monitoring, regulating, evaluating, and recognizing failed processes and task variables “would be an important step toward the development of more effective training for translators” (ibid.: 38).

The figure which follows is presented by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick as a synthesis of current thought on feedback and self-regulation.

Figure 1: A model of self-regulated learning and the feedback principles
that support and develop self-regulation in learners (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick 2006: 203)

The grey area depicts the trainees’ internal processes which regulate and monitor their performance and their learning processes. Pertinent to our purposes is the importance of the trainees’ own internal feedback which affects different steps in the completion of a task and, more importantly, their self-regulatory processes: cognition, motivation and behaviour. If we bear in mind that in today’s translation classrooms our trainees not only interact with the trainer but also with each other, actively constructing their own learning under the influence of the immediate learning environment, it is evident that their learning processes will be eminently different. Later we will discuss motivation and behaviour as two vital aspects to encourage SRL.

The lower part of Figure 1 suggests seven steps to support and develop SRL through effective feedback. Many of these steps will be familiar to trainers who may use some or most of them already. The authors’ proposal suggests covering all the steps to achieve optimum results. We have combined their steps with some tried and tested examples in translator education (Way 2008; 2009; 2014a; 2014b; 2017).

Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick

How to implement this in translation classes

Clarify what good performance is

Take time to offer clear, explicit criteria for all tasks and assessments. Offer examples of the expected standard (past examinations/published translations), and professional norms.

Facilitate self-assessment

Revision of others’ translations before self-revision, reflection during class presentations[1], use of the Achilles’ heel sheet for reflection on individual TC development with both positive and negative comments. This will help to improve self-monitoring during the task completion process.

Deliver high quality feedback

Feedback must be delivered in time for improvement before the next task. Although it must provide corrections, the language used should be non-judgemental (avoiding adjectives such as “bad, terrible, awful”) and include expressions of approval which are closely linked to the intended goals, highlighting areas for improvement.

Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning


Class presentations can be used to encourage discussion and peer feedback. Learning to defend their translation decisions forces students to reflect on how and why they may have acted in a particular way. Individual and group tutorials can clarify doubts and indicate to trainers topics that may need to be revisited in class.

Encourage positive motivation and self-esteem

Providing trainees with profiles of successful graduates working in diverse fields has proved to be an excellent stimulus for trainees. Visits from graduates who describe their first professional experiences have also been a useful tool to motivate trainees. Give examples of your own earlier problems or mistakes as a translator.

Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance

Allowing trainees to repeat a task or an exam and providing opportunities to discover whether feedback has been assimilated and then providing further feedback has been used for some time now, although this often depends on external constraints such as time, class sizes and university regulations.

Use feedback to improve teaching


Simply giving feedback without gauging its effectiveness will not improve translator training. The pilot study we have implemented is a further step in using effective feedback and encouraging SRL in an attempt to improve translator training.

Table 1: Implementing Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick’s principles in translator training

Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) discuss the growing body of literature concerning feedback and SRL, offering suggestions for improvement. Nevertheless, although they indicate (ibid.: 211) that students may accept criticism more easily from their peers than from the teacher, research by King (2016: 171-72) showed that many trainees preferred the teacher’s feedback and criticism (see also Massey and Brändli 2016: 193). This may be due to the trainees’ prior educational baggage and experience in earlier education, or to the highly competitive nature of the classroom environment, despite trainers’ efforts to alleviate this. Grades are still important to students who must compete for internships, grants or professional positions and many trainees seem to be more concerned with externally regulated or extrinsic goals (a grade/comparison to peers) rather than with intrinsic goals which are prompted by the wish to become a competent translator or to overcome obstacles. The important question here is not transmitting feedback to trainees, but discussing it with them so that they, in turn, can extract the significant elements which may affect their future actions.

Zumbrunn et al. (2011) provide an excellent review of the literature on encouraging SRL in the classroom, presenting different SRL models that have been proposed. They describe one circular model (ibid.: 4-6) by Pintrich and Zusho (2002) and another by Zimmerman (2000b, 2009: 300) who suggests three phases:

  • Forethought and planning phase: analyse the learning task; set goals towards completing the task
  • Performance monitoring phase: employ strategies to make progress on the learning task; monitor effectiveness of the strategies employed; monitor motivation for completing the learning task
  • Reflection on performance phase: Evaluate performance in the learning task; manage emotional responses to the outcomes of the learning experience.

By completing each phase and then starting all over again the process is repeated and, with effective feedback and support, should improve. This model can be easily adapted to the phases of SRL for translator trainees and applied to any of the multiple tasks in the translation process (research, terminology mining, translating, or revising):

Figure 2: Phases of SRL and translation (adapted from Zumbrunn et al. 2011:6)

Besides the importance of effective external feedback as suggested by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006: 201), of particular interest from Figure 1 is, as the authors point out, that “feedback both regulates and is regulated by motivational beliefs”. Let us turn our attention, then, to student motivation, or the lack thereof, which is unchartered territory in TS pedagogy.

3. Motivation in TS

Only recently has research shown improvement in translator training when attention is paid to emotions, confidence and self-efficacy, and motivation (Haro-Soler 2017a; 2017b; 2018a; Rojo and Ramos 2016). Psychophysiological aspects of TC have remained on the fringe of research when, in fact, they are at the very core of all the other subcompetences. One example is the EMT Translator Trainer Profile (2013), which, besides describing the fundamental requirements to become a translator trainer, proposes five competences: Field, Instructional, Organizational, Interpersonal, and Assessment. Its Interpersonal competence includes the “ability to establish suitable learning environments for students” and in Instructional Competence the “ability to motivate students”, however, these vital elements remain underdeveloped.

Clearly, as trainees’ TC develops individually, at different paces, and their SRL processes do likewise, it is attention to the individual which may make a difference. As Kelly (2008: 114) has stated:

Respect for individual learners is probably best covered by Robinson (1997/2003) and by Calvo and Arrés (2006), in that they avoid the tendency present in much other literature on teaching and learning to assume that there is one correct way to teach and learn applicable to all students, a premise which is rightly questioned by these authors.

Motivation is crucial at all phases of completing a task. If a translation task is not considered to be authentic or useful to their training or the instructions are unclear, trainees will not be motivated to complete it. They will be less likely to establish precise goals for each part of the task, plan which strategies to employ or monitor their work as they progress. Furthermore, if they do not believe that they can successfully complete the task (low self-efficacy beliefs), they are less likely to use self-regulating strategies (planning, monitoring, revising) which in turn reinforces their belief that they cannot complete the task successfully, completing the vicious circle (see Zimmerman 2000a).

Motivation is an extremely complex concept relating to our behaviour, commonly understood to be an internal process that prompts us to act or drives us towards a goal. Unfortunately, we cannot observe motivation directly and it can only be deduced by observation. Huitt (2011: sp) presents an overview of motivation for learning, defining motivation as “an internal state or condition (sometimes described as a need, desire, or want) that serves to activate or energize behavior and give it direction”, also incorporating Franken’s (2006) inclusion of activating behaviour and prompting persistence in a given behaviour as elements produced by motivation.

4. Motivational interviewing

Whilst researching motivation we encountered motivational interviewing (MI), an approach grounded in experimental social psychology, used to provoke behavioural changes, often in addicts (alcohol, drugs, gambling), using empathy, motivation and  objective assessment feedback to counteract low levels of self-efficacy or low self-esteem and negative behaviour (Miller 1983; Rollnick and Miller 1995). Miller and Rollnick (2013: 29) offer three definitions of MI (for a layperson, practitioner and technical) of which we will use the first:

Layperson’s definition
Motivational interviewing is a collaborative conversation style for strengthening a person’s own motivation and commitment to change.

Under no illusion as to our ignorance of therapeutic techniques, we considered that incorporating MI into our teaching practices may facilitate our attempts to identify problems and activate change in students not responding to other methods through structured tutorials using MI. To do this we must first understand the spirit of MI, which implies an interpersonal relationship with the student of collaboration, through evocation (listening to the student and eliciting responses) and encouraging autonomy by allowing the student to make choices (Rollnick and Miller 1995: 325-34). Furthermore we became familiar with the principles of motivational interviewing or DARES:

  • Develop Discrepancy
  • Avoid Argumentation
  • Roll with Resistance
  • Express Empathy
  • Support Self-efficacy

Developing discrepancy involves exploring the students’ goals and values, by helping them to identify their goals and values themselves and identifying small steps towards their goals (ibid.: 246-53); avoiding argumentation requires listening to the students and rolling with resistance on their part by not imposing anything on them  (ibid.: 196-97); expressing empathy requires skillful reflective listening to provoke acceptance of the need to change (Miller and Rollnick 2013: 34, 48-61); supporting self-efficacy requires reflective listening, expressing belief in the students’ ability to change by reminding them of past success, providing summaries of  their interventions and enhancing student autonomy with regard to change (ibid.: 66-7, 212-30).

Learning to do this requires four basic skills for interaction (OARS) as described by Miller and Rollnick (ibid.: 312-13):

  1. Ability to ask Open-ended questions
  2. Ability to provide Affirmations
  3. Capacity for Reflective listening
  4. Ability to provide Summary statements

When implementing all of the above we will need to include four basic processes[2] by engaging the students: to talk about their problems, concerns, and hopes to create an empathetic climate of trust; focusing on specific, delimited areas for change; evoking motivation by encouraging students’ to see the importance of change for themselves, whether they are ready to implement it (readiness); and planning the small steps necessary to execute changes (ibid.: 25-30).

Once we had assimilated the basis of MI our next task was to identify cases that may benefit from this approach. Given that motivation or the lack of motivation and behaviour may be seen as possible indicators of the need for further intervention in specific cases, this became a signal to be identified.

5. Identifying the pilot study subjects

Bearing in mind the SRL strategies and motivational factors described by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986) and Pintrich and De Groot (1990), we attempted to identify students who were not responding as well as expected or having obvious difficulties as denoted by their behaviour and outcomes in our four year undergraduate Translating and Interpreting degree and one year Master in Professional Translation.

Three students were selected from three different modules. For the sake of anonymity the names used are fictitious. In the table below a cross (✖) implies the absence and a tick (✔) the presence of SRL strategies or motivational factors. In all three cases they were not translating into, and in one case neither from, their A language. The A-B translation modules[3] they followed often cause greater insecurity due to the directionality of the translation tasks.

SRL strategies

Case A

Case B

Case C

Motivational factors

Case A

Case B

Case C

Establishing goals/





Flexible use of learning strategies

Goal orientations

Searching for information






Task value

Attention control/


Attributing failure


record keeping


✔ ✖

Appropriate help-seeking (peers, trainers, experts)






reviewing prior work





Table 2: Subject observation and selection adapted
from Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986) and Pintrich and De Groot (1990)

Each of them presented different behavioural indicators and different levels of SRL strategy use. As shown in the table, the motivational factors coincide closely with the absence or presence of SRL strategy use. Once this had been detected, preparation of the MI sessions required reviewing their completed tasks and observational notes taken on their class presentations.

6. The pilot case studies

Building upon the DARE principles described earlier and the OARS skills required for successful MI, our first task was to review and analyse our own practices in one-to-one tutorial sessions. Surprisingly, we found that many of the principles proposed, and the skills required, had already been incorporated into our practices. Nevertheless, we continued to research further in order to hone these skills and prepare the motivational interviews[4].

Some examples include avoiding asking too many direct questions. The first sessions are dedicated to creating a collaborative atmosphere of trust:  

  • Eliciting information from the trainee on how they would describe their current situation (before considering the advantages and disadvantages of introducing changes): “How is the course going?” or “Is your group working well together?”.
  • Asking open questions requiring further elaboration to evoke an answer which will not be yes/no by repeating trainees’ statements – “You said that you gave up looking for information after a while. Why was that?”.
  • Reviewing how the trainee reached this particular situation by asking about earlier different situations. “So, John, how did you do in your German translation modules?”.
  • Avoiding blame, identifying the problem and discussing how to take small steps to solve it: “Julia, you said that you are not sleeping well. What keeps you awake?”. “You mentioned several problems (stress, tiredness, too much responsibility). Can we do anything to improve this situation?”.
  • Reinforcing strategies already seen in the module to overcome problems and tailoring them to each specific situation: “We discussed time management in our module on the translating profession. How can we apply the strategies we saw to this situation?”.

Obviously, the scope of this pilot study is limited and further research is necessary to expand on the possible battery of exchanges with trainees and how to include such findings in translator trainer training.

Case Study A - Mary

Mary was in the third year of her undergraduate degree in Translating and Interpreting (Spanish A language- English B language). Requirements to be accepted in this degree course are extremely high and the entire student intake has the very highest marks in secondary education. This frequently leads to them becoming disconcerted as their peers are immensely competitive. Mary was selected due to several factors. She did not demonstrate any of the SRL strategies, appearing reluctant to participate, and she always seemed churlish, not only with her peers, but even with her fellow task group members. She was taking the module: Introduction to Specialised Translation A-B (Spanish into English). When addressed in class, or when attempts were made to involve her or elicit further information on any task she presented, she showed signs of a lack of persistence, little effort, discomfort with any criticism from her peers, even if it was constructive, and consistently offered negative statements about her own abilities in comparison to her peers. She seemed insecure and ready to avoid or flee from any difficulties.

Her first continuous assessment marks given on a rubric of a scale of 4 were: 1.5, 2 and 2.5, showing that she was barely reaching the minimum necessary to fulfil the course objectives. It was then that we decided to intervene with MI. The first MI session was after her first continuous assessment marks. From this first session it became clear that Mary was comparing herself to her peers, rather than focusing on her own learning needs, was demotivated with low self-efficacy beliefs. Her lack of self-efficacy beliefs had been detected in the questionnaire administered as part of Haro-Soler’s Ph.D research (2018b). The first session was devoted mainly to engaging her to express her problems and concerns, attempting to evoke motivation and beginning to focus on possible areas and small steps towards improvement. This was not easy, as she tended to resist abandoning a negative, suspicious, almost confrontational posture. She repeatedly stated that as she did not achieve the same results as her peers, then why bother? The second session was after her first summative assessment, an economic translation exam where she obtained 3.5, the lowest mark in the class, and lasted over 90 minutes. This session continued to reinforce the attempts made in the first session and she finally began to show signs of readiness to reflect and implement changes. A detailed plan was drawn up to cover areas for improvement and adjustments to her work process with additional individual work agreed upon for correction and feedback over the remainder of the semester. The third session was shortly before the final examinations and after a degree of improvement had already been observed in the additional work, in her behaviour and in her SRL strategies as demonstrated by her class presentations. In the final summative assessment she resat her economic translation exam and took a legal translation exam attaining 7.25 and 8.025[5] respectively.

A further interview was held with Mary in the course of the Ph.D. research by Haro-Soler on self-efficacy (2018b) once the semester had finished. Whilst she admitted to having been very insecure at the start of the semester in an A-B translation module, especially concerning the legal translation section of the course, she was now extremely satisfied and content. She attributed her improvement to effective feedback in the classroom and to the encouragement in her MI sessions. She stated that she now felt more capable (improved self-efficacy) and had less doubts when tackling translation tasks and stated “I surprised myself”. Her demeanour had changed considerably. Mary adopted more open postures, became actively engaged more readily and smiled frequently. Evidently there may be other extrinsic elements which influence this that are beyond the scope of this first exploratory foray into MI.

Case Study B – John

John was in the third year of his undergraduate degree in Translating and Interpreting (Spanish A language – German B language – English C language). Entry requirements for this language combination are slightly lower than for English B language, but are still nationally very high. He chose to follow the module: Advanced Economic and Legal Translation A-B/C (Spanish into English) as an elective as he had received high marks with little effort in all his German/Spanish translation modules.

 John was selected because he was extremely quiet in the initial introductory classes, becoming increasingly nonchalant as the practical translation tasks progressed. His first class presentations showed little effort and persistence, although he seemed capable of much more. Inevitably, different teaching methodologies or styles may attribute to this, but as his first continuous assessment rubrics showed marks ranging between 1.5-2 (on a scale of 1-4) he himself approached the teacher for an individual tutorial. Given the situation, he was selected as a pilot study subject.

In the first session John explained that given his prior experience in the German/Spanish modules, he had been taken aback by the level and demands of this module. He demonstrated a false sense of over-confidence based on his prior results. His self-efficacy beliefs had been shaken, although he was obviously motivated to make changes and demonstrated appropriate help-seeking. In this first session, after some prompting, he finally verbalized some of his problem areas and small steps towards remedying them were outlined. Session two, shortly after the first session and just before an individual assessment piece was due, led to more steps being agreed to improve problem areas and to continue adjusting his work process for the remainder of the semester. The third session was shortly after the first summative assessment (an individual sworn translation), in which he attained 8.1 and shortly before the final examinations.

 Considerable improvement had already been observed in his demeanour in class, flexible use of translation strategies, self-monitoring and in his SRL strategies, showing greater persistence in the tasks he undertook. In the final legal and commercial translation examinations he obtained 8.4 and 8.7, receiving a final global mark (individual work, classwork and two translation exams) of 9.1. At the end of the semester John returned, not for an MI session, but to express his gratitude for the guidance that had led to a significant transformation in his approach to translation tasks, his work processes and that he now felt committed to providing better quality translations rather than “winging it” in the belief that he had no more to learn. In his fourth year he has decided to take another elective, this time from English to Spanish.

Case Study C – Julia

Julia was an international student taking the MA in Professional Translation, specialising in legal translation in the Spanish-English combination. She was working, then, in a B-C/C-B combination. The course, again, has strict entrance requirements, with hundreds of applications for just 60 places. Her educational background included languages and some translation (in other language combinations) and some professional experience in commercial translation.

In this case we see two different situations in the table. The left side of Julia’s column refers to the semester of taught modules on the MA and the right side of the column to her internship in the second semester. A slightly more mature student, she appeared to have no real SRL strategy problems, was motivated and sought help concerning her language combination problems, and was an excellent student. Two major external environmental elements led to a complete about-face in her situation. Shortly before the end of the first semester a serious family health problem meant frequent trips to her home country and additional stress. Her work began to suffer as a result, dropping from 9.3 or 9 in early modules to 7 or 7.75 in the last modules.

The first MI session was held before she began her internship to consider the external pressures due to her family situation and those she may encounter in her internship. The most significant environmental change came about with her internship. Unfortunately, the company concerned did not comply with their agreement with the university, due to losing some of its permanent staff, and after a month or so Julia was left in charge of their office in a major Spanish city. Her working hours were from 9am to 6pm, but she found herself working 10 to 12 hours a day. She was offered an additional 10 hour contract to cover the discrepancy with the hours agreed for her internship, but she quickly became overwhelmed as the short deadlines agreed by the company for clients meant that any information or terminology mining was virtually impossible, she was under a great deal of stress and suffering health problems and insomnia. Despite the university wishing to intervene, she preferred to continue as she wanted to complete her studies as soon as possible given her difficult family situation.

The second MI session was through a series of emails concerning her MA dissertation, but which were also used to help her return to her earlier state. After this session, discussing the skills and work processes used in the MA modules she stepped back and took stock of her situation. Using the Achilles’ Heel sheet (Way 2008) she reappraised all her competences and selected steps to palliate her undesirable situation concerning ergonomics, organization, planning, pyschophysiological matters, self-monitoring and help-seeking. The third session, via Skype, was shortly before defending her dissertation when she confirmed that she had put into practice all the measures discussed, overcoming her earlier state of anxiety. In her dissertation she stated that using the Achilles’ Heel sheet and the reassessment of her strategies “had instantly alleviated” her situation. She was also offered a fulltime position in the company.

7. Analysis and results

In all three cases the MI sessions were held initially in person and later, in Case C, via videoconferences. Each case was reviewed before the sessions to highlight areas for intervention and to outline a guideline of topics and strategies to be used for each case. Obviously, the three subjects selected manifested a variety of different areas for improvement at different stages of their studies. All of them were translating into their B or C/D language and in one case not even from her A language. Given the variations in their personal motivations, behavioural factors and the fact that this was a first attempt at implementing MI, this was a considerable challenge. Case study A presented greater reluctance on the part of the student to recognise and accept the need for change, and, as a result, greater resistance to discuss and design a plan for improvements. In cases B and C, on the other hand, the students presented different degrees of awareness concerning their situation. Likewise, they employed different SRL strategies too: John asked for help almost as soon as his problems became apparent to him, whilst Julia became overwhelmed and was reluctant to seek help at first, thereby aggravating her situation before strategies were employed to make amends. In all three cases some improvement was evident, although as seen in Julia’s case, reinforcement may be necessary, especially in the light of environmental changes. Nevertheless, in our humble opinion, the results far exceeded our expectations.

8. Conclusions

As a first, tentative, attempt at introducing MI to translator training, this study is obviously neither representative nor significant in its findings. It has, however, opened a new avenue of research which we hope to follow in the future with a wider-reaching study based on careful case study selection, improved MI skills for the trainers involved, and an in-depth study of the internal and external factors affecting trainees.

The question we often ask ourselves is whether effective feedback can lead to changes in student behaviour as scarce research exists in TS pedagogy on the impact of effective feedback. Translation trainers often face high student numbers and an increasingly growing workload that may make this MI approach appear time consuming and unattractive. Nonetheless, when combined with SRL strategy observation, our initial pilot results would appear to have been effective. Detecting and analyzing individual students’ SRL strategies is undoubtedly a demanding task. Nevertheless, if incorporated into everyday classroom observation and assessment it will not necessarily increment our workload. On the contrary, early intervention may even save time later. By using MI and prompting students to readjust and fine tune their SRL strategies and motivation, better outcomes may be achieved, reducing the need for lengthy correction, repeated assessments and protracted tutorials when it may be too late to do anything. Introducing sessions on SRL strategies and motivational factors in university education across the board and especially in TS trainer training, we believe, can only benefit all those involved in translator training.


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[1] For details on the class presentations see Way (2009).

[2] Four fundamental processes in MI available at: http://www.motivationalinterviewing.org/sites/default/files/tnt_manual_2014_d10_20150205.pdf. (Accessed 05.07.2018).

[3] Case A followed the Introduction to Specialised Translation course, Case B Advanced Economic and Legal Translation (both undergraduate courses) and Case C the Master in Professional Translation (specialising in legal translation).

[5] Students are marked on a scale of nought to ten in examinations with the minimum pass mark at five. Our students have the highest marks in Spain in their secondary education and therefore are often demotivated by anything but the very highest marks.

About the author(s)

Catherine Way is Associate Professor of Translation at the University of Granada and lead researcher of the AVANTI research group. She has practised as a court and conference interpreter and freelance legal translator. She has co-edited several books, is a member of the Editorial Board of The Interpreter and Translator Trainer (previously the Editor) and of the Advisory Board of Fachsprache, the International Journal of Legal Discourse and the series Aprende a traducir, amongst others, and has peer reviewed for several publishers. She also co-edited the Proceedings of the 6th EST Conference. Her research interests are legal translation, translator training and action research. She has participated as an expert for the EU in the TRAFUT (Training for the Future) programme.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Catherine Way (2019).
"Fostering Translator Competence: The Importance of Effective Feedback and Motivation for Translator Trainees"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2430

Learning to Learn, Teach and Develop

Co-emergent Perspectives on Translator and Language-mediator Education

By Gary Massey (Zurich University of Applied Sciences, Switzerland)

Abstract & Keywords

Authentic experiential learning has enjoyed widespread and growing advocacy in translator and language-mediator education. It is epistemologically rooted in experiential learning theory (Kolb 1984) and predicated on the assumption that only through deliberate and reflective practice can the adaptive expertise necessary to professional translation and language mediation evolve. As such, it is compatible with social-constructivist and later (co-) emergentist models of competence development (e.g. Kiraly 2013, 2016). This paper considers applications and potential implications of (co-)emergent perspectives on teaching and learning for student, staff and organizational development. Drawing on a widely referenced toolkit for developing organizational learning (Garvin, Edmondson and Gino 2008), it uses examples of key implementations at the author’s home institute to sketch out a frame for empowering institutions to educate not only translators and other language mediators, but also teachers, researchers and the organizations in and with which they work.

Keywords: co-emergence, competence development, translator training, translator education, action research, organizational learning

©inTRAlinea & Gary Massey (2019).
"Learning to Learn, Teach and Develop Co-emergent Perspectives on Translator and Language-mediator Education"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2429

1. Introduction

The employability or skills gap among graduates of translator-education institutions in terms of quality, productivity and technology skills has been a repeated feature of meetings between translator educators and representatives of the language industry, such as the Translating Europe Forums convened by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation. Proposals for follow-up actions (European Commission Directorate-General for Translation 2014: 5; see also Astley and Torres Hostench 2017: 219) have included more and better teaching of real-life skills to meet market needs, improving the range and quality of work placements and deploying professionals from the language industries not only to train students but also to help develop the competences of those university teachers with a predominantly academic background. The fundamental ‘dichotomy’ (Orlando 2016: 48), between vocational training on the one hand and academic objectives on the other has also been recognized by Translation Studies scholars, perhaps most characteristically voiced by Drugan (2013: 37) in the context of translation quality management: ‘academics and the industry are pursuing different goals and asking different questions […]. This lies at the heart of the widely noted divide between theory and practice [...]’.

The response has been a widespread and growing tendency to orient translation and language-mediation teaching, and the research that drives it, more closely on competence and its development. Multi-componential translation-competence modelling has been a strong current in Translation Studies research over the past twenty years. Risku (1998) serves as an early example, contrasting the qualitative distinctions in the processes of non-expert and expert translators in four ‘Anforderungsgruppen’, or clusters of cognitive demands (Risku 1998: 244): macro-strategy development, information organization, planning and decision-making and self-organization. Her work was followed by a number of models comprising multiple sub-competences that combine to form a translation super-competence. Arguably the most influential of these has been the PACTE group's revised multi-componential model (PACTE 2003: 58–61). It presents translation competence as a set of interacting sub-competences. The first four are the bilingual sub-competence, ‘predominantly procedural knowledge needed to communicate in two languages’; the extra-linguistic sub-competence, ‘predominantly declarative knowledge, both implicit and explicit, about the world in general and special areas’; the knowledge about translation sub-competence, ‘predominantly declarative knowledge, both implicit and explicit, about what translation is in general and aspects of the profession’; and the instrumental sub-competence, comprising technological and information literacy skills. These are integrated to ‘guarantee the efficiency of the translation process and solve the problems encountered’ by the key strategic sub-competence, made up of procedural knowledge encompassing planning, evaluation, sub-competence-activation, problem-identification and problem-solving elements. The five sub-competences are supported by ‘psychophysiological components’, such as cognitive and attitudinal resources as well as psychomotor mechanisms.

The PACTE group's aim has been to empirically validate their comprehensive model of translation competence and its acquisition (Hurtado Albir 2007; PACTE 2005). Göpferich (2008: 155–7; 2009) pursued a similar goal in the longitudinal TransComp project, adapting and embellishing the revised PACTE model to create a multi-componential model of her own. By contrast, the influential model developed by Kelly (2005; 2007) is not backed by empirical research. Instead, she proposes a heuristic derived from the analysis of other models and personal experience. It diverges little from the previous models that it combines and partly restructures, and comprises communicative and textual, professional instrumental, (inter-) cultural, thematic, interpersonal and psycho-physiological competences, all interlinked and governed by strategic competence.

Multi-componential modelling has exerted considerable influence on the translation profession, with key elements incorporated into translation service quality standards like the European EN 15038 (2006) and, later, ISO 17100 (2015). It has also had a considerable impact on approaches to designing translator education. PACTE’s competence model, for instance, is accompanied by an (admittedly vague) one of translation competence acquisition (PACTE 2000: 104), realized by a process in which the sub-competences are developed and integrated through the adoption of adequate learning strategies to accumulate new, and restructure old, knowledge. Kelly’s model is overtly didactic, directed at preparing students for a rapidly changing world and equipping them with the cognitive, professional and social skills needed to embark on a successful career. Indeed, key elements of Kelly's model appear to have fed into the first EMT ‘wheel of competence’, the European Master's in Translation competence profile for professional translators (EMT Expert Group 2009). The EMT wheel has been something of a blueprint for curriculum design among leading translator-education institutions both inside and outside of Europe. Its most recent edition (EMT Board 2017) continues the multi-componential approach, with no fewer than 35 skill descriptors arranged in the four principal competence clusters translation, technology, personal and interpersonal competence and service provision. A fifth area of competence, language and culture, is delegated to the performance levels and descriptors set out in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and comparable reference systems.

Yet, the multi-componential models also have their detractors. One of the earliest was Pym (2003), who regards the expanding panoply of competences in multicomponent models as institutionally driven and conceptually flawed, in that the models will always lag behind market demands. Instead, he puts forward a ‘wilfully’ minimalist definition of translation competence comprising ‘the ability to generate a series of more than one viable target text (TT1, TT2 ... TTn) for a pertinent source text (ST); the ability to select only one viable TI from this series, quickly and with justified confidence’ (Pym 2003: 489).

From a didactic perspective, the EMT competence profile implies that aspects of multi-componential modelling might be mapped more or less directly to curriculum design – an impression reinforced by the EMT network’s own criteria and procedures for accrediting member programmes. However, attempts to do so should be handled with extreme caution in order to assure curricular coherence and integrity. Kelly (2007: 138) herself expressed early misgivings about the ability of students to relate the various components of a curriculum to one another in what she calls ‘a sadly impermeable set of separate compartments of knowledge’. She has published similar views in a recent article suggesting the fragmented, teacher-centred impact of the modularized Bologna system underlying the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) (Kelly 2017: 34). Likewise, Kiraly and Hofmann (2016: 71) have criticized the compartmentalization in multi-componential models and their effect on current ‘patchwork quilt’ curriculum design.

A look at the common features of current translator-education curricula lends substance to these criticisms. My own institution is by no means untypical of EMT members in offering a series of semester-based modules that focus on particular aspects of translation competence broadly aligned with the EMT profile. Thus, the core translation modules offered in various source and target languages are chronologically structured over three semesters according to subject specialization, assignment complexity, modality and degree of hetero-functionality. These are supplemented by dedicated courses focussing on thematic translation and applied linguistics theory, extra-linguistic knowledge, technological instrumental competence and professional service-provision skills. The didactic approaches may vary considerably from module to module or unit to unit, but the limited inter-modular transferability observable among students remains an issue that we and others are continually at pains to address.

2. Meeting the Didactic Challenge: Learning to Innovate

One obvious reaction, both at my home institution and elsewhere, has been to include a more integrated approach to learning by introducing smaller or greater portions of authentic experiential learning into the curriculum. For well over a decade, experiential learning with varying degrees of authenticity has enjoyed widespread and growing advocacy in translator and language-mediator education in general. They typically take the form of mentorships and work placements with concomitant reflective assessment instruments, such those provided by the European Graduate Placement Scheme (EGPS), or of intra-curricular learning scenarios like translation projects, student translation companies and agency simulators (Astley and Torres Hostench 2017; Hansen-Schirra and Kiraly 2013; Kiraly et al. 2016; Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018; Mitchell-Schuitevoerder 2013; Vandepitte 2009; Varney 2009).

Authentic experiential learning has its epistemological roots in the experiential learning theory and model first systematically developed by Kolb (1984). This proposes a four-stage learning cycle strongly influenced by Lewin’s (1946) action-research cycle (see below): concrete experience (the action part of the action-research cycle) prompts reflective observation of that experience, which leads to abstract conceptualization learned from the experience and feeds into the active experimentation of applying what has been learned. Authentic experiential learning in translator education is generally predicated on the assumption that only through deliberate practice (Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Roemer 1993; Shreve 2006) and reflection-in-action (Schön 1983; 1987) can the adaptive expertise necessary to the professional activity of translation and language mediation evolve. It is therefore compatible with social-constructivist approaches to competence development that assume meaning is collaboratively constructed in social learning environments, appropriately scaffolded by teachers to facilitate growing learner autonomy and the development of learners’ self-regulatory capacities.

Perhaps the most consistent and fervent advocate of experiential learning in translator education has been Kiraly (2000; 2005; 2006; 2012a; 2012b; 2013; 2016). His incipient model (Kiraly 2000: 58) marks his break with a traditional cognitive apprenticeship of observation, transmission and replication that cannot describe or explain the complex interactions by which learners evolve into competent practitioners and experts. It contains three pillars, each representing a key dimension of learner empowerment. The first is autonomy, through which self-reliance is developed by incremental degrees of collaborative, student-centred activity. The second pillar is authenticity, which builds experience and reflective action by exposing students to increasingly authentic project work over the course of a curriculum. And finally, there is competence, which requires carefully structured and progressively tapered – or scaffolded – guidance to achieve the ultimate goal of translation expertise once graduates have entered the community of professional translation practice.

More recently, Kiraly has put forward a re-worked model of competence development based on emergentist principles of knowledge development and learning (Kiraly 2013; Kiraly and Hofmann 2016). Referring to Risku's (2002; 2010) now uncontroversial assertion that cognition is an embodied, socially situated and enactive process, he focuses on the ‘translator moment’ as an instantiation of embodied expert translator competence, visualized as a three-dimensional nexus of nodes with ‘innumerable and unpredictable’ links, and in which decision-making processes are ‘uniquely adapted to each new translation problem’ (Kiraly 2013: 207–209). On this basis, he proposes a model of competence development (Kiraly 2013; 2016; Kiraly and Hofmann 2016) depicting a multiple series of vortices supported by environmental features that facilitate given activities, which Kiraly, with reference to Gibson (1979), calls ‘affordances’. The model was initially intended as a ‘heuristic for researchers, teachers and learners’ (Kiraly 2013: 241) but has now been supported by various qualitative studies and action-research initiatives investigating aspects of experiential learning (e.g. Canfora 2016; Kiraly 2012a; 2013; Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018; Massey and Brändli 2016).

Kiraly’s model conceptualizes learning processes as non-linear, embodied, enactive, autopoietic (i.e. self-generating and self-sustaining) and co-emergent: ‘[t]ranslators […] co-emerge with their fellow learners, their teachers, the institutions they attend and the entire community of translation practice with which and whom they interact’ (Kiraly 2012b: 87–8). Moreover, as the previous quotation suggests, it is fractal, or scalable, and thus purports to ‘depict learning within an individual, a class session, a group or even a community of practice’ (Kiraly 2016: 64). It is the ramifications of this particular feature of the model that the rest of this contribution will address, as it holds important implications for the institutional frameworks in which the didactic challenge of truly competence-oriented teaching and learning must be met. In essence, all of us are, or should be, learning all the time – students, teachers, institutions and the external stakeholders from the community of practice with which they interact (for example, in the context of authentic experiential learning events). It falls to the translator-education institutions themselves to establish the pre-requisites, procedures and structures to facilitate those learning processes and thus empower learners at all levels, right up to that of the organization itself. This necessarily involves applying appropriate means and measures to develop competence amongst teaching staff, which has long been identified as a gap and pertinent need in translator education (European Commission Directorate-General for Translation 2013; Kelly 2005; 2008).

3. Meeting the Organizational Challenge: Learning from Innovation

The key step is not simply to introduce innovative teaching and learning into the curriculum, but to actually learn from doing so – both as teachers and as the organizations employing them. Pedagogical research on translator education is common, and entire journals are devoted to the subject. But an emergentist paradigm pre-supposes investigating and tracking the effects of learning events on all the actors involved, not just on the students themselves, an area that still appears to be under-researched.

A ready tool is provided by case-study action research, which has been enjoying increasing, though still somewhat restricted, recognition in Translation Studies (Bogucki 2013; Cravo and Neves 2007; Hubscher-Davidson 2008; Kiraly 2013; Massey, Jud and Ehrensberger-Dow 2015; Orlando 2016). Its main advantage lies in its practical and participative nature, with the potential to involve researchers, often the teachers themselves, directly with the beneficiaries of their research (Cravo and Neves 2007: 97; McKernan 1996: 31–3; Reason and Bradbury 2006/2010: 1), in other words those actors engaged in authentic experiential translation scenarios: students, teachers and teaching colleagues, of course, but also clients and client organisations, source-text writers, revisers, reviewers, terminologists, technologists and so on. It is well worth adding that action research promotes not only self-reflection to develop one’s own practice, but has also, from its beginnings, overtly aimed at creating change at group, institutional and societal levels. This tradition has at times been obscured by a one-sided emphasis on individual reflection (Adelman 1993: 21), which has been the principal focus of most action research in translator education to date.

The classis cycle of action research, first outlined by its originator, Kurt Lewin (1946), comprises the stages of planning, acting, observing and reflecting. The cycle can be re-iterated, and indeed Lewin (1946: 38) himself referred to the process as a ‘spiral of steps each of which is composed of a circle of planning, action, and fact-finding about the result of the action’. It is worth noting that Lewin’s spiral has been rendered by Kemmis, McTaggart and Nixon (2014: 19), among others, as an image bearing a strong resemblance to Kiraly’s vortices.

Lewin was himself a social researcher, but the participatory, practice-relevant principles of action research are applicable to many other disciplines and fields in which qualitative methods of enquiry are employed. It is applied widely in teacher education and, through the strategic deployment of the multiple iterations of the action-research cycle, has the potential to be used by educational institutions to guide syllabus and curriculum design from an organizational perspective. Such a perspective transcends the reflection and optimization processes pursued by individual teacher-researchers at the lower-order levels of discrete course units and modules, which until now has made up the bulk of action research reported in translator-education literature. McKernan’s (1996: 27–33) multi-cyclical time-process model of curriculum development serves as just one of many examples of curricular-level implementation. In the first cycle of action, a particular situation, issue or research question is initially identified. Research-group roles, schedules and actions are then defined in an ‘operational blueprint’ (McKernan 1996: 28), which is subsequently implemented. The self-monitoring practitioners involved in the research reflect on their actions to understand their effects. After the data is analyzed and interpreted, new cycles of action are initiated as the original research problem or question is re-cast and reviewed, leading to new hypotheses to be included in the revised action plan that is then itself subjected to empirical observation, testing and re-evaluation (McKernan 1996: 28–9). How this can work is illustrated in the following section by examples from the present author’s home institution, which is officially mandated to offer competence-based teaching that is research-driven.

4. Investigating Didactic Innovation: Deploying Case-study Action Research

Translation has long been recognised as an expert activity where the complex, idiosyncratic, ill-defined problems that are the norm can only be solved by adaptive expertise (Muñoz Martín 2014: 9). Its development depends decisively on fostering the metacognitive, self-regulatory capacities associated with reflective deliberate practice. The more conventional didactic approaches to promoting the metacognitive components of reflective practice among students comprise thesis writing, research workshops and theory courses, often delivered as lectures and/or seminars. Yet, implementing such stand-alone solutions carries with it all the shortcomings of curricular compartmentalization already mentioned above. The planning, execution, evaluation, reflection and review cycles of action research activate and develop precisely those capacities that are necessary pre-requisites to adaptive expertise. Thus, a coordinated strategy of institutionalizing participatory action research transversally across the curriculum becomes a viable complement, and quite possibly a long-term alternative, to compartmentalizing research and theory in often isolated dedicated courses and modules.

This vision has prompted my institution to adopt an increasingly systematic approach to conducting such research in order to enhance teaching practice and develop further the main strategic focal points of its curricula. Broadly speaking, two main avenues have been pursued: research into the feasibility and cognitive learning effects of process-oriented translation teaching as a supplement to more traditional product-oriented methods, and investigations of authentic experiential learning during collaborative translation projects with direct client participation. The former corresponds to what Toury (2012: 67–9) and Chesterman (2015: 7-9) refer to as the cognitive ‘act’ of translation, the latter to its situated ‘event’.

Closely linked to the empirical validation of competence models like those mentioned above, process-oriented teaching to complement traditional product-oriented methods has been enjoying growing popularity in translator education (Massey 2017a). Process-oriented techniques have been deployed in translator education for a number of years to increase students’ capacity to reflect on their decisions and actions and raise their problem-identification and problem-solving awareness. Methods range from written reflective commentaries, learning journals and integrated diaries (cf. Bergen 2009; García Álvarez 2007; Orlando 2011; 2016: 124–36), to the implementing more immediate concurrent techniques, such as spoken monologue, dialogue and collaborative think-aloud reports and protocols (House 2000; Kussmaul 1995; Pavlovič 2009). In the context of the current article, the written integrated problem and decision reporting (IPDR) proposed by Gile (2004) is especially interesting as IPDR, according to Gile’s studies, appears to have produced learning effects on both students and teachers.

Technological developments over the past twenty years have broadened access to keystroke logging, screen recording and eye-tracking, which have been successfully used in a variety of pedagogical experiments and settings in combination with various forms of verbalization, peer evaluation, self-assessment and diagnostic mentoring (e. g. Alves 2005; Hansen 2006; Pym 2009). Screen recordings provide an especially practicable tool to facilitate student exposure to the good and better practices of others, such as those of professionals (Angelone 2013). Studies show them to be an effective supplement to product-based evaluation (Enríquez Raído 2013; Hofer and Ehrensberger-Dow 2011; Massey and Ehrensberger-Dow 2012; 2013) and they also appear to have the advantage of greater accuracy over forms of written reporting such as IPDR (Angelone 2015).

We therefore decided to use such methods and technologies, which we had been applying in our own research into laboratory and workplace translation processes and cognitive ergonomics (Ehrensberger-Dow and Massey 2014), to investigate their effects on learning when introduced to our BA and MA curricula. The reason for the decision was in no small part due to the frequent comments by research participants that they had been learning a great deal from observing and retrospectively commenting on screen recordings of their own translation processes.

The studies and outcomes have been reported in a number of publications, to which the readers are referred for more detailed information. Hofer and Ehrensberger-Dow (2011), Massey and Ehrensberger-Dow (2011; 2012; 2013; 2014), and Massey and Jud (2015) describe the benefits of screen recording and eye-tracking student, teacher and professional translation processes and practices for both teaching and diagnostic purposes on BA, MA and continuing professional development (CPD) programmes. The research outcomes replicate results of other didactic experiments using similar techniques to track and ameliorate student translation processes (Angelone 2013; Enríquez Raído 2013; Pym 2009). They strongly suggest that process-oriented techniques in general, and screen recording in particular, can achieve very positive learning effects amongst students in conventional and audio-visual translation (AVT) courses by heightening procedural and strategic awareness and by extending problem-solving repertoires.

The process-oriented teaching methods have also had a learning effect on the teachers and the institution they work for. Their use has improved the ability to identify group and individual needs on the basis of the actions and behaviours leading to target-text production. For example, exposing less experienced students to AVT and other tools too early in their studies appears to cause cognitive overload (Massey and Jud 2015), suggesting that more systematic scaffolding is required in courses where more complex technologies are deployed. In addition, indicators of good practices identified amongst better students and professional translators provide indicators that can help teachers, with appropriate institutional training and support, to guide students through the analyses of their processes. These include targeted problem-type identification, problem solving through the consistent deployment of internal cognitive resources, the selective use of external resources adequate to the type of problem identified, larger translation segmentation (reflected in longer writing bursts), minimal self-revision and reduced multiple tasking to avoid cognitive overload. Further research on performance predictors has also revealed that even 10 to 15 minute sequences of recorded or observed processes deliver robust measures for producing quality translation output (Massey and Ehrensberger-Dow 2014: 93–6). This is important because it makes the use of otherwise intensive process-oriented teaching techniques much more realistic for teachers burdened with time and group-size constraints. Finally, the teachers’ recognition of the usefulness of process data and techniques has led them and their institution to question the epistemologies underlying their less individualized, more normative product-based methods of teaching and assessment.

So, who appears to be learning what, and from whom, in the cognitive process-oriented approaches to translator education we have been implementing and investigating? Our research and results show that students can and do learn about themselves, from and about their peers and from and about their teachers and professional practitioners. For their part, teachers can and do learn about themselves, from and about their students and from and about the professional practices introduced into their classes. At the same time, institutions can and do learn more about themselves and their programmes as well as about their students and their teachers.

Translation is patently a cognitive activity, but one firmly situated in a socio-technical environment. As such it is an obvious instance of situated cognition (Risku 2002; 2010), in which all kinds of partners and a variety of environmental factors interact with one another. The growing stress placed the authentic, often collaborative, experiential learning reflects the broad recognition of this fact in translator education. A variety of studies (Hansen-Schirra and Kiraly 2013; Kiraly et al. 2016) have been researching the effects of such deployments, including Massey and Brändli (2016). Again, readers are referred to that publication for more detailed information on the research methods and results. In the present contribution, we shall content ourselves with a brief overview of the study.

Massey and Brändli (2016) report on an action-research study of feedback interactions during a collaborative translation project commissioned by a real-world client organization and performed by a group of MA students at the author’s institute with the help of the SDL TRADOS Studio translation memory system. The translation project was overseen by the class teacher, together with another researcher and an assistant. The fully anonymized data were collected from a number of sources. Pre-project and post-project questionnaires were used to elicit self-report and peer data on the student participants’ assessment of their competences. Secondly, the participants were requested to document the feedback sought and received, the sources from which it came and the perceived degree of its usefulness in a learning journal. Thirdly, the students took part in a recorded concluding plenary meeting in which they discussed their experiences during the project as both learners and participants in a research study. Finally, the students completed a wrap-up questionnaire about the feedback they had received on the translation product, the client organization produced a short written report assessing the outcome of the project after the target text had been received, and the teacher submitted a retrospective statement with her own observations on the translation project, on the students’ involvement and on her own role and individual development as the project progressed.

The results supply some key insights into who learns what, where and how. There are clear indicators of students’ perceived development in individual competences, particularly in the technological and interpersonal aspects of translation service provision. Additional comments made by the students also suggest that direct involvement in the action research itself strengthened their motivation to take part in the authentic learning experience. Feedback was reported in the learning journals, plenary discussion and final questionnaire (Massey and Brändli 2016: 190–3) to have worked best when it was timely, task relevant, peer-sourced for process-related issues, which ranged from technology use and project management to problem-solving and quality assurance, and client- or teacher-sourced for the product, where the principal stress lay on target-text quality. The findings support those of general pedagogical research on effective feedback in that the most useful modes of feedback delivery were considered to be bilateral, dialogical, interactive and unmediated (Wiliam 2010). More pertinently, however, they provide our organization with a catalogue of practical corrective measures to render feedback more effective in future collaborative learning scenarios.

Equally salient from an organizational perspective are the results indicating complementary experiential learning effects on actors other than the students. The teacher explicitly learned from the project, both technologically and didactically. But her comments also describe the cognitive conflict with which she was confronted. The minimally invasive approach she deliberately adopted in her teaching appears to have been, at least initially, fundamentally incompatible with her own underlying, and hitherto largely unconscious, pedagogical epistemology. This is an important revelation both for herself and her institution. In essence, the teacher’s participation in this action-research initiative embodies the reflective (teaching) practice necessary to developing or maintaining adaptive expertise. In turn, this has implications for the learning organization in which she is working, which has already responded by introducing appropriate staff-development measures.

Last but not least, the client's assessment of the students’ performance demonstrated advanced awareness of central elements of the translation process. Aspects of stakeholder involvement and interests, distributed cognition and functionalism are either directly stated or can be inferred from the comments made, which placed surprisingly little emphasis on the language and source document per se. Such a discerning assessment could well be attributed to the client organization’s own learning path. In the course of the project, its representatives were consistently exposed to the discourse of the student and teacher participants, in which the frameworks, models, issues and phraseology of Translation Studies and the translation profession evidently figured large.

The indicators of co-emergent learning processes among all the participants in the study, coupled with the motivation that students reported, have encouraged our organization to launch further action-research cycles. These envisage a more inclusive role for students and external stakeholders, not only as research subjects but also as active participants in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data (cf. Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018; Massey and Brändli 2016).

To sum up, course design and curriculum development are obvious ways in which educational institutions, and not just their teacher-researchers, might learn from case-study action research; but there are others. As we have already seen, further learning effects at the institutional level can emerge from organizational reflection on the reflective performance of teacher-researchers. Lastly, there also seem to be effects on those external stakeholders from the community of practice directly engaged in authentic learning scenarios at the translator-education institution. Indeed, here lies the truly transformative potential of action research involving clients and groups unfamiliar with the profession to learn more about its nature and demands. By identifying strategically suitable actors to include in such projects, institutions have an opportunity to transcend the boundaries of both academe and professional specialization and spread a greater awareness of translation as an expert activity within society at large.

5. From Student to Teacher and Institutional Development: A Frame for Empowering the Learning Organization

The results obtained from the studies summarized above validate the continued use of case-study action research, which does indeed appear to be ‘a viable tool for increasing our understanding of the processes involved in the development of translator competence’ (Kiraly 2013: 222), to advance our ability to develop translator competence among our students. The action-research approach has the particular advantage of being able to engage all the participants involved in a practical learning event in an iterative, multi-cyclical process of planning, action, observation and reflection.

As such, it also has the potential to serve as a tool with which to develop not only individual participants but also the collective in which they are embedded. The systematic strategic deployment of case-study action research can therefore be used to help drive organizational development in its own right (cf. Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018). Institutions could, for example, use its combination of action and enquiry as a locus for bridging the academic-practitioner divide noted in the introduction to this paper by including practitioners, teaching professionals and their students in targeted research on competence building (Massey, Jud and Ehrensberger-Dow 2015: 43). This would have the positive outcome of moving all stakeholders, at all levels, closer to the reflective practice requisite to developing adaptive expertise.

There are unmistakeable parallels between the cycles of action research – and, by extension, of experiential learning (Kolb 1984) – and those proposed by action science for organizational learning. This is not surprising, as one of the authors of the early ground-breaking work on Organizational Learning (Argyris and Schön 1978), Chris Argyris, stands firmly in the Lewin social research tradition of group and organizational development (Adelman 1993: 21). Argyris and Schön (1978: 29) distinguish between two types of learning system. In ‘single-loop learning’ (O-I), ‘individuals respond to error by modifying strategies and assumptions within constant organizational norms’. In ‘double-loop learning’, there is ‘joint inquiry into organizational norms themselves, so as to resolve their inconsistency and make the new norms more effectively realizable’. It is only by achieving double-loop learning and, ultimately, ‘deutero-learning’ (Argyris and Schön, 1978: 29) – meaning the capacity of an organization and its members to self-regulate their learning – that a true learning organization can emerge. Argyris and Schön’s (1978: 140–1) ‘O-II’ model of ‘double-loop learning’ depicts learning by members and groups within an organization as a series of individual learning cycles or wheels encompassed by the same, larger cycle representing learning by the organization itself. The cycle with its four stages of discovery, invention, production and generalization still has considerable currency in organizational learning theory, as some more recent publications show (Cummings and Worley 2013; Sabri and Sabri-Matanagh 2013), and bears a close resemblance to the action-research cycle. The ‘discovery’ stage identifies a problem, ‘invention’ designates the development of a solution (both subsumable under the planning stage in action research), ‘production’ represents (the observation of) its implementation in action and ‘generalization’ refers to drawing conclusions about its effects through reflection. In other words, in virtually the same way that the action-research cycle promotes reflective action and learning in individual participants (students, teachers and others), so the cycle of double-loop learning promotes reflective action and learning at the organizational level.

This, in turn, recalls the models of co-emergent learning variously proposed in Kiraly (2016), Kiraly and Hofmann (2016) and Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann (2018). As already mentioned, the learning that takes place according to this model is necessarily supported by affordances, in other words by facilitating environmental features. Learning, whether individual, collective or institutional, is situated in complex socio-technical and organizational systems. The capacity to foster such learning by shaping the affordances that support it therefore becomes key to the success of learning in and as organizations. As the systems scientist, Peter Senge, has famously pointed out in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990/1999), organizations should provide the frameworks for their members to engage consistently in systems thinking, to develop the personal mastery to commit to lifelong learning, to scrutinize and constantly challenge deeply ingrained mental models, to possess the intrinsic motivation to build shared visions and to learn from one another in teams. When specifically related to professional (translator) education, this means promoting individual and organizational learning by developing the fields, traditions and incentives for reflective practice (cf. Schön 1987: 311; Senge 1990/1999: 258–9).

Garvin, Edmondson and Gino (2008) have devised a widely recognized toolkit to foster organizational learning. Proposing a ‘comprehensive, concrete survey instrument for assessing learning within an organization’ (Garvin, Edmondson and Gino 2008: 3) that can be scaled up or down to any level of an organization, they focus on three mutually reinforcing building blocks of organizational learning. The first is a supportive learning environment with four distinguishing features: psychological safety, which encourages members to openly express their opinions; appreciation of differences and opposing ideas; openness to new ideas; and, perhaps most importantly, time for reflection: ‘supportive learning environments allow time for a pause in the action and encourage thoughtful review of the organization’s practices’ (Garvin, Edmondson and Gino 2008: 3). The second building block comprises concrete learning processes and practices: opportunities for experimentation; information collection (for example, on competitors, trends and stakeholders); issue analysis and discussion; systematic education and training opportunities; information transfer and sharing; and regular debriefings and post-audits. The third is having a leadership willing and able to reinforce learning.

How can all or parts of this toolkit be used to target the affordances of co-emergent learning in translator-education institutions? Every organization will have its particular needs, processes and structures to take into account. The present paper ends with some examples from the author’s home institution.

More conventional ways of operationalizing the cycles of information collection, information transfer, feedback and reflection include staff, course and curriculum evaluations, peer reviewing, sounding boards and graduate career tracking. These have been supplemented with CPD and curricular development measures to foster co-emergent learning and reflective practice among students, teachers, researchers, managers and, wherever feasible, external practice partners.

In concrete terms, we are preparing to implement an organizational development concept to facilitate and incentivize the professional development of our staff members. This centres on using low-threshold, efficient CPD opportunities to meet the mandatory requirement that all academic and teaching staff must fulfil. That concept, together with its implementing regulation, is based on the consolidation and development of three broad staff-competence areas derived from the EMT Translator Trainer Profile (European Commission Directorate-General for Translation 2013): professional translation service provision (corresponding to ‘field competence’ in the EMT profile), didactics (the profile’s ‘instructional’, ‘interpersonal’, ‘organisational’ and ‘assessment’ competences) and theoretical field knowledge (represented in the profile as the integration of translation scholarship and research, and subsumed under ‘instructional competence’). Staff CPD for our academic and professional educators will be individualized to take account of their specific competence profiles.

Measures already initiated, or envisaged in the near future, comprise job shadowing and professional mentorships, mandatory freelance work for staff without translation experience, as well as the continued expansion of our various forums to promote exchanges between teachers, researchers and professional practitioners. As outlined above, our various teaching methods and scenarios constitute a wealth of learning opportunities that may be used to expose academic staff to the realities of the professional world of translation. In addition, we intend to provide further incentives to pursue case-study action research, wherever possible with the direct involvement of client organizations. By encouraging team teaching and mutual attendance of modules, we also hope to broaden the range of our staff members and thus narrow the divide between theory and practice that besets many translator-education institutions. To facilitate and strengthen the transfer of learning between our institute and professional practice, we are setting up more combined BA, MA and CPD offerings. Finally, to provide our organization with that most valuable of resources, time for reflection, we have now redesigned our schedules so that staff and students are given two extra weeks during the semester for independent study and professional development. It is our hope that the measures we have adopted, together with others to come, will create the affordances needed to drive co-emergent learning throughout our organization.

6. Conclusion

Case-study action research (Kiraly 2012a; 2012b; 2013; Kiraly and Hofmann 2016; Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018) has shown that Kiraly’s fractal model of co-emergent learning can account for student competence development in experiential scenarios. There is additional evidence (Kiraly, Massey and Hofmann 2018; Massey and Brändli 2016; Massey 2017b) that Kiraly’s model can be applied to describe learning among the various other stakeholders of translator education: teachers, researchers, clients and even educational institutions themselves. The model is congruent with established theories of organizational learning, where learning capacity hinges on the ability of an organization and its members to learn how to learn, and where the learning process itself involves very similar cycles of action and enquiry to those applied to action research, on the one hand, and to experiential learning, on the other. It would therefore seem appropriate for educational institutions to strategically and systematically deploy case-study action research, particularly in experiential learning contexts, as a tool with which to drive organizational learning and development. However, targeting the complex, multifarious affordances that facilitate co-emergent learning requires a whole set of tools and not just one. The wide-ranging toolkit developed by Garvin, Edmondson and Gino (2008) is just one example of how a workable frame might be established to empower institutions to adopt a more transformative role in educating not only translators and other language mediators, but also teachers, researchers and the organizations in and with which they work.


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About the author(s)

Gary Massey is Director of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, and past head of its MA in Applied Linguistics and undergraduate degree programmes in translation. Prior to taking up his present position, he taught at University College London, the University of Zurich and the Zurich School for Interpretation and Translation. His main research and teaching interests include cognitive translation processes, translation ergonomics, translation quality and translator competence development/education. In addition to his academic activities and duties, he has had wide-ranging experience as both a staff and freelance translator in various fields.

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©inTRAlinea & Gary Massey (2019).
"Learning to Learn, Teach and Develop Co-emergent Perspectives on Translator and Language-mediator Education"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2429

Assessment as a Communicative Activity in the Translation Classroom

By Konrad Klimkowski (John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

Assessment has become a focal issue in recent debate in translator education. It is argued in this article that the main role of assessment is to facilitate learning. Assessment must enable learners to (a) reflect upon their performance, and (b) to use this reflection to plan further learning. If this function is missing or invalidated, other objectives of assessment are hardly attainable. This article explores how managing classroom communication can help in ensuring an empowering relation between learning and ‘teaching’, assessment and self-assessment (self-regulation). The article discusses the following problems: constructing a safe but demanding space for communication; assessing performance without learner disempowerment; using regular classroom communication as part of assessment strategy; optimizing information collected from mistakes and errors; and assessment as subject to negotiation of senses. Some assessment-related communication strategies are discussed along with a short selection of activities that can be a practical follow-up for the readers.

Keywords: assessment, self-assessment, translator training, classroom communication, co-emergent learning

©inTRAlinea & Konrad Klimkowski (2019).
"Assessment as a Communicative Activity in the Translation Classroom"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2428

1. Introduction

The main objective of this article is to advocate for two theses about the role of assessment in translator education:[1]

  1. A view under which assessment is part of the learning experience[2] offers greater advantages than a view under which assessment follows teaching.
  2. When designed and moderated, classroom communication can hugely enhance learning assessment practices, since regular communicative interaction offers a huge potential for building students’ resources for learning and growth

These objectives need to be situated in the context of the theoretical (epistemological) background adopted by the author. Therefore, the first part of the article expounds its main founding ideas. The latter part of the article deals with assessment perceived as a communicative practice. It ends with a handful of practical suggestions of how to optimize classroom communication to empower assessment, self-assessment and – consequently – learning.

2. Theoretical tenets of the article

The centrality of learning in the translation classroom is an assumption that stems from the epistemological perspective I adopt as an educator and researcher. This perspective represents a social constructivist stance on education – which was originally proposed for translator education in Kiraly (2000). Hence, the classroom I try to construct together with my students has an extensive collaborative context, emphasises situated learning, and seeks empowerment and transformative[3] outcomes. Kiraly’s recent works, which define classroom interaction in terms of emergent phenomena[4] (see e.g. Kiraly 2013, 2015 or 2016) are also hugely inspirational for my reflection and practice. They also show Kiraly’s extensive reliance on translation projects as a paramount classroom methodology – a view to which I subscribe completely (see e.g. Klimkowski 2015). My teaching and research is also informed by such educational conceptions as experiential learning (e.g. Kolb 1984); Moser-Mercer’s (2008) notion of self-regulation as a holistic developmental strategy for (interpreter) education; and the relation-based approach to education, as advocated by Rogers (1967/2002) or Gergen (2009). All these conceptions are instrumental in my constructing the argument of this article.

3. Assessment conceived of as part of learning rather than a follow-up of teaching

Kolb’s (1984) model of experiential learning depicts the learning process as composed of four reiterative stages: experiencing the reality, reflecting upon the experience, conceptualizing the reflected experience and, finally, acting, which starts a new learning cycle. In her discussion of learning styles and approaches, Kelly (2005: 47-49) uses simplified verbal labels for each stage: do, reflect, form principles, plan – and then reiterate doing as based on planning. The reflexive stage clearly reveals an evaluative function ingrained in the learning process. This kind of self-reflection corresponds to the educational notion of self-assessment.[5] The latter can be defined as a skill of determining one’s learning status quo by reflecting upon one’s performance with the view to determining the positive and the problematic aspects.

Taking these assumptions into account, I postulate that the pivotal role of assessment as part of teaching is to enhance self-assessment as part of learning. Even though in numerous contexts instructional assessment needs to be structurally planned in stages that follow the stages of instruction, assessment practices need to make up for the potential dysfunctional impact of the classroom narrative based on the divide between learning and assessment: ‘now you are expected to learn, and later your skills are assessed’.

Vital as it is, self-assessment is not enough to guarantee growth. As is clearly visible from Kolb (1984) and Kelly (2005), the reflexive stage can only enhance learning when followed by a performative stage. The latter takes place when learners employ their resources to transform self-reflection into planned actions, and – consequently – to complete the tasks that result from self-reflection. This close link between self-reflection and self-reaction is convincingly explored by Moser-Mercer (2008), with its main focus on the notion of self-regulation in the learning process. This latter concept is anchored in performance psychology and is defined by (Moser-Mercer 2008: 14) in terms of a behaviour feedback that a learners give him/herself in order to activate and sustain those thoughts and behaviours that help him/her achieve goals. Repetitive internal feedback allows a learner to make adjustments in his/her learning processes. Consequently, a self-regulated learner is expected to perform (reiteratively) the following five stages in the learning process:

they begin by analysing the task and interpreting task requirements in terms of their current knowledge and beliefs […]; (2) they set task-specific goals, which they use as a basis for selecting, adapting, and possibly inventing strategies that will help them accomplish their objectives […]; (3) after implementing strategies, they monitor their progress towards goals, thereby generating internal feedback about the success of their efforts; (4) they adjust their strategies and efforts based on their perception of on-going progress […]; and (5) they use motivational strategies to keep themselves on task when they become discouraged or encounter difficulties. (Moser-Mercer 2008: 15)

In my view, it is justifiable to generalize over Moser-Mercer’s (2008) self-regulated learning cycle and state that it constitutes a (never-ending) repetition of the two major stages governing learning:

  1. diagnostic self-reflection;
  2. acting upon self-reflection – activating resources to attain a new objective or task.

Even though this interpretation is an oversimplification of an originally complex model, it is not – in my view – in an open contradiction to its main assumptions.

Moser-Mercer’s (2008) perspective is a good example of how to integrate the role of the teacher (feedback, facilitating self-regulation etc.) with that of the learner (self-observation, self-judgement, internal feedback etc.) in classroom assessment practices. As in Kolb’s (1984) repetitive cycles of experiencing, reflecting and action, Moser-Mercer’s (2008) proposal unveils the reiterative nature and the reciprocal conditioning between learning, assessment and self-assessment.

In self-regulated learning, assessment pertains to a concrete learning individual. It avoids pretences of being objectivist or idealized (equally valid for all the learners). Instead of homogeneity of assessment – ensuring that all the learners meet the same standards – self-regulation offers assessment that can be authentically used to facilitate (adjustment, adaptation, inventing strategies etc.) the learning processes of an individual (Jarvis 2012), yet without detriment to its relational (Gergen 2009) and collaborative (Kiraly 2000, 2016) contexts. In fact, the concept of self-regulated learning unveils a clear need for a teacher whose relational engagement is likely to encourage learners to develop self-regulation.

4. Assessment in a relational classroom context

As noted above, a successful implementation of self-regulation in the translation classroom needs to address the relational nature of the learning process. The main instrument that comes to mind in this context is quality feedback, which needs to:

  1. allow the learner and the teacher decide on the diagnosis of the learning situation;
  2. allow the learner to develop mechanisms to amplify successful performance and eliminate or modify questionable actions;
  3. allow the teacher to develop better diagnostic and mentoring resources for his or her work.

Hence, the relational teacher does not instruct or transmit (cf. Kiraly 2015) ready-made educational solutions, but he or she creates an environment in which the instructor and the instructed become learners, seeking to construct senses and solve significant problems (cf. Rogers 1951 and his notion of significant learning). If learning and assessment are relational – as propounded here – their effectiveness depends critically on classroom communication – as evidenced by the notion of quality feedback mentioned above.

5. The communicative aspect of assessment

The main idea behind this section of the article is that a huge portion of classroom communication contains assessment, even though neither students or teachers plan it to be so. Take for example a simple classroom interaction in which a teacher asks a question, to which a student responds, and which is then followed by the teacher’s response: whatever that teacher’s response is, in a communicative (institutional, political, cultural…) sense it is very likely to be an act of assessment. Let me illustrate the point with a sample classroom communicative exchange:

Teacher: Which solution should we take to issue A?
Student 1: We can do B!
Teacher: Yes, we can, as long as we are able to handle C? Can we handle it?
Student 2: No, we can’t since there are not enough of us to do it.
Teacher: Okay, so we can either look for new participants or we need other solutions…

This imaginary scenario is intended to show that even though the exemplified classroom debate does not focus explicitly and formally on assessment, it contains a few evaluative messages that provide feedback to the participants of the interaction concerning the diagnostic and the performative aspects of the imaginary learning status quo. Student 1 gets a positive feedback on his or her proposal (yes, we can…), while the Teacher gets a negative one in the line that follows (no, we can’t…), which he or she accepts (okay) and reconceptualises into a new communicative frame (…so we can either….). In other words, in a communicative and educational sense, these three evaluative interactions are cases of assessment that are likely to induce self-assessment and self-reaction in the respective interlocutors. The main argument here is that these – apparently insignificant – communicative exchanges are as important for self-assessment and self-regulation as formally structured assessment practices like tests or exams.[6] This is why I find it more than recommended that translation teachers embrace the idea of designing and moderating their classroom communication. Examples listed below are to give further substantiation to my recommendation:

1. Advantages of effective classroom communication for the diagnostic stage of self-regulation:

  • helps learners and teachers to better understand (define) the nature of positive/negative performance;
  • helps seek convergent views on what happened (performance) – without limiting the right to disparate voices;
  • helps face (discuss) emotional barriers related to performance;

2. Advantages of effective classroom communication for the performative stage of self-regulation:

  • helps learners and teachers determine what to do next (transforming problems into strategies, solutions…);
  • helps teachers offer a better-informed grading/formal evaluation system;
  • helps use emotional signals in planning future performance;

The two lists presented above call for a short discussion. Thus, making students and teachers understand better what is going on in their minds when they perform is a basic task of classroom communication. To make that exchange effective, the teacher can choose to substitute a transmissionist mono-directional flow of information (teacher tells the student what is good or bad) for a circular (co-emergent) approach, where the learning status quo is negotiated through communicative exchange (teacher asks questions to understand what happened and why). The latter approach grants the students a different status in terms of their classroom roles and power since in this case students and teachers share the classroom space through communicative interaction (contract).

It thus makes sense if the teacher and the student(s) keep disparate views on the student’s performance, despite the efforts to collaboratively define the learning status quo. The teacher is exempt from endless explanations for the grade or expecting the student to accept his or her views.

Significant learning is demanding. It involves huge emotional loads. Classroom communication can help students and teachers make better use of so-called positive emotions – to foster preferred performance, to (self-)praise and to (self-)reward. It can also help handle so-called negative emotions, helping students and teachers understand the information that is encoded in emotional responses related to performance (anxiety, fear, frustration, anger, passiveness or sadness).

The second list presented above shows how all these diagnostic advantages can be used to plan further learning cycles: to improve performance and self-monitoring, to develop enhanced feedback on grades, or to learn how to build emotional sustainability for learning and work.

6. Factors to consider in designing and moderating classroom communication

In what follows, I would like to discuss a handful of factors that are pinpointed in numerous publications in the field of interpersonal communication, social psychology or theory of learning. The space limits of this article prevent me from discussing them in considerable detail. Yet, I hope to give the reader a general idea of them.

6.1. Creating a safe environment for communication

Communication becomes an instrument of growth when the communication moderators work to create a safe space for negotiating ideas. The kind of safety I have in mind can be illustrated by a quotation from C. Rogers (1951):

Experience which, if assimilated would involve a change in the organization of self, tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of symbolization. The structure and organization of self appears to become more rigid under threat and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat. […] The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which (a) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a minimum, and (b) differentiated perception of the field is facilitated. (C. Rogers 1951: 274–5 – the original text formatting modified)

Classroom assessment is a situation when the learner’s self can be threatened: being assessed can be stressful, particularly when the learner is aware of a learning problem or when he/she is unable to predict the results of the assessment. One step mentioned in the literature of the subject to reduce the threat mentioned by C. Rogers (1951) is to focus communication on tasks, facts of performance and (tangible) results, yet avoid evaluative judgments about learners themselves.

6.2. Hard on the Problem, Soft on the Person

The title of this section refers to the concept of principled negotiation, developed by Fisher and Ury (1981/1991). According to these authors, if negotiations are to be mutually beneficial and, therefore, authentically effective, the negotiators need to consider their four dimensions:

People: Separate the people from the problem
Interests: Focus on interests, not positions
Options: Generate a variety of positions before deciding what to do
Criteria: Insist that the result be based on some objective standard
(Fisher and Ury 1981/1991: 10-11)

All the dimensions quoted above are worthy of a discussion of its own, yet for the purposes of this article I only pick the first on the list. Even though Fisher and Ury had business and political negotiating in mind, the point they make is perfectly applicable to the translation classroom context. This is how the quoted authors comment upon their claim:

We are creatures of strong emotions who often have radically different perceptions and have difficulty communicating clearly. Emotions typically become entangled with the objective merits of the problem. Taking positions just makes this worse because people's egos become identified with their positions. Hence, before working on the substantive problem, the “people problem” should be disentangled from it and dealt with separately. Figuratively if not literally, the participants should come to see themselves as working side by side, attacking the problem, not each other. (Fisher and Ury 1981/1991: 11)

In other words, the idea behind separating a person from a problem in the translation classroom communication is a necessary solution to minimise the emotional cost of negotiation of senses born by both learners and teachers. If not minimised, the emotional cost can lead to:

  1. learner’s unwillingness (emotional and cognitive resistance) to accept the teacher’s or peers’ assessment of a situation and refusal to take responsibility (‘I would not normally do it, if….’, ‘I know this is a bad solution, but….’, ‘Oh, it is just half a point missing here, is it really that bad?’)
  2. learner’s unwillingness can be accompanied with aggressiveness and accusations – whether expressed overtly or hidden.
  3. teacher’s abuse of power (‘Just stop arguing all the time, listen to what your colleagues are saying’, ‘your argument does not make sense’ etc.)

Unless refocused on problem solving, these emotional encounters disempower classroom communication, thwart learning and ruin the developmental potential of assessment.

6.3. Descriptive versus evaluative communication

In her discussion of classroom communication, Woods (2007) distinguishes between descriptive and evaluative styles:

Communication researchers report that evaluative communication evokes defensiveness […]. We are also less likely to self-disclose to someone we think is judgmental […] even positive evaluations can sometimes make us defensive because they carry the relationship-level meaning that another person feels entitled to judge us […]. Here are several examples of evaluative statements: “It’s dumb to feel that way,” “You shouldn’t have done that,” “I approve of what you did,” “That’s a stupid idea.” Descriptive communication doesn’t evaluate others or what they think and feel. Instead, it describes behaviors without passing judgment. I language […] describes what the person speaking feels or thinks, but it doesn’t evaluate another. (you language does evaluate). Descriptive language may refer to another, but it does so by describing, not evaluating, the other’s behavior: “You seem to be sleeping more lately” versus “You’re sleeping too much”; “You seem to have more stuff on your desk than usual” versus “Your desk is a mess.” (Woods 2007: 207–208, original text formatting retained, original references removed for brevity.)

The examples presented in the quotation above illustrate well the distinction between communication that tries to determine the learning status quo and the one in which a person issues an authoritative verdict about the (learning) status quo of another person. The distinction reported by Woods (2007) can help translator teachers remain determined in naming the learning status quo without hurting the learner.

7. Communication as a strategy to activate learners’ personal resources

As observed by C. Rogers (1951: 274-276, as quoted above), creating a safe communicational environment is one of the two steps to facilitate learning. The latter step is to activate learners’ personal resources for task attainment and problem solving. Thus, the role of the teacher as a classroom communication moderator is to help the learners discover and activate their personal resources in skill development – as is perhaps evident from Moser-Mercer’s (2008) model of self-regulation. This role rests on the above-mentioned basic constructivist principle that education is about activating people’s learning, not about ‘teaching’. As such, this role of a teacher can be – even though indirectly – related to the role of a mentor or a coach. One of the underlying principles of the theory and practice of coaching is that when learning is significant to a learner, he or she can activate his or her resources for learning. This is how this basic principle is presented by J. Rogers (2004):

The client has the resources to resolve his or her problems. The client has not come to be fixed […]. Only the client can really know what to do because only the client knows the full story and only the client can actually implement the action and live with the results. This does not preclude the coach from offering useful information, but it is the client’s choice whether or not to use it. […] The coach’s role is to ask the penetrating questions which take clients into territory they have never previously considered. In doing this, clients will build on their own resourcefulness. (J. Rogers 2004: 7 – the original formatting altered)

It is not my intention to put equation marks between teaching and coaching. The differences in the relationship obtaining between teachers and learners, coaches and clients are more than obvious. However, the coaching strategy outlined above can help teachers build an effective  communication strategy for the translation classroom. Of particular significance is the role of the coach as someone who purposefully asks questions, instead of trying to apply ready-made remedies to help the client. The purpose of these questions is to work out together where the learner is and help them plan what to do next in their learning adventure.

8. Assessment in a regular classroom interaction

This section is intended to show that assessment is a cognitive activity that is deeply ingrained in daily communicative interaction, including in-class communication. It constitutes a more practice-oriented elaboration of this issue discussed from a more theoretical angle earlier in this article (page 5 above). As I argued there, a simple act of asking a question, getting an answer and reacting (verbally or non-verbally) to that answer can represent an act of assessment. As exemplified in a short communicative exchange on page 5, the teacher’s ‘okay’ can be a communicative marker of informal and perhaps tacit assessment (cf. the distinction between tacit and explicit knowledge in Eraut 2000). It is a minute element of the classroom interaction, but it is crucial, since it can be used to empower learner’s transition towards self-regulated performance. The hypothetical teacher in the conversation above accepted the two answers by his ‘okay’, even if the solution to the learning problem is not found yet. That is why the teacher responds with setting another task to the students. Noteworthy is that the teacher’s narrative maximizes the learners’ accountability for the classroom decision-making. Cases of negative assessment can be handled in a similar way:

Teacher: What are the solutions to the problem?
Learner: We can ask to postpone the deadline.
Teacher: This is not an option since the client made it clear the product enters the market on Monday, so they need our work by Friday. We need another solution.

The phrase ‘out of the question’ is a marker of strong negative assessment. It is followed by an explanation. The teacher repeats the task of finding an alternative way out. Even though the teacher’s diagnosis reveals the students’ failure to solve a problem, it does not thwart efforts to seek other ways out.

By contrast, let me suggest a handful of narrative strategies that are likely – in my view – to have a disempowering effect on the translation classroom communication. The first on my list is asking questions in a way that lets the learners know (feel, presuppose) that only one, correct answer is expected of them. Other answers are refuted as incorrect:

Teacher: So the solution to this problem is…. well, who knows the answer?
Learner 1: To ask to postpone the deadline?
Teacher: No, that’s not a good solution. We cannot do that, but we could…. well, who knows what we can do?
Learner 2: Share the job with others.
Teacher: That’s it. That’s what we need to do.

The way in which the teacher in this conversation asks questions and reacts to the students’ responses shows his or her effort to take full responsibility for finding a solution to the learning problem. The learners are asked for assistance, but they hardly participate in the decision-making. Please observe that neither the teacher’s negative diagnosis, nor the positive one is accompanied by an explanation. In this sense, the space for shared negotiating of solutions is minimized. There is only enough space for the ‘solution provider’, who instructs the ‘solution end-users’ what to do and how to do it right.

A similar disempowering effect can be brought about by teachers’ responses with fall closer to opinions rather than analytical diagnostic statements. This point is illustrated in the last conversation where the teacher uses the expression ‘good solution’ and when he issues an authoritative statement ‘that’s what we need to do.’ In the communicative context like the one sketched in my conversations, such opinions are close-ended messages. What can a learner possibly do when faced with an authoritative opinion of his or her teacher about something being good or necessary? They are likely to take up the role foreseen for them in this disempowering narrative, which drives them away from self-regulation.

9. The why questions?

A final remark in this section is devoted to questions why?, which can be a useful component in the diagnostic repertoire. Yet, as pointed out by J. Rogers (2004: 72), questions why? can also be uttered as close-ended evaluative opinions, usually with an intended or unintended punitive effect. The examples below illustrate the case in point:

  • Why did you finish so late?
  • Why did you fail to meet the deadline?
  • Why did it happen?

One must keep in mind that considering such individual statements out of their conversational context must be done with caution and with openness to a variety of interpretations. However, my objective is not to impose on the readers the correct interpretations, but to encourage them to make the things they say in the classroom a matter of a well-informed, strategic choice. In the translation classroom context, the first sentence above is very likely to sound like an evaluative judgement. It can be a matter of individual interpretation whether a question like this is a matter of intended or unintended punishment, or it can express concern – without the punitive intentions. Nevertheless, it remains clear that the person uttering this question wishes to be an arbiter and a source of truth about the situation (‘so late’ means ‘later than I think you should’), irrespective of the interrogative form of his or her narrative. The second question also makes a personal reference to the addressee (‘you’), but its latter part addresses the problem as well. In this sense, it represents a compromise position between purely person-oriented evaluation and the problem-oriented diagnosis. The third option avoids addressing people and asks directly about the reasons for the perceived status quo. One could also think of other ways of addressing problems in the classroom, which can invite the learners to participate in the diagnosis and in planning future problem-solving:

  • What is the story behind your failing to meet the deadline?
  • How did it (all) happen?

Narratives like these set a wider scene for the diagnosis (‘okay, let’s talk’) and, in this sense, are worth considering for the translation classroom practice.

10. Communicating mistakes: from threat to potential

The regular, formal practices of assessment often use a very uncomplicated narrative concerning mistakes: students are taught to avoid them at all cost, and they are punished with poor grades for making them. Under this narrative, mistakes are marks of a weak performance. Even though mistakes and errors constitute an undeniable educational problem, they also unveil a tremendous learning potential: they are moments when the learners and the teachers can realize that there is something they do not know – a realization that can open new learning trajectories. Therefore, making a mistake is a critical moment for learning and for classroom communication. It is a moment in which a learner and a teacher can make a strategic choice whether to handle a mistake and reconceptualise it as a task, or to play the game of issuing and accepting the objective judgments about knowledge and skills, which usually leads nowhere in terms of further learning.

As must be clear from the previous parts of this article, the mistake-related classroom communication cannot ignore or understate the learning problems (‘don’t worry, it is not that bad, next time is going to be better…’) – as if defending the learner from the potential negative impact of communicating mistakes. Such narratives invalidate the communicative strategy in which (self-)assessment is constructed in sequences of diagnosis followed by resource activation in order to solve learning problems. These narratives can also have a demotivating effect, as they deprive the learners of an opportunity to set themselves demanding tasks. The aim of the mistake-related communication strategy I propose is to help create a translation classroom where mistakes made by learners and teachers can be managed in an empowering way.

11. Assessment as negotiation of senses

If assessment is part of the learning experience, and if learning is a social negotiation of senses – as social constructivism has it – assessment must also be thinkable as negotiated. The notion of negotiating has been introduced earlier in this article as a concept underlying my approach to the translation classroom communication. In brief, I have assumed that negotiating is a strategy for attaining one’s goals based on the belief that attaining them together in a space defined as shared (common) pays off more than doing it individually or against others. This kind of negotiation needs to be based on clear principles (cf. Fisher and Ury’s 1981/1991 principled negotiation, quoted above). Considering its relation to learning, I suggest conceptualising assessment as a case of communicative negotiation – at least in some of its aspects.

The subject of the negotiation should be obvious by now: the learning status quo as perceived by the learner, the teacher and other possible stakeholders of the learning process. The planned solutions that emerge as a result of the diagnostic analysis can also be subject to negotiation (cf. Fisher and Ury’s 1981/1991 dimension called options, quoted above). Let me emphasize the fact that if negotiating is to be principle-based, the roles played by the negotiators must be mutually respected. For example, negotiating can take place as element of learning and construction of senses, but it cannot undermine the position of the teacher as someone who has the final voice in terms of formal assessment. Thus, negotiating grades (‘Oh, is this really such a grave mistake? Could that be half a point more, please, since this gives me a better overall result…’) definitely falls beyond the scope of principled negotiation in the translation classroom. In negotiated assessment, the teachers and the students do not have to agree in how they perceive an assessed situation. As long they can continue their contract, they can accept the diversity of views. There is no obligation on the part of the teacher to convince the learner that the teacher’s solution is more effective or correct. The teacher and the learner are obliged to present his or her principled negotiating position, hoping for an empowering consensus, but they need to accept the fact that it will not always be possible.[7]

12. Suggested activities

The last section of this text provides a handful of activities intended to inspire the readers’ active follow-up to the article. The activities are presented below in a concise form, which may require that the readers reach back to the content of the article and seek further study in sources quoted herein and related.

1. In the first activity, I would like to encourage you to manage your response patterns in the classroom. Classroom conversations invented for the purposes of this article can serve as reference.

  • Develop a routine for your classroom responses to be (a) diagnostic; and (b) solution-oriented.
  • Remember to focus on your communication strategy and intentions, not on the form of the sentences you use. If you are consistent with your strategy, your language will help other people see it, but not the other way round.
  • It may be helpful to monitor your use of those classroom narratives which seem a problem to remodel. Approach them one at a time.
  • Make one note per day with a case you remember the most.

2. The second activity concerns self-monitoring as regards the questions which you use in your classroom.

  • Apply a strategic approach to the questions in your classroom (decide what you want them to do);
  • Be consistent in following your objectives, avoiding unnecessary censorship, evaluation or control.

3. The third activity relates to courses and projects. When designing a course or a project, consider planning how to distribute the power of and the accountability for decision-making.

  • Think about communication strategies and narratives to make the power distribution and accountability transparent;
  • Design the project in such a way as to enable tracing the decision-making processes of the project members and the related communication behaviours
  • Plan feedback on the decision-making and the related communication behaviours
  • Consider communication training for the project members
  • Focus your training on objectives and strategies
  • Choose the communication tools to match the objectives
  • Monitor their use

4. This activity is about defining your preferred style of classroom communication. Do you have the sense that communication ‘makes things happen’ in the classroom, even though it makes the class go in directions you did not plan? Do you like things to go that way? Is there any cost/risk related?

  • Where do you put yourself on a scale between: ‘I need an absolute order in my classroom’ and ‘let’s offer the students some initial incentives and see where the things go’?
  • Are you aware of being anywhere on the scale? If yes, do you find this awareness useful?
  • How to use classroom communication in case you would like to change your position on the scale?

5. In this activity, I would like you to imagine a scenario in which you change your mind about the terminological choice that you previously opted for as a quality officer in your translation project. What will you do?

  • Will you communicate your mistake, explain and suggest (or ask the project members for) a new solution?
  • Do you think that doing so infringes on your authority as a quality officer/teacher?
  • Do you think a teacher can say ‘I don’t know’ to his or her students? Or is he or she ‘a bad teacher’ when doing so?

6. This activity is about analysing the communication related to your formal assessment practices. As outlined in the article, the point is to seek integration between formal assessment and self-assessment by managing assessment-related flow of information.

  • Make sure the summative and the formative aspect of your assessment strategy go hand in hand;
  • Encourage students to give you feedback on your assessment and feedback;
  • Patiently allow the repeated students’ requests for feedback – as long as you are able to determine they really are seeking feedback;
  • To make sure they do, give them tasks or ask for their solutions;
  • Make sure each assessment-related communication exchange equips a student with knowledge and tools to plan further learning.

13. Concluding remarks

This article is an attempt to convince the reader that managing the translation classroom communication is a potent and an indispensable educational aid for those teachers who believe that education is not primarily about methods, procedures or systems, but about learning together. Teachers, as communication moderators, can facilitate learners’ transition from dependent to autonomous learning, including a shift from teacher-dependent assessment towards an autonomous self-assessment. They can help students activate their personal resources by proving that assessment can be helpful in transforming problems into solutions. However, to be able to moderate classroom communication, teachers need communication training. This article is an invitation for teachers and to take up this kind of training. It can help them comprehend better that communication skills are a key asset of their reflective practice.


Eraut, Michael (2000) “Non-Formal Learning and Tacit Knowledge in Professional

Work”, British Journal of Educational Psychology 70: 113–36.

Fisher, Roger and William Ury. (1981/1991) Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving in, New York, Penguin [originally published by Houghton Mifflin].

Gergen, Kenneth J. (2009) Relational Being. Beyond Self and Community, Oxford, Oxford University Press. 

Jarvis, Peter (2012) “It Is the Person Who Learns” in Second International Handbook of Lifelong Learning. Vol. 1., David N. Aspin, Judith Chapman, Karen Evans and Richard Bagnall (eds.), Dordrecht, Springer: 103-11.

Kelly, Dorothy (2005) A Handbook for Translator Trainers. A Guide to Reflective Practice, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Kiraly, Donald C. (2000) A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education. Empowerment from ­Theory to Practice, Manchester, St. Jerome.

----- (2013) “Towards a View of Translator Competence as an Emergent Phenomenon: Thinking Outside the Box(es) in Translator Education” in New Prospects and Perspectives for Educating Language Mediators, Donald C. Kiraly, Silvia Hansen-Schirra, Karin Maksymski (eds.), Tübingen, Gunter Narr: 197-223.

----- (2015) “Occasioning Translator Competence: Moving beyond Social Constructivism towards a Postmodern Alternative to Instructionism”, Translation and Interpreting Studies 10, no. 1 (Special Issue): 8–32.

----- (2016) “Authentic Project Work and Pedagogical Epistemologies: A Question of Competing or Complementary Worldviews?” in Towards Authentic Experiential Learning in Translator Education, Donald C. Kiraly et al., Mainz, Mainz University Press: 53-66.

Klimkowski, Konrad (2015) Towards a Shared Curriculum in Translator and Interpreter Education, Wrocław, Wydawnictwo Wyższej Szkoły Filologicznej we Wrocławiu.

Kolb, David, A. (1984) Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development (Vol. 1), Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall.

Li, Xiangdong. (2018) “Self-assessment as ‘assessment as learning’ in translator and interpreter education: validity and washback”, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 12 no. 1: 48-67.

Mezirow, Jack and Associates (2000) Learning as Transformation: Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Moser-Mercer, Barbara (2008) “Skill Acquisition in Interpreting. A Human Performance Perspective”, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 2 no. 1: 1–28.  

Pietrzak, Paulina (2016) “Students’ Engagement in Metacognitive Activities as a Source of Feedback for the Translation Teacher”, Journal of Translator Education and Translation Studies 1, no. 1: 56-67
URL: http://www.tetsjournal.org/TETS/2016/01_01/Paper_5_1_1.pdf (accessed 10 March 2018)

----- (2017) “A Methodology for Formative Assessment: Feedback Tools in the Translation Classroom”, Kwartalnik Neofilologiczny 1/2017: 66–80.

Race, Phil, Sally Brown and Brenda Smith (eds.) (1996/2005). 500 Tips on Assessment, London, New York, Routledge Falmer [originally published under the same title in London, Kogan Page].

Rogers, Carl R. (1951) Client-Centered Therapy. Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory, London, Constable.

----- (1967/2002) “The Interpersonal Relationship in the Facilitation of Learning” in Supporting Lifelong Learning. Vol. 1: Perspectives on Learning, Roger Harrison, Fiona Reeve, Ann Hanson and Julia Clarke (eds.), London, Routledge: 25-39.  [Originally published in Humanizing Education: The Person in the Process, Robert R. Leeper (ed.), Washington, National Education Association, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: 1-18]

Rogers, Jenny (2004) Coaching Skills: A Handbook, Maidenhead, McGraw Hill, Open University Press.

Woods, Julia (2007) Interpersonal Communication. Everyday Encounters, Boston, Wadsworth.


[1] Even though reference in this article is made directly only to translator education, many – if not all – observations made here are also applicable to interpreter education, irrespective of the obvious differences between their objectives and their curricula.

[2] See e.g. the notion of Assessment as Learning in Li (2018).

[3] The notion of transformative learning is usually credited to Mezirow (see e.g. Mezirow 2000). In fact, the list of researchers advocating and developing the concept further is extensive (see e.g. Klimkowski 2015 for references and discussion). The underlying idea is that when an individual is faced with a problem, his or her attempt to solve it can lead to a transformation of his or her self-concept, his or her outlook on the surrounding environment, which finally leads to changes in his or her behaviour.

[4] The notion of emergence of learning refers to Kiraly’s conception of learning as a ‘non-linear, embodied, enactive and autopoietic (self-generating and self-sustaining) system’ (Kiraly 2016, 64).

[5] For more on assessment, self-assessment and their relationship, see e.g. Race et al. (1996/2005). For recent insights into how these notions are handled in translator education see particularly Pietrzak (2016, 2017) and the literature therein.

[6] This simulated classroom interaction is further discussed from a more practical angle later in this article.

[7] The notion of classroom as a space for various types of negotiating of senses is too complex to be presented in detail in this article. For more detailed proposals in this context, see Klimkowski (2015, particularly 248-252).

About the author(s)

Konrad Klimkowski is a translator, interpreter, academic teacher and researcher in the field of translator/interpreter education. He is an associate professor at the Institute of English Studies, John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland. His main research areas include social constructivist translator/interpreter curriculum, communicative aspects of educational practices, learning as co-emergence of knowledge and entrepreneurial skills in translator/interpreter education.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Konrad Klimkowski (2019).
"Assessment as a Communicative Activity in the Translation Classroom"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2428

Designing an Authentic Translation Environment for Future Translators:

Integrating a Collaborative and Ergonomic Perspective into Translator Training

By Cécile Frérot, Elisabeth Lavault-Olléon and Lionel Karagouch (Université Grenoble Alpes, France)

Abstract & Keywords

Project-based learning in translator training has highly developed over the past few years and integrating authentic or near-authentic tasks has been greatly encouraged to train future translators for the translation industry. Meanwhile, studies on the realities of the translator’s workplace have shown that ergonomic factors have an impact at physical, organizational and cognitive levels on how translators work and ergonomics has emerged as a new paradigm in applied translation studies. Within that perspective, our concern for preparing future translators for the requirements of the translation market and equip them with competences that embrace personal, interpersonal and technological skills has led us to design an authentic translation environment that seeks to develop a collaborative and ergonomic approach to translator training. We show how this pedagogic scenario was first set up in order to benefit second-year master’s students in specialized translation at the University of Grenoble Alpes and was further upgraded with a view to raising their ergonomic and collaborative awareness before they enter the professional translation market.

Keywords: translator training, project-based learning, collaborative learning, ergonomics, translator competence

©inTRAlinea & Cécile Frérot, Elisabeth Lavault-Olléon and Lionel Karagouch (2019).
"Designing an Authentic Translation Environment for Future Translators: Integrating a Collaborative and Ergonomic Perspective into Translator Training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2427

1. Ergonomics and (future) professional translators

1.1. Ergonomics and the translator’s workplace

The increasing use of translation technologies at large (including online resources, CAT tools and other software, glossaries as well as translators’ networks) has had a tremendous impact on the translator’s workplace converting it into a ‘highly technologized workplace’ (Ehrensberger-Dow, Hunziker Heeb, 2016). Over the past ten years, the interest in investigating professional translation as a situated activity involving people interacting with texts, with other people and with translation tools has been increasing (Ehrensberger-Dow 2014; Krüger 2016; Kuznik, Verd 2010; Kuznik 2016; Monzó Nebot 2006; Risku 2014). Within this perspective, cognitive approaches consider professional translation as a situated activity where the social, physical and technical environment plays a major role in the translation process:

Translation is done not only by the brain, but also by complex systems which include people, their specific social and physical environments and all their cultural artefacts. (Risku 2002:529)

Translation has largely become ‘a form of human-computer interaction’ (O’Brien 2012:101), in other words ‘a complex bilingual cognitive activity that takes place within a dynamic system involving multiple agents and human-computer interactions in a wide variety of settings’ (Ehrensberger-Dow, O’Brien 2015:100). In addition, professional translators rely heavily on language technology, which has added to the complexity of this dynamic system (Ehrensberger-Dow 2017).

From that perspective, ‘ergonomics gives a reference framework which makes it possible to analyze the material, physical, cognitive and organizational aspects of the translation profession and their evolution’ (Lavault-Olléon 2011). The IEA (International Ergonomics Association) defines ergonomics as:

(…) the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance[1] (IEA online).

According to the IEA, ergonomics encompasses three dimensions - physical, cognitive and organizational – which can all be investigated from a translation perspective. Based on the information provided by this association ‘physical ergonomics is concerned with human anatomical, anthropometric, physiological and biomechanical characteristics as they relate to physical activity’ (IEA online). It relates to workplace equipment, layout, repetitive movements, safety and health (Ehrensberger-Dow 2017). The IEA further explains that:

cognitive ergonomics is concerned with mental processes, such as perception, memory, reasoning, and motor response, as they affect interactions among humans and other elements of a system (IEA online).

The IEA stresses that it covers ‘mental workload, decision-making,[2] skilled performance, human-computer interaction, human reliability, work stress and training as these may relate to human-system design’. Finally, organizational ergonomics is concerned ‘with the optimization of sociotechnical systems, including their organizational structures, policies, and processes’ and the IEA provides topics of interest such as work design, design of working times, teamwork, cooperative work, new work paradigms, virtual organizations, and quality management. As a consequence, the related research on the ergonomic perspective of translation focuses on ‘how a different discipline, ergonomics, can provide insights into the physical, cognitive and organizational factors that impinge on translation’ (Ehrensberger-Dow 2017).

Spurred on by academic conferences on the ergonomic perspective of translation (Translation and Ergonomics in 2010, Translators at work in 2015[3]) and dedicated workshops within translation studies conferences (European Translation Studies Congress in 2016[4], First World Congress on Translation Studies in 2017[5]), ergonomics has emerged as a new paradigm in translation studies (Lavault-Olléon 2011/2016). In applied translation studies, two major recent studies on physical ergonomics carried out in situ have shown the interest and concerns of professional translators for ergonomic issues related to their workplace (Ehrensberger-Dow et al. 2016; Meidert et al. 2016). In international organizations like the DGT (Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission), office ergonomics is given significant importance. Action is taken to make translators aware that the choice of adequate office furniture and IT peripherals impact their work and that the appropriate use of equipment and the application of ‘precautionary measures to preserve one's well-being throughout the working day and beyond’ is highly relevant for them’ (Peters-Geiben 2016). Overall, the research carried out is organized along two main lines i) the translator’s workplace, especially the role and impact of new tools and resources on translators and ii) translator training focused on designing professional competence models and incorporating ergonomic issues for future translators. While the former has been investigated to some degree (Jimenez-Crespo 2009; Désilets et al. 2009; Beale and Peter 2008; Szameitat et al. 2009), the latter had not been explored until recently.

1.2. Ergonomics and translator training

Although ergonomics has never been integrated into translation competence models, underlying components related to cognitive and organizational ergonomics do feature in some models. PACTE - one of the most comprehensive models to date - embraces psycho-physiological components defined as ‘different types of cognitive and attitudinal components and psycho-motor mechanisms’ (Hurtado Albir 2017:40). These include cognitive aspects such as attention, emotion and memory as well as attitudinal aspects such as motivation, self-confidence and a critical mind. The most recent research carried out by the PACTE group suggests that personality traits closely related to self-esteem and self-analysis play a major role in the translator’s perception of his/her work (Hurtado Albir 2017:288/296). Kelly’s model (2005), which is firmly rooted in professional aspects of translation competence, also relies on attitudinal and psycho-physiological competence (self-concept, self-confidence, initiative) as well as on interpersonal competence based on teamwork ability.

That same interpersonal dimension is at the core of the service provision competence in the EMT[6] framework (2009) defined as:

being aware of the social role of the translator (…) knowing how to plan and manage one’s time, stress (…) how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments (…) knowing how to work under pressure (…) and take responsibility.

Based on the recent consultation process launched by the EMT Board, the 2009 EMT framework has undergone some major changes which resulted in a new version validated by the EMT network at the general meeting in November 2017. Key issues related to collaborative and ergonomic dimensions have been introduced in the personal and interpersonal competence which includes all the generic skills that enhance graduate adaptability and employability. Skill descriptors include ‘work in a team (…) using current communication technologies’ and focus on ‘collaborative learning’; they also state that students should know how to ‘take account of and adapt the physical ergonomics of the working environment’ (for example hardware, furniture selection, working posture). This enhanced EMT framework is very likely to foster research on ergonomics for future translators with a view to raising their ergonomic awareness in line with the issue at stake in the professional market:

Le comportement ergonomique est perdu d'avance si on attend le moment de l'entrée dans le monde du travail pour l'appliquer. À ce moment-là, il y a tant d'autres éléments professionnels qui paraissent prioritaires que la préservation du bien-être et de la santé passe au second plan.[7] (Peters-Geiben 2016)

Research on ergonomics in translator training is at an early stage and leaves great room for investigating its didactic integration within master’s programmes in translation. In line with Gary Massey’s proposal (Massey 2016), we do not encourage dedicated workshops nor courses/modules on ergonomics as we want to avoid ‘compartmentalization risk’ (Kelly 2007). Instead, we advocate a ‘transversal integration in and beyond the curriculum’ (Massey 2016) that embraces various aspects of translators at work within a holistic approach to translation. While setting up a collaborative environment may play a significant role in interpersonal competence (Calvo 2015), raising student ergonomics awareness may well be achieved through authentic project-based learning.

2. Authentic environment for future translators through project-based learning

2.1. Overview on project-based learning

Student employability[8] has long been the cornerstone of translator education and over the past decade the ‘perceived divide between the competences and qualifications of graduates leaving translator education institutions and the real-world demands of the job market’ (Massey et al. 2015:27) has reduced, largely due to the increasing take-up of authentic experiential learning in collaborative classroom settings promoted by scholars like Don Kiraly (2005/2012/2016), the growing role and place of work placements to prepare master’s students for employment (the European Graduate Placement Scheme [EGPS], Astley and Torres-Hostench 2017) and the creation of simulated translation bureaus like the INSTB[9], International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus[10] (Buysschaert, van Egdom and Fernandez Parra 2017; Loock et al. 2017) or TAS, Translation Agency Simulator, which seeks to ‘replicate the entire complexity of a translation project while integrating the complete spectrum of translation skills’ (Hofman, Kiraly 2016). Collaborative student translation projects in particular have highly developed and a growing number of institutions have undertaken project-based learning in their programmes (Mitchell-Schuitevoerder 2013; Massey et al. 2015; Hagemann 2016; Maruenda Bataller and Santaemilia Ruiz 2016; Miao 2016). Very recently the EMT network produced a document on collaborative student translation projects aimed at providing an insight into current practices among EMT members (Olohan and Ciobanu 2017). The overriding goal of such projects is to equip students with the skills they will need to meet the demands of the translation market through developing – whether explicitly or not – ‘learner empowerment’ on the basis of a social constructivist view of learning (Kiraly 2000, 2005):

Attaining competence in a professional domain means acquiring the expertise and thus the authority to make professional decisions; assuming responsibility for one’s actions; and achieving autonomy to follow a path of lifelong learning. This is empowerment. (Kiraly 2000:1)

The empowerment approach to translator education revolves around authentic project-work defined as ‘the collaborative undertaking of complete translation projects for real clients’  (Kiraly 2005:1102). This approach seeks to provide students with levels of autonomy and expertise through authentic experience and consequently it enhances the exposure to professional practice that is fostered by students and teachers alike.

2.2. Project-based learning at UGA

A survey carried out among former students of the master’s programme in translation at the University of Grenoble Alpes (henceforth, UGA) (Frérot and Karagouch 2016) has shown the extent to which students wanted to be trained in real professional conditions by integrating CAT tools whenever possible. Growing efforts from both the language industry – which provides more and more university students with free or cheaper stand-alone licences – and the teaching staff – who has started to encourage the use of translation memories and other software tools in their translation classroom – have contributed to ‘bring the workplace into the curriculum’ as advocated by Kiraly (2015). Further analysis of work placement reports together with the above-mentioned survey have clearly demonstrated the need to integrate a project-based learning environment in order to reduce the divide (close the gap?) between professional translation practice and translator training. This involves mainly using CAT tools, translating full-length market-based texts under professional deadlines, using client-based language resources (namely translation memories and glossaries), dealing with stress and experiencing teamwork responsibility.

At this point it is worth mentioning that imparting practical skills required by professional translation has been at the very core of the master’s programme in translation at UGA since the early 1990s (Lavault-Olléon 1998). A junior company was set up in 1995[11] and each year it is run by second-year master’s students while first-year students are involved in authentic translation assignments (individual or pair work). This environment has highly benefited students who are better trained for the translation market but it fails to encompass some working conditions professional translators are faced with i) individual translations do not involve teamwork nor professional deadlines and ii) student’s engagement within the junior company varies significantly and teams are based on personal affinity vs coincidental professional relationships.

In many cases, the curriculum has room for improving the interpersonal competence combined with the technological competence deemed to be of paramount importance in a profession-oriented approach to translation (Huertas-Barros 2013; Robinson et al. 2017).

3. Setting up an authentic translation environment in the master’s programme in translation at UGA

3.1. Designing a pilot study

Based on these requirements, we conducted a pilot study in 2015 in the translation master’s programme at UGA. The pilot project was designed within the 2009 EMT-based framework. We focused on both the translation service provision (TSP) and the technological competences. In the TSP competence, the interpersonal dimension includes ‘knowing how to comply with instructions, deadlines, commitments, team organization (…) plan and manage one's time, stress’ and the production dimension aims at ‘knowing how to define stages and strategies for the translation of a document (…) define and evaluate translation problems and find appropriate solutions.’ As for the technological competence, it focuses on the mastery of tools and aims at ‘knowing how to integrate a range of software to assist in translation, terminology, translation memory, terminology database (…) create and manage a database and files.’

The overriding goal of this pilot study was to intertwine those competences in one project only instead of integrating them into fragmented and compartmentalized assignments. We aimed at measuring the extent to which this learning scenario could contribute to train students and raise their awareness on the interpersonal dimension of the translation profession (including stress and time management, team organization, teamwork and autonomy).

The participants included twenty second-year master’s students, all of them working from English into French. Two teachers,[12] a professional translator who teaches in the master’s programme, and two translation agencies were part of the study.[13] The study was designed collaboratively by the teachers and the professional translator. The strong relationships with translation agencies throughout work placements acted as a facilitator to provide students with two commissions for the translation project. The agencies commissioning this ungraded assignment agreed to assess the translations based on a professional grid for client satisfaction.

The translation project[14] took place in December 2015. The day before it started, students were selected at random to form two self-organized teams of ten students each and each team was in charge of its role distribution (project manager, translators, terminologist, and reviewer). Each team was required to translate a project of 9,000 words approximately in three days. One project was a highly technical document on a hydropower project for which an Excel glossary had been provided by the translation agency and the other was a legal document, namely a draft subject to contract for which a translation memory had been provided. The translation commissions were sent by the clients at 8.30 am on day 1 and were due to be delivered at 4 pm on day 3.

This main phase involved communication with the client, self-management of CAT tools and autonomy in the translation process (information research, terminological work, project management and teamwork) with minimal intervention from the teaching staff. Due to the unavailability of the computer laboratory during the three days, the session took place in another classroom; students worked in one of the largest classrooms available in the department of applied languages which we had attempted to reorganize into an open space environment – only to a small extent though. Students worked with their laptops and they used SDL Trados Studio 2014 as well as Google Drive and Skype as collaborative communication tools; however, they had to go to the computer laboratory on several occasions in order to use Multiterm which, at that time, didn’t run on their laptops.

Nowadays the vast majority of master’s programmes have integrated project management in their curriculum and throughout the first semester, students receive a twelve-hour course on project management[15] during which they had been trained on issues related to the role and responsibilities of Project Managers (henceforth, PMs). In the professional circle, PMs are at the very heart of any translation project as they:

coordinate, supervise all stages of translation projects (translation, editing, formatting, proofreading, etc.), monitoring workflow, setting schedules for each phase, and doing everything necessary to ensure the highest level of performance in terms of efficiency, quality and client’s satisfaction. (Maruenda Bataller and Santaemilia Ruiz 2016)

The participants in the study had been provided with a ‘roadmap’, that is a document featuring the different stages of the translation project from the reception of the translation commissions to the delivery to the client.

3.2. Collecting data

Several data-gathering instruments were designed for this pilot study, including student satisfaction, peer assessment and client satisfaction. After the project took an end, the participants were asked to complete a form featuring the various stages of the above-mentioned ‘roadmap’ and to indicate (i) what tasks they had undertaken accordingly and (ii) what difficulties they had encountered and what solutions they had found, both on a personal and group level. Student satisfaction included items rated on a four-point scale (ranging from very satisfactory to not satisfactory at all), related to their satisfaction regarding pre-project training and the added value of the project in their curriculum (see Appendix 1). As will be discussed in section 5.2, another source of informative data came from students’ additional comments. Peer assessment was divided into three categories based on the quality of the translation (translation as a product) and the translation process in terms of autonomy and deadlines as well as a personal dimension dealing with stress management, initiative, involvement and responsibility. Each team member was asked to assess his/her peers in accordance with his/her role in the project. Peer assessment was completed with numbered scales marked 1 to 4 with 4 as the most satisfactory score for each category (see Appendix 2). The assessment method also included a professional grid intended to measure client satisfaction, based on the linguistic quality of the translation (product), communication quality throughout the project, and compliance with deadlines and instructions with items rated on a four-point scale ranging from very satisfactory to not satisfactory at all (see Appendix 3). Finally, after completion of the project, five of the students took part in a concluding discussion; they discussed their experiences as participants in this pilot study and actively supplied data on the benefits related to this authentic project-based learning.

4. Reconsidering methodological aspects of the pilot study

As will be shown in section 5.1, the participants in the study felt a generally positive learning effect and the clients were satisfied with the translations. This encouraged the teaching staff to optimize this learning environment in the curriculum. Therefore, another session was run in December 2016 and several changes were made based on the pilot study.

On a very practical level, students worked in the computer laboratory as it was available during the three-day session; attempts were made to reorganize the space in order to make it more professionally friendly. As most students had considered working in teams of ten members unrealistic and quite inefficient, the class was no longer organized into two teams but into three teams of seven members each making the number of students in each team more operational, and reducing the number of words translated.[16] This, of course, urged the teaching staff to find translation commissions accordingly, which put more stress on their side as the completion of the project is wholly dependent on authentic translation projects. As for the self-organized dimension of teams, the members of one team in particular found it hard to assign the PM role as no one was keen on it. The result was that one group member was strongly encouraged by the other members to work as a PM. Consequently, the teaching staff changed his view on role distribution and integrated the PM issue in the pre-project session dedicated to project management, as PMs play a major role in a translation project. The role, tasks and responsibilities of PMs were discussed more thoroughly and the day before the project started, three participants were self-designated as PMs; members of each team were then selected at random and other roles were distributed.

The format of the concluding discussion at the end of the pilot study was slightly modified as the whole group of students participated in it (22 in total). Both teachers in charge of the project together with the professional translator led semi-structured interviews. Each was in charge of one team (three teams as above-mentioned). Based on open questions, these interviews aimed at gathering data on each participant’s expectations, on the strategies deployed to solve the difficulties encountered and the extent to which students had developed interpersonal competence related to teamwork (see Appendix 4). The peer assessment questionnaire and the client satisfaction grid were considered operational and were thus kept in their initial format contrary to the student questionnaire which underwent major changes. This was mostly due to the inappropriate length of the “roadmap” as students were asked to provide feedback on each stage of the translation process. Therefore the questionnaire was cut down and reorganized; questions on student satisfaction rate and free comments were retained and questions on technological aspects during the translation process were integrated (see Appendix 5), given the prevailing use of IT tools by professional translators and the ‘highly-technologized workplace’ (Ehrensberger-Dow and Hunziker Heeb 2016).

To allow students to work on legal documents in accordance with their specialized translation classes during the first term, the emphasis was put on legal translation. One of the translation agencies that had participated in the pilot study agreed to take our requirement into account and we turned to an NGO specializing in child rights[17] that we regularly cooperate with for work placements. Actually, completing a translation project for an NGO or a non-profit organization in educational settings is deemed to be a very appropriate scenario in that it gets round the controversial issue of ethics and unfair competition by students taking on translations that would otherwise be completed by professionals in the freelance market. Hagemann (2016) reports a successful multilingual project for the blogging community Global Voices[18] and EMT members indicate a great variety of projects completed for NGOs and non-profit organizations (Olohan and Ciobanu 2017). 

5.  Results from 2015 and 2016 sessions

5.1. Student satisfaction and client satisfaction

This section reports on two sets of data covering the two translation projects that were led in the course of 2015 and 2016 and described in section 3.1 and section 4 respectively. Student satisfaction[19] provides quantitative results on regarding the project per se as part of the curriculum and the pre-project training as part of the course on project management. The project carried out in 2016 shows that 94 per cent of students rated the project as very satisfactory in the curriculum, 72 per cent rated the pre-project training as very satisfactory and 22 per cent as satisfactory only. Students’ free comments reveal that this is mainly due to a lack of training on how to create collaborative translation memories, and provide the teaching staff with insightful data for potential improvement. Comparative data between 2015 and 2016 shows a rise in student satisfaction regarding the project per se in the curriculum (67 per cent vs 94 per cent respectively) and the pre-project training a somewhat less sharp rise (57 per cent vs 67 per cent). While these figures should be treated with caution, they might be partly due to the teaching staff gaining experience in devising such a project (see section 4 on a revision of methodological issues).

The assessment instruments deployed in our learning scenario include a client assessment grid provided by the professional translator involved in the study. Overall, the clients stated that they had been very satisfied with the translations. Translations were delivered within the deadline, complying with the format required. The assessment grids were sent to the students and this professional perspective is likely to play an important role in our translator education approach as ‘students’ self-confidence will improve if they can see progress in their work on the basis of what are demonstrably professional criteria.’ (Kiraly 2005: 2012).

5.2. Peer assessment and students’ comments

Peer assessment shows that a vast majority of items were rated as very satisfactory (77 per cent) or quite satisfactory (16 per cent). These results are in line with those obtained in 2015 (83 per cent and 16 per cent respectively) and may be (partly) due to student self-protection as already noted by Massey et al. who suggest that students have ‘a tendency to ‘play safe when judging peers’ (2015:40). Those results may also arise from a lack of training on peer assessment among master’s students, given that students who have not been trained on peer interactions may be ‘destructive and tactless or overgenerous and uncritical’ (Rollinson 2005:26).

Very informative data came from students’ free comments combined with interviews at the end of the translation project, as they put forward ergonomics-related items in the workplace such as the ones which have been investigated by the most recent studies among professional translators (Ehrensberger-Dow et al. 2016; Meidert et al. 2016). A case in point is organizational ergonomics with students using communication tools (Google Drive, Skype) they are very familiar with. Students discovered their use and the related constraints in a profession-oriented context (one student taking on the role of reviewer mentioned the difficulties she had to concentrate on her work while following conversations on Skype and being solicited by her co-workers). Organizational ergonomics also encompasses disruptions due to human interactions (one student wrote she had to work at home in a quiet environment in order to be more efficient) and noise, considered by students as highly detrimental to their work (one student related that errors went unnoticed in the translation memory probably due to surrounding noise). In addition, students discovered how teamwork and human interactions could benefit their work as the discussions highly contributed to problem-solving within a given team but also between the three teams involved.

In organizational ergonomics, the use of computerized linguistic resources plays a major role - whether or not they are supplied by the client. In our authentic project-based learning, students are faced with authentic, real linguistic data provided by clients. Whenever students use translation memories or glossaries, those resources are likely to bear some errors and inconsistencies related to meaning and terminology, for example. As a consequence, students learn how to take joint initiatives and make use of their overall skills in order to build their own linguistic resources (one student reported that the Excel glossary provided by the client could hardly be used as such due to too many inconsistencies so they had lost a lot of time cleaning it and had finally decided to create their own glossary using Google Drive). This authentic situated learning provides students with some insight into professional issues and gives them a foretaste of situations likely to happen in a professional context.

In the most recent studies on organizational ergonomics among professional translators (Ehrensberger-Dow et al. 2016; Meidert et al. 2016), time and stress management as well as deadlines are at the forefront in the translator’s workplace; our authentic project-based learning raises student awareness of professional deadlines. As emphasized by one student, this role-playing enables students to experiment with their own skills related to time management at work and gives them the opportunity to reflect on their ability to cope with stress. Physical ergonomics among professional translators is also echoed in our authentic project-based learning, as an open space environment contributes to raise student awareness of physical interactions at work; in addition, students experiment with some ergonomics-related issues raised during their course on project management (one student explained that she thought of ergonomics when she realized how uncomfortable her posture was and when her eyes hurt).

With regards to authentic project-based learning, students praised teamwork as a key driver of accountability; one student reported that ‘the work done by a given member does have an impact on others’ work: one feels responsible for the project as a whole which results in higher performance and motivation’ while another said ‘the project depends on my work and vice-versa which is very enriching as it highly contributes to my training.’ This is very much related to autonomy as a result of the minimal intervention from the teaching staff, which students considered an incentive towards responsibility. As students worked towards a professional rather than educational goal, the authentic dimension of the project encouraged them to think collectively rather than in terms of graded individual assessment. Overall, students considered this learning scenario a reflective instrument regarding their individual competence acquisition as suggested by the following comment: ‘I feel reassured and confident as I realize how well-trained I am to become a professional translator (…) I was not so aware of my weaknesses before the project started so now I know where to act in order to perform better at work.’

6. Implementing a collaborative and ergonomics environment (2017)

6.1. Collaborative environment

Since those aspects of the workplace are related to ergonomics, we have been concentrating on further raising ergonomics awareness among students by bringing the workplace into the curriculum in line with the IEA which states that ‘a good way to understand ergonomics is to learn from ergonomics in practice.’[20] From an educational perspective, both translation events in 2015 and 2016 gave much impetus to develop our professional approach to translator training and at the end of 2016 the teaching staff was granted a two-year project[21] in order to develop a collaborative and ergonomics environment in the master’s programme in translation at UGA. The project presented hereafter will be referred as PROTRAD. It is a two-year project running from 2017 to 2019.

In simulated translation bureaus/skill labs, ‘teams of students work on authentic tasks for real or fictitious clients under (mock-) realistic circumstances’ and ‘all the required skills are honed (incl. soft skills as teamwork, time management, learner autonomy’ (Loock et al. 2017). This learning by doing scenario set up within the INSTB differs from our learning environment in that second-year master’s students at UGA translate for real clients only and most importantly, an ergonomics approach has been developed with a view to upskilling students in ergonomics applied to translation practice. We investigated how to offer second-year students the possibility to be trained outside the conventional classroom or the computer laboratory and thus to complete the three-day translation projects in a profession-oriented and collaborative environment that raises their awareness on physical and organizational ergonomics. Interestingly, students had clearly stated in their free comments how relevant it would be to carry out such a project in a working environment that is organized and suited for teamwork; they had also suggested that specific space should be dedicated to discussion in order to avoid disrupting co-workers - and avoid being disrupted themselves as well. During the course of July-September 2017, we explored potential spaces on the UGA campus on a number of ergonomics-related aspects such as furniture (ergonomic chairs), space (separate room for discussion and teamwork) and sound insulation boards. One space in particular drew our attention in that it offered many of the aspects we wished to incorporate in PROTRAD. This collaborative environment is composed of learning labs designed by students enrolled in the master’s programme on innovative management[22] as part of an overall project - Promising[23]- which started in 2012 and seeks to develop innovative pedagogy and creativity in the area of human and social sciences. The collaborative environment aims at enhancing various forms of alternative and active pedagogy geared towards interactivity and creativity. During the three-day translation project that took place in December 2017, students discovered two learning labs[24]. While completing the translation projects, students experienced a collaborative environment that had a significant impact on their motivation and their perceptions of teamwork as revealed by the fruitful interviews at the end of the project[25].

6.2. Ergonomics in practice

Another major added value of PROTRAD has been to collaborate with ergonomists involved in a master’s programme on psychology at work and ergonomics.[26] A professional ergonomist[27] – who teaches ergonomics in the master’s programme as well – and a lecturer[28] in ergonomics observed students at work during the three-day project, more specifically at the outset of the project and during the second day. Data was collected on both physical and organizational ergonomics. It will be integrated into a written report for teaching staff and shared with students verbally.

This collaboration and the resulting discussions and reflections have contributed highly to give an impetus to the ergonomic dimension of our approach to translator training. From a teacher perspective, we have learned in situ about the conceptualization of ergonomics applied to a given workplace and this has greatly encouraged us to go further in that direction. From a student perspective, raising student awareness on ergonomics in practice through a situated application is in line with the ‘transversal integration [of ergonomics] in and beyond the curriculum’ praised by Massey (2016) and closely related to ‘authentic experiential learning’ (Kiraly 2016). As already mentioned, the professional ergonomist involved in the project is due to deliver a report which will provide the teaching staff with new insights into the ergonomic perspective on translation and will serve as didactic material for introducing ergonomics-related issues in the curriculum. In this respect, the deployment of two collaborative tools in PROTRAD, namely Slack and SDL Studio GroupShare, is likely to have brought along some major insight from an organizational ergonomic perspective. Slack is a cloud collaborative environment whose take-up in the industry at large is increasing and which is being adopted by a growing number of EMT members. Interestingly, while the teaching staff was unfamiliar with Slack, a few students participating in PROTRAD had already discovered the tool and were eager to share their knowledge with the rest of the class and the teaching staff. The collaborative dimension was enhanced with the use of SDL Studio GroupShare, ‘a project management software that streamlines workloads and reduces manual tasks.’[29] Integrating GroupShare in the project was highly supported by former student comments advocating the use of technology for collaborative work in project management as well as by the requirements of the translation industry to be up to date with the latest technological developments.

7. Perspectives and Future Work

7.1. Deployment to first-year master’s students

PROTRAD encompasses a collaborative and ergonomics approach to translation and translator training for both first-year and second-year master’s students. With a view to involving first-year students in PROTRAD, we set up a project-based learning scenario due to take place in April 2018. Our concern was to reinforce the professional dimension in the curriculum before students start their internship during the summer. In order to gradually increase student awareness of the translation profession during the two-year programme, students will carry out a translation project which (i) will be simulated (texts will be provided by teachers themselves playing the role of clients), (ii) will last one day and most importantly, (iii) will take place in a new collaborative room that is actually being designed in the department of applied languages at UGA. Issues related to office furniture and IT equipment are currently being discussed bearing in mind our concern for ergonomics at the translator’s workplace.

This deployment to first-year students will be extended to other languages offered in the master’s programme - Spanish and Russian, to start with. As a result, teachers from other languages will become more and more involved in our educational approach to translation which is competence-based and revolves around collaborative learning and ergonomics within an holistic perspective.

7.2. Conclusion: developing ergonomics

Our collaboration with experts in ergonomics is at an early stage, but opens up promising prospects for the future. Alongside the written report by the professional ergonomist, the future feedback to both students and teaching staff - due to be given in the collaborative environment itself - is very likely to provide us with new insights into ergonomics applied to translator training. This material which will presumably be very informative will help us enhance the curriculum and go further into how to integrate ergonomics in the curriculum for future translators. The data collected through the various instruments (student satisfaction, peer assessment, student interviews and client satisfaction) will in all likelihood foster reflection on authentic project-based learning from collaborative and ergonomic perspective.

As emphasized by the professional ergonomist, the service of an expert should be planned well in advance so as to set up a whole project that embraces the different stages from accurate diagnosis to problem solving, bearing in mind that each project has its own specifications and requirements. While our collaboration with the professional ergonomist was somehow constrained due to both time and budget, it can be regarded as a ‘kick-off’ for the introduction of ergonomics for future translators in our master’s programme in translation. The group of students who will participate in the next session (December 2018) will undoubtedly benefit from the previous session especially since the teachers and experts in ergonomics involved in the project will be more aware of each other’s framework and working methods. A six-hour seminar by the lecturer in ergonomics will give students an introduction to ergonomics applied to translation practice before the three-day session starts in December 2018. In addition, the joint prospect of having second year master’s students specialized in ergonomics analyze the working environment of other second year master’s students specialized in translation opens up a promising perspective in terms of innovative pedagogy and research into ergonomics applied to translator training.


The data presented in this article was collected by the authors during a joint collaboration in 2015-17. The article focuses on the data collected in 2015 and 2016 and the analysis and drafting of the text was mainly carried out by Cécile Frérot. The data collected in 2017 will be analysed and discussed in a future publication.

Appendix 1 – Student satisfaction

Appendix 2 – Peer assessment

Appendix 3 – Professional grid

Appendix 4 – Semi-structured interviews

Appendix 5 – Technological competence


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Meidert, Ursula, Silke Neumann, Maureen Ehrensberger-Dow and Heidrun Becker (2016) “Physical Ergonomics at Translators’ Workplaces: Findings from Ergonomic Workplace Assessments and Interviews”, ILCEA, no. 27, URL: http://ilcea.revues.org/3996 (accessed 21 December 2017).

Miao, Hui (2016) “Applying project-based translation pedagogy in teaching practical translation”, Best Practices, Challenges and New Horizons in the Teaching of Translation and Translation Technology, University of Surrey.

Mitchell-Schuitevoerder, Rosemary (2013) “A project-based methodology in translator training”, in Tracks and Treks in Translation Studies. Selected Papers from the EST Congress, Leuven 2010, C. Way, S.Vandepitte, R. Meylaerts, M. Batłomiejczyk (eds), Benjamins Translation Library vol. 108, Amsterdam/ Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 127–142.

Monzó Nebot, Esther (2006) “¿Somos profesionales? Bases para una sociología de las profesiones aplicada a la traducción” in Sociology of translation, A. Parada and O. Díaz Fouces (eds), Servizo de Publicacións da Universidade de Vigo, 155–176.

Muñoz Martín, Ricardo (2009) “Typos & Co.” in Behind the Mind. Methods, Models and Results in Translation Process Research, S. Göpferich, A.L. Jakobsen, I.M. Mees (eds), 167–189. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur.

O’Brien, Sharon (2012) “Translation as Human-computer Interaction”, Translation Spaces 1: 101–122.

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Peters-Geiben, Lucia (2016) “La prévention comportementale et contextuelle : intégrer une approche ergonomique dans la formation des traducteurs”, ILCEA, no. 27, URL : http://ilcea.revues.org/4026 (accessed 21 December 2017).

Risku, Hanna (2014). “Translation process research as interaction research. From mental to socio-cognitive processes”, MonTI Special Issue 1, 331–353.

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Robinson, Bryan, and Maria-Dolores Olvera-Lobo (2017) “Making friends with your team: The benefits of raising learner awareness of intra-team relations”, Third International Conference on Higher Education Advances, Polytechnic University of Valencia Congress, URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.4995/HEAd17.2017.5481

Rollinson, Paul (2005) “Using peer feedback in the ESL writing class”, ELT Journal, vol. 59, no. 1: 23–30.

Szameitat, André J., Jan Rummel, Diana P. Szameitat and Annette Sterr (2009) “Behavioral and emotional consequences of brief delays in human–computer interaction”, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, no. 67, 561–570.

Thelen, Marcel (2016) “The Practice-Oriented Translator Training Curriculum: An Example”. Current Trends in Translation Teaching and Learning E, 3,163–200. URL: http://www.cttl.org/uploads/5/2/4/3/5243866/cttl_e_3_thelen_m.pdf/ (accessed 05 June 2018).


[1] http://iea.cc/whats/index.html (accessed 20 December 2017).

[2] Applied to translation, it refers to the process of translating when a translator has to choose between different translation options.

[3] Both conferences were organized by the research group on specialized translation at UGA (ILCEA4-GREMUTS, http://ilcea4.univ-grenoble-alpes.fr/fr/presentation/axes-de-recherche/) (accessed 20 December 2017).

[4] The 8th EST Congress was held at Aarhus University in September 2016 and it included a panel on Ergonomics of translation: methodological, practical and educational implications. http://conferences.au.dk/fileadmin/EST2016_Panel_17_Ergonomics_of_translation_-_methodological__practical_and_educational_implications.pdf (accessed 4 June 2018).

[5] The 1st World Congress on Translation Studies – or CMT, Congrès Mondial de Traductologie - was held at Paris West University in April 2017 and it included a workshop on Perspectives on CAT Tools and Ergonomics, https://cmt.u-paris10.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/631-HERNANDEZ-LAVAULT-1.pdf (accessed 8 June 2018).

[6] European Master’s in Translation, https://ec.europa.eu/info/resources-partners/european-masters-translation-emt/ (accessed 20 December 2017).

[7] Ergonomics behaviour is doomed to failure if it is not applied before future translators enter the professional market. At that time, many other aspects of professional life are considered of paramount importance that issues related to preserving one’s well-being and health are left in the background [my translation].

[8] Employability is defined as ‘the ability to gain initial employment, to maintain employment, and to be able to move around within the labour market’ (Bologna Process – European Higher Education Area EHEA), and is achieved by (…) improving cooperation between employers, students and higher education institutions (…)’. (Making the Most of Our Potential: Consolidating the European Higher Education Area. Bucharest Communiqué, Final Version, 2012:1). As emphasized by Thelen, ‘this definition can be operationalized as (1) the competences and skills (to be) taught in the training for students to become employable, and (2) the actual chances of graduates to find/keep and switch between employment after graduation’ (2016:175-176).

[9] http://www.instb.eu/ (accessed 20 December 2017).

[10] INSTB is a ‘network of universities offering translation curricula where students are tasked with staffing and running their own (simulated) translation bureau’ (Buysschaert, van Egdom and Fernandez Parra 2017:79).

[11] More information can be found on the junior company Atlas at https://www.atlas-traduction.com/en/ (accessed 20 December 2017).

[12] Teachers and researchers at the Laboratory ILCEA4, members of GREMUTS (Groupe de Recherche Multilingue en Traduction Spécialisée).

[13] The study was carried out with Elisabeth Lavault-Olléon and Lionel Karagouch as part of an overall project on Innovative pedagogy supported by the Service Universitaire de Pédagogie (former Stendhal University). 

[14] Referred to as session as well.

[15] The course on project management is given by a free-lance translator who teaches in the master’s programme.

[16] Each team completed a 6,500 word project.

[17] CRIN - Child Rights International Network, https://www.crin.org/en (accessed 20 December 2017).

[18] Organized by the German Department of Mainz University’s Faculty of Translation Studies, Linguistics and Cultural Studies (FTSK).

[19] Questions are rated on a 4-point scale to measure student satisfaction ranging from (1) no satisfied at all to (4) very satisfied.

[20] IEA, http://www.iea.cc/whats/practice.html (accessed 29 November 2017).

[21] Project IDEX Education – PROTRAD https://www.communaute-univ-grenoble-alpes.fr/fr/formation/protrad-709558.htm (accessed 20 December 2017).

[22] Master Management de l’innovation, https://www.promising.fr/apprendre-l-innovation/master-management-de-l-innovation/ (accessed 20 December 2017).

[23] https://www.promising.fr/promising/ accessed 20 December 2017).

[24] Pictures of both labs – called La Ruche and Le Hub - are available at https://www.promising.fr/apprendre-l-innovation/learning-labs-181651.kjsp (accessed 20 December 2017).

[25] While no detailed analysis could be provided at the time of writing this article, both due to calendar and space constraints, the results of the 2017 session will be analyzed and discussed elsewhere.

[27] David-Ruffier Monet, head of PEPS Ergonomie, http://www.peps-ergonomie-grenoble.com/ (accessed 20 December 2017). We are very grateful to him for agreeing to be the professional ergonomist in our study.

[28] We are very grateful to Aurélie Landry for her interest and participation in our project.

About the author(s)

Cécile Frérot holds a PhD in Natural Language Processing from the University of Toulouse le Mirail, an MAS in Linguistics and an MA in Translation and Language Engineering from the University of Paris Diderot and a BA in Translation and Terminology (ISIT, Paris). She is a senior lecturer in the Department of Applied Languages at Université Grenoble Alpes and a member of the research laboratory ILCEA4. She has run the MA programme in Multilingual Specialised Translation since January 2018. Her research interests include applied translation studies, corpus linguistics and terminology as well as ergonomics and translation.

Elisabeth Lavault-Olléon is Professor Emerita of Translation Studies at Université Grenoble Alpes (France) and was head of its MA programme in Multilingual Specialised Translation for over 20 years. She founded the Groupe de recherche multilingue en traduction spécialisée within the research laboratory ILCEA4. Her publications include Fonctions de la Traduction en didactique des langues (Paris: Didier Erudition, 1998) and academic research articles, many of which are available in open access. She has also edited Traduction spécialisée : pratiques, théories, formations (Peter Lang, 2007) as well as two specialised issues of the online journal ILCEA (#14 and #27) on the subject of Translation and Ergonomics.

An MA graduate in Translation Studies, Lionel Karagouch is a professional translator from English and German into French. In addition to his translation activities, he currently teaches the use of CAT tools and Project Management as Associate Professor in the MA in Multilingual Specialised Translation at Université Grenoble Alpes.

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©inTRAlinea & Cécile Frérot, Elisabeth Lavault-Olléon and Lionel Karagouch (2019).
"Designing an Authentic Translation Environment for Future Translators: Integrating a Collaborative and Ergonomic Perspective into Translator Training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2427

Translation as a profession: training the new generation

By Ewa Kościałkowska-Okońska (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Torun, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

The past few decades have seen a dynamic change in the translator's profession combined with a growing need to define it both in terms of a service and a profession. With more and more companies going global, the challenges that translators have always faced seem to be bigger: there is a constant demand for highly-trained and reliable professionals. Therefore, the training provisions for translators and interpreters must be carefully considered. As the demand for translation services increases, the need arises to educate new generations of translators, and help them to become market-desired professionals. The number of universities offering translation courses has increased dramatically, yet the situation on the translation market is dynamically changing as well. This paper tries to find an answer to the question how to train our students – as the new generation of translators – to make them capable of facing these new challenges.

Keywords: translator training, translation competence, adult learning, professional translators

©inTRAlinea & Ewa Kościałkowska-Okońska (2019).
"Translation as a profession: training the new generation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2426

“Without a new generation of trained linguists and  professionals with language skills, international  organisations will be unable to perform their vital tasks” (the Paris Declaration, June 2010). This statement that was published under the UN banner and released by the International Annual  Meeting on Language Arrangements, Documentation and Publications (IAMLADP) emphasises an urgent need for educating and training competent translators and  interpreters.

1. Translator’s status

The first question that students have to ask themselves pertains to the role they want to perform in their own eyes and in the community. In other words: what is the translator’s status? The profession of the translator, their status as well as translators considered as a social and professional group are discussed in the field literature. Yet, those references seem to be formulated on a rather pessimistic note: translation has been referred to as a peripheral, low-status, unskilled and poorly paid occupation (see Dam and Zethsen 2008), and translators are viewed as isolated, invisible, unappreciated and powerless. This study was performed on the group of Danish translators, but certain trends tend to be more universal. For instance, Pym et al. (2012: 88) estimates that translators work part-time as translators (in addition to other professions they perform) at the level of about 60%, and any variations are related to the market sector analysed or types of questions asked. The percentage rate of freelancers ranges from 50% to 89%, depending on the country and the sector (Pym et al. 2012: 89); the proportion of translators who are women generally seems to be about 70% or above, again with variations depending on the sector (Pym et al. 2012: 85).

Dam and Zethsen in another research (2014) analysed a group of translators, mostly working on business texts. Translators perceive their status as relatively low: they regard themselves experts to a large extent, yet they do not feel appreciated as ones. The self-image of translators as experts and professionals differs from what they view as the recognition of their clients and the society in general in terms of their expertise and values attributed to it. In other words, they feel that their professional status is relatively low. Yet, translators investigated in the research take pride in the challenges that translation poses, a vast list of competences and skills they need to perform the job, their extensive education and training and their experience. Moreover, as Dam and Zethsen conclude, ““business translators seem to have a habitus of proud, but unappreciated and unrecognised, experts” (Dam and Zethsen 2014: 274).

It must be, however, stated that empirical research on the status of the translator is not extensive yet inspirational. It covers: perceptions of the translators status (e.g. Dam and Zethsen 2008, 2011, 2014; Katan 2009), parameters that affect the perceptions of translators’ recognition (e.g. Dam and Zethsen 2009) and examples of strategies that may enhance the status (e.g. Sela-Sheffy 2010). The concept of status occurs in the translation research in three perspectives (Wadensjö 2011; Ruokonen 2013: 328): the first one is the perspective of professionalisation (see also Katan 2009), i.e., whether the translator’s profession has the status of a recognised profession. The second perspective is occupational prestige and, finally, the third perspective concerns the position of a professional in a given situation. The parameters to empirically measure the status in the research, first presented in the output of  Dam and Zethsen (2008, 2009, 2011), include income, expertise, visibility and power. These parameters shall not be discussed here due to limitations of this paper, yet they seem to be universally significant for the overall perception of the profession, and to the way translators perceive themselves and develop their self-concept.

2. Professional translator and their self-concepts

The translator’s self-concept is one of vital aspects in cognitive models of translation competence.  For instance, Göpferich (2008) claims that translators’ self-concepts affect their translation performance due to the fact that self-concept as such is one of the components of her model of translation competence and she  sees it as being closely related to the translator’s education and training, social role of the translator and the social responsibility that is imposed on him/her (Göpferich 2008: 155). The model of psycholinguistic translation process of Kiraly (1995) assumes the central position to be occupied by self-concept as it covers a sense of the translation purpose, self-evaluation of the individual translator’s capability to fulfill a certain task, the awareness of information-related requirements of a given translation task and the capacity to monitor and assess products of the translation process with a view to their adequacy and appropriateness (Kiraly 1995: 100).

Muñoz Martín (2014: 28), however, claims that self-concept is not a fixed image of oneself, but it is rather a dynamic image that is determined by a given task the translator is to fulfill, i.e. “[w]e understand and handle situations and face difficulties in ways coherent with our current activated self-concept and avoid courses of action that are not consistent with it” (2014: 31). Thus one may see a shared property between self-concept and translation competence in the context of the PACTE group research manifested as strategic sub-competence; this type of competence is in the centre stage of the PACTE’s competence model (PACTE 2003; the model is discussed further in the paper).

On the other hand, in the view of Ehrensberger-Dow and Massey (2013: 106) translator self-concept is “the awareness of the multiple responsibilities and loyalties imposed by both the act and the event of translation”. In their study they analysed trained translation professionals and translation students (at various stages of  training); the former had presumably higher, and the latter presumably lower translation competence. The comparison of self-concepts of the study subjects was based on the notion of self-concept developed by Kiraly and intended to be a continuum “extending from the simple retrieval of spontaneous associations at the word level to a complex, multistage, problem-solving process in which extra-linguistic factors are taken into consideration” (Kiraly 1997: 152). The results of the study by Ehrensberger-Dow and Massey (2013: 113-119) demonstrate that in the case of professionals attention and responsibilities are spread along the entire continuum and focus on textual and pragmatic issues, whereas translation students’ attention and responsibilities have a tendency to focus on issues related with a lower level of translation competence such as e.g., word-for-word transfer. The suggestion propounded is that the level of translation competence may be related to the level of the translators’ self-concept development.

The translation profession exists yet it has not reached a full professional status in the sense of not always being performed in professional settings. Moreover, translation as such is undergoing a dynamic and concurrently important restructuring process due to the emergence and application of new technological tools that might change the profession to the extent we are not currently aware of. One question that needs to be answered is whether translator training is an indispensable element of being a professional translator. To add a voice to this discussion, Dam and Zethsen (2016) claim that translator training combined with the staff status and at least five years of experience are factors identifying the real and core members of the translation profession. For Bundgaard et al. (2016) the authorisation of the state (on the basis of training) symbolises professionalisation. In general, the role of the translator training in the professionalisation context is slightly fuzzy, probably due to the fact that a range of translation and translator training courses is so extensive and concerns various sectors. What is interesting, Pym, Orrego-Carmona and Torres-Simon (2016) observe that professional experience is more appreciated and recognised – market-wise – than (formal) academic qualifications. They also emphasise that translator trainers are a key component in the translator training process. With a view to the key issue of this paper, namely the emerging generation of translators, it must be noticed that the research has been focusing rather on professionals (and their status perception, see Dam and Zethsen 2011) rather than on translation students (however, cf. Sela-Sheffy 2008 and Katan 2009). But students are assumingly future professionals; their views, perceptions and opinions will be a contributive factor towards establishing  the concept and meaning of translation as a profession in our times and in the globalised world we live.

3. Training

Translation training has been extensively covered in the Translation Studies literature; new approaches, paradigms, models, views and perspectives were widely demonstrated by scholars. Therefore, the aim of this section of the paper shall not be recapitulating all the above because this has been done during the last decades. The focus shall be placed on one element that relatively frequently is not discussed, or discussed only fleetingly, namely, on adult learning. Our students are adults, and for that reason their learning process is determined by factors inherent to adult learning; these factors shall be presented below.

Adult learning conceptually is derived from the works of Malcolm Knowles who also promoted and propagated the term “andragogy”, i.e., the science behind teaching adults. The key postulate of andragogy is that adults learn differently than children and thus should be treated differently in the classroom. In his classical work, Knowles (1973) identified four core assumptions concerning adult learning and later (Knowles 1984) extended this list by another two. As an entirety, these assumptions can be specified as follows:

  1. Adults, before learning something, must first understand the significance of it
  2. Adults have their self-concepts and are not willing to accept any imposition of the will of other persons on them
  3. Adults need the recognition of their knowledge and experience
  4. Adults are more willing to learn when they are sure that learning will help them in coping with a real problem.
  5. Adults need to know whether and how learning can help them in their own lives.
  6. Adults recognise and react to external motivation (e.g. remuneration increase, potential promotion)

Another pivotal view on adult learning is more cognitively oriented and was developed by Dreyfus (2004) as the model of skill acquisition; this model consists of five levels that the individual is to go through during the learning process. The model was started by initial research as early as in the 1980s by H. Dreyfus and S. Dreyfus; their research was based on studies of chess players, car drivers, airplane pilots and, last but certainly not least, adult learners of a second language (Dreyfus and Dreyfus 1980). The underlying concept behind the model is the acquisition of new skills while gradual going through the continuum of progression. However, their findings were not published, probably due to the fact that the research was supported by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and confidentiality issues could play  a role here.

Yet, it was Stuart Dreyfus who decided to work again on the model and published the research results in 2004. The five aforementioned levels of skills acquisition are then novice, advanced beginner, competent, proficient and expert.

Novices have a tendency to think in analytical terms and to decompose a given task into its core elements; these elements are taken out of their context. It is relatively difficult for novices to establish priorities, they are not personally involved in the task and make their decisions consciously, not intuitively, thus do not rely on their experience and knowledge. As they learn, as they experience and observe new situations and new rules, they progress into the advanced beginner stage. In this stage they are able to see similarities between present and past situations and occurrences, and thus they are building a capacity to make associations between facts, situations and rules with the contexts. After progressing to the competent stage, the individual is capable of recognising the relative importance of elements related to situational contexts as well as those devoid of context, and is able to use the optimal ones to solve emerging problems. At this stage learners manifest a certain degree of creativity and ability to improvise, or, in the words of Dreyfus, emotional investment as “only at the level of competence is there an emotional investment in the choice of the perspective leading to an action” (Dreyfus 2004: /179) which results in problem solving. The last two stages of the model are the proficient and expert stages. In the proficient stage the learner finds similarities with previous  experiences and shows unproblematic and effortless understanding. What is more, the degree of risk taking increases together with personal commitment to the outcome. The key features of the expert stage are decisions taken and solutions arrived at unconsciously. The individual acknowledges a given situation, recognises the existence of a problem and effectively takes subconscious decisions in order to develop the most required, or the optimal, outcome for the situations.

This model demonstrates that reaching the expert stage entails gradual going through subsequent stages of the process of  skill acquisition, accumulating experience and, as Dreyfus mentioned, emotional investment. What should be stressed, too, is the fact that contemporary teaching strategies for professions based on skills have a tendency to be oriented towards experiential and situated learning. These methods have been successfully applied in translator and interpreting programmes and their objective is to enable students to compensate the gap between theory and practice, between classroom instruction-based teaching and practical application of knowledge and skills accumulated in real-life contexts and situations, thus preparing students to effectively face the challenges of the profession and the professional world. This modern world relies on modern technologies, thus information and communication technologies (ICT) should be integrated in the training process. Kiraly (2000), for instance, suggests using computer-based classroom in his constructivist approach to make students more familiar with modern technologies used by translators on a daily basis, and these technologies certainly can be utilised to support the learning process of students.  Gibbs (1988) and Kolb (2005) emphasised the significance of experience in the learning as the learners, especially adult ones, learn by doing. Yet, for this learning to be effective it must occur in context; as McLellan (1994) writes this context – and related activities – should be authentic, should be based on real-life situations (also Kościałkowska-Okońska 2017). As Kolb (2005) said, experience is essential in the learning process as learners learn by doing, by accruing experience. Yet, this learning must be contextually-based to be valid and, even more importantly, experience is not always a predictor of high quality performance (see Ericsson 2006).

The research on translation teaching has been oriented towards professionalisation of teaching manifested through exposing students to translation challenges as they may be encountered in real life; this approach was emphasised by such scholars as e.g. Gouadec (2007), Kiraly (2000) or Vienne (2000) in their support for project-based learning or situated learning and teaching.

Profesionalisation of teaching requires the change of perspective as to the translator education and shifting the focus of considerations onto the concept that belongs to key ones in translation in general, i.e., translation competence. For our present considerations whose focus is particularly on translation teaching, three models of translation competence – out of an entire repertoire of competence models -  shall be of interest. These are models developed by the PACTE, TransComp and EMT research groups as results of their research tend to be highly applicable to translation teaching.

4. Translation competence models

The PACTE research group (that was established in the 1990s) has ever since been working on potential ways of integrating research results in studies on the development of competence (see PACTE 2000, 2003, 2009). The researchers considered such studies as indispensable since any holistic research into translation competence components was practically scarce (PACTE 2009). Initially, the operation of translation competence was investigated by such scholars as Bell (1991), Pym (1992), Kiraly (1995), Hansen (1997), and later by Risku (1998), Neubert (2000), Shreve (2006), Alves and Gonçalves (2007). Their findings rather focus on the componential character of translation competence; only a limited amount of research is devoted to attempts as empirical validation of results (e.g. Alves and Gonçalves 2007, etc.). The PACTE group came to the fore with a number of components that are regarded as “the underlying knowledge system needed to translate” (PACTE 2005: 610). Thus, the PACTE’s translation competence model embraces five interrelated subcompetences and psycho-physiological components that shall be briefly described below.

The bilingual sub-competence covers textual,  lexical-grammatical, pragmatic and socio-linguistic knowledge in each language. The extra-linguistic sub-competence denotes encyclopaedic, bicultural and thematic knowledge. The translation knowledge sub-competence is the knowledge of translation principles (including procedures, methods and the rules vital for professional practice). The instrumental sub-competence covers knowledge related to using documentation resources as well as communication and information technologies that are applied to translation (e.g., dictionaries, parallel texts, online and electronic corpora, etc.). The strategic sub-competence is the most essential one: it safeguards the efficiency of the translation process. It  is aimed to secure planning and performing the translation task, evaluating the translation process in its entirety and in parts. It also triggers other subcompetences and compensates for potential deficits. Its another essential function is to identify translation problems and apply specific procedures to solve these problems.  

The psycho-physiological components refer to cognitive, attitudinal  components and psychomotor mechanisms which include “(1) cognitive components such as memory, perception, and attention and emotion; (2) attitudinal aspects such as intellectual curiosity, perseverance, rigor, critical spirit, knowledge of and confidence in one’s own abilities, the ability to measure one’s own abilities, motivation, etc.; (3) abilities such as creativity, logical reasoning, analysis and synthesis, etc. (PACTE 2003: 93).

The second important model – the TransComp model – was developed by Göpferich (2009) as a result of a TransComp longitudinal study. Göpferich in this model (2009: 21–23) divides competence into six sub-categories: domain competence, communicative competence (in at least two languages), tools and research competence, psychomotor competence, translation routine activation competence, and strategic competence.

Domain competence resembles in a way PACTE’s extralinguistic subcompetence as it covers general and domain-specific knowledge; this knowledge, combined with the extralinguistic knowledge, is essential to understand the source text and produce the target text or, Göpferich’s words “at least the sensitivity to recognise what additional knowledge is needed from external sources of information to fill one’s knowledge gaps” (Göpferich 2009: 21-22). Communicative competence is similar to the bilingual subcompetence of the PACTE group since it covers lexical, grammatical and pragmatic knowledge, the knowledge of genres and conventions specific for a given culture. The third category of tools and research competence corresponds to the PACTE group’s instrumental sub-competence (2009: 208); it is the ability to use translation-specific tools (both conventional and electronic) such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias (online or printed), databases or term banks, parallel texts, search engines and corpora, as well as machine translation systems. Psychomotor competence denotes abilities necessary for reading and writing with electronic tools. The more developed these competences are, the less cognitive capacity is needed, and thus more cognitive efforts are invested in other cognitive tasks. Then, translation routine activation competence integrates the knowledge and abilities to recall and use certain standard shifts that result in acceptable equivalents in the target language. And, finally, strategic competence in a certain way resembles strategic competence of the PACTE group and coordinates the operation of other subcompetences. Because it is a meta-cognitive competence, it “sets priorities and defines hierarchies between the individual sub-competences, leads to the development of a macro-strategy in the sense of Hönig (1995), and ideally subjects all decisions to this macro-strategy” (Göpferich 2009: 22).  This model views, and this is of relevance to the teaching and training process, the development of translation competence as a continuous progress. In the translation process the most important sub-categories are strategic competence, tools and research competence, and translation routine activation competence, and they allow to distinguish translation competence from the bilingual person’s competence without any dedicated translation training.

The multicomponential models of translation competence attempt at specifications and systematisation of those activities that are performed and subsequently analysed. What is worth stressing is the fact that in a plethora of discussions on translation competence and its gradual teaching-and-training-related development, references are made also to the description and specification of profiles of (prospective) professionals in degree programmes, importance of learning outcomes to fulfill certain degree requirements and integration of syllabi and curricula-related aspects (cf. Hurtado Albir 2007: 166). This particular coordinating approach is aptly manifested in the European Master’s in Translation (EMT; a joint project of the European Commission, Directorate General for Translation and European universities that are accepted and approved to become partners in the programme) reference framework, whose aim is to outline quality requirements for a given professional profile. This setting of requirements aims at avoiding a situation when a part of translation training programmes “may exist in name only, owing to a lack of analysis of requirements, a lack of understanding of the demands of the profession, and a lack of qualified teachers” (EMT Expert Group 2009: 1). A rationale to be followed is that competences that are the result of theoretical models and are theoretical constructs (this issue also refers to curricula that heavily rely on those theoretical models) and then are applied in a university environment should correspond to requirements as observed and experienced on the professional translation market.

Under this specific conceptual and organisational framework competence is defined as “the combination of aptitudes, knowledge, behaviour and know-how necessary to carry out a given task under given conditions”. The EMT model distinguishes six interdependent competences (EMT 2009:4-7):

Figure 1. EMT model of translation competence

(1) Translation service provision competence is sub-divided into interpersonal and production dimensions. The interpersonal dimension covers the awareness of the social role of the translator, knowledge of market requirements and specific job profiles, marketing, negotiations with clients (and specifying e.g. working conditions, contracts, tender specifications, deadlines or rates), specifying objectives and requirements of clients and other parties. It also addresses time and stress management, workload management and training, working under pressure as well as the ability of self-evaluation; these factors are combined with the knowledge of applicable standards, principles of professional ethics, and the ability to cooperate in teams and with experts. The production dimension denotes being knowledgeable about satisfying clients’ requirements and objectives,  ability to specify strategies for translating documents, to find and solve translation problems, to revise translations as well as to monitor and implement applicable quality standards.

(2) Language competence embraces the knowledge of grammar, lexis and semantics, the knowledge of graphic and typographic conventions of language A and (an)other working language(s), as well as the knowledge of using them in both languages. 

(3) Intercultural competence refers to sociolinguistic and textual dimensions. The sociolinguistic dimension is the knowledge of recognising functions and meanings in language variations (e.g., historical or social), of identifying interaction rules that are valid for a given community (e.g. non-verbal communication) and of generating a register (in translated texts) relevant to a specific situation or a document. The textual dimension embraces the knowledge of textual macrostructure, intertextuality, identification of culture-related items, genre and rhetorics, as well as the ability of post-editing.

(4) Information mining competence is the ability to search for and find relevant information, to use tools and search engines and to critically evaluate the reliability of resources.

(5) Thematic competence embraces the knowledge used to seek relevant information to understand issues connected with a given document (thus it resembles information mining competence in this respect). It also covers broadening one’s knowledge in specialist areas and mastering analytical skills.

(6) Technological competence is the knowledge “how to use effectively and rapidly and to integrate a range of software to assist in correction, translation, terminology, layout,  documentary research (for example text processing, spell and grammar check, the internet, translation memory, terminology database, voice recognition software” (EMT Expert Group 2009:7) further combined with the ability to develop and manage databases, and to produce various translation formats that could be used in various media.

The EMT competence model clearly stresses the professionalised ‘vision’ of the prospective translator: they must be knowledgeable about market mechanisms, translator’s status in the industry and IT tools. Being a translator denotes simply a wider range of skills than a decade ago. Certain components present in the EMT model are not considered in other models: they are practical skills manifested in the translation service provision competence and information mining competence. This model aims at improving the authentic quality of translator training so that prospective professionals – our students upon their graduation – could be easily integrated in the labour market. Therefore, the EMT model seems to be core model to be followed while designing and developing translation teaching programmes and curricula. What absolutely needs stressing is the fact that teaching and training skilled, competent and knowledgeable professionals would contribute to enhancing the status of the profession of the translator.

The ever-returning problem with models of translation competence – as it is also the case of the three aforementioned constructs – is that the more specific the model is intended to be seen, the higher the number of sub-competences, sub-components, sub-sub competences and sub-sub components, etc. it has to include. For example, the EMT model generates over forty sub-competencies out of six core interdependent and ahierarchical ones. The absolutely key and central role is played by translation service provision competence (which in itself closely corresponds to PACTE’s concept of strategic competence; see also Ramos 2011). Another aspect worth considering in the context of this article is the possibility of identifying features inherent to legal translation competence and its components that are required for this competence to develop and operate effectively. The EMT, PACTE and TransComp models allow to identify skills essential for any type of translation (and specialist translation as well, as it is the main objective of translators’ activity in professional settings). The outcomes, findings and achievements of these teaching-oriented models could be effectively incorporated into methodological frameworks that rely on gradual competence development. Yet, as Klimkowski (2015) aptly writes, none of the above concepts provides teachers or curriculum designers with any potential tools to be used in planning or implementing effective programmes oriented towards helping student translators to develop as professionals. These outlines or suggestions can be treated as a starting point for the development of a plethora of educational solutions that would respond to the needs of a certain group concerned, be it students, teachers, universities or higher education institutions in general or, last but not least,  representatives of the local market. The main goal of translation teaching is educating future professionals who would either set up their own firms, work as freelancers or in-house translators. Therefore, the core of training relies on the education and preparation of future professionals to know the market and strategies indispensable for business survival. The continuum of translation competence, starting from education, preparation and then training is also related to strategies and techniques that are relevant to high quality performance, development, accrual of experience and  broadening of knowledge.

The translation training process then requires fulfilling certain goals. First of all, our students must be aware of specific stages and the very importance of the translation process; they have to develop effective translation strategies and be knowledgeable about translation theory to support their practice in translation operations with theoretical knowledge, not to mention their mastery in the knowledge of both source and target languages, the use of specialist terminology and information mining skills. We as teachers and trainers have to affect our students and change their attitudes from more passive, knowledge-absorbing participants in the teaching process to more proactive learners who are motivated, willing to learn and acutely aware of their responsibility for the text produced and for intercultural communication they enable.

4. Concluding remarks

What needs to be stressed is an obvious fact that the profession of the translator (and interpreter, too) is in a constant state of flux and dynamic change, just as any other (specialist) profession in the contemporary world facing challenges of modern times. These times impose certain requirements on translators: they are to perform not only translation activities in the conventional sense but also other related ones that could be subsumed under the general heading of  (translation) service provision. For instance, the translator of medical texts (see Kościałkowska-Okońska 2017) translates texts both for internal use and for publication, improves and adapts texts, translates and updates websites (medical and related content), translates software manuals, translates academic and research articles, corrects and edits translations, develops terminological databases, plans and manages translation projects and, finally, translates in hospitals and other healthcare institutions (providing community interpreting services). The issue of skills required from prospective translators is also addressed by Pym (2010: 123-126) when he discusses the use of localisation in translation and the fact that texts are localised being determined by local cultures, linguistic determinants or expectations of users. Thus the volume and range of potential skills to be acquired substantially exceeds the assumed objectives of a translation course that would conventionally be focused on linguistic and extra-linguistic issues (these extra-linguistic issues refer to cultural aspects). This shift in the range of potential responsibilities requires, not only from the student but also from the teacher, a change of perspective from implementing course contents and learning outcomes, from sheer compliance with binding credit regulations to a more entrepreneurial orientation towards developing new skills that would be of avail in business contexts and in professional careers of students after they graduate. It also covers the incorporation in study programmes of cooperation with (not only translation) industry that would make students consider and realise the needs of local markets combined with general global observable trends as well as labour market requirements. The above would also entail the development of a new attitude on the part of students who should manifest more proactive approaches not only towards their classroom tasks but also towards a new philosophy of learning that would require from them a lot more effort and involvement in their personal development as learners, as students and as the next generation of translators. Being proactive means in this case being ready to face problems and control them by finding adequate solutions, to plan and develop strategies in performing translations, to be open to cooperation, decisive and willing to work on a given problem or task and, what is important, to be able to justify and stand behind one’s decisions. Involving students in real-life translation commissions or projects carried out in collaboration with translation agencies, enterprises operating on the (local) market as well as encouraging them to apply for and participate in internships in various branches of industry where they could offer their linguistic skills and to benefit from real-market challenges would certainly be an added value.


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About the author(s)

PhD, a graduate of English Studies at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, head of the Department of Translation Studies at the Department of English (Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń). A graduate of postgraduate studies at the School of Translators, Interpreting and Foreign Languages (Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań), of postgraduate studies in English law, and a business coach. Authored many publications in translation studies. Active sworn court translator and simultaneous interpreter since 1998.

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©inTRAlinea & Ewa Kościałkowska-Okońska (2019).
"Translation as a profession: training the new generation"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2426

Does Teaching Theory Enhance Students’ Translation Competence?

Viewpoints, Expectations, Findings

By Daniela Di Mango (Universität Passau, Germany)

Abstract & Keywords

The role of translation theory and its contribution to professional practice and training is a never-ending debate and a ‘gap’ between practice and theory is frequently claimed to exist. Different viewpoints concerning the role of theory in general have been put forward and with it come different expectations concerning the impact that translation theory can or should have. One major point relates to the different expectations concerning the question whether teaching theoretical subjects to students of translation enhances their translation competence (acquisition), and in which ways it does so. We will review some of the viewpoints of why a ‘gap’ is perceived to exist as well as the expectations that are placed on the explicit teaching of theory to students of translation. Despite the huge amount of publications on theory and practice, empirical research on the topic is still scarce and the few existing studies cannot really answer the question whether explicit teaching of theory can contribute better to the development of translation competence than practical classes alone.

Keywords: translator training, acquisition of translation competence, translation theory, translation practice

©inTRAlinea & Daniela Di Mango (2019).
"Does Teaching Theory Enhance Students’ Translation Competence? Viewpoints, Expectations, Findings"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2425

1. Introduction

 […] to translate without a theory is to translate blind.
Andrew Chesterman (1997: 3)

‘Translation theory? Spare us…’ […] There can be few professions
with such a yawning gap between theory and practice.

Emma Wagner (Chesterman and Wagner 2002: 1)

The debate on the relation between theory and practice, both in professional life as well as in translator training, truly seems to be a never-ending story, filling the literature in translation studies (TS) on a regular basis (Levý 1965; Schumm 1975; Juhel 1985; Berglund 1990; Wilss 1995; Shuttleworth 2001; Kearns 2008 and Leal 2014 are just a small selection). Very different beliefs seem to be held by practitioners on the one hand and scholars on the other, as can be seen from the almost prototypical quotes cited above. Anecdotal evidence has it that practitioners regard theory as useless and occasional statements from professionals such as Wagner’s seem to confirm this impression. The gap between theory and practice is, however, also lamented from within translation studies. Thus, Vinay (1991: 160) has the somewhat pessimistic impression that ‘we are dealing with two worlds, which […] will never meet’. We will thus try to answer the question of where this pessimistic view might come from, before turning to the question of how translation theory can have an impact on the profession and on the individual translator. We will mainly focus on the question as to whether and how translation theory can influence the development of translation competence. To this end, we will review some of the suggestions that have been put forward in the literature concerning both the general role of translation theory and the ways in which teaching theory is supposed to contribute to translation competence acquisition, before reviewing the existing empirical evidence for these claims.

2. Searching for the famous ‘gap’ – the role of theory

Theory is about the 1000 'problems'/topics which translators come across ('capitalise or not?' 'reduce this metaphor to sense or not?' etc.). Its main job is to recommend the most suitable procedure after laying out the choices. (Newmark 2002: 95 quoted from Schäffner 2005: 239)

This description of the role of translation theory comes from Newmark, but he is by no means the only scholar to suggest that theory needs to be useful to the practitioner. Similarly, Vinay (1991: 157) opens an article with the words: ‘To begin with, I think that the chief, if not exclusive, aim of translation theory, should be to help translators in their work.’ These statements are pretty much in line with the views of many practitioners that a theory of translation is only valid if it is directly applicable to practice (for example Berglund 1990). However, there are also those who claim that helping the translator is certainly not the only or even the main aim of translation theory (for example Larose 1985: 406; Komissarov 1985: 208). Lefevere (1983: 18 quoted in Delisle 2005: 107) illustrates this viewpoint by comparing translation studies to linguistics:

it is the task of theoretical linguistics to describe how languages work, not to formulate rules for good usage. In the same way, translation theory should describe how translation works, not try to formulate the rules leading to the production of good translations.

Clearly, these quotations represent the extremes of a continuum, with most scholars’ views ranging somewhere in between. These extremes, however, serve our purpose well to illustrate the divergent viewpoints on whether the aim of theory should be to ‘help’ practical translation at all.[1] There are thus two opposing viewpoints regarding the expectations on theory. The first is practice-oriented; it suggests an applicability of theory to practice with ‘the former attempt[ing] to describe, regulate and govern over the latter’ (Leal 2014: 59). The second sees theory as a means for gaining knowledge about translation in general. Leal describes the first viewpoint as a ‘marriage’ that ends up in ‘divorce’, however, if theory does not fulfill the expectations that have been placed in it (2014: 18). She thus draws our attention to the fact that the deception of (unjustified?) expectations is probably the reason why so many claim that a ‘gap’ exists between the theory and the practice of translation in the first place.

Mossop (2005) adopts a different viewpoint to explain the ‘gap’ that does not distinguish between the views of people, but rather between different ‘theories’. He points out that the term ‘theory’ is used in very different ways and, therefore, distinguishes between what he calls Theory1 and Theory2. He describes Theory1 as being concerned with describing and explaining all phenomena related to translation and points out that ‘the understanding sought by theory sense 1 is an end in itself’ (2005: 28) and thus does not aim at being useful for either the practice or the teaching of translation. Unsurprisingly, it is exactly this kind of theory that has been criticized as being detached from the real-world of professional translators. This aversion to Theory1, he points out (2005: 25), hinders progress in understanding the phenomenon of translation – an understanding which could ultimately ‘turn out to be useful, even if utility is not its purpose’ (2005: 27). Contrary to some (Katan 2009: 150; Sun 2014: 183), he does not plead for narrowing the gap, but rather for acknowledging that this kind of theory has a claim to existence in its own right (see also Wadensjö 2011: 18–9, for example). Mossop (2005: 23) distinguishes this Theory1 from Theory2, which in his view is ‘a summary of the practice of experienced translators’. It is this kind of theory, he believes, that can directly help practice because teachers can pass it on to students and thus speed up the learning process. Theory2 would thus correspond to all the mental schemas that a translator builds up by translating as well as to the regularities he or she deduces from practice, and these might be acquired more quickly through conscious awareness-raising than through practice alone. Mossop (2005: 24) believes that this form of theorizing can, in turn, ‘lead to self-criticism, and self-criticism opens the door to improvement’. Mossop’s distinction between different kinds of theory leads to another explanation of why a gap is perceived to exist. There seems to be a certain denial among some practitioners, students and even scholars that, just as in other disciplines, there is not only an ‘applied’ branch of TS, but also a ‘pure’ branch – a distinction that was already made in Holmes’ (1972/1988) seminal outline of the field of translation studies. The ‘pure’ branch, which includes both theoretical and descriptive translation studies, is interested in furthering the knowledge and understanding of translation in general by doing basic research, regardless of its usefulness for translation practice. Thus, in his seminal work Descriptive translation studies and beyond, Toury (1995) takes a different view, suggesting that translation theory has been subservient to practice for too long. He (1995: 2) points out that with practical applicability having been taken as the ‘very raison d’être’ of a theory of translation, theory formation had been constrained for a long time and the ‘overriding orientation towards practical applications’ since the sixties necessarily resulted in a prescriptive approach in translation studies, instead of a descriptive and explanatory one. It should be noted that in the case of descriptive studies, there is per se a strong relation between theory and practice, since it is practice that informs research through the translation products or processes that are studied. And, as Toury (1995: 15) suggests, the results of such ‘descriptive-explanatory studies’ should, in turn, contribute to theory formation in that they can either verify or falsify existing hypotheses and/or theories and lead to new ones. In the end, even if both descriptive and theoretical research might not aim at practical applicability, the understanding gained through such research might turn out to be useful in practice (van Doorslaer 2013: 79).

From the above it results that the role of translation theory is far from clear, with opinions diverging as to whether or not it should aim at practical utility. A different, although related matter, is whether theory in the form in which it exists and is taught today has an impact on practice.

3. The suggested impact of translation theory

Scholars have made various claims about the way in which theory can have an impact. These claims can be subsumed under three different headings, ranging from a macro- to a micro-level, that is from (1) the impact on society and the status of the translation profession within that society to (2) the impact on translation teaching to (3) the effect of explicit learning of theory on the translation competence of the individual student (Gile 2010; van Doorslaer 2013). While it is generally acknowledged (Pym 2005: 4–5; Gile 2010: 257–9; van Doorslaer 2013: 80) that translation theory has had a considerable impact on how the profession is seen in society at large, especially by according it an academic status, it has also had a major impact on how translation is taught (Gile 2010: 255–7; van Doorslaer 2013: 81–2). If translation theory has an impact on translation teaching, this is certainly not only due to the explicit teaching of theory, but also because it influences training methods in general. Thus, the influence of translation theory exceeds its explicit inclusion in curricula and has also had subtler effects on translator training. There is some agreement that, at university level at least, all teaching should have a theoretical basis (Bastin and Betancourt 2005: 213; Delisle 2005: 108). As a result, theoretical knowledge is considered to be essential for those who teach translation. By giving the lecturer a broader view of the phenomenon of translation and a deeper understanding of the underlying cognitive processes, Moser-Mercer (1996: 201 quoted in Lederer 2007: 32) for example, believes that theory guarantees a more reflective and less prescriptive approach in the translation classroom. Bastin and Betancourt (2005: 213) suggest that the teachers’ theoretical knowledge avoids the often criticized random selection of translation tasks and helps train more open-minded and flexible translators. While these and other effects of translation theory have been claimed to exist, their impact has so far not been proven empirically. This lack of empirical research extends to the impact that explicit teaching of theory can have on the acquisition of translation competence by individual students, as Gile (2010: 255) rightly points out:

‘TS lacks a solid empirical research basis to show that training methods based on certain Translation theories are more efficient than methods based on other theories, or even that certain training methods are more efficient than others regardless of the existence of underlying theories.’ (Gile 2010: 255)

Nevertheless, claims that teaching theory benefits students are abundant in the literature. The suggested effects of teaching theory can be categorized into four main groups (Di Mango 2018: 106–11): (1) raising awareness and inducing critical thinking, (2) providing a meta-language to discuss and justify translations, (3) influencing the translation process and thus enhancing the quality of the resulting translations, and (4) speeding up translation competence acquisition.

3.1. Raising awareness and inducing critical thinking

It is sometimes suggested that theoretical reflection raises the students’ awareness about different aspects of translation and about the translation process, that it induces critical thinking and provides a general education (Chesterman 1998: 6; Shuttleworth 2001: 505; Mossop 2004: 375). Bernardini (2004), for example, believes that the most important part of a translation curriculum is ‘education’, which she opposes to practice-oriented ‘training’. She insists that the belief that ‘training’ alone would be enough to produce professional translators without affecting the quality of the translators’ work is ill founded (2004: 22). She argues that a reductionist view of translation underlies this assumption and suggests, on the contrary, that ‘translators can do without training but not without education’ (2004: 27). The main aim of theoretical courses would thus be to make students better translators – not by applying theoretical guidelines directly but rather by ‘disturb[ing] their ideas about translation and mak[ing] them think about what translators do’, as Mossop (1994: 401) puts it. Theoretical courses should thus not merely confirm practice but rather question it, induce some doubt and reflection about the nature of translation and about what it can actually achieve. Mossop (1994: 408), for example, believes that theoretically trained translators are aware that translation can never be a neutral, objective ‘technique for “getting messages across”’ and will therefore not contribute to promoting this received idea about translation. He also places a certain importance on theoretical courses, especially courses on translation history, for making students understand the role of the translator through time and helping them to position themselves within today’s society. He believes this kind of knowledge will help to ‘make the difference between a thinking translator and a mere word engineer’ (2003: 21). All in all, Mossop argues quite openly against the kind of translator training that resembles the real world of professional translators and in favor of producing educated, ‘thinking’ translators who have the general abilities that allow them to learn all the skills they may require in their actual job by themselves. Awareness-raising and the resulting self-criticism are thus the means by which Mossop believes that improvement in translation skills can ultimately be achieved (Mossop 2005: 24).

Both Mossop and Bernardini illustrate the claim that the focus of a translation curriculum should not be on practice and therefore implicitly reaffirm the well-known quotation by Hönig (2011): ‘Übersetzen lernt man nicht durch Übersetzen’ (You do not learn how to translate by translating). Other scholars make similar claims. Some believe, for instance, that it is important for students to be aware of how the translation process works and what translators actually do (Larose 1985: 406; Chesterman 1998: 6; Adab 2000: 220), while others highlight the idea that translation theories can benefit students in developing a more flexible conception of translation. Drawing on Toury (1995: 15), Boase-Beier (2010: 27) points out that ‘theories are partial, descriptive, and represent different ways of seeing’ which, in turn, ‘should enable us to free ourselves from naïve conceptions of what translation is’. She further argues that, while theories are not there to prescribe practice, a more flexible conception of translation will influence practice nevertheless. One aspect of this flexibility is certainly the awareness that there are different types of translation, as has been pointed out by Kvam (1996: 123), for example. To highlight the role of translation theory as a conceptual tool, Delisle (2005: 116–7) uses the metaphor of a road map which ‘does not tell you where to go but shows you the different possibilities you have’. Similarly, it has been frequently pointed out that rather than merely imparting knowledge, theoretical reflection enhances analytical skills and allows students to reflect on their own practice (Shuttleworth 2001: 505; Schäffner 2005: 244–5; Kearns 2008: 208–9). Besides this awareness-raising impact of theory, it is also claimed that theoretical training enables students to develop more self-confidence (Snel Trampus 2002: 38; Calzada Pérez 2005: 6; Leppihalme 2008: 62). Last but not least, theories are believed to have an impact by giving students an idea of the translator’s role and of translation ethics (Chesterman 1998: 6; Aubin 2003: 444; Mossop 2003: 21).

3.2. Providing a meta-language to discuss and justify translations

A second benefit of theoretical knowledge – and one that is repeatedly highlighted in the literature – is that it provides translators with a basis for discussing their solutions with critics and clients and more importantly still, for justifying those solutions if need be. Accordingly, it has been labeled a ‘necessary part of the translator’s defensive armor against attacks from the uncomprehending’ (Robinson 2003: 170), and scholars such as Adab (2000: 220), van Vaerenbergh (2005: 24) and Pym (2010: 4) mention the ability to defend one’s choices as being an advantage that theory brings to the individual. Closely related to this advantage is the coining of a meta-language that allows those with theoretical knowledge to talk about translation. This has been mentioned, for example, by Wagner, who has a rather critical view of translation theory in general (see above), as one of the few positive impacts she could find in the theories presented to her by Chesterman (Chesterman and Wagner 2002: 11). Bartrina (2005: 187) and Mossop (2004: 375) likewise point out that a common set of technical terms is the basis for any discussion or justification of translation choices. While the above-mentioned effects of theoretical instruction on the development of translation competence are rather indirect and influence a translator’s ability to theorize, his or her concept of translation and his or her self-confidence, a more direct influence on the translation process and the quality of the resulting translation has also been suggested.

3.3. Influencing the translation process and enhancing the quality of the resulting translations

One aspect that is frequently mentioned in this connection concerns the students’ ability to make informed decisions and solve translation problems. Thus, both Pezza Cintrão (2010: 168) and Chesterman (1998: 6; Chesterman and Wagner 2002: 7) believe that knowledge about theories provides translators with ‘mental schemas’ or ‘conceptual tools’ that help them to solve different kinds of translation problems and, according to Pezza Cintrão (2010: 168), to ‘find more appropriate solutions to the functional requirements of a translation task’. This view is shared, among others, by Reiß (1986: 3), Bartrina (2005: 178), and van Vaerenbergh (2005: 24). In a similar vein, some have suggested that theoretical knowledge contributes to translation competence by replacing intuition in translation with consciousness and thus altering the translation process in a way that leads to a more consistent translation quality (Viaggio 1994: 104; Delisle 2005: 112; Kussmaul 2009: 66). Kumpulainen (2016: 196) thus assumes that theoretical training contributes to improve students’ ‘interlingual text production skills’, especially their ability to monitor the emerging translation for any negative transfer from the ST. She attributes this effect to the awareness that ‘TT structure does not have to be identical to the ST structure’, which she believes makes students more courageous when it comes to deviate from the ST structure. Speaking of the influence of theories on the actual translation product, Bayer-Hohenwarter (2012: 310–1) seems convinced that it is a knowledge of functionalist theories that makes translators translate less literally. Similarly, Latyšev (2004: 641) suggests that theoretical knowledge is necessary in order to find acceptable solutions. Those who have not been theoretically trained, he claims, translate either too literally or too freely, adapt too much or not enough and provide formal equivalents instead of functional ones. There is thus a widespread belief among translation scholars that theoretical knowledge does, in fact, contribute to translation competence and that it has a positive influence on problem solving processes and, in the end, on the quality of the translation produced.

3.4. Speeding up translation competence acquisition

Apart from claims that theoretical reflection influences the level of translation competence that an individual attains, it is claimed by some that teaching translation theory speeds up the learning process and thus the acquisition of translation competence. Aubin (2003: 442), for example, praises translation studies for providing the necessary basis for effective translator training, because theoretical reflection, she believes, allows students to acquire translation competence without the trial and error learning that their (supposedly practically trained) teachers were put through. She thus firmly believes that theoretical reflection does, in fact, speed up the development of translation competence (2003: 444). Referring to his Theory2 (see above), that is to a ‘summary of the practice of experienced translators’, Mossop (2005: 23), too, assumes that the knowledge gained through experience can be passed on to learners and thus save them the time they would otherwise require to have that experience first-hand. In a similar vein, Cruces Colado (2005: 194) points out that practice alone is not sufficient for deducing the rules underlying the translation process – if students had to deduce these rules on their own by trial and error, their learning process would be slowed down considerably. She suggests that an integration of (didactic) models from translation studies and cognitive models of the learning process is needed in order to develop efficient methods for teaching translation.

In conclusion we can say that multiple claims about the benefits of teaching translation theory have been made over the past decades and positive results have been reported, not only by researchers/lecturers themselves but also by students. Thus, Whitfield (2003: 436) reports that graduates have contacted her and affirmed that theoretical concepts are useful for their everyday work. Similarly, Gile’s students (2010: 256) have the impression that theories have changed their concept of translation or even the way they translate, that they have felt reassured and turned to theories to make rational decisions. However, this feedback on the impact of translation theories is rather anecdotal. In the following section, we will review some of the existing empirical evidence on how teaching theory might affect translation competence development.

4. Empirical Evidence on the Impact of Teaching Theory

Research on the actual impact of theory on translation competence is rather scarce. As Pym (2011: 485) points out, there are a number of studies that confirm that a specific course, which might be more or less theoretical and has been specifically devised to enhance a skill X, does in fact enhance skill X. These studies, however, usually do not compare one teaching method to another, nor do they necessarily include explicit theory teaching which is why we will not consider them in this review.[2] The findings that permit conclusions on the impact of teaching theory on the development of a general translation competence come from two different kinds of studies. The first kind consists of studies that test the impact of one specific theoretical course. These studies are usually limited to a short-term intervention, often comprising one semester only, and the participants’ translation competence is tested both at the beginning and at the end of the semester. The data then permit conclusions on how the course has affected translation competence or specific aspects thereof (Bastin and Betancourt 2005; Pezza Cintrão 2010). The second kind consists of studies that were not designed to measure the impact of one specific course but to investigate translation competence (acquisition) in general. Due to their design, however, some of these studies allow for conclusions to be drawn about the impact that theoretical input might have (Orozco 2000; Göpferich 2011; Göpferich 2013; PACTE 2014; Castillo Rincón 2015).

Bastin and Betancourt (2005) focus explicitly on the impact of teaching theory on the development of translation competence. They study the gain of translation competence through one course that they describe as a theoretical course focusing on functional principles with the main aim of making students aware of their options in the translation process and reducing literal, automatic translation. Comparing their participants’ translations from before and after the course, Bastin and Betancourt found that the overall number of errors when translating the very same text had decreased by the end of the course. A closer look, however, revealed that this was not true for all kinds of errors. Distinguishing between linguistic errors (lexicon, grammar, …) and technical errors (omissions, inadequate explicitations or implicitations), Bastin and Betancourt found that linguistic errors had declined, but technical errors had increased dramatically. Furthermore, while many linguistic errors in the first translation concerned grammar or orthography, newly made errors in the second translation concerned style and logical connections. From this first wave, Bastin and Betancourt (2005: 216) conclude that the new language errors were due to a less literal, more ‘risky’ approach to translation that did not yet meet, however, the criteria the text should fulfill. In a second wave of data collection, the focus was placed on successful solutions, which were differentiated in terms of their level of (non-)literalness. While Bastin and Betancourt (2005: 220–1) found that the number of successful translations increased from the beginning to the end of the semester, the number of literal translations decreased only marginally (by six per cent), making literal translation the most frequently adopted strategy despite the fact that the theoretical course focused on creative translation. From this, Bastin and Betancourt conclude that one semester of theoretical input is not sufficient to make subjects translate in accordance with the requirements that the TT has to fulfil in a functional paradigm or that their course in particular was not able to transmit the theoretical concepts adequately. Despite some limitations of the study (for example the influence of other courses[3] taken during the semester, no clear separation between theory and practice, the possible learning effect due to using the same task twice), it points towards the conclusion that theoretical teaching alone does not seem to bring about the desired increase in translation competence, at least not in the short-term.

The only process-oriented study that focuses on the impact of the explicit teaching of theory on translation competence acquisition is, to the best of my knowledge, Pezza Cintrão’s (2010). For her study, Pezza Cintrão devised a course based on theoretical approaches, such as skopos theory and discursive concepts, with the general aim of increasing translation competence in line with functional principles and a specific focus on recognizing and solving translation problems. Her course was not exclusively theoretical, however, but included practical activities that she calls ‘prototypical tasks and cases’ to exemplify and supplement the theoretical input (2010: 171). She compared eight subjects who took the above-mentioned course in translation during one semester with a control group of students with comparable profiles who did not attend the translation course, but otherwise studied the same (philological) subjects as the first, experimental group. A third group consisted of ‘bilinguals’ (Spanish teachers without formal training in translation) and served to control the variable of language competence. The data reported by Pezza Cintrão (2010: 176) include a translation done by all three groups before the intervention and, for the student groups (experimental and control), two translation tasks after the intervention in the experimental group. Her analysis of process data concerned problem detection, measured by whether the subjects attempted to fulfill functional requirements in their translation, and the successful solution of problems. Analyzing the data collected before the intervention, she found that the bilinguals performed considerably better regarding both the detection and the solution of problems than the two groups of students. The student groups performed comparably to one another, as was to be expected. After the intervention, when translating the same text again, both student groups performed better than in the first wave – the increase, however, was more pronounced among the students with theoretical (and practical) training than in the group without any translation-specific training. When a previously unknown ST was translated at the end of the term, the difference between the two groups of student subjects became even more obvious. While the control group did not show any improvement in problem detection and only a slight increase in problem solution when compared to the beginning of the term, the experimental group showed a considerable improvement in both respects, although not to the same extent as for the ST that they already knew from the beginning of the term. From these findings, Pezza Cintrão (2010: 173) concludes that explicit theory teaching at the novice stage

contributes to a change in the students’ mental schemes about translation [which becomes] manifested in a significant improvement in the functional aspects of the strategic sub-competence, specifically in its nuclear tasks of detecting and resolving translation problems.

Nevertheless, she believes that explicit teaching is not a conditio sine qua non to achieve this. She comes to this conclusion because her non-translation trained bilinguals performed slightly better than the students even after the latter had taken the course. Pezza Cintrão (2010: 179) thus sees the main benefit of the explicit teaching of theory to be in improving translation competence more rapidly than would have been the case without it. It should be noted, however, that – although providing some interesting results – her study does not permit conclusions as to whether teaching theory generally contributes to better or faster acquisition of translation competence, but rather suggests that a course consisting of both theory and practice is better than no translation training at all.

Apart from the above-cited studies, which provide contradictory conclusions, there are also intriguing findings from studies that did not set out to investigate the impact of the teaching of theory at all. The first of these studies is Orozco’s, in which the main interest is in establishing reliable criteria for measuring translation competence acquisition in students (Orozco 2000; Orozco and Hurtado Albir 2002). Orozco devises a ‘measuring instrument’ which is based on students’ declarative knowledge, that is their notions of translation, as well as their translation problems and errors. To validate her measuring instrument, Orozco evaluated the translation competence of students at three different Spanish universities at the beginning and at the end of their first year, in order to see whether the instrument could measure the gradual change in translation competence over only one year of study (2002: 386). What makes her study relevant for the present overview is the fact that, of the three curricula included in the study, only one includes a course on ‘translation theory’ during this first year of study. Orozco’s measurement of ‘notions of translation’ shows that the theoretically trained subjects scored better in the questionnaire on declarative knowledge than those who were not taught theories explicitly. When correlating this measurement of declarative knowledge with both the subjects’ product and process data, no correlation could be found, however. This was equally true for the measurement at the beginning of the term and after eight months of training. Although Orozco herself does not draw any wider conclusions, Pezza Cintrão (2010: 171) takes these findings to indicate that theoretical teaching – at least at the novice stage – does not lead to better performance in practical translation tasks, a conclusion that can very well be drawn from Orozco’s findings (Di Mango 2018: 124).

More ‘unintentional’ evidence regarding the lack of any observable impact of the explicit teaching of theory on translation competence comes from the TransComp project (Göpferich 2012; 2013). This longitudinal project, which was devised to study the development of translation competence in students throughout their undergraduate program, allows for conclusions to be drawn about the impact of the teaching of theory due to a peculiar feature of the study program involved. In the curriculum in question, students of translation do not attend practical translation classes before their third year. During the first two years, they attend theory-oriented lectures and seminars as well as language courses. Göpferich’s results (2012) from a comparison of novices and fourth-semester students are relevant for our topic, because her findings give insights into the development of translation competence when subjects are taught theoretical subjects and language courses without additional translation practice. On the basis of a number of analyzed variables, Göpferich concludes that her data do not show any progress during the first four semesters of training regarding either the quality of translation, the number of problems encountered or the strategic behavior, that is awareness and solution of translation problems (2012: 260–1). Göpferich herself attributes this outcome to the curriculum in which no practical classes are included in the period under investigation and suggests that synergy effects should be created by interconnecting theoretical and practical courses. Expanding on her conclusion in a later publication (Göpferich 2013), she proposes that the stagnation in translation competence acquisition may be only apparent and hypothesizes that the students’ problem-awareness might have grown due to exposure to theory, whereas they might not have developed the competence to solve these problems due to a lack of practical experience (2013: 73).

Another major translation process research group, the PACTE group, analyzes students’ acquisition of translation competence through a simulated longitudinal study covering the four-year undergraduate study program at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. PACTE (2014; 2015) have published findings regarding two of their variables, the knowledge of translation and the translation project variable. These findings are of interest because they allow us to draw conclusions about the subjects’ development during their first year, in which they had one semester of practical translation courses but no (translation) theory at all (2014: 109). The ‘knowledge of translation’ variable, which has been designed to determine whether subjects have a dynamic, communicative concept of translation or a static, linguistic concept, shows a considerable difference between the declarative knowledge of novices and students at the beginning of their second year. While the novices’ concept is not very dynamic, PACTE observe a ‘leap’ within the first year of training to a level almost as high as that observed with professional translators (evaluated in PACTE 2008). From this observation, PACTE conclude that students ‘develop implicit theories about the dynamic nature of translation from their own experience in translation’ (2014: 109) – and it seems that they do so fairly early on in their training, without being actively directed towards such a view of translation through functional or communication-oriented theories. PACTE (2015) also investigate whether this correlates with the development of what subjects actually took into account during the translation process. The data on procedural knowledge confirm the leap from the first to the second year: both for the overall approach and for the translation problems taken together, the second year students show a significantly more dynamic approach than novices (2015: 44–6). Thus, there was a considerable development from less dynamic to more dynamic with regard to both the concept of translation and the subjects’ practical approach to translation after only one year of translation training. This development goes hand in hand with a considerable increase in target text quality during the first year (Castillo Rincón 2015: 79–80).

All in all, the scarce evidence seems to contradict the claims of a positive, measurable impact of translation theory on the acquisition of translation competence. In fact, most of the reviewed studies suggest that there might be little measurable impact of teaching translation theory on the development of translation competence or even none at all (Orozco 2000; Göpferich 2011), whereas progress in developing translation competence could be achieved with purely practical training alone (PACTE 2014, 2015; Castillo Rincón 2015). Evidently, it has to be assumed that this practical training, which was provided in a university-based translator training program, fulfilled the requirements of ‘deliberate practice’ (Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer 1993: 368),[4] that is the practical translation courses were probably structured in such a way as to improve competence, reduce weaknesses, and provide students with feedback to help them improve.

5. Conclusion

We have discussed different viewpoints that exist with regard to the role of translation theory – is theoretical reflection on translation an aim in itself, or should we expect it to be ‘subservient’ to practice, that is useful for the professional in that it is directly applicable? The fact that expectations in this regard differ might be the very reason why a ‘gap’ between theory and practice is frequently lamented within translation studies (Leal 2014: 18).

We have also reviewed claims about the positive impact that teaching (translation) theory has on the development of translation competence in a translator training setting. The concrete impact of theory on translation competence is subject to contrastive opinions, however. Some, such as Pym (2011: 480), seem not to believe that knowing about translation theories will enhance translation competence. Others (Chesterman 1998; Bernardini 2004; Bartrina 2005; van Vaerenbergh 2005; Boase-Beier 2010) suggest a number of benefits, ranging from an impact on general intellectual abilities, such as raising awareness and inducing critical thinking, to suggesting a direct impact on the translation process and product. Summing up the claims we have reviewed, theories are believed, for example, to

  • provide a meta-language to discuss translation
  • help in developing self-confidence and self-criticism
  • provide a meta-awareness about the translation process
  • help in forging a less rigid conception of translation and becoming aware of various translation options
  • help favor a communicative / functional approach and thus lead to more acceptable translations
  • help recognize and solve translation problems
  • help acquire translation competence faster than through practice alone

Most of these claims have been put forward on the basis of personal experience and anecdotal evidence, so that the question arises whether they would prove true in an empirical investigation. There are only a few studies that allow for tentative conclusions on this question. Thus, there is evidence that students with one year of practical training, but no additional translation theory, developed a considerably more dynamic approach to translation that was also reflected in an increased quality of the produced translations (PACTE 2014, 2015; Castillo Rincón 2015). There is also evidence that students who attended a specialized course on translation (theory) over the course of one semester developed a higher level of translation competence than students who did not attend any translation-specific course (Pezza Cintrão 2010). On the other hand, Bastin and Betancourt (2005) concluded that their theoretical course, which equally covered a semester, was either too short or generally not adequate to lead to a considerable better quality (as measured by creativity) in the produced translations. In a similar vein, Orozco (2000) could not find any impact of theoretical knowledge on her subjects’ translation processes or products. Last but not least, Göpferich (2012, 2013) reported that her students did not make any measurable progress with regard to their translation competence over four semesters of study in which, however, they did not attend any practical translation classes but mainly theoretical lectures and language courses. To summarize the above, most of these studies indicate that no direct impact of teaching translation theory is visible but since some positive effects have been reported (Pezza Cintrão 2010), conclusions are difficult to draw. In the end, the existing findings cannot really answer the question whether explicit teaching of theory can contribute better to the development of translation competence than practical classes alone.[5] Thus, more research is needed that focuses explicitly on the relation between the input that students receive during translation training and their success in developing translation competence.


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[1] For those interested in the opinions of a far wider range of scholars, Delisle (2005) and Leal (2014) offer an ample selection of quotations.

[2] Such courses may aim, for example, at training students to cope with cultural references [Scott-Tennent and González Davies (2008); González Davies and Scott-Tennent (2005)] or transmit a range of translation strategies for problem-solving [Scott-Tennent, González Davies and Rodríguez Torras (2000); González Davies, Scott-Tennent and Rodríguez Torras (2001); Pym and Torres-Simón (2015)]. Studies in which information on course content is missing are also exempted from this overview, for example Malkiel (2006).

[3] These courses, according to Bastin and Betancourt (2005: 216), seem to be mainly concerned with (good) writing in the mother tongue, making it questionable whether the decline of grammatical and orthographical errors observed in the study is due to the theoretical translation course alone.

[4] Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer (1993: 368) define deliberate practice as ‘a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance. Specific tasks are invented to overcome weaknesses, and performance is carefully monitored to provide cues for ways to improve it further.’

[5] One study that focuses explicitly on this question is Di Mango (2018)

About the author(s)

Daniela Di Mango is a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in English Linguistics at the University of Passau. With a professional background in translation, her main research interest is in translation competence acquisition, SLA and psycholinguistics in general.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Daniela Di Mango (2019).
"Does Teaching Theory Enhance Students’ Translation Competence? Viewpoints, Expectations, Findings"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2425

Reading for and about translation in translator training

By Anne Neveu (Kent State University, USA)

Abstract & Keywords

Reading for translation has been little explored although it underpins the translation process. It heavily relies not only on the translator’s linguistic skills, both in the native and the foreign language, prior knowledge and schemata, as well as resourcing skills, but also on the view the translator has on his/her own reading behavior as a translator. How has reading for translation been taught up to now in translator training courses? When does or should the honing of reading skills occur in translator training curricula? Being aware of one’s own reading strategies, or metacognitive awareness, is a self-reflective process that depends on the student’s critical thinking skills. This study is aiming at providing collaborative learning tasks to foster the development of reading and critical thinking skills for translation. First, an overview of the literature on reading as a transactional and cognitive activity is proposed. Then, reading in translator training curricula is situated, emphasizing the role of reading and developing critical thinking skills in a translation practice seminar. Finally, collaborative learning tasks are outlined, aiming at fostering the honing of critical thinking skills when reading for translation.

Keywords: reading for translation, strategic reading, critical thinking skills, collaborative learning, metacognitive awareness

©inTRAlinea & Anne Neveu (2019).
"Reading for and about translation in translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2424

[...]reading is a form of translation, and conversely translation is obviously
a form of intense reading. [...] Hence reading is translation and translation is reading.

Willis Barnstone (1993: 7)

1. Introduction

Translation is a hermeneutic process involving reading the world beyond reading the word (Freire 1987: 49, Cherland and Harper 2007: 23) rather than a switch from one language code to another (as suggested by Nuttall [1982] with ‘word-‘ and ‘text-attacking skills’). Reading for translation, as Neubert and Shreve (1992) first termed it, involves assessing the relevance and reliability of the information provided in the text as well as the context in which the text is situated (Washbourne 2012: 38). When reading, readers’ knowledge structures are modified in three possible ways according to Rumelhart and Norman (1978). New information can fit into an already existing schema, allowing the comprehension process to be quick: this is called accretion. New information can also lead to the creation of a new schema: this is restructuring. Finally, the reader can use the new information to update an existing schema, making it more relevant and accurate: this is the tuning process. Reading therefore is an active as opposed to a passive skill, and thus deserves explicit attention to be honed.

At present, reading is an implicit skill in translator training curricula: it is assumed that student translators already know how to read optimally to translate, while in reality, the learning of specific reading strategies could improve the reading process for translation. In addition, focusing on reading could help students reframe their approach to translation, viewing it not only as a product, but also as a process. This would guide students in reflecting on the translation task and their own process. In turn, this metacognitive knowledge would build self-awareness and self-confidence, which are key to develop professional translator behavior (Kussmaul 2005: 32).

An emphasis on the reading process in translation could also be an opportunity for students to develop their critical thinking skills. Critical thinking is “self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way” (Elder 2007). Metacognitive awareness cannot be achieved without critically assessing one’s own behavior. In her 1949 essay, Rosenblatt defines critical reading as the process of identifying the underlying values of a text, assessing how much of those values are retained when reading and whether they correspond to the reader’s own set of values (30). Critical thinking and reading skills are transferable skills, needed in translator training: why not use translator training as an opportunity to hone these skills?

Developing critical thinking skills could be a channel to introduce ethics in translator curricula, an issue that emerged in the late 1990s and that is still current today (Chesterman 1997, Pym 2001, Hermans 2009, Munday 2012, Cronin 2017). Indeed, Chesterman (1997) proposes a shift of focus from translator duties to translator values, from questions of loyalty to the source text, freedom between source and target and invisibility of the translator, to values of clarity (conforming to target audience expectations), truth (appropriate relation between source and target text), trust (maintaining the communication between author and audience) and understanding (accountability of the translator towards the source and the target) serving as basis to translation ethics.

This work helps contribute to fill in the gap of teaching reading for translation in translator training by delineating reading tasks tailored for a progressive adaptation and development of reading skills for translation. These tasks are suggestions to support the primary purpose of this article, which is to emphasize the relevance of reading for translation and how it is under-researched at present as part of the translation process and training. This article first reviews reading as a meaning making process, then discusses types of reading for translation and finally suggests how to include reading in translator training curricula while fostering the development of critical thinking skills.

2. Reading as a Meaning-Making Process

In 1949, Louise Rosenblatt initially introduces the concept of interaction between the human mind and printed language in the reading process, emphasizing critical reader response. Her work is inspired by Peircean semiotics, namely the triadic conceptualization of language: sign, object, and interpretant (Karolides 2005: xxii). The interpretant links a sign to its object by a mental association, grounding meaning in situated reading events engaged by humans: words and meanings therefore do not exist in a contextual vacuum. Rosenblatt coins the text-reader interaction the Transactional Theory in 1988, where transactions are ‘relationships in which each element conditions and is conditioned by the other in a mutually-constituted situation’. In the reading transaction, the concept of ‘meaning’ is not static and inhabiting a text, it is constructed during a back and forth interaction, or transaction, between reader and text. Reader and text keep interacting to predict and remodel the ‘meaning’, giving way to multiple possible interpretations of a text (ibid.). The transactional approach to reading does not however mean that any textual interpretation is possible. Rosenblatt advocates responsible reading and assesses the quality of an interpretation by how much of the text was taken into account, whether or not the basis of the interpretation is in the text, and if a plausible and mature interpretation is provided (Karolides 2005: xxiv). Sheorey and Mokhtari (2001: 433) also define reading as resulting from the interaction of reader, text and context, and agree with Flavell’s definition of reading as a ‘cognitive enterprise’ (1979: 906). In addition, they also consider knowledge of one’s own reading strategies, in sum, metacognitive reflection on reading, as a complementary element influencing the cognitive process of reading (ibid.). From a literary perspective, Rosenblatt’s approach echoes in Scott’s advocacy of constructivist reading versus hermeneutic reading (2012: 14). Hermeneutic reading is a decoding activity, presupposing the meaning exists in a vacuum, waiting to be put together word by word. In translation terms, this would amount to an exclusive focus on the source and target texts as products. On the contrary, constructivist reading extends the focus to the process of reading that yields a product, which is an interpretation of a text. There would be as many possible interpretations as there are reading strategies and purposes, reading for translation being the epitome of a constructivist reading experience according to the author, as the translation task calls for the involvement of the translator, and different translators can have different approaches to a literary source text (2012: 15).  

From a cognitive science approach, Kintsch (1998) proposes what is now one of the most influential models of reading comprehension: the Construction-Integration (CI) model. The CI model begins with the building of an event model (previously called situation model) from the reader’s own elaborations on the meaning of the text. The event model is integrated by rejecting inappropriate models initially formed, to form a coherent one (Grow 1996; Kintsch 1998). More generally, Van den Broek, Young, Tzeng & Linderholm list four elements influencing the reader’s approach to the text: the text itself, the analysis of previously read text segments, the reactivation of concepts from earlier readings and background knowledge (1999: 72). How could this knowledge of the reading process be best used in honing reading for translation skills? How could students learn to best use their knowledge to understand a text, and to critically assess the quality and relevance of the information read? Let us now turn to the specificities of the reading for translation process and how it is currently taught in translator training.

3. Types of Reading for Translation

In their seminal study, Shreve et al. (1993) show that different types of readings were used in translation, influenced by translator specificities (knowledge of subject area and experience with translating texts in that field, familiarity with the type of text to be translated), and by textual specificities (level of complexity and length of the document). One of the translation subtasks thus consists in the decision-making process on the reading approach to adopt. For example, when reading a text, we apply cognitive strategies such as adjusting speed, guessing meaning, re-reading passages for better comprehension (Sheorey and Mokhtari 2001: 436).

In translation, the initial reading of the source text to be translated provides a gist of the text and helps set expectations for upcoming textual content. This facilitates problem solving when starting the transfer process. Subsequent readings allow updating interpretations of the text (Washbourne 2012: 45). More specifically, Percival (1983: 89) divides the translation process into five steps: initial source text reading, subject matter research, draft translation, setting the draft aside for forty-eight hours and reading through the translation again to check, revise and edit. Reading can be done prior, during and after the translation process. Prior to starting the translation, additional readings on the subject matter may be necessary if the translator is not an expert of the domain (background texts in Table 1). Readings of parallel texts in the target language are also necessary to match target expectations as envisioned by the source text author (see Colina above). Information found in readings should be used to target other relevant readings on the subject matter and pertaining to the same text type. Moreover, a variety of sources should be contrasted to verify the quality of the information given. In sum, reading can be done to learn information, integrate it, use it and evaluate it (Washbourne 2012: 51). During the translation process itself, following the initial reading of the source text and additional parallel readings, re-readings of the source text should be done to update knowledge structures and ensure an in-depth comprehension of the text. Indeed, re-readings allow updating the text experience during and after the reading, making the reader an active and creative agent in the reading process (Washbourne 2012: 44-5). Reading and re-readings of the target text in production during the transfer process also take place, followed by readings to proofread and revise to evaluate the work (this re-reading is still considered as part of the translation process and would take place before the translation is given to another person to proofread and revise again). Based on Washbourne (2012: 45-6), a detailed account of the reading methods used at different stages of the translation process is presented below.

Reading method

Purpose/Translation subtask


- Source-text orientation

- Choosing parallel texts and background texts


- Identifying terminology and/or collocations

Exploratory reading

- Gaining further insight into the subject matter by reading texts in the target language

Close reading/re-reading

- Reading to write (with the use of annotations)

- Finding patterns

- Multiple strategic readings of the text to actualize textual experience

Reading to integrate, or ‘stereoscopic reading’ (Gaddis Rose, 1997)

- Create one organizing frame using compare-contrast and problem solving strategies across the source text and complementary texts

-The triangulation of the source text with other translations allows to find common patterns among both (Gaddis Rose ‘stereoscopic reading’, 1997, p.90)

Revision reading/Proofreading

- Unilingual rereading

- Comparative rereading

Table 1. Methods and purposes of reading types for translation

In translator training, this knowledge of different reading types and strategies to adopt as a function of text and translator is not explicitly taught. In her translation teaching handbook, Colina (2003a) adds another layer to this issue by arguing that reading comprehension is a necessary skill in translation as the translator is a different reader than the one originally pictured by the author. Therefore, the two categories of readers do not have the same knowledge structures. Similarly to Rumelhart and Norman (1978), she explains that the reader uses schemata (prior knowledge structures), to construct knowledge and that the text additionally provides new information that can modify the schemata should it be incomplete or inaccurate. Successful comprehension hence occurs when schemata between the reader and the text author are matching. Much like Rosenblatt, Colina (2003a: 47) argues that current models of reading comprehension view reading as an interactive process between the reader and the text. Colina also builds on Fillmore’s scenes-and-frames semantics (1976): words correspond to frames associated with scenes, together forming meaning. Therefore meaning is equal to the potential for a word to activate a scene. Words do not contain meaning but a potential for meaning, activated through context. That is why it is of crucial importance that student translators learn to identify what they know and what they do not know in a text to optimize the interpretation process and enhance the final translation product. Introducing a reading for translation course or reading for translation tasks in translator training curricula would be a step in that direction.

4. Reading in Translator Training Curricula: Current State and Proposed Tasks

Reading is a fundamental skill learned very early on as part of literacy development. It allows the reader to grasp meaning beyond words and it is a tool to survive in society (Wilson 2002: xvi). According to Whyatt (2003: 5) however, students in translation do not distinguish the translation product from the overall act of translating, and therefore give little importance to the subtasks of reading and re-reading. To overcome this deficiency, students have to learn to be constructively responsive readers (Pressley and Afflerbach 1995: 98-105; Sheorey and Mokhtari 2001: 446; Washbourne 2012: 39). This should be achieved by raising student translator’s metacognitive awareness in the translation process, specifically during the reading processes and the creation of meaning (Gruba 2004: 54).

How has reading for translation been taught up to now in translator training courses? When does or should the honing of reading skills occur in translator training curricula? Reading is not explicitly shown as being part of translator training curricula: there are not any courses entitled ‘Reading for translators’ or ‘Reading comprehension for translators’. However, Cronin (2005) proposes a ‘Reading for Translators’ course model to be included in translation programs. The course would comprise learning to distinguish written from oral discourse, typologizing reading, establishing reading-writing connections, developing context-dependent reading strategies, heightening self-awareness of reading as decision-making and operationalizing reading for professional purposes.

4.1 Reading for Translation

In a language-specific translation practice seminar, course content is aiming at honing students’ pragmatic translation skills from the foreign language into the native language[1] to learn how to produce translations that meet professional levels of acceptability. Let’s take the example of a French scientific and technical translation practice seminar for native speakers of English. In this class, readings in both L1 and L2 – called parallel readings – should comprise specialized texts on the specific scientific or technical domain(s) to which source texts belong (Mayoral 2000), to both enhance students’ knowledge of the subject matter and knowledge of the specialized terminology, style and register (Gabr 2001).

We will use a scenario in which a text about volcanology has to be translated for the second class of a translation practice course. Students have little to no experience translating. They might use bilingual dictionaries to translate the text, leading to a more literal translation, which would likely cause some issues in the product. To work through these issues, students could be introduced to theory by reading about equivalence in translation, beginning with the fundamental debate of word-for-word versus sense-for-sense translation. This would open the way for reflection on what one can do during the translation process to produce an acceptable translation. With this layer of knowledge, students can become more attuned to elements such as collocations and specialized terminology which contribute to formulating a target text that conforms to target language standards. Learning to recognize these elements forms part of reading strategies to adopt when reading for translation.

How can the translator practice reading for translation and develop effective strategies to read more effectively? Research in translation pedagogy suggests that reading about translation allows better understanding the translation process, which in turns leads to better practices when translating.

4.2 Reading about Translation

In addition to readings aiming at enhancing the quality of the translation product, Gabr (2001) advocates readings to ‘integrate course content’ and Gouadec (2000) argues that textbooks should be used in class, to enhance metacognitive awareness of the translation process. This latter type of reading, focusing on translation theory, poses several questions: How should theory and practice be combined in the translation curriculum? What should be the proportion of each in the curriculum? Should they complete each other in one same course or should they be taught in separate courses? Should translation theory courses be language-specific or is the theory abstract enough to be applicable to other languages?[2] While the answers to these questions are beyond the scope of this paper, they highlight the relevance of reading about translation in translator training curricula.

Indeed, metacognitive awareness of the translation process fosters self-reflectivity on practice as well as meta-knowledge on the translation task, which serve as basis to develop skills necessary to deliver professional translations (Kussmaul 2005). Sheorey and Mokhtari (2001: 433) study differences in the reported use of reading strategies of native and non-native English speakers when reading academic materials. They show that what makes a skilled reader is the conscious awareness of strategic reading processes and the use of reading strategies. This metacognitive knowledge is built via previous experiences, beliefs, how reading was taught (cultural specificities have to be taken into account for this factor), and L2 proficiency for non-native readers[3]. Results of the study show that integrating the teaching of metacognitive reading strategies such as advanced planning and comprehension-monitoring techniques in the reading curriculum would raise students’ metacognitive awareness and help them become constructively responsive readers. In turn, this would promote skilled academic reading and overall improve academic performance.

Moreover, Paris & Jacobs (1984: 2083) explain that ‘Skilled readers often engage in deliberate activities that require planful thinking, flexible strategies, and periodic self-monitoring... [while] novice readers often seem oblivious to these strategies and the need to use them’. Based on these observations, a parallel can be drawn with reading for translation: novice translators tend to directly engage in the translation process without planning it, which means that strategic reading is overlooked and so are potential translation problems. Beginners in translation have less metacognitive awareness to justify their translation choices or their reading strategies contrary to expert translators.

How could translator training curricula effectively enhance students’ reading skills for and about translation, to allow students to move from the novice stage to journeyman and match the industry’s expectations, by the time they graduate? We argue that an emphasis on honing critical thinking skills might be the cement to relate theory to practice both abstractly (understanding a concept and what form it might take) and concretely (assessing one’s performance and finding ways to enhance it based on theory). Let us first look at the relevance of critical thinking skills in translation practice to then discuss how specific reading tasks in translator training could focus on developing critical thinking and have a cascading effect on developing professional translator skills.

4.3 Developing Critical Thinking Skills in Reading for Translation

When translating, three areas deserve particular attention: our own practice of translation, our knowledge of the world and our socio-cultural awareness. These could be part of an ethics of translation and could be gathered under Chesterman’s value of understanding discussed in introduction. Indeed, all three areas require self-awareness, a necessary skill to be accountable for one’s work.

Reflecting on our own practice of translation begins with a critical approach to source text reading to enhance heuristics. This approach in turn influences the transfer process, and eventually the quality of the translation product. Additionally, critical reading on works about translation is necessary to reassess one’s view of translation as a discipline, as process and as product. Critically reading translation products helps raising the translator’s awareness both on potential cultural biases and translation decisions. This practice fosters the development of the translator’s ‘self-concept’, as termed by Gross (2003) and Kiraly (2000). Both consider the ‘self-concept’ as key in student’s training to become professional translators. Building on Kiraly, Johnson (2003) suggests that portfolios are a useful assessment tool when evaluating translation products to encourage critical thinking and process-oriented learning via intuition and self-reflectiveness.

Regarding our knowledge of the world, Colina (2003b) argues that for students to learn how to use world knowledge appropriately, a professional translator skill, they need to be made aware of which schemata are necessary to comprehend a text. This corresponds to activating relevant background knowledge for adequate text comprehension. During this process, students would apply their critical thinking skills in comparing, classifying, or hypothesizing the necessary schemata. Domain-specific schemata would thus need to be reinforced with theory and practice in translator training.

Critical thinking skills are also essential in translation to raise socio-cultural awareness. This awareness is necessary when identifying text ideologies[4], when translating from and/or into minor or dominant languages, or when resisting dominance of a major language over a local variety among other examples. Christenbury and Kelly identify questioning as an effective way to help students learn and develop critical thinking skills (1983: 9). Students must be given enough time to reflect and answer. In the classroom, students and facilitator need to talk as equals, encouraging comments from both parts, diverge to points of personal interest and pause between ideas. This type of atmosphere is aimed at piquing students’ interest for further learning.

Thus, much like ‘meaning-making’ is an interaction between text and reader in the Transactional Theory, the authority of one-way communication is replaced by a dialogic conception of knowledge in classroom dynamics. This classroom ‘meaning-making’ finds echo in constructivist practice (Kiraly 2000). How can the acquisition process of reading and critical thinking skills be optimized for translator training curricula? This will be discussed in the next section.

4.4 Proposed Reading Tasks

Reading comprehension is the result of text and reader interaction. It is optimized when the reader is able to self-reflect on the quality of both their interpretation and the process that led to it. One of the first steps in the translation process is source-text reading. Reading for translation is a special kind of reading because it implies further tasks once reading comprehension is achieved. Indeed, the reading comprehension part of reading for translation corresponds to understanding the text as it was meant for its original audience. In addition to comprehension, the translator must reformulate the text for an audience that does not speak the original language. What’s more, translation involves various text types and translator characteristics. Based on these observations, teaching reading for translation during translator training could be beneficial to guide students in efficiently honing their professional skills. Indeed, students would not only optimize their reading process, meaning focusing on the relevant aspects of a text in a shorter amount of time, they would also learn about the translation process, which has been shown to ultimately enhance the product. We argue that critical thinking skills allow for such understanding and awareness. Therefore, integrating reading tasks to hone critical thinking skills in translator training would be doubly beneficial for students.

To bridge the gap in explicit honing of reading strategies in translator training and develop critical thinking skills, deemed necessary to connect translation theory and practice, a set of tasks for a language-specific translation practice seminar is proposed. The content of each task is outlined and designed based on collaborative learning tasks models. This implies that tasks are created with intentional learning goals to attain at the end of the class and all students are engaged in the learning process (Barkley, Cross and Major 2005). In recent years, collaborative learning has come as an efficient alternative to the traditional transmissionist classroom setting. It focuses on the active involvement of students and the belief that each student experience can contribute to the learning experience of the class: the professor is not the sole source of knowledge students can passively learn from anymore. In addition, collaborative learning tasks can make use of real-world scenarios, which has proven to be highly motivating for students as they can find relevant ways to connect abstract principles and theory to direct, pragmatic applications (ibid.). Thus, developing general reading and critical thinking skills using real-life settings in the translation classroom fosters hands-on experience, allowing students, as future professional translators, to start forging their expertise. Professors, as facilitators, need to set aside their own (preferred) interpretations and point students towards the different ways a work or a text can be interpreted, and include the students’ own take into the discussion to enrich it.

The tasks presented in Table 2 include both local reading strategies (reading additional information, pausing, re-reading, backtracking) and global reading strategies (using support strategies and tools to enhance comprehension, adjusting speed, asking questions, summarizing, generating representations [Rouet 2006: 22-3]). Outcomes numbered one to six (number in parenthesis) are based on Palincsar and Brown’s instruction of comprehension skills (1984: 120). All six original outcomes proposed by the authors were kept because they form a whole and are a robust description of the steps in the reading comprehension process. Outcomes seven to twelve are based on Colina’s reading comprehension activities from her empirical approach to translation pedagogy (2003b: 49). Colina is the only scholar to the author’s knowledge who has proposed explicit teaching of reading skills for student translators, therefore these outcomes appeared to be relevant to serve as foundation for the tasks proposed in Table 2. Outcomes two and three were common to both. The thirteenth outcome is based on Washbourne’s transactional view of text processing, advocating creative reading (2012: 44). This outcome was used because it is the only one that focuses on the most complex cognitive skill on Bloom’s taxonomy: creativity. The learning outcomes are phrased according to Bloom’s revised taxonomy (2001)[5] and were supplemented in Table 2 by their corresponding knowledge and cognitive dimensions (in italics and parenthesis, and in this order). On the cognitive process dimension, the top three levels, ‘analyze’, ‘evaluate’, and ‘create’, correspond to higher-order thinking skills (HOTS) whereas ‘remember’, ‘understand’ and ‘apply’ correspond to lower-order ones (LOTS). While the lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are fundamental in reading for translation, notably in terms of activating prior knowledge, learning objectives should always eventually aim for the top three levels on the cognitive dimension of the taxonomy to be efficient.

The tasks are presented in an order that could be followed in class. The progression generally goes from lower-order thinking skills to higher-order thinking skills, without however strictly following the steps on Bloom’s taxonomy. The model in Table 2 below is therefore flexible and should be adapted to students’ needs and level before starting the class (Barkley, Cross and Major 2005: 56).


Students will be able to…

Process webs: list the main steps in the reading comprehension process and relate them to steps in the translation process using a graphic organizer.

…summarize the process of reading comprehension and show how it affects translation (7)
(factual; understand)

Group grid: give students various reading purposes they should match with reading goals categories in blank cells of a grid.

…clarify the purposes of reading (1)
(procedural; understand)

Think-Pair-Share: start thinking individually of relevant background knowledge that would help source text comprehension, discuss and compare ideas with a partner and share as a class.

…identify relevant background knowledge (2)
(metacognitive; remember)

Jigsaw reading: assign different parts of the same text to translate to different groups, making sure that each group has key information needed for global comprehension. Representatives from each group mutually question each other to retrieve missing information and report back to their group by peer-teaching the information gained and finally proceed to the translation. 

…show the essential role of context in reading comprehension (8)
(factual; understand)

Learning cell: students quiz each other with questions prepared individually about the role of terminology in the technical translation process.

… show that terminology corresponds to one step in the technical translation process (10)
(factual; understand)

Fishbowl: a group of students in the center discusses how to translate a short text containing ambiguous terminology. Another group around them observes the issues raised and the decision-making process in finding solutions (notably how meaning is inferred and whether or not dictionaries are used). The fishbowl experience is then discussed as a class for students to benefit both from the modeling and observing parts.

…differentiate the nature of meaning and meaning potential and better use dictionaries (9)
(conceptual; analyze/metacognitive; apply)

Class consensus: in a group discussion format, students must agree on the areas of interest (AOIs) in a source text on which to focus the attention during the translation process. Results can be verified with think-aloud modeling: students explain their problem-solving strategies as they translate the text.

…select the major points over the trivia on which to allocate attention (3)
(factual; analyze)

Summary translation task: students must summarize the main ideas of the text in the target language.

…summarize and translate the main ideas of the text into the target language (7)
(factual; understand)

Variable briefs: students are divided into groups and are each provided with the same text but with different translation briefs. In groups, students discuss the reading strategies to apply depending on their brief. Groups share the results of their brainstorming as a class.

…use strategies to cope with a variety of translation requests (12)
(metacognitive; apply)

Buzz groups: discuss source text consistency and how content relates to prior knowledge then share in a class discussion. 

…critically check content for consistency, compatibility with prior knowledge (4)
(factual; evaluate)

Reciprocal teaching: check individually first for text comprehension, then in pairs, take turns in explaining what was understood and why, and mutually complete the comprehension process.

…self-monitor to see if comprehension is happening (5)
(metacognitive; evaluate)

Critical debate: half of the class supports the view that reading is a decoding activity and the replacement of linguistic units. The other half argues against this traditional approach and offers alternatives.

…deconstruct one’s biases on the traditional approach of reading in foreign language learning classroom (11)
(metacognitive; analyze)

Think-Aloud pair problem solving: students solve translational problems aloud and try their reasoning on a listening peer.

…draw and test inferences (interpretations, predictions, conclusions) (6)
(procedural; create & evaluate)

Affinity grouping: students generate ideas on possible interpretations of the source text; they identify common themes and sort and organize ideas accordingly.

…infer and create possible interpretations of a text (13)
(procedural; understand & analyze/metacognitive; create)

Table 2.  Reading tasks and corresponding learning outcomes
for a language-specific translation practice seminar

5. Conclusion

The issue at the beginning of this paper was to fill a gap in teaching reading for translation. We argued that critical thinking skills are necessary to read effectively for translation, to self-reflect on one’s practice and to integrate and use theory and ethics to enhance one’s translation process. Therefore, we proposed to design reading tasks for translation, focusing on honing critical thinking skills for the purpose of reading for translation.

If the proposed reading tasks were implemented in the translation classroom, it is hypothesized that students would waste less time on reading comprehension and make less meaning errors in their translations. In addition, by honing their critical thinking skills via the reading tasks, students would develop more awareness of the translation process by focusing on how reading for translation is different from typical reading comprehension. This focus on the process would in turn bring students to reflect on their own process and thus develop a self-concept: this contributes to producing better translations and, in time, building expertise. Last but not least, critical thinking is a transferrable skill, therefore an explicit focus on honing this skill via reading tasks in translation might be beneficial to other reading experiences the student has outside of translation, contributing to a more comprehensive development of the student’s analytical skills.

Additional research needs to be conducted on the different types of readings for translation, how they influence and/or complete each other and what impact each has on the translation process. Moreover, if the tasks were to be implemented in the classroom, it would be interesting to develop tools to measure their efficiency in enhancing translation products and developing critical thinking skills, in and beyond translation.

Reading for translation is only one aspect of the translation process but is essential for the global translation task to be successful. The study of reading for translation and its pedagogical applications, borrowing from cognitive, psycholinguistic and literary reading theories and from literacy and learning processes studies, is another example showing how Translation Studies is an interdiscipline (Snell-Hornby et al. 1994). However, we should gradually aim at ‘reciprocal interdisciplinarity’ (Göpferich 2011), where translation studies does not only borrow from but also lends to other disciplines (O’Brien 2013: 13). To become successful translators, translation students need to be trained to approach reading for translation not as a passive skill, taken for granted, but as an active and transactional process, in which they deliberately and purposefully involve themselves.


The author would like to thank Dr Richard Kelly Washbourne for his feedback and support on this article.


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[1] The question of directionality and language multiplicity is raised as some programs in translation require students to master one foreign language and translation is exclusively done from L2 into L1, and other programs require two or more foreign languages and practice courses exist both from L1 into L2 or L3 and vice versa. In this case, the example of a uni-directional course will be used. The structure of the tasks proposed below is expected to be transferrable to other language pairs.

[2] It is hypothesized that due to structural differences among languages, especially between distant languages, translation theory seminars should be language-specific. This is further corroborated by the observation that translation practice and translation theory mutually inform each other (Neubert 2000, 26; Bartrina 2005: 177; Calzada 2005: 1; Chesterman 2002: 2; Mossop 1994; Schäffner 2000: 148).

[3] It is worth noting that based on the Linguistic Threshold Hypothesis, L2 linguistic skills need to be sufficiently developed (vocabulary skills and grammatical skills can be unequally developed) for L1 reading comprehension skills to partially transfer to L2 (Bernhardt and Kamil 1995).

[4] This applies both to original texts and translations. Venuti (2008: 276) argues that different reading practices should be applied to translations, notably double reading, as ‘A translation yields information about the source-language text – its discursive structures and its themes - but no translation should ever be taught as a transparent representation of that text […].’

[5] The taxonomy is a reference to identify and formulate learning objectives or outcomes, which solicit both lower and higher order thinking skills, and abstract and concrete knowledge to optimize the learning process and retention of knowledge. The original taxonomy was designed by Bloom and Krathwohl in 1946 and was updated by Anderson and Krathwohl in 2001 (Heer 2009). Both versions are available on the Center for Excellence in Learning an Teaching of Iowa State University at https://goo.gl/RWR7Qm.

About the author(s)

Anne Neveu graduated with a Ph.D. in Translation Studies from Kent State University and has started a second Ph.D. program in Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, working in the Language Acquisition & Bilingualism laboratory. Her dissertation, “Context Effects in Reading for Translation: Early Target Language Activation” tests the time course of language activation in reading for translation, using eye-tracking and the CRITT translation process research database from the Center for Research and Innovation in Translation and Translation Technology. She has published an article titled “How Paratexts Influence the Reader’s Experience of English Translations of La Fontaine’s Fables” (2017) and is working on an article exploring how the digital humanities can support research in translation history. Her main research interests are translation process research, translation pedagogy, brain organization of the language function and its consequences on bi/multilingual language processing, especially for non-native language acquisition, proficiency development and translation.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Anne Neveu (2019).
"Reading for and about translation in translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2424

A desirable profile of translation teacher: perceptions and needs in the Croatian context

By Nataša Pavlović and Goranka Antunović (University of Zagreb, Croatia)

Abstract & Keywords

While recent research has produced a substantial body of knowledge regarding translator education in general and translator competences in particular, much less attention has been devoted to competencies of professional translation teachers. Inspired by several researchers who have dealt with the topic (for example, Kelly 2008; Gambier and Pokorn 2013), the authors examine it in the Croatian context, whose specific characteristics (a rather small translation market, no university programmes in translation until 2008, and other) might be expected to influence the views on the topic.

The study aims to investigate the perception of a desirable translation teacher profile among two groups of relevant informants: professional translators and translation teachers themselves. In a questionnaire distributed online, they are asked to assess the importance of sets of qualifications and competences selected and adapted from the literature. The teachers are additionally asked to specify the areas where their need for further professional development is most pronounced. Answers are compared based on the respondents’ profession and, where relevant, the university programme they have completed.

The results may be used to inform future recruitment and facilitate the design of training courses for translation teachers, not only in Croatia but also in other similar settings. 

Keywords: translator education, translator training, translator trainer, competences, qualifications

©inTRAlinea & Nataša Pavlović and Goranka Antunović (2019).
"A desirable profile of translation teacher: perceptions and needs in the Croatian context"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2423

1. Background

Over the past decade much research has focused on various aspects of translator education. As a result, there is already a substantial body of knowledge on the topic of translator education in general and translator competences in particular. Interestingly, much less attention has been devoted to the desirable, or even necessary, qualifications and competences of professional translation teachers.

A broad view of a desirable translation teacher profile has traditionally focused on translation experience, coupled with a suitable personality. For Newmark (1991: 131), ‘personality’ in case of a translation teacher includes ‘personal qualities’, ‘professional qualities and experience’ and ‘general knowledge of culture’. Personal qualities are further elaborated as comprising of ‘energy, curiosity, enthusiasm’, as well as ‘confidence [for] admitting mistakes’ (1991: 130), ‘openness and friendliness’, ‘the disposition to invite collaboration and participation’ (1991: 131), and so on. Professional qualities can be seen as comprising of ‘translator’s skills’ on the one hand, and teaching skills on the other, the latter being ‘reflected in course design and choice of materials’ (ibid.). Newmark admits that in the classroom it is difficult to say exactly ‘where personality finishes and teaching technique begins’ (ibid.), and suggests provocatively that ‘the success of any translation course must depend 65% on the personality of the teacher, 20% on the course design and 15% on the course materials’ (1991: 130).

About a decade later, Gonzáles Davies (2004: 1) tackles what she considers to be the usual perception of translation teachers’ necessary background. This includes ‘a variety of areas, such as communication theory, linguistics, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, neurolinguistics and cognitivism, or translation studies’ (ibid.). She accepts all these as important, but suggests that pedagogy and psychology should be added to the list. She argues that the former discipline can help teachers reflect on the approach, design and activities to be adopted in teaching, while psychology can enable them to explore the mental processes ‘that can improve the students’ translation competence and performance’ (2004: 2). Furthermore, she believes the knowledge of psychology could help translation teachers explore issues related to ‘the students’ personalities, backgrounds, and learning and translating styles’ (ibid.). In her opinion, knowledge of both pedagogy and psychology can be profitably used to encourage students’ motivation and participation, respecting the diversity of learning styles (ibid.).  

Kelly (2005, 2008) also sees teaching skills as an important aspect of the translation teacher competence profile. In her 2008 contribution, she takes as her starting point the 2005 version of the Higher Education Academy’s document “The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education” (cf. HEA 2011), which formulates three sets of standards for the higher education teaching profession, i.e. ‘areas of activity’, ‘core knowledge’ and ‘professional values’. Kelly applies these standards to translation teaching, producing a very detailed list of (sub)competences. The paper also presents the results of a survey of translation teachers conducted in Spain, which found that 70 per cent of the respondents had an undergraduate or postgraduate degree in translation, 80 per cent had had professional experience in translation or interpreting and 68 per cent had received teacher training. When asked to self-evaluate their competence, the respondents in that study placed their scores between 3 and 4 on a six-point scale, identifying as their weak points the ‘knowledge of the educational, administrative and management contexts in which they work’ (2008: 117).

Li and Zhang (2011) explore master’s and doctoral programmes in translation studies in Hong Kong against a model of translation teachers’ knowledge structure. Their model comprises three main elements, termed by them as ‘knowledge of teaching’, ‘knowledge of research’ and ‘knowledge of the trade’. The latter encompasses translating abilities and the knowledge of the profession, including familiarity with the market and the technology (2011: 697).

Another empirical study on this topic was carried out more recently by Huang and Napier (2015). They set out to investigate students’ and teachers’ perceptions of effective translation teachers, aiming to identify their important qualities. Their survey included 94 students and 22 teachers from several Australian and New Zealand universities, who were asked to rate the importance of the following ‘aspects of translation teaching’: knowledge of translation theories, mastery of translation skills, teaching methods, personality traits, communicative skills, the ability to give constructive feedback, teaching qualification and ongoing professional development (2015: 18). They additionally asked the respondents to rate particular personality qualities (motivated, encouraging, caring, respectful, flexible, adaptable, humorous, intelligent, organised, and confident) that might be important for a translation teacher. Mastery of translation skills, the ability to give constructive feedback, and communicative skills were considered the most important by both groups of the respondents, with the teacher group additionally highlighting the mastery of teaching methods (2015: 7). None of the teachers, and only 12 per cent of the students, listed teaching qualification among the three most important items. Personality traits were mentioned among the top three important elements by slightly over 18 per cent of the teachers and almost 15 per cent of the students. Asked to list the top three personality qualities translation teachers should possess, the teachers opted for ‘motivated’, ‘confident’ and ‘encouraging’, while the students considered ‘encouraging’, ‘organized’ and ‘respectful’ to be the most important (2015: 9).

In addition to the contributions mentioned so far, scholars in the EMT and later OPTIMALE groups have attempted to build a model of translation teacher competences, recommending a list of prerequisites that translation teachers should fulfil (EMT Expert Group 2013; Gambier and Pokorn 2013). Among these are the ‘fundamental requirements’, which encompass academic qualification and appropriate teacher training (both depending on national regulations), relevant professional practice, and knowledge of relevant ‘translation studies scholarship and research’[1]. The EMT model (Fig. 1) further consists of five areas of competence: field competence, instructional competence, organizational competence, interpersonal competence and assessment competence (EMT Expert Group 2013; Gambier and Pokorn 2013).

Figure 1. The EMT ‘wheel of competences’ recommended
for translation teachers (EMT Expert Group 2013; Gambier and Pokorn 2013)

Inspired by their work, we decided to test the model in an empirical study that would elicit the opinions of relevant stakeholders as to the importance of particular requirements and competences that university translation teachers should possess. Given the specific circumstances in Croatia – including a rather small translation market, the fact that the first translation study programmes were introduced only a decade ago, and a lack of translation teacher training – we suspected that the perception of a desirable translation teacher profile might prove to be rather different from that described in the literature. On the other hand, we hoped that our findings may resonate beyond this country and inform decision-making in other similar settings.

2. Aims and method

As stated above, the aim of this study was to investigate the relevant stakeholders’ perception of a desirable translation teacher profile in the Croatian context. More specifically, we wanted to compare the perceptions held by two groups of relevant informants: professional translators and translation teachers themselves. An additional aim was to assess the needs of currently active translation teachers for further training, which we hoped might facilitate any future design of training courses aimed at translation teachers.

To meet these aims, a questionnaire survey was created using LimeSurvey[2] and distributed online in June 2017 via professional organizations, social networks, mailing lists and personal contacts. Two slightly different forms were sent out – one for professional translators and the other for translation teachers. Both groups of respondents were asked to assess the importance of select qualifications and competences adapted from the EMT model. The translation teachers were additionally asked to assess their need for further professional development and specify the areas in which such training was needed most.

The EMT model, which provided the starting point for our study, proved to be too complex for use in a questionnaire survey, since its descriptions of each competence area are very elaborate, with a large number of sub-items. For that reason we had to adapt it to our needs. This mostly involved reducing the number of categories, but also, in a few exceptional cases, fine-tuning some of the categories. Instead of the ‘formal requirements’, we speak of ‘qualifications’, some of which may also be formally required of translation teachers (depending on national laws, but also perhaps reflecting the needs of a particular institution). Similar to the EMT model, some of these qualifications have to do with formal training (a degree in translation, training in teaching, formal education in translation theories), while others are related to relevant experience. We decided to elaborate on the latter notion, so that a translation teacher may have experience in only one type of translation (such as specialized or technical translation, AVT, literary translation, and so on), in several types of translation, and/or in various translation-related tasks (such as revision, terminology work or project management).

With regard to competences, we divided them into two broad categories: translation-related and teaching-related. The former group includes the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students; knowledge about the translation profession (trends, workflows, tools and so on); the ability to use CAT tools; the ability to do research in TS; and knowledge of translation theories[3]. The pedagogical group consists of knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition; the ability to design courses in translation; knowledge about translation teaching methods; the ability to design translation teaching materials; the ability to motivate students; and the ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback.

The resulting, streamlined model (Table 1) was used to create the questionnaire.



Degree in translation

The ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students

Training in teaching

Knowledge about the translation profession (trends, workflows, tools and so on)

Formal education in translation theories

The ability to use CAT tools

Experience in one type of translation

The ability to do research in TS

Experience in several types of translation

Knowledge of translation theories

Experience with different translation-related tasks (e.g. revision, terminology work)

Knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition


The ability to design courses in translation


Knowledge about translation teaching methods


The ability to design translation teaching materials


The ability to motivate students


The ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback

Table 1. Our list of translation teacher qualifications and competences

The questionnaire was thus divided into three main sections, dealing with: a) translation teacher qualifications; b) translation teacher competences; and c) the respondents’ demographic details (education background and translation experience).

In most questions belonging to the first two sections, the respondents were asked to rate the importance of a particular qualification or competence using a five-point Likert scale (1 = ‘completely irrelevant’; 5 = ‘necessary’). With regard to qualifications, the respondents were additionally asked to identify those that should be included among the formal requirements for the job of university translation teacher. In connection with competences, the respondents were also asked to rank them in their perceived order of importance. A number of additional questions were open-ended, inviting the respondents to comment on any aspects of the topic not covered elsewhere in the questionnaire. The teachers were additionally asked to self-assess their need for further training, and identify the areas in which this need was most acutely felt.

For questions which elicited assessment on a five-point scale, we calculated the average ratings (scores). This was done for the whole sample, as well as separately for each of the two groups (professional translators vs. translation teachers). Where potentially interesting (see Figs. 5 and 7), ratings were also compared between two groups of respondents depending on the type of study programme they had completed (‘Bologna’ programme in translation vs. all others). This seemed relevant in view of the fact that the programmes in translation were introduced for the first time at Croatian universities as part of the so-called Bologna reform, and graduates from such programmes could be expected to be better aware of various aspects and current trends in both TS and translation profession.

With regard to the ranking question (see Fig. 9), in which the respondents were required to order the competences in their perceived priority, we calculated weighted averages of the responses in order to obtain a global view of the two groups and facilitate inter-group comparison. Weighted average is a mean calculated by awarding each position on the ranking scale a weight (in our case, from one to eleven, since eleven competences were offered for ranking). Weights are assigned in reverse; that is, the first position on the ranking scale is assigned the largest weight (11), while the last position is awarded the weight of 1. The average weight is then calculated by using this formula: x1w1 + x2w2 + x3w3... xnwn (where ‘x’ is the response count for each position and ‘w’ is the weight of the position), divided by the total number of responses. (SurveyMonkey 1999-2017)

Responses to the open-ended questions were used to facilitate interpretation and discussion of the results.

The last section of the questionnaire (demographic data) differed on two points depending on the group of respondents it targeted. With respect to education background the translation teacher group was additionally asked to indicate whether they had completed any university program in teaching. The other difference was in the orientation of the question establishing the extent of a respondent’s translation experience. Translators, who possess such experience by definition, were asked to indicate the length of their work experience, in years. For translation teachers, on the other hand, it seemed interesting to establish whether they had experience in translation at all, or rather, whether they had sufficient experience to be able to assess it as ‘considerable’ (no attempt was made to influence the assessment).

A total of 105 complete responses were received: 88 from professional translators and 17 from translation teachers. Given the size of the translation market and, in particular, the total number of university translation teachers currently active in the country, the numbers can be considered satisfactory. In the next chapter, we look more closely at the respondents’ translation experience and education profile, before presenting the results obtained from the questions dealing with translation teacher qualifications and competences.

3. Results

3.1. Respondents’ background

With regard to length of professional experience, the translator group proved to cover the whole range, starting with those who are relatively new to the profession (one to five years) to those with more than 20 years of experience (see Fig. 2). In the translation teacher group, 76 per cent of the respondents claimed to possess considerable translation experience.

Figure 2. Experience in translation: the translator group (left, N=88)
and the translation teacher group (right, N=17)

The demographic data provided by the respondents also included information on their education background (Figs. 3 and 4). Both groups were very homogeneous in terms of having a background in philology (96 per cent of translators, 94 per cent of translation teachers). In contrast, only 42 per cent of translators and 30 per cent of teachers had completed a programme in translation. The teacher group was split with regard to teacher training as well: 65 per cent had received it, 35 per cent had not. The two groups differed considerably in the share of Bologna graduates: while they made up more than one third of the translator group (36 per cent, a vast majority of them – 31 per cent of the whole group – having completed a Bologna programme in translation), there were only 12 per cent of them among the translation teachers.

Figure 3. Respondents’ education profile (professional translators)

Figure 4. Respondents’ education profile (translation teachers)

3.2. Qualifications

The first set of questions in the questionnaire focused on qualifications, i.e. formal achievements with respect to education or translation-related experience. As already pointed out in Chapter 2, the selection of qualifications was inspired by the EMT list of formal requirements (Gambier and Pokorn 2013) but the two sets do not correspond fully. The most pronounced difference has to do with experience in translation, phrased by the EMT group as ‘relevant professional practice (e.g. work experience in translation)’. Thinking that such a description might prove insufficiently precise for this survey and receive different interpretations from our informants, we decided to break it up into two qualifications and refer to experience in one type vs. several types of translation, as well as to add a qualification explicitly involving translation-related tasks, different from translation proper but commonly performed by translators (revision, terminology-related work, and so on). As our footnote 3 explains, we refer to ‘formal education in translation theories’ as a qualification, rather than ‘knowledge of’, as this is phrased in the EMT list of fundamental requirements. In the EMT Expert Group’s presentation (2013) those requirements also included the ‘Ability to perform tasks assigned to students according to professional quality standards’. We decided to include a slightly rephrased description of that ability in our list of competences, rather than qualifications, just as was done by Gambier and Pokorn in their presentation (2013).

Our informants’ responses indicate that they deem all the six qualifications on the list desirable (all ratings exceed 3.5 on a 1 to 5 scale). It is, however, obvious that the qualifications related to professional experience are rated higher than the rest: these three top the list with scores above 4.35, while the desirability of the other three is rated between 3.51 and 4.03 (Table 2).

Avg. score



Experience in one type of translation


Experience with different translation-related tasks


Experience in several types of translation


Training in teaching


Formal education in translation theories


Degree in translation

Table 2. Assessment of desirability of a given qualification
for translation teachers: average scores for all respondents. 
Scale 1 to 5: 1=completely irrelevant, 5=necessary

A comparison between the two groups of respondents, translators and translation teachers, reveals very little difference in their perception of how desirable the six qualifications are. The difference in their ratings is slightly more pronounced with regard to the experience-related qualifications but still very small (between 0.11 and 0.18), with the translator group proving more demanding across the board.

A somewhat different picture emerges when the perceptions expressed by respondents with a Bologna degree in translation are compared to the perceptions of all the others (Fig. 5). The differences in ratings of five qualifications are very small here as well (four of them between 0.04 and 0.07; for the fifth, the only one where the group ‘others’ proved more demanding, namely training in teaching, the difference is 0.18). However, the qualification ‘degree in translation’ (labelled ‘A’ in the chart) received a considerably different score from the two groups: its desirability seems to be substantially higher for the Bologna graduates in translation than for the rest (even if the score is not very high for either group: 3.93 and 3.36 respectively).

Legend: A = degree in translation; B = training in teaching;
C = experience in one type of translation; D = experience in several types of translation;
E = experience with different translation-related tasks; F = formal education in translation theories.

Figure 5. Desirability of a given qualification for translation teachers (scale 1 to 5);
respondents with a Bologna translation degree compared to all others.

The next question in the questionnaire aimed to establish whether the respondents felt that a particular qualification was not only desirable but absolutely necessary for a translation teacher, in other words, that it should be a formal requirement for the position. As it turns out, only one qualification is seen as a sine qua non by a vast majority (94.29 per cent) of our informants, namely experience in translation. While this applies to experience in general, regardless of the type of translation or the number of different types a person has worked with, a smaller but still appreciable number of respondents (61.9 per cent) believe that the required experience should involve more than one type of translation. As can be seen in Table 3, only two more qualifications are deemed a necessary requirement by more than a half of the respondents. The third highest score for ‘training in teaching’, substantially higher than the following one (59.05 per cent vs. 36.19 per cent) is interesting in that it disagrees with the result in Huang and Napier’s study (2015: 7), where very few respondents, and none in the teacher group, included teaching qualification among the three most important ‘aspects of translation teaching’. The fact that ‘degree in translation’ ranks lowest among the potential formally required qualifications may be partly explained by specific circumstances in Croatia, as was indicated by several respondents’ comments. One of them thus remarked that he or she might change the opinion in the future but ‘in view of the fact that translation programmes were introduced at Croatian universities only several years ago, and despite that, the teachers teaching translation courses demonstrate competence and high quality, I believe that this [i.e. a degree in translation] is not necessary.’. 




Experience in translation


Experience with other translation-related tasks


Training in teaching


Formal education in translation theories


Degree in translation


None of the above

Table 3. Percentage of respondents who think that a given qualification
should be a formal requirement for the translation teacher position

A comparison between the responses given by the translator and by the teacher group with regard to formally required qualifications (Fig. 6) reveals more pronounced differences than with their assessments of how desirable a given qualification is. Once again the translator group proves more demanding, as evident in higher percentages for all of the listed qualifications. The difference is most noticeable (20 per cent or more) with regard to ‘experience with other translation-related tasks’ (labelled ‘E’ in the chart) and ‘formal education in translation theories’ (‘F’). The former circumstance does not seem very surprising since practising translators can be expected to be more aware of the various tasks that they themselves or their translator colleagues perform in the workplace. The other finding is undoubtedly more astonishing. Following the logic of the previous explanation, one would hardly expect translation practitioners to be more inclined to see ‘formal education in translation theories’ as a necessary requirement than the group composed of academics (only university teachers have participated in the survey). For a possible explanation, see discussion of Fig. 9, the results for ‘knowledge of translation theories’.

Legend: A = degree in translation; B = training in teaching;
CD = experience in (one or several types of) translation;
E = experience with different translation-related tasks;
F = formal education in translation theories; G = none of the above.

Figure 6. Percentage of respondents who think that a given qualification
should be a formal requirement; the translator and the teacher group compared.

In an attempt to see whether the respondents’ education background had influenced their assessments we once again compared the answers of the respondents who had completed a university programme in translation in the post-Bologna reform period with the answers of all the rest (Fig. 7). 

Legend: A = degree in translation; B = training in teaching;
CD = experience in (one or several types of) translation;
E = experience with different translation-related tasks;
F = formal education in translation theories; G = none of the above.

Figure 7. Percentage of respondents who think that a given qualification
should be a formal requirement; Bologna translation graduates compared to all others.

This time the comparison yielded a diversified picture, with Bologna translation graduates being more prone to seeing three qualifications as necessary formal requirements (‘translation experience’, ‘experience with different translation-related tasks’ and ‘degree in translation’), and less prone to do that with regard to the other two. The difference in percentages was largest with respect to ‘degree in translation’ (exceeding 24 per cent), and it was quite considerable with respect to ‘training in teaching’ (the share among the Bologna translation graduates almost 15 per cent lower than among the rest) and regarding ‘experience with different translation tasks’ (the share among the Bologna graduates trained in translation 11.88 per cent higher).

The final question in the section of the questionnaire focusing on qualifications invited respondents to name any additional qualification that a translation teacher should in their opinion possess. While many respondents offered a comment, only two new qualifications emerged from their answers, each of them mentioned only once. These were ‘formal education in LSP’ and ‘experience in the business sector’.

3.3. Competences

Regarding the perception of competences desirable for translation teachers, the first thing that we can notice (Table 4) is that all the competences offered to the respondents for assessment proved to be highly valued, with average ratings ranging from 4.84 (for ‘the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students’ and ‘the ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback’) to 3.19 (for ‘the ability to do research in TS’). Although ‘familiarity with translation theories’ and ‘the ability to do research in TS’ received relatively low scores (3.9 and 3.19 respectively), both ratings still fell above the middle point of the scale.

Avg. score



The ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students


The ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback


Knowledge about the translation profession (trends, workflows, tools and so on)


Knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition


The ability to use CAT tools


The ability to motivate students


Knowledge about translation teaching methods


The ability to design translation teaching materials


The ability to design courses in translation


Knowledge of translation theories


The ability to do research in TS

Table 4. Assessment of desirability of a given competence
for translation teachers (scale 1 to 5): average scores for all respondents

Comparing the two professional groups of respondents, we can see two most notable differences (Fig. 8). First, the translator group awarded considerably higher scores than the teacher group to the two profession-related competences: ‘knowledge about the translation profession’ (labelled ‘b’ in the chart) and ‘the ability to use CAT tools’ (‘c’). Conversely, the teacher group rated more highly than the translator group the two teaching-related competences: ‘the ability to design courses in translation’ (‘g’) and, in particular, ‘the ability to design translation teaching materials’ (‘i’).

Legend: a = the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students;
b = knowledge about the translation profession; c = the ability to use CAT tools;
d = the ability to do research in TS; e = knowledge of translation theories;
f = knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition; g = the ability to design courses in translation;
h = knowledge about translation teaching methods; i = the ability to design translation teaching materials;
j = the ability to motivate students; k = the ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback.

Figure 8. Desirability of a given competence for translation teachers (scale 1 to 5):
comparison between the translator and teacher group.

These differences between the two groups became even more pronounced when respondents were asked to rank (rather than rate) the competences in order of priority. Figure 9 shows the competences as ranked by the respondents (ordered by the translator group).

Legend: a = the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students;
b = knowledge about the translation profession; c = the ability to use CAT tools;
d = the ability to do research in TS; e = knowledge of translation theories;
f = knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition; g = the ability to design courses in translation;
h = knowledge about translation teaching methods; i = the ability to design translation teaching materials;
j = the ability to motivate students; k = the ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback.

Figure 9. Competences ranked by the respondents:
weighted averages for the translator and teacher groups

Both groups of respondents ranked ‘the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students’ (‘a’) as the most important competence for translation teachers. ‘Knowledge about translation competences and their acquisition’ (‘f’) and ‘the ability to assess students’ work and provide feedback’ (‘k’) were ranked second and third respectively by the translator group, and in the reverse order by the teacher group, with the two competences neck-to-neck in both groups (7.74 and 7.52 in the translator group; 8.12 and 8.41 in the teacher group).

The most pronounced differences are again evident with regard to competences labelled ‘b’ and ‘c’ in the chart (‘knowledge about the translation profession’ and ‘the ability to use CAT tools’), which were ranked fourth and sixth respectively by the translator group, and found themselves only in the eighth and ninth place in the teacher group’s ranking, followed only by the theory- and research-related competences.

On the other hand, the teachers’ rankings, when compared to the translators’, show a clear preference for the teaching-related competences, in particular ‘the ability to design translation teaching materials’ (6.59 vs. 4.74) and ‘knowledge about translation teaching methods’ (7.35 vs. 6.06).

As was the case with the five-point assessment question, here too both groups’ responses placed ‘knowledge of translation theories’ (‘e’) and ‘the ability to do research in TS’ (‘d’) at the bottom of the list. Interestingly, the translator group’s weighted averages obtained from the ranking question were considerably higher for ‘knowledge of translation theories’ than the teacher group’s (4.51 vs. 3.47). This might be explained by the fact that the teacher group in our sample is rather small, and that some of them teach practical courses and perhaps do not consider knowledge of translation theories to be an essential part of the translation teacher’s job. Some teacher respondents explicitly said in the open-ended questionnaire section inviting ‘further comments’ that knowledge of translation theory was a ‘good-to-have’ but not an essential part of the translation teacher profile, and that this knowledge would not necessarily have to be very deep. On the other hand, one respondent stressed that, although she had placed ‘the ability to do research’ in the last place when ordering the competences, she believed that a teacher who also did research in TS would be more innovative and less prone to get stuck in a rut when delivering translation classes.

As a general remark about this question, several respondents mentioned that they found it very difficult to rank the competences, since they considered them all to be equally important for translation teachers.

In an open-ended question at the end of this section of the questionnaire, our respondents had the opportunity to list additional competences not included in our list. A few of the respondents mentioned mother tongue competence, which we took for granted when creating the questionnaire, and which we considered implied in ‘the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students’. In fact, the same applies to competence in a foreign language or languages and the knowledge of respective cultures. Highly developed language competence, quite clearly required of translators and translation teachers alike, encompasses the ability to use registers appropriate to the situation, which was another asset highlighted by the respondents.

On the other hand, some respondents also mentioned good communication skills, which would indeed be most desirable in translation teachers.

Two well-argued contributions had to do with competence in various professional fields. One of them stressed the need for students to become acquainted in the course of their studies with some fields that their future translations were likely to involve (law, engineering, medicine…). It seems probable, even if it was not clearly stated, that the comment implied that the translation teacher should possess the necessary knowledge toward that goal. The other comment put more emphasis on the translation teacher encouraging his or her students to keep developing their knowledge in the field(s) relevant for their translation practice.

Interestingly, one respondent mentioned that translation teachers should be able to recognize in their students the talent for one type of translation or another, in order to be able to steer them in that direction.

3.4. Teachers’ need for further training

One of the aims of this research involved self-assessment on the part of the teachers of their need for further training in competences necessary for translation teaching. They were asked to assess their need on a five-point scale (1 = ‘no need at all’; 5 = ‘very strong need’). The average rating turned out to be 3.59, with the ‘3’ and ‘4’ ratings equally distributed (eight respondents each), and only one respondent assessing their need as ‘very strong’ (‘5’).

Asked in an open-ended question to identify the areas of training that they felt mostly in need of, the respondents listed the following (presented here in order of frequency): 

  1. translation tools (mentioned by eight of the 17 respondents in this group)
  2. trends in the translation profession or in the translation market (mentioned by four respondents)
  3. teaching methods (four respondents)
  4. design of teaching materials (two respondents)
  5. translation assessment (two respondents).

Even though the translation teachers assessed and ranked ‘the ability to use translation tools’ and ‘knowledge about the translation profession’ as less important than did their professional translator counterparts (Figs. 8 and 9), these two areas were clearly identified as the ones in which the teachers felt most need for further training. This would suggest that at least some of them consider competences in these areas to be a very important aspect of their job.

More generally, two of the respondents mentioned they would like future training courses to provide them with the opportunity to ‘share experience with colleagues’.

3.5 Teacher’s personality

Although we did not explicitly include questions on desired translation teacher personality traits in our questionnaire, quite a few of such qualities were nevertheless brought up in responses to open-ended questions. For this reason we feel compelled to mention them when presenting our results.

According to our respondents, a translation teacher should be: inspiring, dedicated, patient, fair, helpful, empathetic, eloquent, erudite, innovative, open to learning new things, open to alternative translation solutions, talented for teaching, willing to undergo further training and independent. Several respondents emphasized that, if a translation teacher did not have a gift for teaching, no amount of training in translation or teaching competences would help. Others stressed that good teachers could make or break a translation course or study programme, regardless of how well-designed the curriculum or its syllabi.

With that observation, we seem to have come full circle, returning to the emphasis on translation teacher personality that was highlighted by early authors who wrote on the topic.

4. Conclusions

The responses received in this survey indicate that the qualifications and competences listed in the questionnaire are all deemed relevant and desirable by the two professional groups of relevant stakeholders. Together with a few additional competences mentioned by the respondents they can therefore be considered to provide an adequate reference framework for the recruitment of translation teachers, as well as for the development of translation teacher training courses. It is worth repeating in that context that almost all the respondents consider ‘experience in translation’ to be indispensable for translation teachers. That view is indirectly corroborated by their emphasis on the significance of ‘the ability to perform, at professional level, the tasks assigned to students’.

The results discussed in the previous chapter enable a number of more general conclusions. They make it clear that not everything that is deemed desirable needs to be a formal requirement for the teaching position. While all the qualifications quoted in the questionnaire are deemed desirable (four of them rated above 4 and all six above 3.5 on a 1 to 5 scale), only two of them would be formally required by a majority in the teacher group and only three by a majority of translators. The responses also show that competences enable a more nuanced picture of a desirable translation teacher profile than qualifications do. It turns out that some competences implied by a particular qualification are recognized as important even if the qualification itself has received a lower score.

Comparisons of results carried out along two different lines (different profession and different education background) indicate that different backgrounds seem to influence the respondents’ perceptions. The translator group thus rate translation-related competences (familiarity with trends, CAT tools, various translation-related tasks) more highly than the teacher group. Equally so, the latter rate competences related to their profession (in particular the ability to design teaching materials and courses, and familiarity with translation teaching methods) more highly than translators do. Responses by Bologna graduates trained in translation provide another example of the influence, most visibly in respect of ‘a degree in translation’: more than a half of them (51.72 per cent) would like to see that qualification as a formal requirement for the translation teacher position, while only 27.63 per cent of the other respondents share their opinion. 

Responses to an open-ended question in the teachers’ questionnaire provide a glimpse into the currently active translation teachers’ needs for further training. The areas in which the needs seem to be most acute are CAT tools, trends in the translation profession and translation teaching methods.

The survey has also yielded some interesting information regarding a topic that it did not initially set out to investigate. The demographic data provided by translation teachers enable a preliminary picture of that group of university teachers in Croatia. They tend to have very similar education backgrounds (94 per cent have a philology degree, 88 per cent completed a pre-Bologna programme, 70 per cent did not study translation, 65 per cent received teacher training during their studies), and 76 per cent of them have ‘considerable translation experience’. These findings may feed into various future endeavours relating to translator and translation teacher training in Croatia.


EMT Expert Group (2013) “The EMT Translator Trainer Profile. Competences of the trainer in translation”, presentation delivered at the OPTIMALE workshop in Plovdiv, February 2013, URL: http://www.ressources.univ-rennes2.fr/service-relations-internationales/optimale/attachments/article/16/EMT%20translator%20trainer_Competences_Rev.ppt. (accessed 25 Apr 2017)

Gambier, Yves and Pokorn, Nike K. (2013) “The EMT Translator Trainer Profile. Competences of the Trainer in Translation”, presentation delivered at the OPTIMALE training session in Tallinn, April 2013, URL: http://www.ressources.univ-rennes2.fr/service-relations-internationales/optimale/attachments/article/50/130409%20Translator%20Trainer%20Competences.pdf (accessed 25 Apr 2017)

Gonzáles Davies, Maria (2004) Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom. Activities, Tasks and Projects, Amsterdam & Philadelphia, John Benjamins.

HEA (Higher Education Academy) (2011) “The UK Professional Standards Framework for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education”, URL: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/downloads/uk_professional_standards_framework.pdf (accessed 30 Apr 2017)

Huang, Zhi and Napier, Jemina (2015) “Perceptions of Teachers and Students on the Qualities of an Effective Translation Teacher”, The Journal of Language Teaching and Learning 1: 1-23.

Kelly, Dorothy (2005) A Handbook for Translator Trainers. A Guide to Reflective Practice, Manchester, St. Jerome.

Kelly, Dorothy (2008) “Training the Trainers: Towards a Description of Translator Trainer Competence and Training Needs Analysis”, TTR. traduction, terminologie, tédaction 21, no. 1: 99-125.

Li, Defeng and Zhang, Chunling (2011) “Knowledge Structure and Training of Translation Teachers: An Exploratory Study of Doctoral Programmes of Translation Studies in Honk Kong”, Meta 56(3):  693–712.

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[1] The descriptions of the list in the two presentations we refer to (EMT Expert Group 2013; Gambier and Pokorn 2013) are very similar but they differ in the number of elements included in the ‘fundamental requirements’ set. While Gambier and Pokorn’s presentation lists the four requirements quoted here, the EMT Expert Group’s presentation contains an additional requirement, namely the ‘ability to perform tasks assigned to students according to professional quality standards’ (see 3.2. for further comment).

[3] It should be noted that we consider ‘formal education in translation theories’ as a qualification, while ‘knowledge of translation theories’ is considered as a competence, on the understanding that one can acquire the latter in other ways than through formal education. The same principle can also be applied to other categories.

About the author(s)

Nataša Pavlović teaches translation theory and practice at the Department of English of the University of Zagreb, Croatia. She holds a Ph.D. degree in Translation and Intercultural Studies from the University Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. Her research interests include translation process research, translation directionality, translator education, translation technology, trends in the translation profession, and research methodology. She is the author of a Croatian-language book Introduction to Translation Theories.

Goranka Antunović, associate professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, teaches linguistic and translation/TS courses at the Scandinavian Studies Section. Her main research interests lie in the field of Translation Studies (translation norms, translation process research), contrastive Swedish-Croatian linguistics and contact linguistics.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Nataša Pavlović and Goranka Antunović (2019).
"A desirable profile of translation teacher: perceptions and needs in the Croatian context"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2423

Cluster and derived equivalence in collaborative corpus-informed translation education

By Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

This paper presents corpus-informed teaching practice and effects of online collaborative Native - Non-native (NS-NNS) translation tasks (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Bogucki 2016; Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Slomski 2016) in the identification of clustering equivalence English-to-Polish and Polish-to-English patterns. The paper elaborates on the concept of cluster equivalence (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017), making reference to large monolingual and parallel examples and presents sets of translational clusters of equivalence patterns and collocational patterning, in which the phenomena of re-conceptualization, meaning approximation and displacement of senses are observed (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010).

Keywords: translator education, corpus-assisted translation, cluster equivalence, student collaboration, meaning approximation

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2019).
"Cluster and derived equivalence in collaborative corpus-informed translation education"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2422

1. Introduction

The paper presents a description of the processes and effects of online collaborative writing and translation tasks, originally discussed in Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Bogucki (2016) and Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Slomski (2016) in Native - Non-native (NS-NNS) student pairs for improving the identification of clustering equivalence patterns in practice. The analysis and discussion of the learner data aim “to create a corpus-informed teaching approach, develop adequate didactic materials, and foster discussion between practitioners and theorists in the field of translational education” (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2016). 

The paper develops the concept of cluster equivalence introduced by the author in previous publications (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017), exemplified on selected, mostly law-related terms in English-Polish parallel materials and  subject to frequent clarification requests in NS-NNS contacts.  The argument makes reference to comparable and parallel examples and presents sets of translational clusters of equivalence patterns and collocational patterning, identified both in general language and LSP, in which the phenomena of re-conceptualization, meaning approximation and displacement of senses are observed (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010). 

The present study derives the language materials from English and Polish monolingual corpora, the British National Corpus and the National Corpus of Polish, and English-Polish and Polish-English comparable and parallel corpora, developed at the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics of Lodz University, accompanied by Polish and English monitor corpora with daily updates and freely available collocation tools. The materials of student cooperative tasks are drawn from the Trans-Atlantic Project of cooperation (TAPP, see Maylath et al. 2013) between native American students of North Dakota State University and the Concordia College, Minnesota in the USA on the one hand and Polish students of two universities – the University of Lodz and the State University of Applied Sciences in Konin on the other (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & Slomski 2016) in the years 2015-2017.

2. Collaborative corpus-informed teaching

The concept of cross-linguistic cluster equivalence patterns to be developed more fully in the second part of the paper, appears to be useful in collaborative corpus-informed teaching tasks at MA translation classes between students of two USA universities (North Dakota State University and Concordia College, Minnesota) and two universities in Poland (University of Lodz and State University of Applied Sciences in Konin). The cooperation involved NS-NNS peer collaborative writing/translation tasks in the period of 4 semesters in the years 2015-2017. Apart from mutual peer correction tasks the Polish students performed analyses of the concordance materials in English and Polish monolingual corpora (British National Corpus and National Corpus of Polish) and Polish-to-English and English-to-Polish parallel corpora (Paralela). Furthermore, they generated and analysed collocational profiles of relevant items and performed a study on the syntactic/semantic construal (Langacker 1987) and re-concepualization types (qualitative analysis) in the selected classes of examples (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010).

The cooperation involved regular online collaborative tasks between Polish MA students of English and translation and American students of technical and engineering subjects and was helpful in meaning clarification and fuller comprehension both of the direct meanings as well as intended messages.

Out of the properties envisaged to be part and parcel of translational competence (Pietrzak 2013) such as those originally proposed by Neubert (2000), i.e.,  language competence, textual competence, subject competence, cultural competence and transfer competence, it is transfer competence, involving pattern-matching competence between a SL and a TL, accompanied by a decision-taking competence  as well as performance competence, i.e., ability to perform in consequence of pattern-matching ability and conscious decision making that are the most significant criterial properties. The social-psychological competences leading to development of higher criticality and  self-authorship (inter alia self-regulation) are also particularly conducive to the development of translator collaborative competence.

3. Peer corrective feedback

As one of their major tasks the Polish students in the collaborative TAPP project were to choose quality press articles, translate them into English and send to US pairs appointed by the lecturers. American students sent their feedback and upon correction, the Polish students sent their modified versions back to their American pairs. There were several, typically 2-3 turns, of consecutive revised and modified drafts and Question-Answer turns  between US and Polish  students.  The final versions of the English texts were sent to the American students and both teachers. During the same period of time the American students prepared their authored texts and sent them off to the Polish students, who commented on the texts and asked questions. The American students modified their texts and/or provided additional clarification.

All students got additional feedback in person from their University tutors either during meetings or at the consultation periods. All Polish students’ English language proficiency level, monitored at the seminars and classes of practical English grammar, speaking and writing/integrated skills, ranged between B1 and C1 levels (by The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), i.e., between so-called independent user’s threshold or intermediate proficiency or vantage or intermediate proficiency in English on the one hand and effective operational or advanced proficiency on the other. All of the American students are native speakers of English, first or second generation college students, generally of middle class background and they are most commonly majors in engineering, architecture, and nursing.

The highest frequencies of Polish student feedback referred to terminological clarification requests. In the section to follow we will first develop terminological definitions of the theoretical concepts used in the paper and present instances of requests for the clarification of legal terminology and their effects, aided by corpus-informed teaching classes for full understanding of the direct and implied meanings of the texts.

4. Meaning approximation versus sense selection

The focus of this section is translational clusters of equivalence patterns and collocational patterning, in which the phenomena of re-conceptualization, meaning approximation and displacement of senses are observed (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010). Concepts of approximation of meanings, re-conceptualization cycles (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010, 2016), and inter-language displacements constitute the foundation of the development of cluster equivalence patterns, observed at the interface of Source Language and Target Language. However, it must be observed that cross-language relations constitute a double-faceted phenomenon.

On the one hand, clustering  involves the option of looking for equivalence in clusters of similar, approximate forms across languages rather than in word-for-word equivalents (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017, 2017a). And yet, when needed, required or wished for, such clusters enable the translator to search for specific wording in the TL text and to employ a selective rather than cumulative technique from the cluster in order to take care of the, subtle and yet meaningful, differences between various options of construal of the same scene or event.

5. Language and extralinguistic world

It is a truism to say that language is not directly linked with the extralinguistic world. However, the question remains with regard to the types and forms of relationship between language and outside reality. Following cognitive linguistics I assume a relation between the world and language in terms of the process of mental imagery construction, which combines both language users’ linguistic and encyclopaedic knowledge,  their intentions,  expectations and preferences.

Meaning approximation

Communication, as was mentioned in Section 3., relies on approximate (and not identical) meaning sharing (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2012b), both in the process of monolingual  discourse and, even more clearly, in translation. A Source Language system is never fully equivalent to a Target Language, so translating necessarily involves a number of cycles of re-conceptualization of the SL message (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2010). This means, that the (language-specific) construal (syntactic packaging) of an event (Langacker 1987), i.e., a particular point of view, a vantage, in terms of which the original scene is conceptualized, contributes to a large extent to a modified L2 scene construal. In other words, a particular syntactic structure, construes the event scene and contributes to the meaning of the relevant linguistic expression. There are obviously other reasons for the reconceptualization phenomena. Speakers’ language proficiency, their volitional and deontic purposes (i.e., their will and obligations what to say and how to phrase it) as well as large contextual and interactional factors play a role here (for details see Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017a). 


As argued above, languages portray different pictures of outside reality. In their structure, languages do not possess identically structured categories to ensure complete representational identity in meaning transfer. George Lakoff (1987:322-323) introduces the concept of commensurability and cross-language commensurability criteria to measure cross-linguistic similarities and distance, which cover the following:

  1. truth-conditional criteria [classical translatability],
  2. criteria of use, [acceptability]
  3. framing criteria, [knowledge frames]
  4. conceptual organization criteria – a hierarchy of concepts - [distinct categorization of the same objects]

Truth-conditional criteria are most likely, though obviously not in each case, to be satisfied in translation. They refer to classical formal translatability criteria and are traditionally considered to express one of the properties of adequate, ‘true’ translation. Criteria of use pertain to the acceptability criteria, referring to style, genre and speaker’s idiosyncratic preferences. Knowledge frames are captured by the framing criteria, which are dynamic, shaped by cultural preferences and shared, conventional patterns. Conceptual organizational criteria are responsible for particular language- and culture- specific categorization of concepts, most likely to be characteristic for a particular language system.  Languages may share some of the criteria but they would never share all of them. Therefore, the transfer of all nuances of meaning in their totality is simply not possible.

Displacement of senses (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 1987)

Relevant to the present discussion is also the phenomenon of the displacement of senses, which accounts for the asymmetry between cross-linguistic meanings both in synchronic and diachronic perspectives.  In such cases as e.g., the superordinate verbal concept go in English, the Polish equivalence patters is displaced towards a lower categorization hierarchy level, i.e., its subordinate categorization. Thus, the English-Polish equivalence structure is asymmetrical and displaced towards Polish obligatory subcategories – iść ‘walk’ versus jechać ‘move by using a vehicle’, each of which would again have an asymmetric equivalent in English e.g., drive, ride, etc. Such meaning spaces as I call them, provide larger cluster equivalence areas between SLs and TLs.

6. Translational equivalence

It may be clear from the above discussion that the concept of translational (and in fact more general cross-linguistic) equivalence is of a cluster rather than single unit nature. This is not a new idea in lexicography and translation studies. And yet, a more overall corpus-generated  model on the one hand and a detailed cognitive process-based typology of such phenomena had not been put forward before.  I propose in Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2010)  that both translation and monolingual types of communication can be symmetric or asymmetric. Fully symmetric, i.e., closely aligned, or parallel, communication, is not frequent, or perhaps not possible as argued above, similarly to non-ubiquity of fully equivalent translation. Asymmetric types of interaction with two opposing poles, one -  coarse-grained approximate correspondence of  generalized alignment, on the one hand, and asymmetric fine-grained alignment (correspondence), i.e., a particularization relation, on the other, are much more frequent and form larger bulks of authentic texts. To put it in a more diagrammatic mode, translational equivalence can be

  • loose, Gestalt in nature (more-or-less, i.e., an approximation of an exact solution, in the cases when full meanings are accessible (e.g., I made  a hundred Euro on that  vs almost structures, where no exact solution exists for a given case e.g., vague expressions e.g., several cases)
  • parallel (more) aligned (usually domain-specific as in engineering, medical sciences, etc.)
  • particulate, fine-grained communication (explanatory as in the cases of detailed definitions)

And yet, there seem to exist some context-bound constraints on meaning modulation substantiated in terms of the semantic approximation  tolerance threshold (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2012b), the boundaries  of which are delineated  in terms of the degree of resemblance of particular language signs used in cross-linguistic communication. Resemblance is a culture-, context- and speaker-specific notion, in which no one of the variables can be fully predicted or determined outside the cultural or situational context. Nevertheless, the original linguistic sign is to a large extent, as proposed by Gärdenfors (2000) a determinant of the width of the possible tolerance spaces with respect to particular attribute values.

The degree of linguistic unit resemblance can be established in terms of their resemblance criteria (Lewandowska 2012a, 2012b):

  • qualitative features [material/physical and functional properties, shapes, topology, etc., axiological value, evaluative charge, cultural function, etc.]
  • construal properties [syntactic constraints on meaning and pressure of syntactic selection]
  • quantitative features [near sets] – number of object feature values in common; number of shared contexts & frequency of occurrence

Each shift in the feature brings about a degree of its reconceptualization in a Target Language system. 

6.1. Cluster equivalence and derived equivalence

As argued above cross-language equivalence is not of a word-for-word but rather of a cluster-for-cluster type. Translational cluster equivalence is built from more loosely constrained units that are related by a degree of resemblance according to  a number of the criteria identified in section 6. I call part of the cluster, occupied by a more constrained class of similar concepts/forms derived equivalence. For example, the English concept compassion exhibits a cluster of derived, semantically closely related, more constrained and predictable, members such as sympathy, empathy, concern, pity, although not fully identical in meaning (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Wilson 2016).

The Polish derived equivalence pattern of współczucie ‘compassion’ will embrace a somewhat distinct space. The Polish item sympatia ‘sympathy, fondness’ on the other hand, as indicated by its association numbers, is more loosely associated with współczucie ‘compassion’ than the pair sympathy / compassion in English, or in some senses it can even be considered its false friend.  Furthermore, while there appears a similar derived cluster litość ‘pity’ in both languages, its Polish associated cluster member politowanie ‘pity expressed with a feeling of superiority’  makes the cluster more negatively evaluated as a whole. The members of these clusters are identified and used as equivalence units in Polish-to-English and English-to-Polish parallel data, e.g.,:

Eng. that would have moved me to pity
Pol. budziła we mnie współczucie ‘compassion’
Pol. umiał obudzić w sobie współczucie ‘compassion’ [dla niego]
Eng. was so sorry ‘przykrość’ for him

Extended cluster equivalence on the other hand implies a more distant resemblance relation, much less predictable, less constrained and occasionally extended beyond the conventional semantic space threshold. Polish współczucie can trigger English love as an extended inter-cluster equivalent, or can surface as an element signifying causality of the compassion act, representing the modulation tolerance threshold on the proposed equivalence patterns (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk and Wilson 2016 for a detailed description of such processes). The latter signify objects that might satisfy the particular meaning conditions: causes, presuppositions, results, or even more emergent outside knowledge-based equivalents, i.e., objects that are not likely but not impossible to satisfy the conditions of meaning approximation (Gärdenfors 2000) as e.g., in the English original (3), in which the character experiences ‘a moving effect’ in himself, translated into the more interactive, co-temporal feeling of współczując ‘feeling sympathy/compassion to’ :

Eng. and that her brother always took that for a received truth on such occasions, and that it always had a moving effect upon him
Pol. Wiedział o tym brat Peggotty, współczując niedoli wdowy. lit. ‘It was known to Peggotty’s brother,  feeling sympathy to the widow’.

The topmost Polish equivalents of Eng. compassion presented in Table 1. below, which are generated from the PARALELA materials, include Polish equivalents of the nominal (współczucie ‘compassion’),  verbal (współczuć ‘to show sympathy, compassion’, okazać ‘to show’) and prepositional (nad ‘for somebody, something’) character. The most frequent translational clustering with other emotion concepts is also present in the forms litość ‘pity’, miłosierdzie ‘mercy’ and miłość ‘love’.

PARALELA, Dice’s similarity coefficient
A, B, C – components of Dice’s score
A - total frequencies of both wordforms in SL and TL
B - presence of wordform in SL only
C - presence of wordform only in TL

Table 1. Top Polish cluster equivalents of Eng. compassion

The conclusions with respect to translational equivalence then are not fully synonymous with what e.g., Krzeszowski (2016)  proposes as a ‘translational equivalence delusion’. They rather support the postulate for translational equivalence to involve four basic processes, in which the phenomenon of clustering involves  various possible cluster equivalence types discussed (see also Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017):

  1. cluster-for-cluster mapping
  2. higher schematization of the Target as contrasted with the Source version
  3. POS re-categorization  (e.g. Eng. disgust, aversion, nausea, distaste, horror, despise, to loathe, to shrink (from something), dirt, reluctance, translated as  Pol. wstręt ‘repulsion’, brzydzić się ‘to loathe’)
  4. contrual reconceptualization

In the sections to follow a more detailed description will be presented of the Polish students’ practical application and use of the theoretical cluster equivalence instruments in in their translation tasks.

7. NS-NNS collaborative practice in clarification of law-related terms

7.1. Specialist terminology

The American students collaborating with the Polish ones in the TAPP project specialize in non-humanities fields and their knowledge of legal, scientific and technological terminology seems to exceed that characterizing the Polish students. Below there is an example of sets of questions asked by the NNS and answers given by their American pairs.

 7.1.1. law, legislation, legislature

(4) Questions: NNS > NS

(a) when you write “legislation [...] need to approve the transfer” you mean that there should be some new regulations introduced in the Dakota, Minnesota and Canada's legislation or that those two states and Canada should sign a kind of tripartite agreement or pact?

(b) By “legislature” that operates on a biennum [biennium] you mean the group of people that decide about rules and regulations, am I right? That they're elected every two years?

Parallel to their cooperative tasks the Polish students are exposed to the data they generate from Polish and English large monolingual corpora – the National Corpus of Polish and the British National Corpus on the one hand and Polish-to-English and English-to-Polish parallel corpora (Paralela) to  elaborate on and comprehend meanings they accessed from the concordances and identify series of derived and cluster equivalence patterns.

7.1.2. legislation/prawodawstwo

Parallel corpora

Sources: Acquis communautaire, Community Research and Development Information Service, Cordis Focus Newsletter, The European Union budget at a glance, Inforegio news

(5) Eng legislation >Pol clustering  equivalence pattern

legislation (1187 segments)

  • prawodawstwo
  • przepisy
  • prawo/a
  • produkty (prawne)
  • siła wnioskodawcza
  • legislacja
  • ustawodawstwo/a 

Parallel corpus concordances


(Eng) The current legislation on FP6 

(Pol) Obecne prawodawstwo dotyczące 6. Programu Ramowego 

In both languages the corresponding forms legislation/prawodawstwo can be used as plural nouns, although in English the relevant term corresponds to a more obviously countable and considered common plural noun (e.g. laws) in such cases:


(Eng) Approximation of the laws of Member States

(Pol) Zbliżenie ustawodawstw Państw Członkowskich

7.1.3. legislation/przepisy clusters


(Eng) Communication from the Commission concerning the fraud-proofing of legislation and contract management

(Pol) Komunikat Komisji odnośnie odporności na oszustwa przepisów [regulations] oraz zarządzania umowami


(Eng) the decision to withdraw from the joint declaration would not affect national legislation

(Pol) decyzja o wycofaniu się ze wspólnej deklaracji nie będzie miała wpływu na prawo  [law] krajowe

A comment on the quality of the corpus materials presented in sections 7.1.2. and 7.1.3. might be useful at this point, e.g. the phrase “odporność na oszustwa przepisów” (example (7)) calls for a more adequate equivalent phrase such as e.g.,  ‘instrumenty sprawdzające nadużycia w prawodawstwie / stanowieniu prawa / uchwalaniu prawa’; dostosowanie in example (11) is not necessarily a fitting equivalent of “adopt”  (cf. “adapt”); and the phrase “państwa członkowskie” should not be capitalized in Polish. Such inadequacies are one of the most important reasons why the next step in LSP translation didactics, i.e., consulting professional terminological databases and thesauri (referred to in example (20) below) is a necessary stage in translator education. This is also a reason why the idea of joint projects of building terminological databases of closed-domain threshold concepts proposed in the conclusions, should be seriously considered.

7.2.  Collocations

Steady word combinations, i.e., collocations, of the adjectival, verbal, and prepositional nature, have also been generated by Polish students by means of the available collocating HASK tools (Pęzik 2014):


(Eng) The panel recognised that the processes have pre-empted future EU legislation in this field.

(Pol) Panel uznał, że metoda [method] znajdzie duże zastosowanie w innych produktach


(Eng) There are many examples of crossborder projects that result in changes to legislation and policy

(Pol) Trzeba przyznać, że często pojawiają się projekty transgraniczne, które przyczyniają się do postępu w ustanawianiu prawodawstwa [establishing legislation]


(Eng) The EGTC regulation requires Member States to adopt national legislation to facilitate the implementation of EGTCs.

(Pol) Rozporządzenie o EGTC wymaga od państw członkowskich dostosowania legislacji krajowej w celu ułatwienia wdrożenia EGTC.


(Eng) if the total length of the insurance periods completed under the legislations of all the Member States

(Pol) jeżeli całkowita długość okresów ubezpieczenia, ukończonych na podstawie ustawodawstw wszystkich zainteresowanych Państw Członkowskich

Pol>Eng clusters

prawodawstwo (wspólnotowe) (1022 segments)


(Pol) Prawodawstwo wspólnotowe

(Eng) The Community legislation


(Pol) Prawodawstwo i rynki komunikacji elektronicznej w Europie w 2004 r

(Eng) European Electronic Communications Regulation and Markets 2004


(Pol) Prawodawstwo wspólnotowe zobowiązuje państwa członkowskie

(Eng) Community law requires Member States

Further instances of the sense displacement are observed in identifying other cluster members (legislation, legislature) to act as an equivalent of Polish prawodawstwo:

Pol. prawodawstwo – Eng. legislature


(Pol) Zignorował pan i złamał prawodawstwo Sądu Najwyższego .

(Eng) The legislature and the supreme court [were ignored…]

Access to complete sets of relevant law-related collocations and their frequencies in the http://pelcra.clarin-pl.eu/ tools is also provided either in the Excel or visualized forms, combining new options of collocability of the term, accompanied by relevant statistics  (t-test TTEST and the overall frequency A):

(17) Adj collocates of Eng. law


































































(18) VERBAL collocates of Eng. law






















































































(19) NOUN collocates of law  (accessed and generated on 14 March 2017)

The collocation patterns possess some new terms, unfamiliar to the Polish students, which encourage them to consult a terminological thesaurus and access historical background  information, helpful to explain the term in more detail as e.g., in the case of the phrase Sus law, sixteenth on the collocation list:

Sus law (16th on the collocate list)


In England and Wales, the sus law (from "suspected person") was the informal name for a stop and search law that permitted a police officer to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. 

The Vagrancy Act 1824 (5 Geo. 4. c. 83) is an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg.

7.2.1. federal nexus

A procedure of consultation with NSs, definitions they propose as well as their extensions in terminological data bases and exploring their historical background – were all used in the case of the identification of another of the law-related terms, namely, federal nexus. Two different pairs of NNS – NS peer students were discussing the term:

(21) NNS1>NS1>NNS1 interaction

Q: What do you mean by "various federal nexuses" and what is EPA - just expand the abbreviation, please

A: I had to look this up as well after Interviewed Michael. The term “federal nexus” applies when a project involves federal funding, federal permit or approval, use of federal lands, or a federal program. The existence of a federal nexus often triggers the need for federal approvals.  EPA stands for Environmental Protection Agency.

(22) NNS 2 > NS 2 > NNS2 interaction

Q: What is a “federal nexus” and why is it important in permitting?

A: The term “federal nexus” applies when a WSDOT project involves federal funding, federal permit or approval, use of federal lands, or a federal program. The existence of a federal nexus often triggers the need for federal approvals under certain statutes, including NEPA, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Endangered Species Act

In order to cumulate more extensive information, the Polish students consulted legal source documentation available online:


federal nexus  [source documentation]

  • What is the difference between a “permit” and an “approval”?
  • A “permit” is a document required by law that authorizes a specific type of activity under certain conditions. An example is a Section 404 permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps).

An “approval” means any document or process other than a permit that needs a signature by someone in authority at an agency having jurisdiction or control over an activity. An approval may also include documentation, certification, concurrence, easement, or license. For example, Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, requires no permit, but does require concurrence by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Further meaning elaboration strategies presented below, which involve cooperative tasks and are supported by the corpus data, focus on the identification of the context-induced senses of particular terms and general-language phraseology.

7.3. Contextual clarification

(24) NNS>NS Clarification requests, attempts at self-clarification [paraphrase]

Just a few questions more:

Q1 sustainable source  - do you mean that this source is stable/balanced/reliable or rather renewable?

Q2 About the appropriation issue - I understand that appropriation is giving permission to use the water, but does it involve constructing a new installation, I mean like some pipes to supply water from the main/municipal pipeline to the building/allotment?

Q3  senior users – are they old users?


A1 I'm referring to the natural source (the Red River). That sentence wasn’t very clear. Sorry.

A2 Appropriation means the state government is granting permission to use natural resources.

A3 Senior users are communities and individuals who have been taking water from a source for the longest time. This is an important factor because it determines how fairly we can divide the water resources. When you can regulate how much upstream users are going to use, you know how much water is left over for communities downstream. Our system at the moment is just "first come, first serve", regardless of the impact to others.

To obtain more elaborate meaning contextualization, the explanation of the term appropriation and others proposed by the NS was confronted with the Monitor corpus data (25), which contain materials from selected press titles and internet fora with daily updates (monitorcorpus.com). They provided a more elaborate contextually-bound sense of the term, putting the term in the practical use in reporting on works of state committees:


The House and Senate appropriations committees heard proposals Wednesday , Jan . 4, for a new legislative forecast for the coming two-year budget cycle that includes nearly $ 1.9 billion less in general fund revenues than what 's projected for the 2015-17 biennium, which ends June 30. westfargopioneer.com 4/1/2017

8. Conclusions

Although translation students in general typically come across numerous SL – TL asymmetry cases, the parallel corpus practice makes it possible for them to realize the richness and complexity of both Source Language and Target Language clusters considered equivalent by translators. The exposure to the corpus data rather than the use of bilingual dictionaries alone, makes it possible for them to appreciate the variability of the source data to the extent unnoticed before. This is typically not the case in bilingual dictionaries, where there is one or few headwords on the SL side and clusters are revealed only in the Target Language. In the approach I’ve been using it is both the richness of the Source Language ideas and forms that impose, to a considerable degree, the complex variability of the Target language lexical forms and structures. Both meaning approximation and translational, and more generally, communicative, re-conceptualization processes that I consider the core processes in perception, cognitive conception and linguistic expression (Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk 2017a), that condition and shape translational equivalence.

The groups of Polish students participating in the collaborative tasks, aided by different types of corpus data and tools and stimulated by discussions concerning translation processes,  acquire this line of translation understanding and try to implement it in their practical translation tasks. After completion of the cooperative tasks, the students were asked to fill in a post-task survey, which revealed benefits brought by the peer contacts. Both US and Polish students identified significantly more advantages than disadvantages from the cooperation.  American students stated that their Polish pairs offered very good suggestions toward helping them to be clear and more articulate in their writing and they also learned that they needed to cooperate with people rooted in different cultures and linguistic systems.

In their  writing, US NSs learned to develop  more consideration towards people from other cultures and their expectations – this experience developed their sense of criticality towards their own (native) language. The Polish students learned about terminology so that they could understand what they were “to look for in Polish as the equivalents” as they phrased it. They also acquired a number of less formal phrases and strategies when contacting people of their own age and background. They learned the strategies of acquiring more sophisticated and fuller meanings of the terms they needed for their writing and translation tasks by consulting corpus data and terminological databases. They also learned to recognize asymmetries and rich clustering between both Source and Target languages they make attempts to  solve, resorting to corpus-derived cluster equivalence correspondences.

There are other weaknesses in the non-native students’ translations that will be analyzed in a forthcoming publication, less closely connected with the LSP character of the examples given above. First of all, what is observed is the use of an excessive number of words, verbosity, in the students’ English translations when compared with corresponding native English texts. This is primarily instantiated by a lower frequency, or complete avoidance in some cases of B1-level students, of the use of phrasal verbs at the advantage of more descriptive and less idiomatic expressions. What can also be noticed is the students’ weak metalinguistic competence, which was expressed in the frequent use of an inadequate genre or style in the email letters the Polish students exchanged with the American ones. In the English-to-Polish translation tasks a particularly strong English language interference on the native Polish language results in the Polish students’ use of inadequate and clumsy syntactic structures and unconventional idiomaticity in their native Polish.

Let me conclude with pointing to some gaps which might additionally need to be bridged in further research and practice in this field, particularly with reference to translation trainees’ terminology acquisition. What would be considered a desirable development there would be domain-specific translational threshold concepts reference materials for NS & NNS. Threshold concepts of a particular domain are constitutive elements of ‘core knowledge’ of the field, which can secure its fundamental understanding. A threshold concept is ”akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress” (Meyer and Land 2006: 3). Research, preparation and development of sets of foreign-language domain-specific threshold concept repositories, should engage specialists in the field, corpus linguists, terminologists, FL teachers and LSP specialists.

The development of collaborative corpus-informed didactic materials and methodology, involving larger studies of cluster equivalence patterns and, when needed, the threshold concept repositories across pairs of languages, seems one of the most urgent tasks in translator education.


I wish to thank two anonymous reviewers for the constructive comments on the first draft of the paper.


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Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, B. & H. Slomski  (2016). “Collaboration in language development between American and Polish university students”. In: Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, B. (ed.). Konin Language Studies volume Collaborative Practices in Language ed.  Volume 4 No.3/2016. 305-330. http://www.ksj.pwsz.konin.edu.pl/?page_id=873&lang=en

Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, B. and Wilson, P.A. (2016). “Compassion, empathy and sympathy expression features in affective robotics”. In: Peter Baranyi et al. (eds.) IEEE: CogInfoCom Cognitive Infocommunication. Wrocław: Wrocław Technical University.  65-70. Appeared as a modified paper  (2018) Compassion cluster expression features in affective robotics from a cross-cultural perspective. In Cognitive Infocommunications, theory and applications, P. Baranyi, R. Klempous & J. Nikodem (eds.). Springer. 202-227.

Maylath, B., T. King & E. Arnó Macià. (2013). “Linking engineering students in Spain and technical writing students in the us as coauthors - The challenges and outcomes of
subject-matter experts and language specialists collaborating internationally.” Connexions. 1(2): 159-185.

Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003), Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: linkages to ways of thinking and practicing. In: Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student Learning - Theory and Practice Ten Years On. Oxford: Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development (OCSLD), pp 412-424. [See also for an on-line version: Enhancing Teaching-Learning Environments in Undergraduate Courses, ETL Project, Occasional Report 4, May 2003   last accessed 25 June 2008].

Neubert, A. (2000). “Competence in Language, in Languages, and in Translation”. In: Ch.

Schäffner & B. Adab (Eds.) Developing Translation Competence. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: Benjamins, 3-18.

Pęzik, P. (2014). Graph-Based Analysis of Collocational Profiles. In: V. Jesenšek & P.

Grzybek (eds.) Phraseologie im Wörterbuch und Korpus (Phraseology in Dictionaries and Corpora), ZORA 97. Maribor, Bielsko‑Biała, Budapest, Kansas, Praha: Filozofska fakuteta. 227–43.

Pietrzak, P. (2013). “Teaching, training, educating? Terminological ambiguity in translator education theory”. In: B. Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk & M. Thelen (eds.) Translation and meaning part 10. Maastricht: Maastricht School of Translation and Interpreting. Zuyd University of Applied Sciences. 245-251.


British National Corpus: http://natcorp.ox.ac.uk

National Corpus of Polish: http://nkjp.pl

Monitor Polish and English Corpora: http://monco.frazeo.pl; monitorcorpus.com

Parallel English-to-Polish and Polish-to-English Corpora PARALELA: http://paralela.clarin-pl.eu

About the author(s)

Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk, Dr habil., full professor of English and Linguistics at the State University of Applied Sciences in Konin, head of the Department of Research in Language, Literature and Translation, for many years served as head of the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Lodz. Author and editor of numerous books and papers in cognitive and corpus linguistics, collaborative knowledge acquisition and translation, invited to read papers at conferences and give workshops at European, American and Asian Universities.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Lewandowska-Tomaszczyk (2019).
"Cluster and derived equivalence in collaborative corpus-informed translation education"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2422

Subtitling choices and visual attention: a viewer perspective

By Mikołaj Deckert and Patrycja Jaszczyk (University of Łódź, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

This paper surveys and critically discusses empirical findings that shed light on the processing of audiovisual material in the context of translatorial decision-making and translator training. More specifically, we investigate how attention is allocated to a special kind of visually-coded language and how those instances are reasoned about by ‘non-translator’ viewers as well as by trainee translators – who produced subtitles for the material in addition to watching it.

Keywords: attention allocation, cognitive processing, trainee translators, audience, decision making, visual-verbal coding

©inTRAlinea & Mikołaj Deckert and Patrycja Jaszczyk (2019).
"Subtitling choices and visual attention: a viewer perspective"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2414

1. Introduction

Our starting point is that there are contexts where the translator’s decision-making centres on “what to translate” or “if to translate”, before it can be focused on “how to translate”. This approximates what Kruger (2012: 70) terms “relevant selection” in a discussion of audio description. We illustrate the problem with instances of audiovisual material featuring language that is represented visually. Drawing on work in cognitive psychology, we will examine cases where the prominence status of elements is not fully clear, which therefore – significantly for translator training – requires the translator to decide if an element is to be translated in the first place.

To that end, we will report experimental studies where two pools of respondents – regular viewers and trainee translators – provided their feedback. As this paper goes on to show, the data displays patterns that can be used to draw conclusions about the processing of visual-verbal representations and then about differences in how these elements, or by extension film material in general, is processed by different audiences, with special regard to the didactic dimension of translation.

2. The semiotic setup in AVT

The semiotic composition of audiovisual material can be construed as a 2x2 matrix comprising two dual sets: sound and vision and then verbal and non-verbal (cf. Delabastita 1989, Chaume 2000, 2004, Zabalbeascoa 2008). The visual layer can be further broken down into six codes: “iconographic”, “photographic”, “mobility”, “planning”, “graphic” and “syntactic” (Chaume 2001, 2004, Tamayo 2017). Drawing on that, this paper concentrates on the visual-verbal layer, or cases of what we will be referring to as “visual-verbal coding” (VVC), which are kin to what Matamala and Orero (2015) call “text on screen” in their discussion of audio description. These elements are then differentiated into “diegetic” and “non-diegetic” ones. The former are those visual-verbal inserts which are “part of the action” while the latter are introduced by filmmakers and superimposed in the “editing process” (Matamala and Orero 2015). This paper deals with the “diegetic” type[1]. Importantly, we further narrow down the scope of inquiry to instances of what we term “liminal ostensiveness”. That construct rests on the premise that stimuli, in this case of visual character, are differently prominent, and are embedded in the filmic material in ways as to draw attention to themselves to a variable degree. We thus use the term “ostensive” as it came to be used to describe stimuli in communication[2]. Visually, the radial character of ostensiveness can be illustrated by contrasting the following two frames from the film “Less Than Human”. The film also served as material in the studies discussed further on in this contribution:

Figure 1. Prototypical ostensiveness

Figure 2. Liminal ostensiveness

The text “The Animation Workshop presents” in Figure 1 is a prototypical case of ostensiveness in that viewers are highly unlikely not to be led into believing that they are expected to read it. This results primarily from the diagetic character of the text. Whereas in the case of the second image (in Figure 2) and the “out of order” notice behind the reporter’s left shoulder, the status is much more uncertain, i.e. whether viewers detect it and choose to invest processing effort in it is harder to predict. In other words, while in the former we can fairly safely assume the text is there for a reason, the matter gets more nuanced in the latter where the communicator’s informative intention is less unambiguous, which is what we set out to explore.

3. A psychological view

3.1. Selective attention

By drawing on the construct of attention – and specifically its visual facet – in this article we propose an integrated account demonstrating the cross-fertilisation of translation studies and cognitive psychology. Attention can be thought of as focusing consciousness on a specific stimulus whilst ignoring others. The skill is pivotal in order to deal with the tremendous amount of information that people are confronted with. William James talks about attention in the following way:

Everyone knows what attention is. It is taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies a withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others. (1890/1950: 403)

Zhang and Ling (2013: 3) highlight that attention is selective by pointing out that “(…) observers’ eyes only can focus their attention on a small area of the visual field at a given moment. Consequently, only this small area can be observed in detail”. Different models try to account for the mechanism. A notable one is Broadbent’s (1958) “filter model” also known as the “early selection model”. It was experimentally supported by the “dichotic listening test” which involves sending two different messages to the left and to the right ear, simultaneously. Broadbent found that the stimuli are filtered at an early stage, because of “limited information processing capacity” (van der Heijden 1992: 64). In this formulation, stimuli are argued to first reach the sensory buffer (Broadbent 1958). At this stage one of them is chosen and filtered on the grounds of physical characteristics, such as pitch or loudness (van der Heijden 1992: 43), and the filtering precedes the processing of information. Following from that work, Deutsch and Deutsch developed the “late selection model” (1963). In this proposal, stimuli were argued not to get filtered before the analysis of meaning. Then, Treisman (1964) came up with her “attenuation model” where the message unattended to is solely weakened, rather than eliminated.

3.2. Change blindness and inattentional blindness

A powerful cognitive mechanism that can be outlined to provide more background for the current investigation is “change blindness”, i.e. “the failure to visually experience changes that are easily seen once noticed” (Rensink 2009: 47). Research shows that change detection is not possible without focused attention. This phenomenon has been the subject of a large number of experiments (cf. e.g. Simons and Rensink 2005), many of which used a “flicker paradigm” (Rensink, O’Regan and Clark 1997). This technique consists in displaying the original and the altered image with a blank slide inserted between the two. Thus, the subjects’ attention is distorted, leading to the challenge of registering change (Noe, Pessoa and Thompson 2000: 94). Notably, even if observers are informed that a change will occur in some cases, they might not be able to detect it, despite the alteration being considerable and recurring (Simons and Ambinder 2005: 45). Given the confirmatory research done in the lab, Simons and Levin (1998) ran a study to establish if change blindness functioned outside the lab as well. In their experiment known as “the door study”, participants were approached by a stranger with a map asking for directions. At some point the conversation is briefly interrupted by two men carrying the door between the subject and the stranger. As the subject’s vision is blocked, the stranger swaps with another person who then continues to talk to the subject. Surprisingly, more than 50 per cent of subjects failed to detect the change of interactant (Simons and Levin 1998: 646). This was aptly summarised by Simons and Ambinder (2005: 48) as “a striking phenomenon, one that reveals limits on conscious awareness and accentuates the discrepancy between what we see and what we think we see”.

A related phenomenon pertinent to the study reported further on in the paper is inattentional blindness which Rensink (2009: 47) defines as “the failure to visually experience the appearance of an object or event that is easily seen once noticed. Attention (likely, diffuse attention) is thought to be necessary for such an experience”. The change is located in the field of sight, nevertheless observers cannot notice it due to the fact that their attention is directed elsewhere (Szymańska 2011). Research shows that participants may fail to discern the stimulus that appears unexpectedly (Chabris and Simons 2010: 7). One of the most famous experiments examining this phenomenon is the “invisible gorilla test” conducted by Chabris and Simons[3]. The subjects’ task was to count how many times a basketball was passed between players in white or in black, whilst ignoring others (Simons and Chabris 1999: 1066). Meanwhile, an individual dressed up as a gorilla walked across on screen, being visible for almost 6 seconds (Chabris and Simons 2010: 6). The experimenters established that 46 per cent of their subjects failed to notice the gorilla (Simons and Chabris 1999: 1068) which compellingly supports the mechanism of inattentional blindness.

4. Experimental evidence

The primary aim of the analysis is to inform the translator’s decisions by looking into:

  1. whether/how viewers allocate attention to processing instances of VVC where its status is variably liminal (i.e. VVC identification)
  2. whether viewers are convinced such elements need to be rendered (VVC’s translational status perception)
  3. whether VVC identification and its translational status perception vary between regular viewers and trainee translators who additionally engage in translation

Starting from these general research questions, explored in Study 1 and Study 2, we hope to come up with empirically-founded insights into the functioning of VVC that are ultimately intended to shed light on the construct of translation competence.

4.1. Study 1

4.1.1. Procedure, materials and participants

Data collection took place online with the use of Google Forms that participants[4] accessed individually. The conditions were therefore less controlled but they ensured privacy and therefore helped approximate a regular non-experimental screening, thus enhancing the studies’ ecological validity.

The survey was completed by a total of 32 individuals, 21 of whom were women, with the age mean of 27, SD = 8.09. They were all native speakers of Polish with varied command of English. Their self-reported English proficiency was elementary (6 participants), intermediate (14), and advanced (12 participants).

As a first step subjects were requested to download and watch a total of 5 English-language video clips with Polish subtitles. The subtitles were prepared specifically for the study and they consistently did not render the instances of VVC. The clips were extracted from the following films: “Monsters, Inc.”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, “Less Than Human”, “Shrek” and “The Simpsons”, with some of them serving as filler stimuli and some containing cases of VVC whose reported reception the study sought to examine. Each subject was instructed to anonymously provide answers to a sum of 51 questions divided into 6 sections. The sense of anonymity was important so as to minimise the risk that the subjects’ self-reporting answers would be distorted. The first section  required them to provide demographic information. The remaining 5 sections corresponded to the 5 clips with questions eliciting feedback on parallel matters, with some questions being more directly linked to the construct of VVC and some serving as fillers preventing the subjects from identifying the aim of the study.

In this paper we will discuss in some detail samples used in the larger research project[5]. The two samples come from “The Simpsons” (a 2D animation created by Matt Groening, 1989[6]) and “Less Than Human” (a 3D animation created at the Animation Workshop[7], 2016) and accommodate a total of 3 cases of VVC that will be examined. These three cases have been selected as they differ in the degree of ostensiveness of VVC as evidenced by its visual prominence and its function.

4.1.2. Sample 1 – Case 1

The first fragment to be discussed comes from “The Simpsons”. The clip lasted 4 minutes 59 seconds. The relevant case of VVC[8] comprises a truck of a construction worker who arrives at the house of the eponymous family. The truck is showed in profile and bears the company’s name – “J&J Construction” – written across the truck’s white-coloured side in black block letters. The shot serves as an introduction to the scene that follows where the contractor talks to Marge Simpson inside the house that is first seen in the background against which the truck is presented. However, the case of VVC that is of particular interest here is the additional subtitle placed on the truck under the company’s name, in a smaller font –  “The Vague Answer People”. This “explicitating” input is not directly indispensable for the interpretation of the shot or the scene it precedes, and its function could be categorised as “humorous”. The table below traces the relevant fragment and provides some wider context.

The Simpsons

source text

target text


-There it is. Nice and smooth. I’d like to see your boyfriend the contractor do a better job.

- I think you used too much plaster.

-Now you tell me?

-I never stopped telling you.


-Oto jest, piękna i gładka. Chciałbym zobaczyć twojego fachowca jak robi to lepiej.

-Myślę, że użyłeś za dużo tynku.

-Teraz mi to mówisz?

-Cały czas Ci to mówię.

Homer is talking to Marge about the remodelling.

They are in the kitchen. Homer is proud of his work.

Marge has second thoughts about it. 

- So that’s what that white noise was…

-To o to był ten jazgot…

Camera shows Homer.

I’m calling a contractor.

Dzwonię po fachowca.

Marge smashes through the plaster. She calls a contractor.



The contractor’s truck is parked in front of the Simpsons’ house.

-Thanks for taking the job. I’m sorry my husband is being so difficult.

-Get lost, crook!

-That’s alright Mrs Simpson. Many husbands feel emasculated when their wife must turn to a professional to satisfy her remodeling needs.

-Why don’t you just kiss her?

-I’m gay. But I have a subcontractor that does this sort of thing for me.

- I like to kiss.

-Dzięki za przyjęcie zlecenia i przepraszam za męża.

- Spadaj naciągaczu!

Marge is talking to the contractor. Homer is hiding behind the tree. He throws a pot of paint at the contractor. Homer is shouting. He is mad at the contractor.

-W porządku. Wielu mężów nie lubi

gdy ich żony proszą fachowca żeby zaspokoił ich potrzeby.

-Jeszcze ją pocałuj.

-Jestem gejem. Podwykonawca załatwia takie sprawy.

-Lubię się całować.

A subcontractor appears on the screen. He kisses the air.

-Now, don’t you worry. Your kitchen will be done in three weeks.

-Proszę się nie martwić. Kuchnia będzie gotowa w trzy tygodnie.

The contractor assures Marge that the remodelling will not last long.



Camera approaches the Simpsons’ house. There is text on the screen indicating the amount of time that has passed.

Table 1


Within the pool of 32 subjects 26 (81.25 per cent) declared that they had detected the inscription, and 20 subjects (62.5 per cent) reported that elements like this one should be translated. While the latter figure constitutes a majority, one could still argue it is unexpectedly low. In line with this, another intriguing finding is that within the pool of subjects who noticed the case of VVC, as many as 9 (34.62 per cent) argued such elements need not be translated. Conversely, 3 (50 per cent) of the subject who did not notice the writing on the truck claimed such elements need to be translated.

4.1.3. Sample 2 – Case 2

The second animation used in the investigation was “Less Than Human”, lasting 6 minutes 9 seconds. A major advantage of using the film was that because it is relatively short, subjects could view the entire animation. This is a methodological advantage in the sense of ecological validity and vitally supplements Sample 1 where a necessarily decontextualised fragment of a longer film was used, even though in many cases for reasons of feasibility the latter will be the only realistic option[9].

It is also notable that the clip featured more than one case of VVC, two of which are zoomed in on as part of the current inquiry. The first case is showed in Figure 3 below. The poster with title of the film “Night of the Living Dead” is seen on the wall in the apartment of the story’s protagonists. The poster’s textual component is fully visible for approximately 7 seconds and the poster is present on the screen at least partly in more than one shot. Analogously to Case 1 discussed earlier, this occurrence of VVC is not pivotal to following the animation’s plot and it is not coded in other semiotic layers of the film. Its function is also similar to that of Case 1 as it can be interpreted as a humorous, perhaps ironic, commentary on the main characters of the story who are in fact “the living dead” residing in “a quarantine facility” or “the camp”, as it is termed in the film. Also, the poster can be a way of tying the action of the animation to the extra-filmic reality known to viewers. Similarly to the location name of “Seattle” being mentioned by one of the characters, this serves as an ‘authenticating’ device to indicate that the world showed in the animation is not a fabricated one.

Figure 3. VVC – “Night of the Living Dead”

Table 2 below outlines the pertinent fragment.

Less Than Human (1)


source text

target text




Oh, can I…

Can I get you something to drink?


Może się czegoś napijesz?



Andy is standing in the kitchen. His voice is heard in the background.


Oh, man. What’s that smell?

Co to za zapach?

Camera approaches the kitchen window.


Just look at me, not into the lens.

Po prostu patrz na mnie, nie w obiektyw.

Andy is picking his teeth. The reporter is giving him instructions about the interview.


-So, tell me. How long have you been in here?

-At the camp? Oh… Well, I think they placed us in here, I guess, it’s been about six years now.

- I see. And, do you…

-Powiedz jak długo tutaj jesteście?

-W obozie? Myślę, że umieszczono nas tutaj jakoś tak sześć lat temu.

-Rozumiem. I czy wy...

Andy is talking with the reporter.


Hey, what you were saying before?

Come on, you know it’s impossible for me to hear anything from… Um… 

Co mówiłeś wcześniej?

Wiesz, że nic nie słyszę z...

Don appears. He is astonished and annoyed.


What’s this?

What’s going on here?

Co to jest?

Co się tutaj dzieje?

Camera approaches Don’s intestines. He is angry.




The reporter looks surprised and terrified after he saw Don.


Table 2


As far as the detection of VVC goes, 13 subjects (40.62 per cent) claimed to have noticed it. While the preponderance of subjects failed to notice the title, the ratio of those who did is relatively high so it could be seen as inconsistent that as many as 24 participants (75 per cent) responded that there was no need to translate elements like that one. It ought to be pointed out that among the 8 viewers who stated such elements should be rendered, 6 did not detect the case of VVC. It might therefore follow that whether viewers themselves notice VVC, or perhaps other types of elements for that matter, could be a significant factor influencing their opinion about the translational status of those. In Case 2 we find it to an extent counter-intuitive that the influence should be in this direction.

4.1.4. Sample 2 – Case 3

The third instantiation of VVC (in Figure 4 below) examined in this paper is functionally distinct from the two cases discussed above. This occurrence of VVC more explicitly contributes to the interpretation as it reinforces the story’s congruency by providing additional evidence of attitudes toward the “living dead”. This meaning-making facet is coupled with visual prominence. The VVC is first visible in the background but then the speaker gestures in its direction after which the camera zooms on the writing on the wall itself and it takes the central position on the screen. As has been mentioned, this plays a significant function because the VVC occurs when the reporter says “What we witnessed here today is a clear sign that reintegration is not an option”. The VVC thus serves to lend credence to the speaker’s statement via remarkable intermodal cross-feeding of inputs. What is more, just a few seconds later the reporter declares “The images speak for themselves” (see Table 3). Interestingly, while the speaker is probably primarily referring the footage recorded throughout their stay at the facility, given the temporal proximity of the preceding VVC, the utterance could actually be taken to denote that literal “image” as well.

Figure 4. VVC – “Go back to your graves”

Less Than Human (2)

source text

target text



Don and Andy had an argument. Andy is crying in the room. Don is sitting at the table.

Andy? Man, come on.

You, you still there man?

Don’t be like that, alright?

I’m sorry.


Andy, no co ty.

Jesteś tam?

Nie bądź taki.


Don knocks on the door. He wants to apologise to Andy.

Don is playing a harmonica.

Andy leaves the room. He is listening to Don playing a harmonica.

Are you coming or what?

You’ve got the car keys.  

Idziesz czy nie?

Masz kluczyki od samochodu.

The reporter opens the door. He is whispering.

What we witnessed here today is a clear sign that reintegration is not an option.

To czego doświadczyliśmy tu dzisiaj jest jasnym dowodem na to, że reintegracja nie jest możliwa.

The reporter is standing in front of the building. He is commenting on the situation.

The danger, we thought we’d gotten rid of, is lurking just beneath the surface.

Niebezpieczeństw, którego myśleliśmy, że się pozbyliśmy czai się tuż pod powierzchnią.

Camera approaches the writing on the wall.

The images speak for themselves.

Obrazy mówią same za siebie.

The speaker summarises the report.

Table 3


The argument about the more sanctioned prominence and ostensiveness status of this VVC occurrence is only partly corroborated by the findings, with 20 (62.5 per cent) of viewers stating they had noticed the writing on the wall. This indicates that even in cases where VVC is salient – if only because for a few seconds it is the single stimulus standing out visually – viewers can fail to allocate their attentional resources to it. What we find even more unexpected,  less than half of our respondents, i.e. 15 individuals (46.88 per cent), agreed that elements like this one should be subtitled. Among the 15 subjects, 13 noticed the slogan, which is at loggerheads with how the relationship worked in Case 2 between subjects’ viewing patterns and their opinion on whether to translate VVC. Nonetheless, this confirms our observation that the relationship can be hard to predict.

4.2. Study 2

4.2.1. Procedure, materials and participants

Analogously to Study 1, the data were collected with the use of a form that participants accessed online.  A total of 47 subjects took part in the study, 9 male and 38 female, age mean of 21.6, SD = 0.97. They were native speakers of Polish proficient in English, year-3 BA-level trainee translators at the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź who participated in an introductory AVT course. The problem of VVC was not discussed with the participants as part of the course prior to the experiment.

The audiovisual material we used was the film “Less Than Human” from Study 1 which subjects were instructed to download individually. Differently from what was the case in Study 1, participants were not presented with the questionnaire from the outset as Study 2 comprised two stages. In stage 1 participants were required to produce Polish subtitles for two fragments of the clip, each featuring a case of VVC – corresponding to the instances discussed in 4.1.3. as well as 4.1.4. and to what is illustrated in Table 2 and Table 3 above. Notably, subjects were not required to spot the subtitles which was one measure to preclude the technical constraints of AVT from interfering with the content of the target text. This is especially important when it comes to VVC because the spatio-temporal limitations could make it impossible to render it in subtitles. In stage 2 participants were requested to fill out a questionnaire that elicited information on VVC identification and status perception. Additionally, open questions were used to get an insight into our subjects’ viewing experience and to learn about the rationale behind their choices.

4.2.2. Case 1


In the pool of  47 subjects 9 (19.1 per cent) participants reported detecting the instance of VVC. This corroborates our observation about the analogous case in the non-translator pool about the rate there (40.62 per cent) being unexpectedly high. One way to account for this disproportion between the results from the groups in Study 1 and Study 2 is to argue for overestimation of actual performance in the participants’ self-reporting – even though it was minimised in both studies by ensuring anonymity of responses. Another explanation is that translation takes up cognitive resources that in the case of regular viewers (Study 1) can be allocated exclusively to viewing.

When it comes to the translational status of VVC, as perceived by trainee translators, 38 participants (80.9 per cent) think it should not be translated. Strikingly, the proportion of subjects who noticed VVC is identical with the proportions of those who claim it should be translated. It is noteworthy that the perception of the translational status of VVC across groups from Study 1 and Study 2 is comparable, with 75% in the former claiming this instance of VVC need not be rendered into Polish.

4.2.3. Case 2


With 40 subject reporting that they had noticed the writing on the wall, the VVC identification rate reported in the study amounts to 85.1 per cent. This result does not support the hypothesis formulated above that it is the additional task of translating that makes trainee translators less likely to pay careful attention to the visual component. Rather, compared to what we found in Study 1 where the identification rate was unexpectedly low (62.5 per cent), the result indicates that trainee translators are more sensitive viewers than those from Study 1. However, the main difference comes to light when we compare the perception of VVC’s translational status across the studies. While in Study 1 the proportion of respondents who believed the inscription on the wall was ‘translation-worthy’ was markedly low (46.88 per cent), in Study 2 the proportion is as high as 97.9 per cent, with just one participant stating the case of VVC should not be subtitled.

5. Discussion

5.1. Liminal VVC – guiding the target viewers

The liminality of VVC creates a kind of a special meaning construction space for the viewer who is able to recognise and interpret an occurrence of liminal VVC to be shared with the filmmakers, and other – but not all – members of the audience. It is that ‘exclusive’ character of VVC that largely defines it. However, while the original gives leeway in that it is “up to the viewer” whether or not she detects those elements, in the case of the target audience the decision is taken in the subtitling process. That is to say, if the subtitler chooses not to translate an instance of VVC, the audience will not recover it[10]. On the other hand, if the subtitler does render a case of VVC, he explicitly tells the viewers the element is worth their effort. Remarkably, in those scenarios the target audience could de facto be in a cognitively privileged position as some of the work is done for them. While this is an asset in the cognitive sense of reducing effort, it need not be advantageous in the broader sense. After all, it could be postulated that the experience of uncovering a partly concealed meaning builds the appreciation of the work. In either translation scenario, as a result of a binary decision on the part of the translator the viewing experience and meaning construction procedure of the target audience with respect of VVC only partly overlaps with that of the source audience.

A fairly straightforward solution to the problem of the cognitive and translatorial status of VVC could be to manipulate the original image and replace the source VVC with its target version without disturbing the visual composition by adding a subtitle, which is now technically feasible. However, even in such a case, it would be hardly viable to argue that the instances of VVC would be analogously accessible to the source and target audiences, as the very fact of processing the ‘regular’ subtitles alters the viewing experience for the latter. With this evident difference in mind, and recognising the target audience’s extra processing effort as undesirable, one could argue that liminal VVC might be left untranslated. If such as conclusion is drawn, however, we are left with the question of why VVC was implemented in a particular way in the original. After all, the authors could have not added those liminal visual representations, or they could have made them more ostensible. To be fair, it needs to be noted at this point that animated productions are special when it comes to ascertaining the status of visual stimuli. It arguably is the case because each element that is visible on the screen had to be “placed” there consciously. In turn, in non-animated material it could be that an element appears on the screen by virtue of being a part of the natural setting where the film was shot, possibly could actually pass unnoticed in the shooting process.

5.2. Translatorial vs. viewer processing: translator training implications

Kruger (2008: 73) points out that “(i)n subtitling training, as in more generic training for the language professions, the development of analytical skills is vital, all the more so because of the multimodal nature of audiovisual texts.” A question that surfaces is to what extent the trainee’s, the translator’s or, by extension, a translation researcher’s processing of audiovisual stimuli is similar to how viewers engage with these stimuli[11]. A crucial consideration here is that – as indicated most clearly by the findings from Case 2 in Study 2 –

the former could be processing input more deeply. This is in all probability the result of training-induced sensitisation coupled with the fact that trainees likely viewed the stretch of the film being subtitled more than once[12]. What we could be ultimately dealing with, however – at least in some cases – is “overattending” to stimuli and as a result “overanalysing”. Therefore, while it is a fairly safe argument to make that trainee subtitlers need to be (made) aware of the complexity of the multimodal material and that they should be sensitised to cross-modal meaning-making patterns, the cognitive mechanism at work here appears to be nuanced. Taking the ‘multimodal’ aspect of subtitling competence a step further, we can propose that in addition to having their semiotic awareness and sensitivity developed, subtitlers, or translators in general, should also be able to monitor and control those skills (cf. Tirkkonen-Condit 2005). They should realise that as a result of training and work experience they might be processing audiovisual material differently from most viewers. This difference should then be factored into the choices they make not to let their deeper processing negatively impinge on the target audience’s experience of engaging with the translated product.

If we think about subtitling competence(s) (cf. Di Giovanni 2016), or translation competence more broadly, the above discussion signals some issues with one of the oft-postulated requirements (e.g. Gouadec 2002: 33), i.e. to “fully understand” the source text. Leaving aside the fact that “full understanding” is a very elusive notion, it could be brought into question if uncovering multiple layers of meaning – in our case paying attention to many potentially detectable instances of VVC – is invariably desirable. One might argue – if only for the purpose of a somewhat provocative exercise in reasoning – that by detecting those additional elements – which in itself can be labour and time-intensive – the translator broadens the scope of decisions to be taken, which might be seen as disadvantageous in some respects. From the angle of the audience, if the translator has a very thorough and multi-layered understanding of the source text he can guide their audience’s comprehension too narrowly or can be overly inclined to incur on them the extra processing effort of attending to VVC where the interpretation recovered might not be worth it.

On another level, while there are clear differences between the translator and non-translator groups, a finding to be highlighted surfaces from the descriptive responses in Case 1 of Study 2 where participants were requested to support their statements, e.g. explain why they though a given case of VVC should not be subtitled. What is thought-provoking here is that even within what is a highly homogenous group of individuals perceptions vary very significantly. This is evidenced by negative justifications such as “It’s only a poster”, “It is barely visible”, “Because it is irrelevant” that dominate but are partly counterbalanced by starkly contrastive statements like “It should be subtitled because it seems crucial”, “If it would be correctly subtitled it would make a lot of sense in the context”, and “Because it fits with the general theme of the short movie”.

6. Final remarks

6.1. Next research steps

With the study pointing to some inter-group variation in cognitive processing, these results can be complemented with the use of behavioural measures, above all eye-tracking (cf. e.g. Goldstein, Woods and Eli 2007; Doherty and Kruger 2016), and fine-tuned by testing the role of a range of variables. First of all, as has been showed, instantiations of VVC can differ qualitatively.

They are functionally distinct, to begin with. While an element’s function will be a conglomerate of several parameters, it could be argued that in Case 1[13] and 2 VVC served a primarily humorous function – with less ostensiveness – and in Case 3 it was employed more ostensibly. It is somewhat paradoxical that occurrences with lower ostensiveness – where the omission of VVC, either in the original or in translation, essentially would not prevent the audience from following the plot – are more highly problematic for the subtitler. If an occurrence of VVC is evidently relevant to the plot and is key to sense-making it is not much of a translation dilemma.

Second, the interaction of VVC with input from other semiotic layers of filmic material will vary. In fact, where the interaction is salient, as would be the case if a character makes a reference to a poster, the status of VVC should be unproblematic. But this again would get fuzzier if the reference was suboptimally ostensible or was not temporally aligned with the occurrence of VVC. Along those lines, a critical manipulation to be examined is how the presence or absence of subtitles influences the processing of VVC, also across native and non-native subject pools.

A related variable is then how VVC is presented – for how long, from what angle, whether in the foreground/background, at what distance, and with what other competing stimuli for the conceptualiser to distribute attention among. To construe that in terms of effort, it will matter how costly the accessing and processing of VCC is. In our data, the stimulus in Case 1 (Study 1) was presented on the screen for a shorter time than in Case 2  and Case 3 but was easier to identify by the viewers because it was in the foreground and there were fewer other discernable elements on the screen to which to allocate attention.

Another important variable is material type, and following from it, audience profile. Hard as it typically is to ascertain the prospective target audience’s education, foreign language proficiency, social background or cultural awareness,  a curious situation to consider is that – for example in a cartoon that will be watched by children accompanied by adults – VVC could be used for a subset of audience members to decode.

6.2. Conclusions

First, the reported experimental findings suggest that individuals who approach audiovisual material as producers and/or analysts (trainee translators in Study 2) can be attending to elements of the image differently from end users of the product (viewers in Study 1). Second, the two groups appear to be reasoning about the status of VVC in only partly compatible ways which compellingly suggests that – even on early stages of competence development (year 3 of the BA programme) – trainees engage with audiovisual material in a different manner. At the same time we have observed clear variation in how attention is allocated within the ‘regular’ and ‘trainee translator’ groups of viewers. Then, it is interesting to note based on the findings from Study 1 that whether viewers themselves detect VVC can unexpectedly influence their choice as to whether such text on screen needs to be translated.

With the above in mind, liminally ostensive VVC – as outlined in this article – is a good example of a subtitling decision-making problem, if not a prototypical one, all the more so because it tends to be overlooked in subtitling guidelines. Vitally, the core of the problem is the cognitive and meaning-making status of VVC which has to be considered before the subtitler chooses (not) to render it. By surveying and illustrating some of the considerations and implications behind the mechanisms involved in the processing of VVC this paper has attempted to offer a preliminary account that could be of use to trainees, translators and translator trainers.


This work was supported by the Polish National Science Centre, grant number DEC-2017/01/X/HS1/00812, awarded to Mikołaj Deckert.


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[1] With the non-diegetic type, the technique of inserting text itself signals the filmmakers’ intentionality more openly and therefore such text will not be liminally ostensive.

[2] One framework whose application of the term also fits our purposes is that of Relevance Theory (Sperber and Wilson 1995), where it is understood as creating expectations of stimuli’s relevance.

[3] The authors themselves point out it “has become one of the most widely demonstrated and discussed studies in all of psychology” (Simons and Chabris 2010: 8). 

[4] Participants for this study were recruited with the use of social media and through personal channels which was to ensure a balance between the diversity in professional and educational background, on the one hand, and limited age variation, on the other hand.

[5] It was ran by P.J. under the supervision of M.D. at the University of Łódź. Also, the authors wish to thank the participants of the Introduction to AVT course held at the Institute of English Studies in the Spring of 2017 for their input and coming up with film samples some of which were used for the purpose of the research reported here.

[6] The sample used in the study comes from  season 16, episode 2 (2004).

[8] Screenshots from “The Simpsons” could not be used as permissions from copyright owners required by the journal were not granted.

[9] What it more, the film is not very widely known so the viewers were less likely to have watched it and have preconceptions. This was largely confirmed in the questionnaire as 87.1 per cent of subjects stated they had not seen the film before.

[10] It remains to be empirically tested whether for viewers whose command of the source language would enable them to understand an instance of VVC, the lack of translation could imply the element is not worth the processing effort they might have otherwise chosen to invest.

[11] From a methodological vantage point, watching a short clip and watching a 90-minute video will differ in how attention is allocated throughout. One way to see the difference is that when presented with a short clip in an overtly experimental setting, a viewer is more stimulated and could therefore recruit more resources, which in turn could be making the viewer more likely to detect VVC. If that was true, we could expect the VVC identification rates to be lower in fully authentic viewing setups.

[12] That multiple viewing is the case was directly supported by respondent feedback in Study 2. At the same time, we should not overestimate the meaning-making import of repeated viewing. As psychological studies indicate (cf. for example Flaherty 1999 and Eagleman 2012) we differently pay attention when processing an event or scene – for instance on our way to a particular location – for the first time and in subsequent encounters. Due to the stimuli’s novelty we notice more elements the first time which is a reason why we perceive that first journey as taking more time than subsequent ones. This suggests that the identification of secondary foci should not be incompatibly different between an individual seeing a clip once and someone who might (have to) watch a fragment repeatedly. Still some incongruence is sure to exist.

[13] We are referring here to cases as they are numbered in Study 1.

About the author(s)

Mikołaj Deckert is an assistant professor at the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź. In his current research he uses experimental and corpus methods to look into language and cognition as well as interlingual translation. He serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Specialised Translation, and is a founding member of the Intermedia AVT Research Group.

Patrycja Jaszczyk is an MA student at the Institute of English Studies, University of Łódź. Her primary research interests are audiovisual translation and cognitive psychology. In her work she has been especially concerned with attention phenomena in interlingual multimodal transfer.

Email: [please login or register to view author's email address]

©inTRAlinea & Mikołaj Deckert and Patrycja Jaszczyk (2019).
"Subtitling choices and visual attention: a viewer perspective"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2414

Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training

By Barbara Heinisch (University of Vienna, Austria)

Abstract & Keywords

Diversity and audiovisual translation are major areas of interest within the field of translation studies and translator training. However, much less is known about accessibility and inclusion as components in translator training. People with disabilities or special needs also want to access products, services and information. Therefore, translation (in its broadest sense) is required. Adapting texts to a target audience and a specific function is a crucial competence of translators, including the adaptation of texts to different target audiences and their needs. Hence, translation in the context of accessibility does not only mean to provide access to communication and culture, but also access to information, products and services beyond linguistic barriers and beyond modalities.

The purpose of this article is to review recent research and two projects that address the consideration of accessibility components in translator training. The study assesses the significance of accessibility competence as part of the training of professional (specialised) translators. Based on two case studies, i.e. the ACT project (Accessible Culture and Training) and the eTransFair project (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions), the article discusses the various options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education.

Keywords: accessibility, translator training, audiovisual translation, inclusive education, accessibility competence

©inTRAlinea & Barbara Heinisch (2019).
"Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
Edited by: Paulina Pietrzak
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Stable URL: http://www.intralinea.org/specials/article/2420


Translation and accessibility are two areas that seem to converge. Translation, in a broad sense, means providing access to products, services, information, communication and culture in another language. Thus, translation is a way to enable participation in everyday life. Similarly, participation and access to products, services, information and communication also play a crucial role in accessibility. Both translation and accessibility enable people to participate in everyday life. Therefore, the areas of translation and accessibility have some aspects in common.

Before proceeding to examine the relationship between translation and accessibility, it is necessary to define the key terms translation, accessibility, diversity, inclusion and disability which are used in this paper. The second part combines and juxtaposes translation and accessibility by analysing two research projects that address accessibility, inclusion and translation. On the one hand, inclusive translation programmes and making accessibility a reality in translator education are discussed. On the other hand, accessibility taught in translation programmes as well as accessibility competence are addressed. The methods used in this research are a literature review and two case studies.

(Audiovisual) Translation

Widely varying definitions of translation have emerged. This means that the term translation is used ambiguously. This may be caused by different expectations about translation resulting in different designations in various professional fields: language mediation, language-service provision, language management, language consultancy, proofreading, copywriting, documentation management, co-authoring, technical writing, multilingual text creation and design, adaptation, summary translation, revision, localisation and many more (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: ix–x; EMT 2009: 2). What all these designations have in common is that translation is a complex process that includes, but is not limited to, the transfer of meaning from one language to another (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: x) according to the author’s intention (Newmark 1988: 5) in a specific situation (Reiss and Vermeer 1984: 58). Translation has to fulfil a purpose (that is specified in the translation brief) for the intended target audience (and their expectations) in a certain communicative context (Reiss and Vermeer 1984: 101). This is where accessibility that provides access to information, services and products comes in.

Translation provides access to material that readers would otherwise not comprehend and that would be inaccessible to people who do not have access to this language (Bassnett 2014: 169). Audiovisual translation (AVT) is a field which focuses not only on language but also on other modalities and, thus, broadens the scope of translation.

As mentioned before, a translation should fulfil a specific purpose in a certain situation to reach a specific target audience. This also holds true for localisation and transcreation. Localisation (of websites, software or videogames) requires adaptation of a product to a locale and its linguistic, cultural, legal, technical, etc. requirements. Transcreation, especially in advertising, adapts and re-conceptualises the original material to convey the key message and to prompt the same response. Here, the audience may change (e.g. adults instead of children) or the purpose (e.g. information instead of an advertisement) or the form (e.g. full text instead of gisting) (Melby et al. 2014: 397). All these developments and the interdisciplinary approaches adopted in translation studies allow for a broader definition of translation.

Jakobson’s (1971) tripartite model of intralingual, interlingual and intersemiotic translation, which is frequently cited in the field of audiovisual translation, demonstrates that audiovisual translation opens up the field to other disciplines, modalities and thus to accessibility.

Text is not only a sequence of sentences, and verbal signs are not the only means of carrying meaning. Non-verbal signs add to the understanding of the verbal utterances or may even carry the main meaning. These non-verbal signs are images, graphics, sounds, music, colours, graphic design, etc. that can be either used as embellishment or a constitutive part of the meaning. The understanding and interaction of information, e.g. the structure on a website is influenced by the users’ expectations and knowledge as well as by the combination of semiotic systems rather than by linguistic features alone (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: ix–xviii). Audiovisual texts consist of a combination and interaction of verbal elements, non-verbal elements, audio and visual elements (Zabalbeascoa 2008: 24-25). Thus, multimodal texts combine several semiotic modes, e.g. language, visual images, sound and gesture, whose interaction bears a text-specific meaning. Examples are films, websites or television programmes (Taylor 2016: 223). Multimodal content is omnipresent, but not fully accessible for people with sensory, hearing or visual impairments. To make it accessible, content has to be adapted to the needs of the audience, i.e. another medium and another modality including audio description for visually impaired people, or sign language intepreting or subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (Domínguez 2015: 246–247).

Therefore, audiovisual translation is also sometimes called multimodal translation (Melby et al. 2014: 396) or (multi)media translation (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xi). (Multi)media translation stresses the importance of a translation’s function as well as its communicative and cultural aspects and acceptability, meaning and usability. Furthermore, it places emphasis on the combination of verbal systems and other semiotic systems, the medium and distribution channels and the interpretation of the source material (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xix) by the translators or the target audience. There are many levels that interact, e.g. dialogue, music and sound. These levels are used by the audience to create meaning (Remael et al. 2016b: 255). Audiovisual translation requires the consideration of text mode (written vs. oral, audiovisual/multimodal, etc.), the text medium (cinema vs. television, internet, reader or listener, etc.), ownership and storage (DVD, internet, etc.) or audience profile and impact (nationwide audience vs. special-interest groups, etc.) (Zabalbeascoa 2008: 35).

Audiovisual translation (AVT) makes content accessible to people who do not have command of the original language, thus overcoming language barriers and being an example of intersemiotic translation. Media accessibility, on the other hand, transcends sensorial barriers by transferring one code system to another code system, such as subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, which translates information or meaning from the verbal to the written code. Another example is audio description for the blind, which transfers information from the visual to the verbal system (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 14). Media accessibility means to make available audiovisual products, such as advertisements, films or television programmes and audiovisual phenomena including art galleries, city tours or live events, to as wide a range of people as possible, especially to people with hearing or visual impairments (Maszerowska et al. 2014: 1). Since the boundaries of media accessibility and AVT are sometimes blurred (Chaume 2013: 121; Remael and Di Giovanni 2016), media accessibility will be used as an umbrella term for AVT in this paper. AVT overcomes not only language barriers, e.g. through interlingual subtitling, but also sensory barriers, e.g. through intralingual subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Both media accessibility and AVT rely on the plethora of channels, technologies, environments and media used in today’s communication and translation (Díaz Cintas et al. 2007: 11-20). Thus, AVT is characterised by its polysemiotic, multimodal, multifunctional and multi-layered nature, a technological component and a complex context and reception situation (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 13; Remael 2012: 15). In general, this is also applicable to media accessibility and localisation. Traditionally, localisation is not regarded as a type of AVT. Localisers are rather embedded in the localisation or computer industry (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xviii). Therefore, localisation and locale management are often excluded as modes of AVT although localisation, as a (linguistic and cultural) adaptation of a product to a locale (including its norms, conventions, legal and technical requirements, etc.) also deals with multimodal texts. Thus, localisation is inevitably linked to media accessibility.

Audiovisual translation has evolved as a sub-discipline of translation studies. Its clear focus is on the intersemiotic translation of multimodal texts that should provoke a reaction of the target audience that is similar to the reaction of the original audience. Thus, the translator is a mediator that already interprets these multimodal texts and re-interprets the look and feel of a production. For example, when subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) re-interpretation is inherent because information or meaning is transferred from one code system to another. In the case of SDH, it transfers meaning from the auditory to the visual system. The final product of this re-interpretation of a production’s look and feel should get similar attention (Udo and Fels 2009: 218). AVT has to consider that the verbal dimension is complemented or supplemented by other semiotic layers, e.g. gestures, images, facial expression, music or noise (Taylor 2016: 223-225).


The most common definition of accessibility is given by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which refers to accessibility as full participation in everyday life, including equal access to information and communications as well as related technologies, the physical environment and public facilities and services. Accessibility means the removal of barriers in all these areas (UN 2006: 9). This definition demonstrates that accessibility encompasses physical space, media and technology. This definition has been broadened to include people of different ages, different levels of ability or experience (Mangiron 2012: 45) regardless of a declared disability.

Technological progress is also accompanied by increasing accessibility demands. Improvement of accessibility, compensation of functional abilities and the removal of barriers can be two-fold: inclusive design, i.e. accessibility features or settings that are built into products on the one hand or (the use of) special assistive technology products (for existing products), on the other (Mangiron 2012: 45). Examples of assistive devices (for people with disabilities or the elderly) are hearing aids, screen readers, tactile keyboards, wheelchairs or memory aids. Assistive technology is an instrument to improve the quality of life, well-being and social participation of the elderly and people with disabilities (AAATE 2007: v).

Design for All is a concept that is related to accessibility. The terms Design for All, universal design, inclusive design or barrier-free design are often used interchangeably. Universal design as defined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the design of environments, products, services, information and programmes that can be used by all people without specialised design or adaptation (UN 2006: Article 2). The same definition is used in the European Disability Strategy for the term accessibility and not for the term universal design (European Commission 2010: 6). Design for All is a design philosophy that aims at including as many people as possible and considering persons that might be excluded from the use of a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 7). Universal design highlights the statement “Good design enables, bad design disables” (EIDD 2004: 1). It takes into account diverse (sensory) abilities, (physical differences), individual preferences and results in a useful design that is easy to understand, customisable and adaptable to the needs and pace of the users irrespective of physical effort, experience, language proficiency, knowledge or current concentration level (Udo and Fels 2009: 210-216). The impact of universal design reaches far beyond the proper use of products and services, because it also means improving the quality of life and promoting equality, human diversity and social inclusion (EIDD 2004: 1). Recommendations from universal game design studies can also be applied to universal design in general. These recommendations include a focus on usability, the application of universal design principles, adaptability, enabling the use of assistive technology and customisation options. Design for All education for professions that shape and design our environment should aim at including as many users (and their abilities) and potential uses as possible when designing a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 16-50). The seven principles of universal design are equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach as well as use (Connell et al. 1997).

This shows that Design for All and accessibility have a strong connection because both aim at enabling a wide range of people to access and use a product or service. However, accessibility is rather a result or characteristic whereas Design for All is the way to achieve this result. There are two basic approaches currently being adopted in universal design. One is the explicit Design for All approach and the other is the implicit Design for All approach. Explicit Design for All means that special features for a specific user population are included in the product to solve a problem. This is the intentional application of universal design. Some products that were originally designed for a group of people with a certain disability might prove to be useful for others too. Examples are the drinking straw that was marketed for children and hospitals, audio description for the blind, and subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing that can be used in noisy environments or to learn a foreign language. The opposite approach, i.e. implicit Design for All, aims at enhancing the overall usability of a product (Molenbroek et al. 2011: 10; Udo and Fels 2009: 207).

Since the inclusive design practice analyses human needs and involves end-users in the design process (EIDD 2004: 2), it is intertwined with human-centred design and usability. Usability, i.e. the “extent to which a system, product or service can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction in a specified context of use” (ISO 9241-11:2018) affects translators too. On the one hand, applications used by translators should be characterised by usability. For example, computer-assisted translation tools, machine translation systems or other translation-related systems, e.g. project management or terminology management software (as shown by Heinisch-Obermoser 2016:44-53) should be easy to use. On the other hand, translators or localisers translate or adapt technical products, e.g. websites, software, apps or games to a target locale. These products should also be as usable as possible. Part of a localiser’s job may be to test the localised product. This testing may include accessibility testing as well.

Organisations usually see accessibility only as a legal requirement and not as a benefit. Nevertheless, promoting accessibility and avoiding the exclusion of people on the basis of disabilities can be beneficial for many stakeholders. It also may have social, educational, economic, therapeutic and moral benefits. Users of accessible products may have a feeling of social inclusion or enjoy entertainment. For example, games can have an educational value and support learning. They also help developing problem solving skills, enhancing reading skills and motor skills. They can be used for therapy, e.g. tackling mobility or intellectual challenges. Customisable products suit different needs and abilities. Accessibility is also a moral obligation derived from human rights fostering equality and prohibiting discrimination. Economic benefits can be related to market growth. Especially, the elderly is a big market segment (Mangiron 2012: 43-55).

Media accessibility is a growing concern in translation. It overlaps with translation in many ways, e.g. web accessibility in website localisation, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing and, in general, any adaptation of the text that meets the needs of the target audience. Therefore, accessibility also gains a foothold in the translation sector and translator education.

Diversity, inclusion and disability

The term diversity embodies a multitude of concepts which are based on differences and similarities. On the one hand, diversity needs a reference to a specific mixture or aggregation, e.g. a group of people such as employees, and a certain dimension of this group’s diversity, on the other (Thomas 2010: 2). This means that diversity is a relational term and no absolute term because there is some sort of reference framework and not an absolute norm from which persons diverge. We can differentiate surface-level and deep-level diversity. The first refers to observable characteristics such as gender or age, whereas deep-level diversity includes less transparent aspects, such as values, attitudes and personality (Graen 2003: 30-31).

The diversity model of Gardenswartz and Rowe (2003: 31-33) is used to explain layers of diversity. They identify four layers of diversity. The first layer is our personality which is at the centre and makes us unique. The second layer are internal dimensions which we cannot control, e.g. gender or age. The third layer are external influences from society or previous experience, e.g. parenthood or place of residence. The outer layer are organisational dimensions that refer to the working environment, e.g. work location or hierarchical status within an organisation.

Diversity thus means that people are treated individually and not equally within a group (Winter 2010: 5-6) and every member is diverse in their own way, including gender, personal and corporate background, personality, lifestyle, geographic origin, education, etc. (Thomas 2010: 111).

As far as inclusion in translator education is concerned, it plays a role in the form of inclusive (higher) education that pays attention to special or individual needs (Cigman 2010: 163). In a schooling context, inclusive education is often implemented by integrating all children in the ordinary educational system regardless of their intellectual, physical, linguistic, social, emotional or other conditions (UNESCO 1999: 5). This shows that educational systems should respond to the growing diversity of their students. However, inclusive education is also an area of conflict and tension, e.g. alternative modes of assessment, partial exemption from grades or special classes which might be considered as unfair (Michailakis and Reich 2009: 24).

Accessibility is often associated with accessibility for disabled people. About 16 per cent of people living in the European Union have a disability. These 80 million people face barriers when fully participating in everyday life. These barriers may be caused by the environment or people’s attitudes (European Commission 2010: 4). Worldwide, about one billion people are likely to have a disability (Wentz et al. 2015: 2). These numbers are expected to rise, mainly because of an ageing population (AAATE 2007: v). People with disabilities are the largest minority population in many societies and the only population that is regarded as a minority group in all societies. Nevertheless, their needs are often forgotten or ignored (Wentz et al. 2015: 2).

According to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Disability Strategy, people with disabilities “include persons who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others” (European Commission 2015: 21).

Taken together, these definitions show that diversity and inclusion relate to (media) accessibility and audiovisual translation. Here, audiovisual information or messages are transferred intralingually or interlingually, whereas the focus is on the auditive and visual communication channels that both convey meaning (Chaume 2013: 107). Considering diversity thus may also mean to convey their combined meaning in only one channel.

Accessibility in translation (programmes)

Worldwide, audiovisual translation services as well as accessibility services, such as subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing or audio description for the blind, are in strong demand. Especially legislation that requires equal access to products and services boosts the demand for these services (Romero-Fresco 2013).

While some research has been carried out on translation and accessibility, only a few conferences have attempted to explicitly address both translation and accessibility as well as its combination, namely the Media for All, Languages & The Media (International Conference on Language Transfer in Audiovisual Media) conference series and the TransAccess (Translation and accessibility) conference in 2017. The first focuses on media accessibility and AVT and the latter recognises that language service providers who work with audiovisual content have to consider the needs of disabled people who participate in global communication and information exchange.

Accessibility in translation programmes can mean two things: First, inclusive translator education, i.e. making translator training accessible to as wide a range of people as possible and offering disabled people equal access to translator education. Second, accessibility as a subject taught in translation programmes (at university level) that help students acquire accessibility competence.

Based on two case studies, the aspect of accessibility in translation programmes is addressed. These two case studies should provide a deeper insight into practical examples of combining translator education and accessibility training. For this purpose, two research projects adopting different approaches to accessibility and inclusion in translation were selected. Since these projects have a different focus but are both implemented in cooperation with the University of Vienna and within the same funding scheme, this allowed for a juxtaposition of two approaches to accessibility in translator education. On the one hand, the eTransFair project aims at making translation programmes more inclusive. On the other hand, the ACT project provides training in accessibility and introduces the job profile of the accessibility manager or coordinator.

Case 1: ACT project: Accessible Culture and Training

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, participation in cultural life and the arts is a human right (United Nations 1948: Article 27, para. 1). The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that disabled people are entitled to “participation in cultural life, recreation, leisure and sport” (UN 2006: Article 30). The Accessible Culture and Training (ACT) project puts this statement into action and aims at making cultural events, especially live events in the scenic arts, e.g. opera, theatre, music festivals, fully accessible. Therefore, it established a new professional profile: the accessibility coordinator or accessibility manager for the scenic arts. To train these accessibility experts, the project proposed a curriculum at university level. They also provide training through a massive open online course (MOOC) including a certificate for Accessibility Management for the Scenic Arts. ACT places emphasis on management competence as well as practical and interpersonal competences to assess the level of accessibility of a venue where a cultural event takes place. Moreover, it is important to assume responsibility for accessible communication and performance-related issues before, during and after a live event. In addition, this project sees accessibility as an integral part of the production process. Moreover, guidelines for the implementation of policies in the field of accessibility for the scenic arts and a quality label for accessible events were developed (ACT 2017a; ACT 2017b: 1; Matamala and Orero 2016: 3-8).

The training for future accessibility managers and accessibility coordinators is categorised into understanding accessibility, venue accessibility, accessibility services, accessibility management for live events and promoting accessibility. First, understanding accessibility means that participants are familiar with the definition of accessibility and accessible events, including types and degrees of disability, concepts and forms of accessibility and national and international legislation. Second, venue accessibility is grouped into accessibility aspects related to public transport and parking, toilets, stage and seating, rain/wind/sun shelters, signs, maps, information, service animals, architectural risks, lighting, furniture, space and the evaluation of accessibility conditions of a venue. Third, the key aspects of accessibility services can be listed as follows: audio description, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, sign language interpreting, surtitling, audio subtitling, audio introduction, interlingual translation, vibrating chairs, Braille, touch tours, hearing (induction) loops, accessible materials, web accessibility and assistants or companions. Moreover, accessibility managers and coordinators should be able to maximise the effect of these accessibility services. Fourth, accessibility management for live events can be treated under three headings: pre-event planning (including devices, technology and software, target audiences, accessibility services), coordination during events (encompassing accessibility service providers, potential accidents and unexpected situations) and post-event management (including returning equipment, payment, analysing feedback for improvement and staff training). Management skills consist of team communication and motivation, working in heterogeneous teams, collaboration, conflict resolution, challenges of venues and assessing know-how of local teams. Fifth, accessibility can be promoted via various means and channels of communication (including traditional media, online media and social media). Accessibility promotion addresses accessibility needs and benefits, the importance of accessibility, accessibility policies and costs of accessibility solutions. For this purpose, stakeholders need to be identified and involved. Since collaboration with cultural event venues is necessary, accessibility experts need to emphasise the importance of collaboration. In addition, accessibility experts are also able to promote an accessible event (ACT 2017b).

To sum up, it is important to identify the necessary competences of accessibility experts and the major challenges of an event’s accessibility that need to be tackled.

Case 2: eTransFair project: How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions

Translation programmes at university level should prepare graduates for professional life. The project eTransFair (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions) thus aims at the modernisation of specialised translator training to meet the market needs in the language industry. One way of improving the employability of specialised translation graduates is by broadening students’ transferable skills. To prepare translation graduates for jobs in the language sector, eTransFair sets up a virtual skills laboratory simulating work in a real-life translation agency and provides training not only for students but also for teachers. In addition, the project develops a new competence model adapted to specialised translation and offers teaching material and assessment techniques in the form of open educational resources to teachers. It attaches considerable importance to disadvantaged groups and inclusiveness of translator training (eTransFair 2017b).

The key terms in the project title are “inclusive”, “fit-for-market”, “transferable” and “specialised translator training”. To make specialised translator training inclusive, eTransFair proposes to combine on-site and online training enabling people living in remote areas to join (blocked) on-site training sessions. Furthermore, open educational resources (OER) defined as digital learning, teaching and research material that permits free re-use and adaptation, e.g. via an open licence (Orr et al. 2015: 17; van Damme et al. 2012) for educational purposes serve multiple purposes in translator education. First, they should increase the accessibility of translator education. Second, other higher education institutions can freely use, adapt and re-distribute these resources. Thus, OER can be used for the training of specialised translators and are transferable to other training institutions. This is also illustrated by the so-called transferable training scheme. This scheme allows other higher education institutions to use the training material, training methods, assessment techniques and manuals and adapt them to their needs. Third, OER are digital and online and thus accessible for a wide range of people, including those that do not have the (financial) means to attend sessions at the university. Fourth, OER include a broad spectrum of educational material, e.g. full courses, modules, exam questions or software. This material is often available in different forms, e.g. text, images, videos, portals or games. Fifth, the eTransFair OER are accessible via the so-called European Centre of Specialised Translators (e-COST) to allow for exchange on the topic of specialised translator training on a European level.

The eTransFair competence card for specialised translators is a competence model that comprises eight core competences, i.e. translation competence, language competence, intercultural and transcultural competence, revision and review competence, domain-specific competence, technological competence, information mining and terminological competence and professional competence which includes entrepreneurship (eTransFair 2017a). Although the term “inclusive specialised translator training” is mentioned in the title of the project, the competence model does not contain any reference neither to inclusion nor to accessibility. This rather suggests that the authors do not regard inclusion and accessibility as part of the competence profile of specialised translators, although especially (website) localisation which is offered as an entire eTransFair e-learning module, requires knowledge and implementation of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C 2008). eTransFair rather concentrates on the accessibility of the training programme itself and not on accessibility as part of a translator’s competence profile. However, a general strategy to make translation education more inclusive still needs to be formulated and implemented in the project, including measures to involve groups with a disadvantaged background, and the definition of flexible learning modes.

To sum up, the eTransFair translator training programme should be characterised by flexibility, employability (market orientation) and inclusiveness. All three aspects are also relevant in accessibility. The project puts an emphasis on transferable skills and competences of specialised translators as well as on inclusive education. Inclusive education for specialised translators can be achieved with a combination of on-site and online training, training for teachers, new didactics, including self-assessment and peer assessment guidelines, flexible learning modes, the creation and use of open educational resources, the involvement of stakeholders (teachers, students, employers) and the identification of training and learning needs to meet quality requirements (eTransFair 2017b). Compared to ACT, inclusion and accessibility is not considered in the eTransFair competence profile of specialised translators. However, the training programme itself should be as inclusive as possible to allow disadvantaged people to participate in the specialised translation programme.

This case emphasises that higher education in the field of specialised translation should consider market needs, prepare students for the language industry, be inclusive and improve transferable skills, especially digital skills.

Integration of accessibility into translation curricula

The purpose of this article is to review recent research and projects that address the consideration of accessibility components in translator training. A comparison of the two projects mentioned above reveals that there are two possibilities for including accessibility in translation programmes: accessible or inclusive translation programmes vs. accessibility taught in translation programmes.

Inclusive translator education and training

Inclusive translator training means that disabled or disadvantaged people can exercise their rights as translation students by overcoming the obstacles in their education. Making translation programmes and translator training accessible and inclusive can range from accessible buildings where translation education or training takes place to accessible information about the degree programme on the website, accessible training material and teaching methods including alternative modes of assessment. It is beyond the scope of this paper to address all the issues related to inclusive translator education, but some recommendations arose from both case studies.

On a meta-level, inclusion (and exclusion) encompass three levels, i.e. the societal, the organisational and the interactional level (Michailakis and Reich 2009: 25). Society provides the (legal) framework for inclusion. Higher education institutions that implement these legal provisions, may prepare their own inclusion or accessibility policies and provide the basis for inclusive education. However, this also requires awareness-raising in the field of diversity, accessibility and inclusion in general.

On an institutional level, higher education institutions have a responsibility to provide access to their education, research, products, services and space. In many countries, public universities are considered public buildings. From an architectural point of view, buildings and facilities should be constructed or modified in an accessible way. This means that lifts, toilets, lecture halls, etc. should be accessible for wheelchair users, students with hearing impairments may use hearing loops in lecture halls or blind students may use Braille. Teachers, staff and students should be made aware of this responsibility and receive diversity training. Special needs associated with sensory, physical or intellectual impairments should be considered and translator education should respond to issues individually. However, also the implications for other students, e.g. conflicts or tension due to special treatment of individual students, should be taken into account. Information on degree programmes and study-related information, e.g. on the university’s website, should be accessible, including the use of assistive technology. For example, blind people may use a screen reader and people with reduced mobility may only be able to use the keyboard. Therefore, websites should adhere to the web accessibility guidelines. Universities may offer distance learning or (blocked) courses to allow as many students as possible, e.g. people living in remote areas to participate in a course. Open educational resources are another option of accessible translator education. However, this online training material, e.g. slides, e-books, exam questions, should be accessible too. It is therefore a good idea to provide material, communication and orientation in different modes and via more than one sensory channel. For example, if videos are part of the training material, subtitles or audio description should be provided so that they are also useful for deaf and blind people. Graphics and pictures that are not only embellishment should contain alternative text (Heinisch 2017). Specialised translation increasingly relies on information and communications technology, in general, and translation technology, in particular. When working with computer-aided translation tools, teachers may choose a software that complies with universal design principles or a software that allows for the use of assistive technology for their translation courses. In some cases, alternative modes of assessment might be applied. They may be an option if a student cannot read exam questions on a paper, for example. In this case, online exams that allow for the use of a screen reader or oral exams instead of written ones may be alternative modes of assessment. However, these recommendations are just a small selection of aspects that could (and should) be considered in inclusive translator education. Inclusive translator education is a complex issue with many political, ethical, financial and social implications. As mentioned before, accessibility that was originally introduced for one target group might prove useful for many others too. For example, subtitles provided for learning videos are also beneficial for students who might have a low level of proficiency in the language used in the video.

Student diversity is growing, e.g. age (senior citizens), educational background, languages and cultures, students with children and people with intellectual, physical or sensory impairments. This means that any improvement addressing their needs helps because some information, learning material, etc. would otherwise remain inaccessible for them. In the long-term, new practices, policies and procedures might be introduced to meet the aim of inclusive translator education.

Accessibility as a subject in translation programmes

In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of literature on localisation, audiovisual translation and media accessibility. Topics taught in translation programmes include different types of audiovisual translation. Currently, the two main types of audiovisual translation are subtitling and dubbing (Remael 2012: 12). However, translation curricula may also cover voice-over, audio description, audiointroduction (AI), surtitling (supertitling), speech-to-text interpreting (STT) and sign language interpreting (SLI), to name a few. In addition, each of these modes of AVT might require different translation strategies depending on the target audience. For example, different translation strategies are applied if the target audience are children or adults. As demonstrated by the ACT project, which proposes the new job profile of the accessibility expert for the scenic arts, there is the emerging role of accessibility experts who know how to make information and products accessible to a wide range of people.

What follows is a brief description of the topics taught in translation programmes: subtitling, dubbing, voiceover, audio description, audiointroductions, surtitles, speech-to-text interpreting and sign language interpreting. First, subtitling as a cheap and fast mode of AVT “consists in rendering in writing the translation into a TL [target language] of the original dialogue exchanges uttered by the different speakers, as well as of all other verbal information that is transmitted visually (letters, banners, inserts) or aurally (lyrics, voices off)” (Díaz Cintas 2012: 344). Different forms of subtitles are pre-prepared subtitles (ahead of programme release) or live subtitles produced during broadcast, e.g. live subtitles for news. The latter can be supported by speech recognition (live subtitling with speech recognition), translation memories or machine translation. Furthermore, we differentiate between interlingual and intralingual subtitles. A sub-type of the latter are subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) that contain not only the spoken dialogue but also additional information on music or sounds in the programme. This sub-type might address different audiences, such as SDH for children. Subtitles can be closed (closed captioning, i.e. they can be turned off) or open, i.e. they are embedded in the image (Díaz Cintas 2012: 347).

Second, “[d]ubbing consists of translating and lip-syncing the script of an audiovisual text, which is then performed by actors directed by a dubbing director and, where available, with advice from a linguistic consultant or dubbing assistant” (Chaume 2013: 109). It can occur in TV series, film translation or commercials. Third, voiceover “consists in presenting orally a translation in a TL [target language], which can be heard simultaneously over the SL [source language] voice” (Díaz Cintas and Orero 2012: 441) and is associated with documentaries, interviews or bonus tracks on DVDs.

Fourth, audio description (AD) “is a second audio track produced in conjunction with the original audio track, to provide descriptions of important visual elements of a film or television show for access by people who are blind or have low vision” (Udo and Fels 2009: 207). AD means to translate the moving images into words to support the storyline (Remael et al. 2016a). This includes AD at theatres or museums to provide access to visual information (Núñez 2015: 210). Fifth, audiointroductions, compared to AD, are not provided simultaneously to the film or production but beforehand. Audiointroductions help contextualise a film because they provide information on the style of a film, descriptions of characters, settings or cast (Maszerowska et al. 2014: 7).

Sixth, surtitles are captions “displayed above the stage during a live performance, giving a written translation of the audible words – though not all of them – which are being sung at any given moment” (Low 2002: 97), e.g. in opera houses.

Seventh, speech-to-text interpreting is intralingual interpreting of “spoken into written text for late-deafened or hard-of-hearing persons who have a spoken language as their first language” (Norberg et al. 2015: 36) supported by a keyboard that is connected to a screen (Norberg et al. 2015: 36-37). Eight, sign language interpreting typically “means interpreting to and from a signed language from […] a spoken language” (Leeson and Vermeerbergen 2012: 324) and occurs, for example, at conferences or public service settings.

Adapting texts to a target audience and a specific function is a crucial competence of translators, including the adaptation of texts to different target audiences and their specific needs. Hence, translation in the context of accessibility does not only mean to provide access to communication and culture, but also access to information, products and services beyond linguistic barriers and beyond modalities.

A considerable amount of literature (EMT 2009; EMT 2017; Eser 2015; PACTE 2003; Pym 2003) has been published on the competences of (professional) translators and the integral elements of these competences. For example, the European Qualifications Framework for Lifelong Learning differentiates between knowledge, skills and competence. Knowledge is the assimilation of facts, theories, practices and principles in a certain field, whereas skills refer to the use of this knowledge regarding problem solving and task completion. Competence is the ability to use not only knowledge but also skills and other abilities, such as social, personal or methodological abilities in all areas of life, including work, study and personal development (EQF 2008: 11).

In the language industry, the ISO 17100 standard specifies requirements for translation services and identifies six professional competences of translators: translation competence, linguistic and textual competence, research, information acquisition and processing, cultural competence, technical competence and domain competence (ISO 17100: 6). The European Master’s in Translation (EMT) reference framework for the competences applied to language professions or to translation also specifies six competences. The translation service provision competence in the centre is surrounded by language competence, intercultural competence, info mining competence, technological competence and thematic competence (EMT 2009: 4). The current EMT areas of competence encompass language and culture (transcultural and sociolinguistic awareness and communicative skills), translation (strategic, methodological and thematic competence), technology (tools and applications), personal and interpersonal as well as service provision competence (EMT 2017: 4). A study comparing the competence cards proposed by EMT, ISO, CIUTI and TransCert shows that these models cover comparable competences (Arevalillo et al. 2017 (in prep.)).

These lists of competences are crucial for competence-oriented translation curricula, especially for those programmes in which translator education should meet the expectations of the translation sector.

Moving on now to consider the competences of accessibility experts. Accessibility competence is the ability to use one’s knowledge, skills and other abilities to make a product or service accessible to as wide a range of people as possible. For example, in the audio description literature, authors mention that further competences in addition to translator’s competences are needed. These competences include “source text problem identification, transfer of cultural references, explicitation of what is implicit and vice versa, and task prioritisation” (Rodríguez Posadas 2010: 196). Transfer of cultural references and source text problem identification are part of a translator’s work in any case. However, the context and reception of the translation might be far more important in AVT compared to intramodal translation. Translators need to consider their working situation, tools, the functions of the language in the media depending on the genre and the recipients, e.g. their recipients’ age, reading habits or level of education. AVT and multimedia translation are characterised by multimodality, teamwork, work with intermediate texts as well as the dominance of three quality criteria, i.e. comprehensibility, accessibility and usability (Gambier and Gottlieb 2001: xi-xvi). Another challenge is audiovisual constraints. In dubbing, constraints are the need for synchrony between image, sound and text. In subtitling the constraint is the need to paraphrase, reduce the information and adapt speech to a form of writing (Remael 2012: 15). Translator training should cover these aspects to prepare students for professional life. Therefore, accessibility competence should be part of the education of professional (specialised) translators to make students fit for the market. Some translation programmes already develop their students’ accessibility competence and offer some sort of accessibility training through AVT and localisation. AVT, localisation and accessibility are intertwined because they all make information and entertainment available to as many people as possible. They eliminate barriers to content accessibility (Díaz Cintas et al. 2010: 14).

Transferable skills, also described as employability skills, play a crucial role in this respect. Transferable means that “having been learnt/practiced in one situation, they are flexible and can be applied to another task in another situation, albeit with some modification” (Denicolo and Reeves 2013: 6). These skills are transferable from studies to different work environments and include personal effectiveness such as time management. They also comprise, among others, communication skills and project organisation, teamwork, managing people and resources, using software or the ability to work independently and think outside the box (Denicolo and Reeves 2013: 1-14). Currently, translation curricula have to cater for different aspects of potential future job profiles. However, the general impression is that only a small number of translation graduates actually stay in the translation and language service industry (Heinisch 2017). Therefore, proposing a training model that helps broaden the students’ transferable skills would be desirable to prepare students for a variety of job profiles. Moreover, opening up to other disciplines would increase the employability and flexibility of translation graduates since they can offer additional services as professionals, e.g. accessibility assessment.

A model of accessibility competence is already provided by ACT above. These suggestions are consistent with an earlier study (European Commission 2014). Although this study’s model covers accessible tourism services only, it addresses similar topics such as knowledge of and definition of disabilities, types of disability, access requirements, barriers to accessibility and Design for All, strategic development of accessibility in business, principles of effective customer service, proper etiquette for dealing with persons with disabilities, recognising and responding appropriately to people using personal supports and service animals and assistive technology (European Commission 2014: 24). More ideas for accessibility competence are formulated in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the European proposal for accessibility requirements for products and services (European Commission 2015) and the European Disability Strategy.

To sum up, accessibility is, at the same time, very broad but also very personal and stresses the individuality of people (European Commission 2014: 44). Accessibility competence is useful in many areas, ranging from media such as TV or film as well as product development such as website or software design, to events such as sports events, theatre and opera performances and public transport, e.g. information in train stations, to name just a few.

Further research may focus on other projects and initiatives addressing accessibility in translation programmes.


The article discussed the options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education. An initial objective of the study was to identify accessibility as a component in translator education and training. Based on two case studies – the ACT project (Accessible Culture and Training) and the eTransFair project (How to Achieve Inclusive and Fit-for-Market Specialised Translator Training? – A Transferable Model for Training Institutions) – the paper discussed various options of how accessibility and inclusion can be considered in translator education. The principal findings of this study are that integration of accessibility into translation programmes can be grouped into two broad categories: inclusive translator education on the one hand, and training in accessibility and accessibility-related topics for translators, on the other. However, very little was found in the literature on the question of making translation programmes more accessible and inclusive or on integrating accessibility training in translation programmes.

This paper has argued that there are two approaches to accessibility as a component in specialised translator training. The first approach is to make translator programmes accessible. Inclusive translator education responds to the growing diversity of its student body. It may include information, learning material, teaching methods and modes of assessment that comply with accessibility requirements. In addition, it may encompass communication via more than one sensory channel to meet different student needs. Apart from universal design, assistive technology may play a pivotal role to make higher education accessible. In the long-term, new practices, policies and procedures may provide equal access to translator training. The second approach refers to accessibility as a subject taught in translation programmes. Here, accessibility is already (an indirect) part of translation programmes. Subjects such as audiovisual translation, localisation or (translation and translation-related) technology inherently cover accessibility topics, e.g. web accessibility guidelines, speech-to-text interpreting, subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing or universal design. Generally, translators usually consider the target audience (and its needs) and remove linguistic (and, in audiovisual translation, also sensorial) barriers. In addition, the emerging role of accessibility experts who know how to make information and products accessible to a wide range of people stresses the importance of accessibility competence.

Accessibility competence is crucial for making translation students fit for the market. Accessibility requires us to question current translators’ competences, practices, training content and training methods. The current study found that there is no general strategy to make translation education and training more inclusive. To develop a full picture of accessibility and accessibility competence for and in translation (education), additional studies will be needed.


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About the author(s)

Barbara Heinisch is a teaching and research assistant at the Centre for Translation Studies and project manager for the English service at the Corporate Communications unit of the University of Vienna, Austria. She graduated in technical translation and conference interpreting from the same university. Her research interests include usability, accessibility, localisation, technical documentation, terminology and citizen science. Her doctoral thesis addresses the usability of UniVieTerm, the University of Vienna’s terminological database for higher education and university-specific terminology. Barbara participated in various European and Austrian research projects, including LISE (Legal Language Interoperability Services), a European project addressing terminology management workflows and MOA (My Own Agency) focusing on translation platforms serving as hubs for translators and clients. Recently, she is working on two Erasmus+ projects, including eTransFair (How to achieve innovative, inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training? – A transferable model for training institutions) aimed at the modernisation of specialised translator training and ACT (Accessible Culture and Training) which focuses on the accessibility of cultural events. Moreover, Barbara is involved in the European Language Resource Coordination network that aims at the identification, collection and processing of language resources for the further deployment of the European Commission’s machine translation system eTranslation. In addition, she participates in a Connecting Europe Facility project aimed at the adaptation of CEF eTranslation for the Austrian EU Council Presidency in the second half of 2018. On a national level, Barbara works on the special research programme “German in Austria. Variation – Contact – Perception” addressing the use, change and perception of German language in Austria. In this project, she is member of the project part which develops a research platform. Barbara also received a grant for the citizen science project “On everyone’s mind and lips – German in Austria”.

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©inTRAlinea & Barbara Heinisch (2019).
"Accessibility as a component in inclusive and fit-for-market specialised translator training"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: New Insights into Translator Training
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Retranslating the Bible and the Qur’an

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New Routledge Research Series on Translation and Interpreting History

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Translation, Localisation, Imitation, and Adaptation: Comparative Aspects in Comics Studies

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Translations, Translators, Interpreters and Subversion

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Pragmatic Competence in Chinese-English Retour Interpreting of Political Speeches

A Corpus-Driven Exploratory Study of Pragmatic Markers

By Jun Pan (Hong Kong Baptist University, PRC) and Billy T. M. Wong (The Open University of Hong Kong, PRC)

Abstract & Keywords

Retour interpreting has often been regarded a controversial practice due to language idiomaticity concerns. Nevertheless, in political and diplomatic settings, such a practice is unavoidable, which poses great challenges to interpreter training. Interpreting for high profile politicians and state leaders is extremely formidable since interpreters need to demonstrate a high level of linguistic command and pragmatic competence in a B (non-native) language. Despite the importance of pragmatic competence in political retour interpreting, little empirical evidence has been provided as to its ‘what’ and ‘how’ in interpreter training. This study, exploratory in nature, aims to address these issues. It focuses on the use of pragmatic markers (PMs), a parameter revealing the quality of political interpreting at the pragmatic level and reflecting the pragmatic competence of interpreters. The use of a set of PMs was examined, including syntactic markers, lexical markers, contrastive makers, and elaborative markers. A comparison of PM use in English speeches by high profile politicians and that in Chinese-to-English interpreted political speeches was conducted based on two corpora: the Corpus of Interpreted Political Speeches from Chinese to English (CIPSCE) and the Corpus of English Political Speeches (CEPS). Findings of the study suggest a general underuse of most PMs, in particular syntactic markers and lexical markers, in the CIPSCE than in the CEPS, whereas the patterns of contrastive markers and elaborative markers seem to be more complicated. The findings help to advance the development of pragmatic competence in interpreter training, by highlighting the areas of improvement in political retour interpreting.

Keywords: retour interpreting, political, pragmatic competence, pragmatic markers, corpus study, interpreter training

©inTRAlinea & Jun Pan (Hong Kong Baptist University, PRC) and Billy T. M. Wong (The Open University of Hong Kong, PRC) (2019).
"Pragmatic Competence in Chinese-English Retour Interpreting of Political Speeches A Corpus-Driven Exploratory Study of Pragmatic Markers"
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1. Political retour interpreting

1.1. Retour interpreting

Interpreting into a B language, or a non-mother-tongue, has often been a controversial issue in interpreting practice. The International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC 2012) classifies the languages that interpreters work in (interpreters’ working languages) into A, B and C languages. An interpreter’s B language is roughly described as ‘a language in which the interpreter is perfectly fluent, but is not a mother tongue’ (cf. A language) (ibid., emphasis in the original). The practice of A-to-B interpreting is also named as ‘retour interpreting’ (Pöchhacker 2004). 

Despite the lack of a measurable definition of a B language (EMCI 2002; Gile 2005), there seems to be a consensus among practitioners and researchers that interpreting into a B language, as a language generally assumed to be weaker than one’s A language (mother tongue), may be problematic and thus unfavourable in formal interpreting settings, in particular conference interpreting in a simultaneous mode (see Pöchhacker 2004). A-to-B interpreting often faces challenges of language quality concerns (Seleskovitch and Lederer 1989), inadequate cultural competence (Lederer 2008), and cognitive ‘weakness’ in B language expression (Donovan 2005).

Gradually, it has been recognised that retour interpreting is sometimes unavoidable or even demanded in formal conference settings (Lim 2005), especially in less-developed interpreting markets, or when the interpreting involves ‘minor languages’ and interpreting into an A language may involve higher expenses (EMCI 2002). E. Wang (2008), comparing his findings of a survey on interpreting into B languages in China with two similar studies in Japan and South Korea, revealed that many interpreters in these three countries had to work from A to B due to a lack of interpreters who are competent in Chinese, Japanese or Korean as a B language. He also indicated that Chinese interpreters had to undertake far more A-to-B interpreting as compared to interpreters in Japan and South Korea. Moreover, in the United Nations, Chinese, in addition to Arabic, is interpreted both from and into while the other four official languages are only interpreted into as A languages (UN 2010). The large differences between Chinese and the other official languages and the difficulty involved in learning the Chinese language may be the main contributors to this plight (ibid.).

Despite the debate on the legitimacy of A-to-B interpreting, there is a consensus among practitioners and researchers that interpreting quality should be maintained ‘whatever the directionality’ (EMCI 2002: 60). Donovan (2005) discussed the importance of language enhancement in training retour interpreters, problems such as interference of the source language beyond the word level, the idiomaticity of expressions, and the appropriate use of register seemed to be marked problems in A-to-B interpreting and worthy of efforts in interpreter training. Lederer (2008), addressing the training of simultaneous interpreting into B languages in China, also indicated the importance of students’ language enhancement beyond the word level. Nevertheless, there is a lack of empirical data about the linguistic peculiarities of A-to-B interpreting.

1.2. Interpreting in political and diplomatic settings

Retour interpreting has been widely applied in political and diplomatic settings since ancient times (Baigorri-Jalón 2015). Most of the early interpreters, trained and immersed in a B language environment, were usually assigned government posts or roles of diplomats/ambassadors and cultural mediators (ibid.). Along with the professionalisation of interpreting, modern political and diplomatic interpreting are usually undertaken by government-hired and in-house-trained interpreters (see FMPRC 2013; US State Department n.d.). These interpreters, often civil servants working for the government, must first of all be citizens of the country of service who pass rigorous linguistic and political tests (ibid.). With the citizenship prerequisite, government interpreters, in addition to B-to-A interpreting, have to undertake A-to-B interpreting and act as the government’s ‘voice’ and ‘ears’ in communication with foreign audiences (ibid.). As a result, the accuracy and quality of the interpreting and language use are highly valued, regardless of directionality.

Situated at the intersection between political and media discourses, political interpreting poses great challenges to the interpreters due to its complicated role as ‘an integral part of political activity’ (Schäffner and Bassnett 2010: 13):

Where foreign policy of individual states is concerned, translation becomes relevant, for example, for delivering speeches during state visits. Translations of such speeches are made available on government or embassy websites, and are sometimes also published in bulletins or the media. In this way, a government can communicate its political aims and decisions to the outside world.

According to Gagnon (2010: 255), political interpreting or translation plays an important role in political discourse and it may even show shifts that ‘had an impact on the target society’.

Due to its significance, political interpreting is often placed under the spotlight of media and political scrutiny, making the task intensive and stressful (Buri 2015). In extreme situations, interpreters may be ‘easily transformed into scapegoats especially when there are misunderstandings or friction between parties — straightforwardly attributed to misinterpretation’ (ibid.: para. 14). Interpreting for high profile politicians and state leaders is particularly formidable due to the tension on site (Pan 2005, 2007).

Therefore, interpreters working in political and diplomatic settings need to demonstrate not only a high level of linguistic command (grammatical competence), but also pragmatic competence, especially when working into a B language (cf. Pan 2005, 2007). Pragmatic competence, in this regard, goes beyond Bachman’s (1990: 98, italised in the original) definition of ‘the types of knowledge which, in addition to organisational competence, are employed in the contextualised performance and interpretation of socially appropriate illocutionary acts in discourse’. It refers to what Taguchi (2017: 161) mentioned as ‘advanced pragmatic competence’ — ‘characterised by the ability to handle a variety of communicative tasks in formal and informal exchanges, or the ability to cope with linguistic challenges stemming from unexpected turns of events’, in addition to ‘cross-cultural adaptability’. Such a competence plays a crucial role in political and diplomatic meetings.

Xu (2000: 38, as in Yang 2012: 16; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) regards that ‘a diplomatic translator is usually a diplomat, who is required to translate or interpret not only the leaders’ speeches but also their attitude and mood, and even the political atmosphere on the spot’.

Yang (2012: 12; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) emphasised that diplomatic translators and interpreters should be able to employ the tools of discourse analysis and ‘analyse the political meaning of the diplomatic language by reading between the lines’. X. Wang (2008; also cited in Pan and Wong 2018: 169) called for the employment of a textual perspective in Chinese-to-English translation of political documents, which will help to ensure accuracy and effectiveness in the rendition of meaning.

As indicated in Pan and Wong (2018: 169), previous studies on political interpreting have highlighted its ‘great pragmatic challenges’, and showed that it is important for interpreters to cultivate abilities in pragmatic and discourse analysis (see Xu 2000; X. Wang 2008; Yang 2012). However, not much work has been done to investigate interpreters’ pragmatic strategies in ‘dealing with the challenges of rendering the non-propositional meaning in political and diplomatic settings’ (Pan and Wong 2018: 169), leaving a significant void to fill regarding the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of pragmatic competence in political interpreting as well as its training.

2. Pragmatic markers and interpreting

2.1. Pragmatic markers, political discourse and oral communications

Fraser (1996: 168) defined pragmatic markers (PMs) as ‘the linguistically encoded clues which signal the speaker’s potential communicative intentions’. He provided a four-level scheme to cover the types of PMs, including basic markers (structural, lexical and hybrid), commentary pragmatic markers, parallel markers and discourse markers (DMs). Despite its ground-breaking contribution, this definition of PMs has been regarded as ‘too inclusive’ (Schourup 1999: 239). Schourup (1999: 230), borrowing Fraser’s scheme, introduced the notion of DMs since it has ‘a narrower range of reference’ and may be extended to account for not just inter-utterance but also monologue coherence. Brinton (1996: 30), opting for the term PMs for it ‘better captures the range of functions’, provided a brief inventory of lexical items that could help define PMs in modern English. However, as stated by the author, the list, based on studies before the middle 1990s only, is by no means complete.

Taking into consideration the common ground between PMs and DMs, some researchers have developed operational definitions and schemes for the study of these non-propositional linguistic items. For example, Feng (2008: 1688), suggesting that PMs and DMs were ‘roughly the same class of expressions’, provided a narrower definition of PMs as ‘syntactically dispensable, truth-conditionally irrelevant expressions operating on the propositional content of the sentence to which they are attached’ (Feng 2008: 1687) and divided Chinese PMs into conceptual and non-conceptual ones. Kallen and Kirk (2012: 41-42), adopting a broad definition of DMs as ‘an element of discourse that marks the speaker’s orientation towards the illocutionary core of an utterance’, operationalised English DMs by dividing them into syntactic, lexical and phonological ones, and provided a list of lexical items under each category. The present study builds mainly on these two schemes but adheres to using the term PMs (see Brinton 1996).

With a wide range of pragmatic functions (Brinton 1996; Hansen and Rossari 2005), PMs have been closely examined in and contributed greatly to our understanding of different types of political discourse. Furkó and Abuczki (2014), for example, through a corpus of BBC and CNN interviews with political figures, examined the frequently used PMs and highlighted their roles in mediatised political discourse. Han (2011), adopting Fraser’s (1996) scheme, investigated the use of PMs in the underexplored area of monologues through a corpus of speeches delivered by famous public speakers and political figures. The study provided evidence that PMs, as the ‘linguistic and strategic choices made by the speaker’, contributed to ‘the success of communication between the speaker and the hearer in a public speech’ (2791).  

Recognised as a characteristic of oral discourse (Brinton 1996; Schourup 1999), the use of PMs has been proven as a useful indicator of oral proficiency in a second language. Many studies adopted a corpus-based method to compare second language use with native language use, which contributed greatly to the teaching of a second language (Huang 2011; Dalili and Dastjerdi 2013). For example, Dalili and Dastjerdi (2013: 61), through a corpus-based analysis of media discourse produced by native and non-native English speakers, concluded that DMs constituted ‘a major part of “discourse competence”’ and enabled ‘the speakers of a language to observe the rules governing the combination of sentences and attain sensitivity to communicative functions of these elements in organising discourse’. Huang (2011), through a corpus-based analysis of typical DMs in different types of English speeches produced by non-native and native speakers, studied the contextual factors that accounted for Chinese non-native speakers’ distinctive use of PMs in English. Wei (2011), in particular, identified that there were different patterns of the use of PMs by English learners of different proficiency levels in China.

2.2. Pragmatic markers in interpreting

There have been a few studies highlighting the importance of studying PMs in interpreting and addressing the rendition of particular PMs in certain types of interpreting. Zheng (2013: 73), for example, emphasised the functions of DMs in simultaneous interpreting:

Discourse markers help the interpreter grasp the speaker’s communicative intention, and interpreters in turn use such devices in the target language to render the original information without putting the audience to unnecessary effort.

She analysed the strategies applied in the renditions of DMs by four student interpreters working from B (English) to A (Chinese) and suggested that ‘focused training on discourse markers helps simultaneous interpreters enhance performance and reduce errors’, so that ‘they will be in a better position to choose the best interpreting strategies’ (Zheng 2013: 97).

Blakemore and Gallai (2014) examined perspective dependent PMs in interpreted dialogues to see how interpreters render the ‘attributed thoughts’ from the speakers while trying to remain ‘invisible’ in the communicative process. The study indicated that interpreters may add PMs to the interpreted dialogues. Magnifico and Defrancq (2014), using Brinton’s (1996) list, analysed the use of PMs in the source languages and simultaneous interpreting of three languages in the European Parliament Interpreting Corpus Ghent corpus, and identified an increased use of PMs in interpreted speeches as compared to the source languages, in particular by female interpreters. However, factors related to the directionality of interpreting were not discussed.

Despite the aforementioned piloting research efforts, the strategies of how PMs were interpreted into a B language remain largely underexplored. According to Östman (1982: 169, as in Brinton 1996: 33), PMs appear as ‘a result of the informality of oral discourse and the grammatical ‘fragmentation’ caused by the lack of planning time’, which may lead to their use as an ‘expedient strategy’ in the highly stressful situation of political interpreting (cf. Schäffner and Bassnett 2010). However, when interpreting into a B language, interpreters may encounter difficulties in PM use due to possible insufficient command of ‘discourse competence’ (cf. Dalili and Dastjerdi 2013) as compared to native speakers. It is therefore worthwhile to look into the complicated interplay between the B language factor and PM use in interpreting, in particular in political interpreting.

Since interpreting corpora compilation has been greatly hindered by the constraints of time and lack of data accessibility, corpus-based interpreting research is still in its infancy and has hardly benefited from or contributed to the automatic analysis approaches developed in corpus or computational linguistics (see Shlesinger 2009; Setton 2011). With great potentials to contribute to the knowledge of the particular features of interpreted language, or ‘interpretese’ (Shlesinger 2009), corpus-based interpreting studies have mostly been concerned with the rendition of propositional rather than non-propositional meaning. From a few small-scale studies related to PMs (Shlesinger 2009) to more recent large-scale, corpus-based studies of PM rendition in interpreting (Magnifico and Defrancq 2014), much still remains unsettled as far as the analysis scheme goes. In this regard, many existing native and non-native spoken corpora provided some adaptable schemes (Brinton 1996; Kallen and Kirk 2012) for the analysis of PMs and allowed the comparison of large-scale bilingual data.

To sum up, previous research on PMs suggests that they play important roles in political discourses and act as significant indicators of the proficiency in a non-native spoken language. Methodologically speaking, there has been an increased application of corpus-based analysis of large-scale data, which has generated findings regarding the contextual use of PMs across genres and language modes. However, there seems to be a lack of systematic analysis of the use of PMs in interpreting into B, a source-language-proposition-dependent non-native spoken language in which the rendition of non-propositional meaning may play a decisive role.

3. The study

Despite the importance of pragmatic competence in political retour interpreting, little empirical evidence has been provided as to its ‘what’ and ‘how’ in training. Exploratory research is therefore the most suitable approach for the study, which ‘typically occurs when a researcher examines a new interest or when the subject of study itself is relatively new’ (Babbie 2015: 90).

This study, being part of a large project and exploratory in nature, aims to investigate the use of PMs, a parameter revealing the quality of political interpreting at the pragmatic level and reflecting the pragmatic competence of interpreters, in interpreted political speeches from Chinese to English (interpreted English), as compared to that in native English speeches delivered in similar settings (native English).

3.1. PMs in the study

A set of PMs were chosen for analyses in the study, including syntactic markers, lexical markers, contrastive makers, and elaborative markers (Table 1). They were selected by comparing the existing analytical schemes of PMs (Fraser 1996; Kallen and Kirk 2012) and their frequency of occurrence in a pilot study (Pan and Wong 2015a, 2015b).


Selected PMs

Syntactic markers

I know


I think


I suppose

Lexical markers



kind of


sort of



Contrastive markers



instead of



Elaborative markers

above all


what is more


in other words

Table 1. Pragmatic markers selected for the study

Syntactic markers refer to ‘the subjects I or you plus verbs of perception, speech or knowledge’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 48; cf. PMs signalling the ‘force’ of ‘sentence mood’ in Fraser 1996: 168), whilst lexical markers ‘operate more simply’ and ‘often combine with elements that also stand as discourse markers in their own right’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 50; cf. PMs signalling the ‘force’ of ‘lexical expressions’ in Fraser 1996: 168). Both syntactic and lexical markers ‘express the speaker’s attitude’ towards the ‘core illocution within the context of emerging discourse’ (Kallen and Kirk 2012: 47; cf. Commentary PMs in Fraser 1996). In addition, contrastive markers signal that ‘the utterance following is either a denial or a contrast of some proposition associated with the preceding discourse’ (Fraser 1996: 187), whereas elaborative markers signal that ‘the utterance following constitutes a refinement of some sort on the preceding discourse’ (Fraser 1996: 187). Instead of signalling the ‘attitude’ of the speaker, contrastive and elaborative markers both belong to what is termed as ‘discourse marker’ in Fraser (1996: 186), that is, ‘an expression which signals the relationship of the basic message to the foregoing discourse’.

3.2. The corpora

The use of the above PMs were compared in two corpora: (1) The Corpus of Interpreted Political Speeches from Chinese to English (CIPSCE): a corpus of English interpretation of Chinese speeches delivered by high-profile politicians in Beijing and Hong Kong (interpreted English), and (2) The Corpus of English Political Speeches (CEPS): a reference corpus of English speeches delivered by high profile politicians in the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) (native English). The corpora covered the types of speeches that are common in political interpreting, mostly of government work and policy reports (also refer to the sample data for the year 2015 in Appendix 1). In addition, the speeches were delivered by politicians of similar or same ranks so that the data were comparable between the two corpora. Specifically, the sources of CIPSCE include:

  1. The interpreted Policy Addresses delivered by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong SAR on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political; interpreting mode – simultaneous) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political; interpreting mode – simultaneous);
  2. The interpreted Budget Speeches delivered by the Financial Secretary of Hong Kong SAR on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial; interpreting mode – simultaneous) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial; interpreting mode – simultaneous);
  3. The interpreted Report on the Work of the Government delivered by the Premier of PRC on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political and financial; interpreting mode – consecutive) and the interpreted press conferences of such speeches (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political and financial; interpreting mode – consecutive); and
  4. The interpreted speeches delivered at state visits and bilateral meetings between PRC Presidents and top political figures and their counterparts in UK and US (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – diplomatic; interpreting mode – consecutive)[1].

For these interpreted speeches, the assignment of interpreters usually followed standard interpreting practice, that is, one for consecutive interpreting (two, each working for one side, in scenario 4) and two for simultaneous interpreting.

Correspondingly, the sources of CEPS include:

  1. The State of the Union Addresses delivered by the US Presidents on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political) and their press conferences (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political);
  2. The Budget Speeches delivered by the US Presidents on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial) and their press conferences (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial);
  3. The State Opening of Parliament speeches delivered by the Queen of UK on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – political) and their parliamentary debates (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – political);
  4. The Budget Statements delivered by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of UK on an annual basis (speech mode – monologue; preparedness – prepared; topic – financial) and their parliamentary debates (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – financial); and
  5. Speeches delivered at state visits and bilateral meetings between Presidents and top political figures in UK and US and their counterparts in other countries (speech mode – dialogue; preparedness – semi-prepared; topic – diplomatic).

Exploratory in nature, the study analysed data during 2011–15 to prepare for large scale data analysis.

Speeches delivered by state leaders and top-level politicians and their interpretations were collected online from official government websites and TV programme archives, which usually provide videos of the speeches and their transcripts (see Appendix 1 for a list of such data sources). When there was no transcript provided along with the speech, transcription was performed manually.

The PMs in the two corpora were analysed with the aid of the software tool AntConc (Anthony 2015). Instances of each of the selected PMs in Table 1 were searched and located using the tool. Manual checking was performed to verify that each instance functions as the PM in question. Then the frequencies of the PMs were counted and the log-likelihood (LL) score was calculated using Rayson’s UCREL log-likelihood wizard (McEnery and Hardie 2012) to check if there are significant differences between the two corpora. The context of PMs was also examined in detail through concordancing.

4. Findings

4.1. Basic statistics

Table 2 presents the overall statistics of the two corpora. The CIPSCE (interpreted English) and CEPS (native English) have a total of about 140,000 tokens and 72,000 tokens, respectively. Because of their divergence in corpus size, the standardised TTR (per 1,000 words) were calculated for comparison (Scott 2016). The results indicate that both corpora have a similar standardised type-token ratio (STTR) — 40.54 per cent for CIPSCE and 39.72 per cent for CEPS — which means that the lexical variety of the two corpora is at a similar level in general.





STTR (per 1,000 words)

CIPSCE (Interpreted English)





CEPS (Native English)





Table 2. Basic statistics of the two corpora

4.2. PMs in interpreted vs. native English: Frequency comparison

Table 3 shows the frequency of the PMs in the corpora, including the total occurrence frequency, the average frequency per 10,000 (10K) words, observed frequencies in a normalised (percentage) form, and results of the log-likelihood test. The selected PMs in both categories of syntactic markers and lexical markers had the same use pattern in CIPSCE and CEPS: ‘I think’ was used more frequently than ‘I know’ and ‘I suppose’ within the category of syntactic markers, whereas ‘then’ was the most frequently used syntactic marker, followed by ‘actually’, ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’.

The selected PMs in both categories of syntactic markers and lexical markers tend to be used much more frequently in CEPS than in CIPSCE (their LL scores were all significant, except for ‘I suppose’). Comparing the average frequencies, the syntactic marker ‘I think’ was used 7.6 times more in CEPS (13.063) than in CIPSCE (1.717); and the lexical marker ‘then’ was used 3.1 times more in CEPS (9.171) than in CIPSCE. The average frequency of the other selected PMs in these two categories also reveal the same pattern, that the markers are more frequently used in native English speeches, except for ‘I suppose’, which has a slightly higher frequency in CIPSCE than in CEPS (0.143 vs. 0.139) but an insignificant LL score (0.00), indicating that the difference may be by chance. As compared to ‘I think’ (perception) or ‘I know’ (knowledge), ‘I suppose’ (perception) expresses a lower degree of reliability (cf. Aijmer 1997). The slightly higher frequency of its use, despite the insignificant LL score, may be contributable to the Chinese source language influence or interpreters’ uncertainty of the message (‘proposition’ in Fraser 1996 and ‘illocution’ in Kallen and Kirk 2012) itself.


Selected PMs


(Interpreted English)


(Native English)



Total freq.

Avg. freq. (per 10K)1

Observed freq. in percentage

Total freq.


Avg. freq. (per 10K)1


Observed freq. in percentage (%)2


Syntactic markers

I know








0.05 -


I think








0.13 -


I suppose








0.00 +


Lexical markers









0.04 -


kind of








0.02 -


sort of








0.01 -