Towards Effective Feedback to Translation Students:

Empowering Through Group Revision and Evaluation

By Paulina Pietrzak (University of Łódź, Poland)

Abstract & Keywords

The rudimentary assumption underpinning translation education class dictates that translator educators are expected to educate and their students are expected to translate. However, so that students might profit from the assignments more comprehensively, it proves essential that constructive feedback be given, both lucid and informative (Shreve 1997). It is thus within the remit of this article to address the issue of an effective response to translation students. Due to institutional regulations, evaluation must be given in the form of grades or pass marks, but these hardly offer a clue as to the actual quality of students’ work, let alone proffer a possible path to improving their skills. In order to ensure a sustained benefit for students, the trainer needs, not only to assess, but to give a thorough feedback addressing students’ specific needs and genuinely helping them develop their own independent translation skills.

After a comparison between the most popular ways of giving feedback in translation education, the article focuses on what is arguably the most learning-conducive method of evaluation for translation students. It advocates a purposeful approach to group work and the possible ways of engaging students in group feedback exchange. A close look will be given to both advantages and disadvantages, followed by a description of a suggested organization of group revision feedback together with authentic examples gathered from a group of students who had such a procedure incorporated into the translation course.

Keywords: feedback, revision and editing, student evaluation, translation errors, translator training, group feedback

©inTRAlinea & Paulina Pietrzak (2014).
"Towards Effective Feedback to Translation Students:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
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1. Background: Forms of feedback in the translation classroom

What translation teachers undeniably have to do is to give translation assignments and then what translation students have to do is to translate and give their translations back for evaluation. The question that needs to be posed is what happens next. It may be assumed that there are four most common answers. The first of them is an objectionable no-feedback policy in which, after students give back their translations, nothing happens next. Thankfully, it appears to be less and less common. The second approach and probably the most popular procedure for giving feedback to students’ translation assignments is handing them out together with a few annotations or comments written down in the margin next to a problematic excerpt of the translation. As Piotrowska (2007: 154) observes, traditionally, translation assignments are evaluated by the teacher and then (after a longer period of time) given back to students. The analysis is not obligatory; it sometimes takes place during the teacher’s office hours (ibid.). This is a form of teacher-student communication where the teacher actually gives some feedback, but merely in a written form of varying specificity and usefulness; hence a claim could be ventured that such a procedure actually offers next to no effective and assimilable feedback.

The third common way of giving feedback is a general discussion in which an oral commentary from the teacher is not given to be passively accepted by the student, but rather to be discussed and further investigated in case of additional questions or doubts. The fourth option is peer feedback where students work in pairs trying to assess the quality of each other’s assignments, but because of the teacher’s inability to control all the pairs simultaneously and because of the students’ inexperience, more often than not peer evaluation turns out to be too harsh or too inobservant (Mossop 2001, Kim 2009). The present article discusses one more form of feedback where it is the whole group that react to their translations in an empowering practice controlled and guided by the instructor. Before an attempt is made to specify and promote such a group-work-oriented approach, the aims, constraints and challenges of feedback in the translation classroom needs to be further explored.

2. Educational challenges of giving feedback

Having students complete translation assignments is just a part of the whole process of translation teaching. The assignments must be checked and discussed to justify the student’s work. According to Shore (2001: 265) checking students’ translation assignments should serve two purposes, ‘1) to alert the teacher to recurrent problems in the students’ work and 2) to alert students to possible errors and ways of improving their translations’. Translation assignments are therefore certainly part and parcel of translation teaching. The task proves demanding not only for students but also for teachers who face the challenge of checking or correcting the assignments with no answer key and no fixed rules to follow. Moreover, the challenge is amplified by the aforementioned question what to do next? Are the checked assignments to be handed out to the students or are there any means of further using them which would justify the idea of assigning and checking translations?

In his attempt to define constructive feedback, Dollerup (1994: 125) distinguishes three components of feedback; these comprise corrections in the translations submitted by the students, an oral discussion in class covering adequate as well as inadequate renditions and finally a feedback form, assessing strengths and weaknesses with each student. Indeed, to ensure that the feedback is effective, it should be individualized, geared towards the student’s particular needs; but is oral discussion the best way of analysis and are written comments left by the trainer enough?  Should translation teachers’ work be based on the belief that those who are left with a short commentary willingly give some consideration to the teacher’s annotations? Or that they are conscientious and inquisitive enough to probe more deeply into the issues during the teacher’s office hours and indeed get to know what and why they did wrong? Or that, having discussed it during the office hours, they come to fully comprehend the reasons for their mistakes and memorize what to improve and what to avoid next time when they translate?

Leaving aside the elusiveness of such feedback, the assessment can also be adversely affected by the teacher’s subjectivity. The comments can reflect the teacher’s treatment of translation quality assessment since ‘different views of translation lead to different concepts of translational quality, and hence different ways of assessing it’ (House 1997: 1). The teachers’ approach to the theory of translation quality assessment can therefore influence their reaction to the translation assignment and, as a result, they are likely to focus more on the problematic issue of particular interest for them. In order to invite more comments and reflections, it may be useful to ask other students to provide their feedback as well.

3. Towards further integration of teacher and student voice

Group translation is a form of translation where collaboration produces multiple perspectives on a problematic issue and ‘promotes the teaching-learning dialogue’ (Kiraly 2000: 39). The importance of group translation cannot be denied (Nida 1964; Nida and Taber 1982; McAlester 1992; Kiraly 1995, 2000; Klimkowski 2007) as such didactic forms help develop the autonomy of the student (Piotrowska 2007: 153). It therefore appears to be reasonable to use multiple forces also in translation evaluation. It may be noted that such practice is in accordance with Kiraly’s postulate of empowerment. He explains that:

The placing of sole responsibility for assessment upon the teacher in a conventional classroom ensures that authority, power and control remain with the instructor, the sole arbiter of the quality and success of students’ work. With the overriding goal of empowerment in mind, in this introductory course (as well as in all other courses I teach), I instead share responsibility for the assessment of learning with the students themselves. (Kiraly 2000: 84)

Having students identify the problems in editing as well as translating and correct their own mistakes reduces the overpowering impact of the teacher, thereby empowering the students. Shreve (2002: 164) advocates modelling ‘better solutions to translation problems, or alternative solution discovery [which] may be encouraged via student collaboration in workshops and via feedback from coaches and instructors’. Although it may be easier and less time consuming to provide translation students with all the right answers, the idea is to give them a role and stir responsibility for the arrangement of the class. Thanks to the fact that in group translation training practice the teacher relinquishes centrestage, only assisting and coordinating the students’ performance, the students get the opportunity to reason and produce solutions on their own. This way they are exposed to a real-life working pattern, where it is they that must solve each of the many puzzles the source text offers.

3.1. Possible ways of engaging students in group feedback exchange

Considering all the advantages of group work and with the sole aim of promoting student-friendly translation practice in the form of group feedback, the emphasis will be placed not on the assessment for academic purposes but on assessment resulting in the best possible feedback given to students after the completion of a translation task. Feedback is supposed to be a source of support which enables novice translators to progress (Séguinot 1991: 86). When students become involved and perceive themselves as a useful source of support for others involved in the same task, they are apt to feel even more empowered as they realize that they not only receive but also give feedback, thus contributing and collaboratively enriching the classes. Shreve (2002: 159) states that ‘assessment of areas for improvement could be greatly facilitated by feedback from other involved in the translation activity’. Group feedback is therefore a form of translation practice where students not only join forces but are also allowed to react and improve the analysed translations - acting as if they were in a position of a teacher or a client. Therefore, group feedback aims not at assessing and marking but rather at revising and editing, which better represents the actual job context and what the response of a client could be.

3.1.1. Focus of group feedback practice

The reason to focus on revising and editing skills is a survey undertaken by Mucha (2013) under the author’s supervision. It was conducted among three groups of respondents represented by translation students, translation teachers and translation agencies with a view to investigating how translation competence is seen in the Polish translation market. The results showed that proofreading is understood as a crucial subcompetence of translators since the ability to edit text was valued highly by all the three groups. To be specific, 55 per cent of translation agencies believe that it is a very important competence; among academic teachers the answers are distributed between very important (33 per cent), important (46 per cent) and moderately important (16 per cent) indicators, while the greatest part of the students perceive the competence to be important (55 per cent) and a smaller group of 19 per cent of the students indicated that it is very important (Mucha 2013).

Interestingly, however, as the same study demonstrates, most of the translation agencies assess the graduates’ ability to edit texts as average (61 per cent) and 5 per cent states that the graduates possess no such abilities. Similarly, most of the academic teachers assess the competence as average (53 per cent) and bad (13 per cent) while students assess their own ability to edit texts most optimistically since 55 per cent consider it to be good and 19 per cent to be very good. Nevertheless, when it comes to the competence of their colleagues the students are not that lenient as 47 per cent perceive it as average, 11 per cent as bad and only 2 per cent as very good. Thus, an interesting discrepancy exists between the assessments of translation agencies, academic teachers and the students themselves in that the last group evaluate that competence much higher than the other two. The ability to edit texts is therefore assessed as average, which shows that definitely there is room for improvement for this component of translation competence.

3.1.2. Organization of group feedback practice

Consequently, having chosen the area to focus on, the organization of group feedback provision should be resolved. The crucial question that needs to be answered concerns the form and material for such group feedback. First, the problematic fragment of a student’s translation as well as the way of presenting it for discussion must be decided on. The fragment can be read aloud by the teacher, spotted by the students, stopped at when a student is reading the whole text, suggested by the students on the basis of the comments written on their assignments (if the teacher decides to hand them out before the discussion), presented to the group by means of a chosen assignment of one or two students xerocopied or displayed to the group, or arranged in other possible manners.

The easiest way of eliciting feedback from the group would be the aforementioned teacher-guided general discussion with the whole group. Nevertheless, what is general may also mean - at least from the point of view of an individual - chaotic, uninvolving or boring. Another possibility is to ask one student at a time to comment, elaborate, correct and, if necessary, suggest a better solution. However, such a method may render the rest of the group quiet and detached, while the student asked to respond, caught unawares, may fail to rise to the challenge of providing a reasonable solution in next to no time, thus being exposed to the harsh judgment of the rest of the group. Similarly to a common situation in which the group evaluates the assignment of one student where the student who is assessing or the one being assessed can understandably feel scapegoated. To sum up, in such a model, one student’s workload is significantly greater than another’s. 

On the other hand, students need to be asked since if they are provided with a better solution to a translation problem or simply have their errors corrected, they are deprived of the opportunity for self-correction. When they do not cope with a problem on their own, they will hardly commit that problem to memory and mind it in the future work. Since informative feedback should yield as constructive a result as possible, it can therefore be of benefit to translation students if they are provided not only with their own target text but also with a list of problematic sentences or longer excerpts from their peer students’ translations. Problematic sentences or longer fragments are considered to be those which contain for instance a translation error or an example of interference from the source text. The idea is not to tell them but to ask them what to improve and why.

3.2. Advantages of group feedback exchange

Unlike in revising translations via a general discussion, teacher’s commentary on the work or a feedback form with a grade, in group revision feedback the students are involved in a largest measure. This is due to the fact that not only is it the students that are asked to produce better solutions to problematic passages but also they are likely to show keen interest in the samples that they know to come from their own work. In practice, first they read with care to check if the fragment in hand is of their own production. Then, having read cautiously, they surely notice what may be improved and readily correct it. There is room for discussion and brainstorming as they all decide about good and bad solutions as well as the types and sources of errors and ideas for improvement.

One more advantage of such group revision feedback is anonymity. Sentences and excerpts from translations come unsigned, which prevents anyone from feeling scapegoated, exposed and derisory. Nevertheless, sometimes - willy-nilly - there is a lot to laugh at, which also acts for the benefit of the class making it more enjoyable and thus more memorable. The fact that it is their own translation that is being polished in a collaborative effort by all members of the group also helps to sustain the students’ interest. Moreover, provided that the teacher offers their students a balanced cross-section of material for analysis, students cannot accuse him or her of bias that could be reflected in an individual assignments evaluation and feedback since all the students are invited to discuss and disagree.

To sum up, a list of authentic problem parts selected from students’ own translations gives teachers a chance to make students themselves actively correct one another, without a scapegoat being criticized, without comments left helplessly in the margin, without translation problems left unattended, without the need to come to office hours and hopefully with some added benefit in the form of greater autonomy and self-sufficiency of the students. In the long run, extensive repetitive feedback organized in such a way, potentially provokes the students to automatically monitor their own performance as they have been peer monitoring the performance of the rest of the group.

In his discussion of difficulties in constructing a programme of deliberate practice for multiple competences of translation, Shreve (2002: 158) argues that:

The expert translator’s perspective on the translation, on the specific problems that it represents, and the steps to be taken to resolve them will shift as pattern recognition skills, problem decomposition ability and other cognitive abilities improve over time. Implicit in the deliberate practice model is the idea that advancement to expertise requires long-term effortful reorganization of the skills involved in the domain. (...) Such long-term reorganization would necessarily involve continual self-monitoring.

The ability to revise oneself follows from the ability to revise at all. The practice here proposed may therefore show students how to do it correctly. Students have an opportunity to learn to avoid over-revision, retranslating, making unnecessary changes, unconstructive criticism, focusing on details and overlooking serious errors (Mossop 2001: xi). Hence, such an activity may prove quite invigorating and motivating as they, in fact, feedback themselves. To round it up with Toury’s observation, student feedback is more intuitive and representative of society at large and the norms which actually govern translational behaviour in it (1995: 256).

As regards the disadvantages of group feedback practice, the main inconvenience is that teachers have to spend some time copying the problem parts from the translations, but in return they have a tool allowing them to conduct a systematic and profit-yielding class. The second potential drawback is that one could accuse it of error fossilisation. Indeed, it needs to be emphasized that translations should not be evaluated negatively with primary focus laid on errors and mistranslations since translation is determined by skopos and too much heed paid to errors may result in inaccurate performance of a translation task (Piotrowska 2007: 154). However, should we ignore an error which affects the meaning-oriented assessment - leaving the text either experientially, logically, interpersonally or textually inaccurate or unnatural (Kim 2009: 135). Will it suffice if we provide the students with a comment that the quality is not good enough and that the errors indicate that the command of the target text and the understanding of the source text are not satisfactory? Instead of leaving such problems unattended, it may be a good idea to use them as a tool for practice.

3.3. Criteria

Group feedback offered in a form of proofreading, will intrinsically be focused around editing and revision. With a view to ensuring that this form of feedback is not just language errors correction, but a well-organized and efficiently conducted activity, it is advisable that the teacher choose a set of parameters or a typology of errors to follow and address during such group feedback practice to characterize the problem areas of a given translation.

The taxonomy of error types for the translation class to follow when engaging in a group feedback activity may be patterned after Mossop (2001: 99) who presents a concise list of revision parameters. This reasonably short list of error types is divided into four groups, which may be reduced to one word for convenience of reference (T- transfer, C- content, L- language, P- presentation).

Group A- Problems of meaning transfer

  • accuracy (translation does not mean what the source text means)
  • completeness (translation deletes from the source-text message or adds to it)

Group B- Problems of content

  • logic (translation does not make sense, e.g. is incoherent, contradictory or otherwise nonsensical)
  • facts (translation is not true)

Group C- Problems of language and style

  • smoothness (translation is not clear on first reading, e.g. is incohesive)
  • tailoring (wrong choice of formality, technicality, tone, vocabulary)
  • sub-language (wrong choice of words according to genre, field, etc)
  • idiom (wrong word combination)
  • mechanics (wrong spelling, punctuation, usage, house style, etc)

Group D- Problems of physical presentation

  • layout (wrong margin, spacing, listing, etc)
  • typography (wrong fonts)
  • organization (wrong pages, references, numbering, headings, etc)

These parameters can be addressed during group feedback practice in order to characterize the problem areas of a given translation. Checking for these parameters and reflecting on the types of translation problems can help students realize the presence of a range of criteria for good performance thanks to the fact that the greater number of errors and good solutions they are aware of, the broader the picture they see.

3.4. Example of group feedback in a correction session

Using the previously chosen typology, students analyse a list of authentic texts extracted from their own translation assignments. Such an imperfect list is prepared by the teacher for a particular group as a form of reacting to their assignments. When students are presented with instances excerpted from the original context of the group’s translations, they are expected to make use of the chosen typology of errors, characterize the translational problem and discuss all the possible ways of correcting it. The following examples have been taken from a gastroduodenoscopy report that a group of specialized translation students at the University of Lodz, Poland, translated after a semester of classes with a component of group feedback practice occurring once every two weeks. It needs to be pointed out that despite the fact that the examples come from a specialised text, the group feedback procedure executed against the chosen set of criteria is directly applicable and requires no changes when performed in general translation classroom. The examples illustrate the way in which group feedback can be implemented in a systematic way with a view to improving the overall accuracy of the target text.

(1) Source text:
Imię, Nazwisko: Grzegorz Nowak
[Name, Surname: Grzegorz Nowak]

(1) Student’s translation:
Name and surname: Gregory Nowak

In example (1) the problem belongs to Group B comprising problems of content (C), particularly logic where translation ‘does not make sense, e.g. is incoherent, contradictory or otherwise nonsensical’ (see section 3.3) as individual names and surnames are not to be translated in documentation unless a change is indicated e.g. with square brackets. Translating the name and leaving the surname unchanged shows inconsistency and results in confusion potentially leading to more incorrect documents issued, in this case medical records, prescriptions, reports, etc.

The next example has been extracted from the same report and displays two types of translational problems:

(2) Source text:  
Linia Z słabo zaznaczona, w odległości ok. 35 cm od zębów i ok. 25-30 mm od pierścienia rozworu przełykowego.
[The Z line is poorly marked, approx. 35 cm from the teeth and 25-30 mm from the esophageal hiatus.]

(2) Student’s translation:
Line Z- barely marked, as far as the distance from teeth (about 35 cm) and the distance from the hiatus oesophageus (about 25-30 cm) are concerned.

The first translation problem is related to accuracy, which belongs to Group A- Problems of meaning transfer (T). The sentence is not coherent and involves an unnecessary expression as far as, normally used to identify the specific theme of the sentence, which changes this restrictive informative clause and results in a shift in meaning. Moreover, a gross negligence can be observed in mistaking millimeters for centimeters, which is an error that corresponds to Group B- Problems of content (C) since the target text is simply not true.

Another example exposing the problem of meaning transfer also stems from inaccurate meaning of the chosen equivalent:

(2) Source text:
Żołądek miernej wielkości
[Stomach of small size]

(2) Student’s translation:
Unsatisfactory size of the stomach

Unsatisfactory size appears nonsensical in relation to the stomach as there is no question of an organ being satisfactory in size. Indeed, the Polish word mierny can also be used in this sense, for instance in reference to school grades, and then it can be translated as low or unsatisfactory. However, in this case mierny simply means small, with no need for further implication in meaning since it proves erroneous and results from disregarding the contexts and the polysemiotic nature of the word.

Example (3) shows different excerpts from the same translation and includes an ellipsis since it borrows from more than one sentence of the target text. A part of the text has been omitted and a subsequent sentence follows to show that the analysed translation is not consistent:

(3) Source text:
Data urodzenia: 01.12.1983 […] Przełyk bez zmian ogniskowych
[Date of birth: 01.12.1983 […] Oesophagus with no focal lesions]

(3) Student’s translation:
Date of birth: 01.12.1883 […] Esophagus with no focal lesions

Apart from a serious mistake in the date of birth wrong by 100 years, which may be classified to Group B- Problems of content (C), the translator used American spelling throughout the text for the word esophagus but at the same time British date format dd/mm/yyyy is used with no heed paid to the fact that the date order will accordingly be treated as the sequence used in the United States, i.e. mm/dd/yyyy because of the US spelling. Consequently, such inconsistency could cause a significant amount of confusion arising from the representation of date of birth, which falls within Group C- Problems of language and style (L), more particularly within two categories, namely  sub-language and mechanics.

Another example of areas worth mentioning during group feedback exchange is the second subsection of the problem of meaning transfer (T) - completeness - where the target text deletes from the source-text message or adds to it: 

(4) Source text:
DGN: Przepuklina rozworu przełykowego. Zapalenie przełyku z zarzucania (chory w trakcie leczenia IPP)
[Esophageal hiatal hernia. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (under treatment with PPIs]

(4) Student’s translation:
DX: Hiatus hernia. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (patient during pantoprazole treatment)

Instead of translating the name of the class of drugs known as PPI (Proton-pump Inhibitors), the student chose one from a range of drugs that belong to this class and unduly/unreasonably used the name of a specific drug, a hyponym, adding potentially false and misleading information.

The last instance displays the problem typical of Group C- language and style (L):

(5) Source text:
Odźwiernik owalny, sprawny czynnościowo, swobodnie przepuszcza końcówkę aparatu.
[The pylorus is oval, functionally efficient and allows for an easy passage of the instrument.]

(5) Student’s translation:
Pylorus oval, physically dexterous, easily let’s the tube pass.

The word dexterous exemplifies poor choice of equivalent to refer to the pylorus and an apostrophe in let’s adds to erroneous language of the demonstrated sentence. Hence, two subsections that deserve attention here are tailoring (referring to the wrong choice of formality, technicality, tone or vocabulary) and mechanics (referring to wrong spelling, punctuation, usage or style).

By no means is it the only taxonomy applicable. Regardless of how many types of imperfect translational decisions are put forth, there is always a running risk that a problematic instance may elude the taxonomising effort. For instance, in her study on student evaluation reports, Kenny (2010: 110) notices that a significant number of students’ comments fell into a category called ‘other’ in that particular study. The group produced comments considered unduly harsh by the study instructors or left the problematic text unchanged. However, it merits stressing that Kenny investigates the results of a group evaluation activity in an online translation exercise module where students participated in private discussion conferences set up to enable each group to share files and discuss the assignment (ibid). Such problems can be eliminated by the sheer presence of instructors in the proposed procedure for feedback as they manage the discussion and control whether the specified criteria are being followed with no issue passing unnoticed.

4. Conclusion

The presented teaching process is intended only as a suggestion and guideline; however, having implemented this way of offering feedback to students in the translation classroom, the author can attest to the benefit it provides for students and their appreciation of such a course component. Although it falls beyond the ambit of this article to prove the value of such a feedback procedure quantitatively, it needs to be observed that thanks to students’ active participation and contribution, translation assignments become a more thorough practice. Not only does it give a framework for organizing translation classes but also helps students practice together. In this way they gain access to a ‘performance model’ (Shreve 2002) and graduate with a tool for quality management. Having acquired a range of criteria for revision and evaluation against which to assess themselves, translation students are prepared to hone their future translations to perfection so that they can manage without the comments of their translation teacher and fend for themselves in their future career. Ideally, later in their professional practice, they are able to provide themselves with the feedback they need, which, though often unacknowledged, is one of the most crucial tools of the translation trade.


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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.

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©inTRAlinea & Paulina Pietrzak (2014).
"Towards Effective Feedback to Translation Students:"
inTRAlinea Special Issue: Challenges in Translation Pedagogy
Edited by: Maria Piotrowska & Sergiy Tyupa
This article can be freely reproduced under Creative Commons License.
Permanent URL:

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