The potential of reflective translator training

By Paulina Pietrzak (University of Łódź, Poland)

©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:

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.

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©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:

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