К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010
Автор: Новицкая Ю.В.
The present paper addresses a few major
issues concerning student translation evaluation and considers the following
1) Why is it so difficult to assess translations?
2) How can translation competences be
3) What exactly should we look for while
assessing classroom translations?
The question of language competence
assessments is extensively studied in TEFL literature and there is hardly any
new method in assessment of Basic English skills to consider. On the contrary,
the question of students’ translation ability assessment is poorly researched
and presents substantial difficulties for teachers.
When we assess speaking we look for
accurate and appropriate use of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation,
appropriate cohesive means to link ideas within utterances, and reach content.
Assessing reading skills we pay attention to the student’s ability to
understand the story, extract its main idea, find the information which is not
clearly stated in the text but can be inferred form it. Written work assessment
deals with evaluating the level of mastering tools of the language:
organization and structure, presence of topic sentences and supporting ideas
and details, word choice, precise syntax, errorless spelling and punctuation.
Everything gets a lot more complicated
when we turn to translation assessment. What should be taken into
consideration? How important are strong spelling and grammar skills if the
target text fails to convey the ideas expressed in a source text? Or should an
error in spelling be counted if it does not prevent from understanding the main
idea of the text, which was communicated quite clearly.
In this light it is now appropriate to discuss
what translation competences are. Waddington defines 'translation competence'
as "a combination of linguistic competence and the ability to
translate". Thus we can distinguish three basic elements comprising
translation competence. The first one can be defined as the "comprehension
of the source text, meaning that the primary skill needed to translate is to
well comprehend the source text.” The second component then is the ability to
produce a text in the target language since competent translators must be
excellent users of their mother tongue. This ability should not be limited to
what they have acquired subconsciously from their environment. Translators must
have the specialists’ knowledge of the language to which they are translating.
The third element in translation competence structure is "editing
competence". It requires a detailed analysis and comparative-contrastive
study of both source text and target text. This comparison leads to the
translator's awareness of possible mismatches in his rendering. He then will be
able to revise his product in the target language (6).
The problem with assessment of a translation
competence is that you can evaluate it only indirectly through studying
translation performance. Literature review reveals two models for competence
evaluation – German and Anglophone.
German model is of a more analytical
nature and is based on micro-textual analysis of texts. Evaluation of
translation according to this model is done based on scrupulous comparison of
the source text and target text and bares some quantitative features. The comparison
is realized at all levels including a morpheme level to guarantee the exact
matching of source language items and their target language equivalents. One of
the shortcomings of this method is ignoring cultural elements.
Anglophone method involves less analysis
and is performed at a macro textual level and culture is considered a crucial
element which impacts the translation process and product. In fact, the
comparison of the source text and target text in Anglophone tradition is
indirect. As a result, there is less objectivity in testing systems.
In translation classes depending on the
class objective teachers may resort to different methodology which, in turn,
leads to different types of testing. In translation assessment teachers use the
same type of tests that are generally given to regular TEFL students: placement
tests, diagnostic tests, progress tests and achievement tests.
Speaking of placement tests it should be
noted that they can be used not just as means to determine the initial
competence of translation students, but also as an instrument in reorganization
and revision of a curriculum. According to the results students show foreign
languages departments may have to decide to implement corrective or intensive
Diagnostic tests are meant to detect student
problems in order to get rid of them unless it is too late in the semester.
Such kinds of texts are supposed to encourage students to correct their weak
Progress tests are the most popular and
frequently set tests in a university classroom. The objective of a progress
test is to determine if the students have mastered material the material that
has already been taught. In theory, if the teaching has been sufficient, if the
syllabus is organized efficiently, if the test is well written and of course,
if the students have been attentive, marks on a progress test should be high.
If the marks are not all above 75 out of 100, then the instructor will have to
determine why and alter the weekly course distribution (2). Such kind of tests
is to be done on a weekly or biweekly basis depending on a number of classes
taught per week and includes different translation dictations, vocabulary
quizzes, back translations and others.
Achievement tests are designed to determine
whether the students have mastered the scope of knowledge and skills specified
in the syllabus. Achievement tests should include tasks that cover all the
material studied during the semester. Their results should be studied very closely
in order to evaluate not just the level of students’ translation competence but
also the strengths and weaknesses of the program which has been offered to
The first three types of tests mentioned
above belong to the category of formative assessment. Formative assessment
takes place during the semester and is designed to prompt instructors on how to
adjust their teaching. Feedback from formative assessment must be communicated
to students as soon as possible. Students react more positively to formative
assessment if the results are analyzed by the instructor and the teaching style
or class content is altered according to their needs.
Achievement tests are referred to as
summative assessment which contrasts with formative assessment first of all by
its purpose. The purpose of summative assessment is to attribute value, and for
that reason it is oftentimes more quantitative than the qualitative formative
assessment (3). Summative assessment occurs at the midpoint and/or end of instruction
so as to determine the extent to which syllabus objectives have been met.
Both types of assessment are necessary
and complementary. However, if summative evaluation shows that the majority of
the class is not at the level the instructor had targeted, then it has come too
late and the formative assessment was also not sufficiently well planned (3).
Both teachers and students can learn from
tests, both can benefit a lot. Teachers can elicit a lot of immediate feedback
from their students to adjust their ways of teaching based on the students'
needs. Students themselves can learn from their results. They can change or
adjust their ways of learning.
Let us consider some of the ways to organize
translation competence assessment. According to Larson (4) there exist five
ways to evaluate classroom translation:
- Comprehension checks;
- Naturalness and readability testing;
- Consistency checks;
- Comparison with the source text;
- Back – translation into the source language.
Good comprehension testing is the key to
a good translation. The purpose of this test is to see whether the text for
translation is understood correctly. One of the ways to conduct this type of
test is to ask students give a summary of the material read. Another option is
to ask different types of questions, each with different purpose: to give
information about the discourse style, details, main points of meaning. This
test is intended to assess students’ comprehension competence.
The purpose of naturalness tests is to
see if the form of the translation is natural and the style is appropriate.
Performing this type of assessment the teacher should first read through the
whole section to check the flow of translation and overall meaning of the text.
Then the text has to be checked for accuracy and compared with the source text
for omissions, additions, or any changes of meaning. Then the target text can
be checked for readability. It is done by asking somebody unfamiliar with the
text to read it. As he does so, the teacher will notice any places where the
reader hesitates, stops and re-reads the sentence. These pauses and hesitations
signal problems in translation. The best way to do such assessment is to ask
end users of the translation to read it since what is readable for one type of
audience is not readable for another.
After the translation is performed it is
very important to check it for consistency. This check concerns both the
technical details of text presentation and vocabulary use. This is especially
useful when long technical, political or religious texts are translated.
In the final review, the formatting of
the text and of any supplementary material like footnotes, glossary, and index
or table of contents, should also be checked for formatting style.
Comparison with the source text is done
to check for equivalence of information content. This type of verification
should be done by students before they turn in their translations and later is
done by the teacher who checks the target text against the source text in order
to identify problems.
The last way to check a translation is by
having other students make a back – translation of the translated text into the
source language. In case this type of assessment is used it is important that
back-translation is made by students who haven’t seen the source text.
Translation assessment can be done at
several levels: by the translator (self-assessment), by other students (peer
assessment) and by the instructor.
The type of translation the instructor
should choose depends on the type of translation performed. Basically there are
three options to choose from: to assess general impression, to count errors and
to fill in an analytical grid.
The first two methods though sometimes
used by the instructors are not recommended for being ineffective and
subjective. An experienced instructor is able to differentiate between a 75/100
paper and a 90/100 paper, but a general impression mark as not convincing for
the student since it does not provide any reasoning for the grade. Error count
method does not seem effective due to the fact that it fails to take into
consideration the seriousness of mistakes made.
The most appropriate type of translation
assessment is by using an analytical grid. The grids developed for assessing
speaking and writing can be used for this purposes. The grid provides the
instructor with the opportunity to set clear assessment criteria based on
is an example of such grid:
Working with this grid the instructor
evaluates translator competences: fluency/flow is evaluated through performing
naturalness and readability testing, terminology evaluation includes
consistency testing and comparison with the source text, general content is assessed
by comparing the impact the target text makes on a reader.
Another way to assess translation suggested
by Farahzad (1) is to evaluate two main
features in each unit of translation: accuracy and appropriateness. Accuracy
can be checked at a sentence / clause level while appropriateness is checked at
a text level. Accuracy conveys the information of the source text in a precise
manner; appropriateness implies fluency and native-like style of the target
text. Thus unnatural translations which convey the message correctly receive
low grades and inaccurate translations receive no grades at all no matter how
natural and fluent they may sound.
The third way to assess a target text is
to do it holistically, especially with long texts. The instructor may come up
with his own evaluation criteria or use the following scheme:
1) Accuracy - 20 percent;
2) Appropriateness - 20 percent;
3) Naturalness - 20 percent;
4) Cohesion - 20 percent;
5) Style of discourse/choice of words -
The next way to evaluate the text is an
objectified scoring, where sentences and clauses are translation units. Thus
each verb in a sentence of a source text gets a score, and each verb in a
clause gets a half-score. After accuracy and appropiacy is evaluated, the text
may be checked for cohesion and style (e.g.
transitional, appropriate use of pronouns, linkages, etc.). If the source text
is neutral the instructor may allot a smaller number of points to the
translation that in cases where preservation of style is important.
Yet there is one more scheme to evaluate
assessment based on nature of the errors made:
- Language errors;
- Translation errors.
Language errors are inappropriate renderings
which affect expression in the target language; these are divided into five
categories: spelling, grammar, lexical items, text and style.
Translation errors are errors of two
- Inappropriate renderings which affect
the understanding of the source text; these are divided into eight categories:
countersense, faux sense, nonsense, addition, omission, unresolved extra
linguistic references, loss of meaning, and inappropriate linguistic variation
(register, style, dialect, etc.);
- Inadequate renderings which affect the
transmission of either the main function or secondary functions of the source
may also ask their students for perform assessment themselves. Asking students
to assess their own progress is one way of initiating them to see their work
objectively. Below is an example of a translation student self-assessment paper
that can be given to the students at the beginning of the semester or course.
An instructor may add/change evaluative
statements for the particular course and for different level of students. Some
students may show surprise at the mark they receive. A self-evaluation sheet
filled out directly after an assignment may provide the student with helpful
clues to their weaknesses.
Students prove to be effective evaluators
and revisers of each other’s work. They are even more effective when they help
decide on the criteria for the assignment undertaken. For example, students can
agree that spelling errors which do not prevent from understanding would not be
considered as serious, but errors that change the message to be conveyed would
be. They may not be asked to put a mark to the work, but they can find areas in
the translation that are not clear or which they themselves translated
differently. In fact peer assessment is an extremely useful learning experience
One final point on the topic is that no
matter what sort of assessment instructors may choose it is helpful to monitor
students’ mistakes by using the following chart:
Under "Mistakes" students write
the word, phrase or sentence which was understood as incorrect in their
Under "Possible Correction"
they try to produce an "error free" version.
The source of the answer for students'
correction is entered under the column "Source" as: 'Myself'; 'Peer';
The column "Type of Mistake",
filled in by the students, can become a good exercise to help students
recognize what types of mistake they are making and consequently eliminate them
Farahzad, F. (1992), Testing Achievement in Translation Classes. Amsterdam/ Philadelphia. John Benjamins Publishing Co.
Heaton, J.B. (1990), Classroom testing. Longman, New York.
Heaton, J.B., (1990), Writing English Language Tests. Longman, New York.
Larson, Mildred L. (1984). Meaning-based translation. University press of America.
Sainz, Julia M. (1992), Student-Centered Corrections of Translations. John Benjamins
Publishing Co., Amsterdam/ Philadelphia
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010