Some thoughts on teaching translation
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009
Автор: Витвицкая О. С.
Despite the obvious need for it, we have to
admit that pedagogy of translation is still quite neglected. Although there are
a sufficient number of books to contribute to a theoretical course, most
teachers would agree that there is no textbook that a teacher could rely on as
a basic one in teaching translation skills.
In this article we intend to take a quick
look at some problems that exist in the field of teaching translation and share
some findings that might prove useful in classroom.
Prior to designing any course one needs to
set goals and objectives that, when achieved, would meet the learners’ needs.
So what are the things our learners need?
First, of all they undoubtedly need to have
proper knowledge of at least two languages: their native language and a foreign
language. While the importance of teaching the second language is obvious and
recognized, learners’ competence in their native language is underestimated, to
put it mildly. KAFU teachers of English will agree that when we read the works
of our students, their poor knowledge of Russian is apparent. For some reason,
the native language is taught only in their first year, but we believe it is important
for future translators and interpreters to know all ins and outs of their own
language; thus, our students would benefit from advanced learning of their
Therewith, thorough knowledge of a foreign
language, its vocabulary, and grammar is not sufficient to make one competent
as a translator. One should be familiar with one's own culture and be aware of
the source-language culture before attempting to build any bridge between them.
According to C. Thriveni, “…different languages predispose their speakers to
think differently, i.e., direct their attention to different aspects of the environment.
Translation is therefore not simply a matter of seeking other words with
similar meaning but of finding appropriate ways of saying things in another
language. Different languages, then, may use different linguistic forms. But
these forms are only one of the aspects of the difference between the two language
systems” (C. Thriveni, 2001).
When teaching translation skills, one
inevitably comes across a problem of how to provide enough practice for each
student. When there are 15 people in the classroom all hoping to get enough
attention from their instructor, it is hard to think of ways how to do that.
Something I consider important for the successful training of translators is to
keep class sizes small, not more than 8 people. This allows every student –
even the most passive one – to participate in the classroom discussions and
have an opportunity to present their own solutions and sharpen their skills.
Students also should have specific and
general tasks leading them to study those notions they will interact with in
their translations. The purpose here is not to have our third- and fourth-year
students become, say, computer programmers just because they are translating
computer science texts. It would be very useful, however, if they became somewhat
familiar with the field (D.S. Calderaro, 1998). Thus, background knowledge is
necessary, but how to teach it if we are no experts in those areas ourselves?
Magazines and journals are reference materials that help in this stage of
familiarization and first approach to the subject. To add to this point, some
seminars or even excursions for both teachers and students could be organized.
If we speak about training of interpreters,
it has to be noted that any “interpreter needs a good short-term memory to
retain what he or she has just heard and a good long-term memory to put the
information into context. Ability to concentrate is a factor as is the ability
to analyze and process what is heard” (W. Zhong, 2003). Memory training is essential
for future interpreters, and its point training is to help students achieve an
adequate quality of interpreting. “With a well-'trained' short-term memory,
interpreters are actually equipped with an effective tool for the encoding and
decoding information. It is, therefore, advised that institutions of
interpreter training include "memory training" in the design of their
courses” (W. Zhong, 2003). It is worth noting that memory training is to be
provided in the early stage of interpreter training.
We also need to expose our students to the
variety of accents; they have to know not only American, British, and
Australian accents, but those existing within the United States and the United Kingdom, Indian, and those of other nations, for which English is their second
When only beginning to make themselves
familiar with the field of translation, many students are shocked to hear their
instructor say “there is no single answer”. A lot of what they have studied so far
had answer keys. However, it is important to leave this perfectly clear
(despite the initial resistance) as this will reflect itself on how free the students
feel when interpreting or translating a text.
The Internet has become something we cannot
do without when we translate. And this is what our students also need to be
taught. We could provide them with a list of useful websites with available
online dictionaries, we could encourage them to use the Internet as a
reference, teach them how to use discussion boards, encyclopedias to improve
their work, organize practical classes, etc. In her article Some Internet
resources for translation (F. Dias, 2002), Fátima Dias gives an overview
of some internet resources practicing translators might find useful.
Rarely do we use peer assessment when
teaching translation. This form of assessment might not only facilitate the
teacher in assessing the work of their students, but also help students
practice analyzing the translation, finding better solutions, figure out some
problematic areas of translation and anticipate possible complications before
they start translating themselves. Izak Morin, a translator and interpreter
himself, in his article Six Phases in Teaching Interpretation as a Subject at
Universities and Colleges in Indonesia suggests the following assessment form
for evaluating one’s interpretation of a text:
Name of Student Assesses :
Topic/Title/Theme : _____________________________________
1. Accuracy 1 2 3 4 5
2 . Clarity 1 2 3 4
3 . Fluency 1 2 3 4 5
4. Eye Contact 1 2 3 4 5
5. Self-Confidence 1 2 3 4 5
- pronounce each word correctly using right
stress and intonation;
- use good grammatical structures with
- choose appropriate words relevant to the
- talk loudly with a clear voice;
- convey a meaning in a clear and natural
- use appropriate communicative body
language to make a meaning clear and understandable;
- improvise a message correctly
- express the meaning easily with a normal
speed, no hesitation and no excessively long pauses;
- convey the message smoothly using
familiar concepts, examples, and other matters relevant to the topic;
- maintain eye-contact with the audience by
looking across the whole class;
- convey the correct meaning with full
confidence and no hesitation;
- talk confidently even when a mistake was
made regarding the meaning, the grammatical structures and tenses, and word
We could also make use of self-assessment.
Behrouz Ebrahimi, teaching at Azad University in Teheran, published an article
called Translation Evaluation in Educational Setting for Training Purposes:
Theories and Application, where he produced the following form for
Self-correction (translation evaluation):
Type of Mistake _________________________________
Under "Mistakes" students write
the word, phrase or sentence which was understood as incorrect in their translation.
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'; 'Dictionary';
'Teacher'. 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.
The following exercises that we find
helpful, easy, and effective for classroom use are borrowed from Training of Interpreters:
Some Suggestions on Sight Translation Teaching by Elif Ersozlu, Ph.D., a
lecturer at Hacettepe University, Ankara.
Exercise 1. In the beginning, the students are given a text (250-300 words) in their native language and are
asked to read the whole text in 20-30 seconds. Then, they are asked general
questions about the subject of the text. In the second phase, they are asked
more specific questions (such as names, dates, places, etc.) before they are
asked to read the text for the second time. This time, they are given 10-15
seconds to find the specific information. Lastly, the students are given enough
time to read the text thoroughly. This time, they are asked comprehension
questions. The same exercise is repeated with the texts written in L2. The aim
of this exercise is to develop reading comprehension and fast reading skills.
Exercise 2. In the following weeks, the instructor chooses texts from various fields and gives only the titles
of the texts and asks students to use their passive knowledge on the subject.
For example, the instructor asks students what they expect from a text entitled
"Painful changeover to Euro". The students produce key words by
brainstorming on the subject. In the beginning they may wander from the subject
and produce irrelevant keywords. However, as they begin to use their passive
knowledge and make logical connections they will come to the point. Then, the
instructor randomly chooses keywords from the text and asks students to make
logical connections between those keywords and form a bold outline of the text.
The aim of this exercise is to enable the students to use their passive
knowledge and make logical connections between the facts. Following this
exercise, the students are handed out the original text and are asked to check
if their outline and assumptions are correct. Then they read the text one more
time by using fast reading techniques and mark the unknown words. However, the
instructor does not explain those unknown words at this stage.
Exercise 3. The same text used in the
previous exercise will be used in this exercise. This time, the students are
asked to analyze the text in detail. What is the type of the text? Is it
informative? Is it vocative? How is the form of the text? Does it include
titles, subtitles, articles, tables, graphs, etc? What is the message of the
text? Does the text include technical words, jargon, abbreviations, etc? Are
the sentences complex? Those questions will prepare the student for the
translation process. The following exercises will enable students to develop
their own strategies to deal with language-specific problems.
Exercise 4. One of the problems that
perplex students is the presence of unknown words. This problem also slows down
the reading speed of students and disables them to deal with other problems
they face in sight translation. In fast reading process, when the student
encounters an unknown word, or a word that is difficult to pronounce, his/her
reading speed will slow down. However, in a slow and meaningful reading process,
he/she either will be able to guess the meaning of the unknown word by using
contextual clues or will realize that the word is not crucial for understanding
the message of the whole text. In some cases, however, the word may be directly
related to the message and it may cause problems in translation if the word is
omitted or ignored. Bearing this in mind, the lecturer may choose texts that
may help students to deal with unknown words.
Exercise 5. Another language-specific
problem that may cause problems in the process of sight translation is complex
sentence structures. Long, complex and compound sentence structures generally
slow down the reading speed and increase the risk of wrong interpretation.
Using "parsing" and "chunking" methods may eliminate this
For this exercise, the students are handed
out texts, which are written in complex sentence structures. The students are
asked to parse each sentence in order to work out to what grammatical type each
word and clause belong. Then, they are asked to determine the smallest semantic
units in each sentence. Depending on the sentence structure of the language
they are translating into, they restructure their sentences. However, it should
be noted that the aim of this exercise is to analyze the sentence structure and
to re-formulate it in the target language. The aim is not to use the same
grammatical structure but to give the same message in the target language.
Exercise 6. This exercise will help students
to focus on the meaning rather than the structure and the words of a given
text. The students are given texts written in their native language and they
are asked to "paraphrase" each sentence. They are expected to use
their own words to give the same message. They try to re-express each sentence
in 2-3 different ways without changing the meaning. They are allowed to make
additions and omissions, to break a long sentence into smaller sentences, to
combine short sentences and make a longer sentence and to change the sentence
structure (e.g. active sentences to passive, passive sentences to active
sentences). The only rule is not to change the meaning.
Note that for sight translation one might
want to include handwritten texts, texts with some grammatical mistakes, tables
and graphs, texts with poor logical organization – the types of texts a
practicing translator often comes across.
In conclusion, given the limited capacity
of the article and infinity of the topic, not all the issues have been touched
upon, not many questions posed and/or answered. We only hoped to attract
attention to the needs of this educational sphere and emphasize the necessity
of further research.
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009