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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 first language.

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 language.

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:

Assessment Sheet

Date : _____________________________________

Name of Student Assesses : _______________________________

Topic/Title/Theme : _____________________________________

Text-Type : _____________________________________

1. Accuracy 1 2 3 4 5

2 . Clarity 1 2 3 4 5

3 . Fluency 1 2 3 4 5

4. Eye Contact 1 2 3 4 5

5. Self-Confidence 1 2 3 4 5

Total _______________________

Assessed Items:


- pronounce each word correctly using right stress and intonation;

- use good grammatical structures with correct tenses;

- choose appropriate words relevant to the topic;


- talk loudly with a clear voice;

- convey a meaning in a clear and natural way;

- 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 choices.

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-assessment:

Self-correction (translation evaluation):

Mistakes _____________________________________

Possible Correction _____________________________________


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 problem.

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.


1. Albakry, M (2004) Linguistic and Cultural Issues in Literary Translation Northern Arizona University Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://accurapid.com/journal/29liter.ht

2. Azizinezhad, M. (NA) Is Translation Teachable? Translation Journal Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

3. Calderaro, D.S. (1998) Considerations on Teaching Translation Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 http://accurapid.com/

4. Carvalho, Sh. B. (NA) Teaching Translators Сcaps Newsletter Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

5. Dias, F. (2002) Some Internet resources for translation In English Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://www.pt.britishcouncil.org/

6. Ebrahimi, B. (NA) Translation Evaluation in Educational Setting for Training Purposes: Theories and Application NA Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

7. Ersozlu, E. (NA) Training of Interpreters: Some Suggestions on Sight Translation Teaching Translation Journal Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

8. Gerding-Salas, C. (2000) Teaching Translation, Problems and Solutions Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://accurapid.com/

9. Goff-Kfouri, C.A. (2005) Language Learning in Translation Classrooms Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://accurapid.com/journal/32edu1.htm

10. Goff-Kfouri, C.A. (2004) Testing and Evaluation in the Translation Classroom Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 http://accurapid.com/journal/29edu.htm

11. Hosseini, T.S. (2008) Ways of Testing a Translation & Testing and Evaluation in the Translation Classroom N.A. Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

12. Morin, I. (NA) Six Phases in Teaching Interpretation as a Subject at Universities and Colleges in Indonesia Translation Journal Retrieved January 15, 2009 from http://www.translationdirectory.com/

13. Thriveni, C. (2001) Cultural Elements in Translation, the Indian Perspective Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://accurapid.com/

14. Zhong, W. (2003) Memory Training in Interpreting Translation Journal Retrieved January 20, 2009 from http://accurapid.com/

К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2009

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