Volume 3, No. 4 
October 1999

Etilvia Arjona




Translation Journal
Translator Education


A First-Hand Experience with T&I Studies and Teaching: 1950 - 2000

by Etilvia Arjona Ch., Ph.D.
A little background or better late than never

This article is the first part of a reply to a request made many years ago by the young chair of the Sci-Tech Division of ATA. As dean of the T&I division of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and principal consultant for the design of the federal court interpreter's program, I had been blessed with the title of expert and Gabe wanted me to write an article on certification—more specifically, an article on how to test translation performance. Both the ATA with its accreditation program and the federal government with its certification program for court interpreters had made testing a hot topic because of the sensitive nature of the endeavor and the unfamiliarity of the T&I field with psychometrics and performance assessment methods.
It is indeed unfortunate that, until very recently, a person asked to become a T&I instructor was required to assume multiple roles—for which none required prior experience or demanded any training whatsoever.

   A few months ago, while doing research for a textbook for novice teachers of T&I1, much to my surprise and joy, I came across the Translation Journal and decided to send its editor an email greeting. The almost instantaneous reply brought the familiar request: did I still remember I had once said I would write an article on teaching? Better still, would I write two articles—one on teaching and one on testing?

Structures for the two articles

This first article is rooted in some of my experiences during the past five decades as student, practitioner, director, administrator, curriculum designer, trainer of T&I instructors, materials developer, program evaluator, tester, T&I instructor, T&I curriculum planner, testing consultant, and T&I activist. While blending experience with theory and practice, attempts will be made to provide anecdotal descriptions of the demands that 'teaching T&I' generates, why such demands existed, and how they were met.
   A second article will address the issues involved in the testing of translation performance, discuss rating scales used in T&I performance assessments and describe the basic criteria that must be met for tests to be fair, valid and reliable.
   It is indeed unfortunate that, until very recently, a person asked to become a T&I instructor was required to assume multiple roles—for which none required prior experience or demanded any training whatsoever.2 What is more, cases have been known to exist where no one asks for prior experience as a translator or interpreter—nor for the appropriate level of bilingualism. As we approach the new century and as T&I schools become institutionalized within the academic world, training of T&I faculty and program administrators in professional and specialized fields is becoming a priority issue.
   New technologies have changed the training paradigm as well as the way we practice. New market and technological realities drive the strategic planning that is required for real progress to take place. T&I schools everywhere must face, among others, the need for radical and paradigmatic shift in curricular structures, instructional methods, teacher training, faculty credentials, career options and program administration.
   I believe the past fifty years constitute the first stage of the modern era of T&I education. During this period, the T&I instructor of necessity faced multi-faceted responsibilities because of the inherent groundbreaking role that the position implied. Figure 1 of the main article offers a graphic representation of the multiple roles such a person was called upon to fill during the first stages of T&I program development.

The need for oral history

A few years after Gabe first asked for this article, I left Monterey to enter the Ph.D. program in Design and Evaluation of Educational Systems at the School of Education at Stanford University. During my stay there, I was fortunate to have Dr. Shirley Brice-Heath as one of my mentors. Through her guidance, I learned the value of ethnographic research and the need for oral history studies.
   The T&I field is an emerging profession within the academic establishment. Its recent entry as a career option in university-level programs means that T&I is a field fortunate in having many of its pioneers still active and/or living. The field would be well served if graduating students, eager for MA thesis topics, address descriptive research studies to record, among others, how programs, schools, centers, and institutes came about, how decisions were made, changes carried out, methodologies devised, and how master teachers have gone about finding out answers to the repetitive questions faced by teachers everywhere: who, what, why, where, when, and how to teach translation and interpretation, assess their work and test and grade their students.
   A solid corpus of naturalistic, descriptive research made by insiders is a prime requisite in our disciplinary research agenda. However, no discipline has grown or found answers to its questions via quasi-incestuous insider-only studies. Insiders in other disciplines have gone outside to gain the required analytical tools and knowledge needed for proper analysis. T&I cannot hope to be the one exception to this rule. Ph.D. programs of recent vintage will gain academic respectability only when their graduates produce studies that are rooted in established research methodologies. A first step is, unquestionably, finding out how things came about, myths and traditions arose, and why decisions were made.
   To my knowledge only three descriptive studies exist of how T&I is taught in professional programs:
  • Eva Paneth's study of European programs in 1956; written as a thesis fulfillment for a Master in Education at the School of Education, University of London.3
  • Walter Lohnes' study of 11 European schools; written as part of the research done by the Department of German Studies of Stanford University prior to the establishment of a German-English translation program in 1971.4
  • Vivian Fong's study of Chinese-English interpretation programs; written as a thesis fulfillment for a Master in Education at a School of Education in Hong Kong in 1988.5

   The article that follows aims to contribute to this corpus of descriptive studies about program operations at T&I schools.