Volume 9, No. 2 
April 2005

Brian G. Rubrecht, Ph.D.

  Front Page  
Select one of the previous 31 issues.


Index 1997-2005

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
A Lifetime of Learning and Teaching
by Betty Howell

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Why are most translators underpaid? A descriptive explanation using asymmetric information and a suggested solution from signaling theory
by Andy Lung Jan Chan

  In Memoriam
Thomas Snow: 1930 - 2005
by Alex Gross
Lessons Learned
by Wilfried Preinfalk
  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages: Character is Destiny
by Ted Crump

Software Localization
Demystifying Software Globalization
by Kenneth A. (Sandy) McKethan, Jr. and Graciela White

  Translators Around the World
Translation and Interpretation Work for the LNG Tangguh Project in Papua, Indonesia
by Izak Morin

  Translation Theory
¿Qué traducción? Los métodos de traducción en el análisis contemporáneo
Armando Francesconi, Ph.D.
Foreignization/Domestication and Yihua/Guihua: A Contrastive Study
He Xianbin

  Arts and Entertainment
The Power of Film Translation
by Agnieszka Szarkowska

  Translating Social Change
Translation Problems in Modern Russian Society
by Irina Khutyz

  Book Review
A Conversation with Ilan Stavans
by Verónica Albin
Tolkien’s Use of the Word “Garn!” to Typify a Motley Crew of Reprobates
by Mark T. Hooker

  Literary Translation
Ideological Manipulation in Translation in a Chinese Context: Su Manshu's Translation of Les Misérables
by Li Li

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
On Idioms, Intertextuality, Puddings, and Quantum Physics (all of them in simultaneous, please)
by Carlo Marzocchi

  Translator Education
Knowing Before Learning: Ten Concepts Students Should Understand Prior to Enrolling in a University Translation or Interpretation Class
by Brian G. Rubrecht, Ph.D.
Language Learning in the Translation Classroom
by Carol Ann Goff-Kfouri, Ph.D.

  Translators' Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Research on Dictionary Use by Trainee Translators
by María del Mar Sánchez Ramos, Ph.D.

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Translators’ Events

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  Translation Journal

Translator Education


Knowing Before Learning:

Ten Concepts Students Should Understand Prior to Enrolling in a University Translation or Interpretation Class

by Brian G. Rubrecht, Ph.D.


This paper aims to assist instructors in informing students of various aspects involved with learning translation and interpretation in a university setting. Because such courses rarely last beyond one or two semesters, many students enroll in such classes with erroneous assumptions about course content and unrealistic expectations about what they can accomplish. The author presents ten concepts that ideally should be presented to and understood by students prior to their enrolling in a university translation or interpretation class so that they may be both realistic and productive in their learning goals.



n this modern age of web pages written in dozens of languages and instant messaging carried out across the planet between people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds, it behooves institutions of higher education to provide courses on translation and interpretation (hereafter, T/I) to spur global-level thinking. For foreign language majors, such classes are important, and one may even dare say that they are indispensable. Although some authors loudly lament the lack of universities and other institutions providing such courses (Balupuri, 1997; Gentzler, 2001), others have noted the recent turnaround concerning the reputation of T/I as an instructional tool. Where such instruction was once associated with outdated methodologies of language learning and eventually fell into disfavor, T/I are now seen as valid literary pursuits and are even encouraged in second or foreign language learning contexts if used appropriately and with the proper understanding (Maier, 1998; Nae, 2004).

Even if T/I courses are offered as part of the regular curriculum, universities and instructors must continually overcome a diverse range of obstacles in order to provide even the minimal standard of educational excellence. One such obstacle, which is rarely if ever mentioned, can be found in the mismatch between students' expectations of what is taught in such courses and what the students can realistically achieve. All too often, students enroll in T/I courses with too many assumptions about how to conduct T/I and what it means to learn about T/I. In many cases, these assumptions turn out to be false. Universities are not professional translation or interpretation schools. Regardless of how experienced the instructor or how well planned the syllabus, there will always be limits to what and how much instructors can teach and, by extension, what and how much students can learn, especially under the restrictions imposed by courses spanning only one or two semesters.

Because of time and other limitations (see Cordero, 1984), it would be most beneficial if students were aware of several concepts prior to their enrollment in T/I classes. Providing these concepts to students is not meant to discourage them from enrolling in such classes, nor are they meant to reduce students' enthusiasm to learn. Rather, knowing and understanding these concepts can hopefully provide students the proper perspective concerning what it means to engage in T/I study at university and what would be required of students in such courses in terms of effort and perspective.


The Ten Concepts

The responsibilities of the instructors in their teaching of such courses has been outlined elsewhere (Cote, 1990; Newmark, 1991), but it is the purpose of this paper to explain what should be one of the initial responsibilities of the institution and the T/I instructor: explicating to potential students who have an interest in T/I what is actually involved with the courses and the process of conducting T/I. Via university T/I courses, students should gain the following in this order: (a) an understanding from the very outset regarding the difficulties and responsibilities of those who conduct T/I and the necessary perspective to conduct T/I in classes in a university setting, and (b) an experience of the T/I process and a richer understanding of T/I activities and requirements. Just as a one-semester course on the works of Shakespeare cannot make an English language scholar out of students, neither can a one-semester course turn students into translators or interpreters.

In response to this perceived need to instruct students prior to their enrollment in T/I courses, I have put together the following ten concepts (see Appendix for the list of concepts). As they originated mainly from personal experience in teaching T/I, they are presented only as suggestions. While they are not all inclusive, they are interrelated. These concepts may of course be provided to students currently enrolled in T/I courses, for they could still prove valuable to the struggling T/I student, but it is hoped that if students are presented with this information prior to enrollment (or at least during the first T/I lesson of the semester), they will have a better perspective of what is involved in conducting T/I, the role of their T/I course in their education, and their own role in learning.


Concept 1: Students should not expect to become proficient at T/I while still at university.

While it is quite possible for students to grasp a working knowledge of various T/I techniques even after just one semester of study at university, this knowledge will likely only be superficial. Many students unfortunately enroll in T/I courses expecting (unrealistically) to emerge after one semester or one year of study with the skills to do professional T/I. Professional translators and interpreters have undergone the necessary training and accumulated experience to understand the many underlying requirements behind T/I, including the need for the proper computer equipment (Chriss, 2000; Ward, 1992) in the case of translation work and for physical stamina (Balupuri, 1997) in the case of interpretation work. Students at university will have little time to gain an appreciation of these requirements. If the students' unrealistic expectations are not tempered into realistic ones in a timely manner, those expectations will not be met, thereby causing frustration directed at the course, the instructor, and themselves.

Students may not initially appreciate the need to begin their T/I studies by gaining a sound knowledge of the source and target languages, not to mention the socio-economic, cultural, and political backgrounds behind the languages in question (Balupuri, 1997). Cote (1990) relays two goals for the principal objectives to an introductory course on translation, which are similar and equally valid for an introductory interpretation course:

    1. Provide an opportunity to develop skills through practice.
    2. Acquaint students with the fundamentals involved in the translation (or interpretation) process.

Neither is more important than the other. However, it should be emphasized that one major aim of any introductory T/I course is meant to acquaint students with T/I fundamentals. One may even argue that unless students' majors are translation or interpretation, all they can ever hope to do is become acquainted with T/I.


Concept 2: Translators and interpreters need to be strong in body and mind.

It can take some time and effort on the part of the instructor to convince the students of this second concept. Students often enroll for and attend T/I lessons expecting to do typical class activities (e.g., in-class assignments, homework, etc.). It is not uncommon for them to believe that the only prerequisite for conducting T/I is a knowledge of a foreign or second language (i.e., the language they are studying at university or have studied previously). It may take a considerable amount of persuasion to convince students that T/I requires a deep commitment on the part of the translator or interpreter, that translations are not completed by a simple, straightforward process, and that interpretation is anything but a matter of listening to one language and reproducing the message in another.

It therefore becomes necessary to tell the students that T/I requires strength in body as well as mental fortitude. To convey this message, I like to use the story of the plight of an acquaintance's Romanian friend who worked as a company secretary and who, being bilingual, was asked to do some impromptu Romanian-English interpretation work for visiting Romanian businessmen. The secretary's day of translating began at 8:00 and did not conclude until almost midnight. The next day she was absolutely exhausted and became upset when she discovered that her coworkers envied her "day off," for they thought that because she was bilingual, her speaking two languages was an easy thing for her to do. The secretary had to convince her colleagues that what she went though was both mentally and physically draining and was much more difficult than a typical day of work.

Being the interpreter, the Romanian secretary had to be available to listen to everything the native speakers of one language had to say, mentally translate it, and then produce it in the other language. Needless to say, as the only interpreter between the two groups, she had to be on hand nearly every minute the two groups were in contact with each other. She had to keep on her mental toes the entire time, thinking of appropriate phrases and words, and she had to concentrate in order to understand the meaning behind what was being said in order to translate it effectively. Additionally, she had to clearly articulate the messages from one group as she translated them for the other, and she could not just stop interpreting to take a break to catch her breath. She could not even take a trip to the restroom unless there happened to be a convenient break in the discussions!

As it turned out, the secretary had eaten almost nothing the entire day, as much of the conversation between the groups happened during gatherings at lunch and dinner. To have food in her mouth meant she could not speak and could therefore not interpret. She was often forced to watch others eat while she continued interpreting. No wonder the poor secretary was exhausted and upset with her coworkers! This story exemplifies the need for mental concentration as well as physical effort when conducting interpretation. Even sitting at a desk looking up terms in a dictionary for translation purposes requires a significant amount of energy.

To aid in getting across this concept of needing strength to the students, it may be beneficial to provide a list of the respective mind/body requirements for T/I. Researchers into T/I methods do not ignore explaining various requirements (Massoud, 1988; Ward, 1992), and for the most part they agree with each other as to what is necessary. Balupuri (1997) considers simultaneous interpreting (SI) to be the most extreme form of T/I because of the demands on the people involved and thus provides an excellent list of what is needed to do SI. Such skills are necessary (a) if one ever hopes to do SI, and (b) anything below the level of SI still requires all of these things to a relatively high degree. Balupuri advises one to have a good memory, good organizational skills, and be prepared for fatigue and stress. This list, which I have divided into mind/body requirements, also includes the following:


    1. A perfect knowledge of the source and target languages
    2. Background knowledge of the country/countries where a language is spoken
    3. Excellent memory (especially short-term memory)
    4. Quick reaction
    5. Anticipatory skills
    6. Erudition


    1. Voice
    2. Clear diction
    3. Physical strength

A translator or interpreter also constantly strives to improve his or her understanding and usage of both languages. He or she must also realize that physical strength (listed under the BODY category above) may actually be one of the most important factors in interpretation, as fatigue "affects the sound, the precision and the speed of translation, which in turn tells upon the quality of translation resulting in the loss of information" (p. 34). Additionally, one should be organized and capable of self-control, which should be read as capable of dealing with stress, something that can also adversely affect one's physical condition.

Many of the skills listed above are just as applicable to translation as they are to interpretation. For instance, translation requires one to concentrate and stay focused for long periods of time as well as constantly look to different reference sources like dictionaries, technical manuals, and even past translations in order to construct the best translation possible. Massoud (1988) insists good translators also be good writers, for being agile in a literary capacity, coupled with an adroit mind enables translators "to spot (from among three or four possibilities) the most effective way of conveying the correct meaning. Only then will translators succeed in their task and become communicators" (p. 17).


Concept 3: Knowing another language is necessary but not sufficient for conducting T/I.

Being able to read and write in the source and target languages is a prerequisite for T/I, but such skills can hardly be considered sufficient. Certainly, a good translator or interpreter need not be perfectly adept in all four skill areas of both languages. As Ward (1992) states, native fluency in the source language is not needed except for special areas. Nevertheless, all too often, the uninformed equate knowledge of a language (however superficial) to T/I ability. Knowing a language does not bestow automatic qualification on a person to be a translator or an interpreter. Even the Romanian secretary in the example story above may not have been truly prepared to interpret for a day.

That knowledge of a language does not necessarily make a translator or interpreter comes as both good and bad news for students. On the positive side, the instructor should not expect students to be proficient at the foreign or second language. Relatedly, students should not expect to have perfect command of the other language upon enrollment in a T/I course. Only those students wishing to attend professional translator schools will be expected to have already attained a high level of proficiency in the other language (Cordero, 1984), which is not the case for the brief courses provided by most universities.

On the negative side, students may be overly confident in their own foreign language ability. They may try to count their years of English study or even trips abroad as indications that they are ready to conduct T/I. A person's perspective and frame of mind can partially dictate if a person is ready to conduct T/I. The reasons outlined in Concept 2 above notwithstanding, having knowledge of a language does not automatically mean one is prepared to engage in T/I, nor does it mean the person will be good at such activities. All it means is that a prerequisite has been met.

Students may take heart in the fact that they have likely been doing translations since they first began studying English. There is often reliance placed on mental translation by language learners, which is important from a developmental perspective (Kern, 1994) as well as a language ability assessment tool, especially in Japan (Buck, 1992).


Concept 4: Conducting T/I is part, rather than the result, of the process of language learning.

This concept follows from Concept 3 above. T/I ability does not arise directly from language learning, nor can it be said that conducting T/I is necessarily the next logical step after one has learned and practiced using another language. There is little doubt of the overlap between language learning and conducting T/I, but each uses their own methodologies (Maier, 1998). T/I is best done within the framework of constantly learning and adding skills, not just the application of current knowledge.

Instructors must impress upon potential students that one must be willing to continually learn new things in a variety of fields. Ward (1992) lists as his fifth of seven necessary skills for T/I "an elementary knowledge of, interest in and ability to learn rapidly the basics of a wide variety of technical fields and their vocabularies in all the languages with which one works even though one has no experience in these fields" (p. 579). It is not possible to expect to simply use the language ability one possesses to conduct T/I. It becomes a matter of adding and refining knowledge, including vocabulary and the four language skills.

It is simply unfortunate that the nature of translation and its function in language learning has for so long gone unspecified (Cordero, 1984). Students wishing to "kill two birds with one stone" as it were by taking an interpretation class are probably mistaken. For instance, translation practice may aid but does not necessarily foster communication skills (Maier, 1998). The very act of conducting T/I cannot be considered language learning. In fact, translation has often been used as a test instrument to assess language learning (Buck, 1992), which may or may not be appropriate, depending upon the many aspects of a particular language learning situation.


Concept 5: The ultimate aim for T/I students should be to make others understand.

One of the main goals for translators or interpreters is to accurately communicate meaning. Similarly, a primary goal of students taking T/I classes should be to learn ways to communicate messages in one language by stating them in another. However, students must realize that conveying messages differs depending upon context. As Vinay and Darbelnet (1958, as cited in Cordero, 1984) state, there are three main areas of translation. The first area, educational, is used as a convenient means to verify comprehension and assess accuracy. The second area, professional, is for making others rather than oneself understand. The third area, linguistic, is for research (i.e., for linguistic analysis). As T/I students are not being tested on their comprehension per se, nor are they conducting linguistic research, university T/I students should understand that their aim for translations lies squarely in the professional area, the reasons for which are twofold.

First, university students most likely have already passed through the educational area to reach their current position. In other words, the students should already have had their comprehension and accuracy in the language tested and verified in their language learning classes. The other area, linguistic, is often rather complicated and above the purposes of most university T/I classes. Students should be working to overcome the difficulties found in making others understand (i.e., how to communicate a source-language meaning in the target language so that it may best be comprehended), which is precisely why Cote (1990) insists that students realize the catastrophic consequences behind guessing when conducting T/I. Guessing indicates a lack of full understanding. If one is unsure of a meaning, how is it possible to make others understand via a translation or an interpretation?

As an aid to help others comprehend meaning, Massoud (1988) recommends that translators ask two basic questions about the source language message:

    1. What does it mean?
    2. How should it be said in the new (other) language?

For instance, to address the first question, there may be sarcasm embedded in the original message (e.g., someone says "What a lovely day" in the midst of a hurricane). The translator must understand the intended sarcastic meaning and convey it in some manner so that the sarcasm remains subtle but somehow still becomes evident. The second question has more to do with stylistic intent and adjusting message conveyance. For example, what must be said in the target language may sound better if conveyed via three or four short sentences rather than by one long sentence as was found in the original. "Good translators...do not try to reproduce the formal order of words or phrases, nor do they try to find one-for-one sets of verbal correspondence. What they do aim at is a faithful reproduction of the original so that the meaning of the message and its spirit may be satisfactorily communicated" (Massoud, 1988, p. 35).


Concept 6: Not all T/I assignments will be interesting to every student.

Even supposing that the students (prospective or otherwise) have understood the first five concepts above, they may not wish to recognize this sixth concept. A student enthusiastic about T/I can quickly become dejected and disillusioned when asked to translate material that is outside of his or her areas of interest. To give an all-too-common example, students interested in foreign music and movies - the very reasons they became interested in English and, by extension, T/I in the first place - may balk at the idea of translating "boring" material such as newspaper clippings or sections of children's books. However, in a majority of cases in the real world, translation work is not about choosing assignments. Both full-time and freelance translators should have knowledge in specialized content areas (Weiss, 1995), which should of course be an area that provides the translator or interpreter some interest, but they cannot just decline to translate documents if those documents do not coincide with their own areas of interest.

Thus, at the university level, translations should be about practice and gaining perspective on how to approach translations. Assignments should come from a variety of sources (Cote, 1990) and should allow students to work both to and from English and the students' native language (Maier, 1998). A good instructor will attempt to provide students assignments from a wide range of areas if the course does not have a specific theme behind it and, of course, if time permits (which often it does not). For instance, the instructor may take material from computer magazines, advertisements, television sitcoms, or even from the school catalog, so long as the messages and sources are varied and provide students with challenges and an opportunity to practice.


Concept 7: Always keep the purpose behind the T/I assignment in mind.

Although I am in complete agreement with Hu (1999) that an interpretation of a text depends upon what the translator brings to the reading of the original text and that individual interpretations can arise from any number of sources (cultural background, subject-matter familiarity, etc.), there are aspects of a text that are inherent components of that text, and as such the translator must come to terms with the fact that his or her own cognitions and intuitions about meanings can only come after close inspection of the text. Students often fail to ask the fundamental questions that a translator must ask about a text, including its original purpose and its intended purpose after translation.

Many authors in addition to Hu (e.g., Cordero, 1984; Ishikawa, 1995; Massoud, 1988) have addressed what questions a translator should ask of him/herself (and of the text), and there is a great deal of overlap in what they say. In general, before beginning any assignment, the translator or interpreter should at minimum ask the following questions as the first step in obtaining the best possible translation:

    1. Who is the author?
    2. Who is the intended audience of the original text?
    3. Who is the intended audience of the translated text?
    4. Is it possible to remain faithful to the style and intent of the original text while also providing a natural style in the translated text?

These questions are absolutely crucial when conducting T/I, but the training that students engage in while enrolled in university T/I courses, including practice of pronunciation, writing, vocabulary building, and increased comprehension of translation strategies, can inadvertently send students the wrong message. Such T/I training is meant to assist the students in clearly and effectively communicating the intent of the piece being translated or the message behind the words being interpreted. To this end, it becomes vital to understand the author, the audience, etc.

Regrettably, students rarely focus on the larger picture. For them, pronunciation training is just to improve pronunciation, writing practice is to improve writing, and so on. Even if told explicitly that such kinds of training are the very tools needed for effective T/I, the students tend to view such practice as isolated, that is, they do not see such training as potential tools for or as pieces to the larger puzzle that is T/I.

Even after weeks of constant reminding, it has been my experience that students will still tend to translate with their own agendas in mind, mostly (a) get any meaning from the original text, even if it is not the intended meaning, and (b) get the translation assignment completed because they have other classes and other responsibilities that require their attention, the result being that they forsake both faithfulness and naturalness in their translations for expediency. I therefore direct my students' attention to a two-step process.

First, I tell my students to understand what the author is trying to say in the context in which it is being said. I have done much work in my university classes with the students translating the book "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Not understanding that it is a children's book written from an adult's perspective presents the students with unlimited problems. Second, when the students attempt a translation, it should of course make sense after being moved from the source language to the target language. However, even as academic discussions of translation focus on equivalence, or how to best produce a translation that matches its source (Stansfield, Scott, & Kenyon, 1992), there should also be some amount of naturalness in the translated version. In the end, students need to respect the author, the text, and their role as a translator, so they must be told (constantly, if need be) to know the author, know the intended reader, and keep them both in mind throughout the translation process.


Concept 8: T/I ability requires more than comprehension of word level meanings.

Following from Concept 7 above, students must be prepared to move beyond the limitations presented by vocabulary. Such limitations can be simplified and placed into two categories: word meanings from a linguistic perspective and word meanings from a cultural perspective.

To explain the former, imagine the students come across the word "minute." Upon initial inspection, students may quickly conclude that this word has the meaning of "a unit of time sixty seconds in duration." However, suppose the sentence in question is: "The minute amount of work presented the girl little problem." The meaning and pronunciation of the word "minute" turns out to be quite different from the students' initial (and erroneous) conclusion. Unless students attempt to decode the author's meaning behind this sentence (and the sentences around this sentence), they will remain confused about its meaning, or worse, they will translate it incorrectly.

It hence becomes imperative that instructors convey how source language words cannot simply be translated into target language words without taking context into account. One-to-one correspondence between words is rare, and terms in one language may not even have linguistic or cultural references in the other language. This occasionally occurs because words are but the mechanism by which "whole areas of meaning" (Cordero, 1984, p. 353) are conveyed.

Words do not only differ in terms of lexical meaning. Words may also present cultural connotations that must be acknowledged and dealt with, which can be one of the most difficult yet common challenges to a translator (Cincotta, 1995). As language has been described as being that which is reflective of a cultural system (Balupuri & Munjal, 1997), the attempt to find a common middle ground between two different linguistic systems has been the job (and one may say, ultimate challenge) of translators for millennia. For instance, there may be a word or phrase in the source language that has no direct or even indirect equivalent in the target language. How the translator will get across the meaning requires a deep understanding of the cultural connotations behind the word. It therefore becomes necessary for translators to be good writers who, as discussed above, can balance faithfulness and naturalness and who can keep and convey the meaning behind the original yet not reduce the finished product to what would obviously be a translation (Massoud, 1988).


Concept 9: A finished translation or interpretation is never really finished.

Just as it is important to stress that translation can only begin when the questions in Concept 7 above have been answered, a translation cannot be considered complete when the act of translation has been concluded. Unlike assignments in other university courses, such as the filling in of worksheets or answering questions in a workbook, the translator cannot consider a translation complete after the last word has been written or after the last key on the keyboard has been struck. T/I assignments encompass the tasks of checking, proofreading, editing, and assessing the translation after the initial translation has been completed. The same can be said for interpretation, where the interpreter does not just state something in the target language and then completely forget about it. A good interpreter will mentally assess his or her interpretation and make adjustments. If the interpreter realizes a mistake has been made, it is usually possible to interject at some point and rectify the error. The point to be stressed is that at the end of a translation, the translator (or interpreter) should reread, reanalyze, and reassess, possibly several times.

This notion of continual reassessment of translations is not new. Other authors present similar steps (see Rose, 1981), but I find Percival's (1983, as cited in Cote, 1990) five recommended steps the simplest for presentation in T/I courses:

    1. Read through the text to be translated.
    2. Research the subject to be translated.
    3. Translate the text.
    4. Put the translation aside for 48 hours.
    5. Read through the translation again for checking, revising, and editing purposes.

As has been mentioned, it is the task of a translator to say in one language what has already been stated in another, but the translation process is never perfect. Translation is an art as much as it is a science. The translator or interpreter must face the many difficulties by making judgment calls on a number of levels. Due to numerous potential factors, there will likely be a loss of meaning in the transition from source to target language, which therefore "provokes a continuous tension" (Newmark, 1981, p. 7) that must be continually scrutinized and dealt with in the best possible manner. As Chaudhuri (1999) remarks, "perhaps more than any other intellectual endeavor, translation rests on a basic defeatism of outlook. Whatever other purposes a translation might serve, whatever new creative energies it might unleash, as a translation or rendering it must always be inadequate, never a total reflection or equivalent of the original" (p. 23).


Concept 10: Above all, T/I requires discipline.

This final concept is partially an offshoot of Concept 9 and partially from personal experience of teaching translation at the university level. It is meant to impress upon the students that undertaking T/I work is serious business not to be taken lightly. Many a translator has struggled long into the night, alone, to find the right wording for a translated phrase. The interpreter has long had to endure demanding listeners and unsympathetic speakers in the quest to relay messages and meanings between languages. True translators and interpreters, whether professional or freelance, understand the commitment involved with T/I work. They would not quit halfway through a project, nor would they complete a project without having exhausted every resource available to produce the best work possible.

Although university T/I students should not be held to the same exacting standards, they should be made to see that discipline and effort are keys to T/I success, and as such, university T/I courses will likely require more discipline than most other courses, including other English courses. As Ward (1992) states, "a translator must be a self-starter, an independent worker with a good dose of perseverance and determination to see a project through without any guidance or supervision, and often without any help even with specialized terminology" as well as have "solid integrity to do the very best job possible, to be absolutely accurate, to avoid taking any shortcuts or doing any 'fudging'" (p. 580).



This paper has presented ten concepts deemed important (if not invaluable) to current and prospective students of translation and interpretation at the university level, particularly for foreign language majors. Students must appreciate the demands required of them prior to their enrolling in T/I courses. It is hoped that the more information they have about T/I, the better their perspective on what they will be asked to do. Such courses foster a broad range of skills and development competencies in numerous areas, a fact that can come as a shock to students.

By way of summation, I shall close with Cordero's (1984) explanation of translation courses:

[T]he various activities taken up in translation courses are designed to develop practical and marketable skills for the foreign language student. However, the benefits of such courses are not limited exclusively to the development of translation skills. In the process the student has acquired knowledge and competence in other areas of the foreign language as well: he has practiced pronunciation, built up his passive and active vocabulary, deepened his comprehension, and perfected his writing ability. It all adds up to learning to communicate, and that is, after all, what lies at the heart of foreign language learning. (p. 355)

That is certainly a message worthy of being translated.


Appendix: The Ten Concepts

Concept 1: Students should not expect to become proficient at T/I while still at university.

Concept 2: Translators and interpreters need to be strong in body and mind.

Concept 3: Knowing another language is necessary but not sufficient for conducting T/I.

Concept 4: Conducting T/I is part, rather than the result, of the process of language


Concept 5: The ultimate aim for T/I students should be to make others understand.

Concept 6: Not all T/I assignments will be interesting to every student.

Concept 7: Always keep the purpose behind the T/I assignment in mind.

Concept 8: T/I ability requires more than comprehension of word level meanings.

Concept 9: A finished translation or interpretation is never really finished.

Concept 10: Above all, T/I requires discipline.



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Balupuri, C., & Munjal, G. (1997). Devaki to Yashoda: A translation talk. In C. Balupuri (Ed.), Translation as serious business (pp. 7-15). New Delhi: Bahri Publications.

Buck, G. (1992). Translation as a language testing procedure: Does it work? Language Testing, 9(2), 121-148.

Chaudhuri, S. (1999). Translation and understanding. New Delhi, India: Oxford University Press.

Chriss, R. (2000). Translation as a profession. Retrieved October 25, 2004, from http://home.comcast.net/~r.chriss/Articles/Articles.html

Cincotta, M. S. (1995). Literary translation: A personal perspective. Paper presented at the Conference on Interpreting and Translation, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Cordero, A. D. (1984). The role of translation in second language acquisition. The French Review, 57(3), 350-355.

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