Volume 11, No. 4 
October 2007

  Mar&iacutela-José Varela

  Front Page  
Select one of the previous 41 issues.


Index 1997-2007

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
On the Importance of Schmoozing
by Alexandra Russsell-Bitting
Standing Tall in the Profession: Interview with Alexandra Russell-Bitting
by Verónica Albin

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee

  Translators Around the World
Maltese Translation in Transition
by Janet Mallia

  TJ Cartoon
Great Moments in Languages — Gift from Heaven
by Ted Crump

  Translation Theory
Synonymy in Translation
by Said M. Shiyab, Ph.D.

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
Romance Gender Benders: Gender of Nouns in the Romance languages
by Carl Stoll

  Legal Translation
El diccionario jurídico español-árabe como herramienta útil para la traducción en el ámbito del Derecho y la mediación intercultural
Aguessim El Ghazouani Abdellatif

  Book Review
Blue Lines on Black Ink: A Look at a New Book on Censorship and Translation
by Verónica Albin
A Non-Native User's Perspective of Corpus-Based Dictionaries of English and French
by Estela Carvalho
Hey, counsel, you've plagiarized my book!
by Danilo Nogueira
Engenheiros do Destino/Engineers of Fate de/by José Lamensdorf
Dayse Batista

  Translator Education
How New Technologies Improve Translation Pedagogy
by María José Varela

  Arts & Entertainment
A to Z of Screenplay Translation
by Alireza Ameri

Eileen Chang's Translation of The Golden Cangue
by Deng Jing

  Translators' Tools
Creating the Ideal Word Processing Environment in Translation Environment Tools
by Jost Zetzsche
Manual MT Post-editing: “if it's not broken, don't fix it!”
by Rafael Guzmán
Linguoc LexTerm: una herramienta de extracción automática de terminología gratuita
Antoni Oliver, Mercè Vázquez, Joaquim Moré
Translators’ Emporium

  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

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translator Education

How New Technologies Improve Translation Pedagogy

by María José Varela Salinas, Ph.D.


mproving pedagogy is the constant aim of any diligent instructor, and therefore of any translation instructor, too. The requirements and the conditions of modern life, as well as the impact of globalization, are challenges for teaching, as learners need to learn new skills in order to be able to confront them. One of the most important affairs in this framework is the incursion of new technologies, all the more since we have to take into account the Bologna requirements for European higher education. In order to face them, instructors are expected to adopt a change of mind and to design their classes for optimum use of current information technologies and, in consequence, to top-quality professional performance.

The strong shift in learning habits to a more visual culture should lead translation pedagogy to include more visual resources such as videoconferencing and videostreaming.
This contribution wants to show how new technologies can improve not only the professional standard of our graduates, which includes the acquisition of skills like the use of translation memories, databases, and the Internet as information sources, but also how they can become a pedagogical tool to achieve crucial skills such as autonomous learner-learning and assessment or collaborative learning and working. In this context, virtual environments become especially important instruments. However, instructors must learn to integrate them adequately into their teaching: it is not enough to put the traditional learning material on a virtual platform for downloading. The great advantages of asynchronicity and the possibility of collaborative learning allow for the development of blended learning models and learner-customized courses. There are also means that help students to control their own learning process.

Our proposals steer towards activities applied to the subjects of general and specialized translation in the virtual environment Moodle.

1. Premises

As we have already mentioned, higher education is undergoing important changes throughout the European Union. The member states, aiming to achieve a mutual recognition of academic grades and titles, have constructed a standardizing framework, in which we do not only find administrative changes, but also shifts in the field of teaching methods. Those shifts affect the way of teaching and learning as well as the basic rules (models) that underlie it.1 For instance, learners become responsible for their own learning process, which is supposed to be a lifelong one, the contents taught should be closely related to the later professional environment, and learners must be enabled to achieve autonomous learning and self-assessment. The above-mentioned transformation coincides with another one: the impact of the new technologies and globalization and internationalization going hand in hand. Society is now expecting the University to respond to those challenges. And it is just these new technologies that can help to adapt to a new pedagogy of open learning, where every learner can achieve the skills necessary for his or her profession in a time and a way that suits him. Not only is teaching methodology changing, but also the roles, or even better, the functions of instructor and learner. As learners become the central agent of the learning process, they have to decide the content, the way and the sequence of it. Instructors are relegated to a role in the background, although they maintain their importance as tutors who guide the learners to the sources of factual knowledge, to the acquisition of processual knowledge, to the tools and strategies of autonomous learning, and who develop continuous assessment. In addition, learners shall mainly acquire learning strategies that help them to cope with problems outside the classroom, to work with others in a collaborative way and to construct knowledge together with them.2

The introduction of electronic means of communication into the teaching-learning process has conferred special importance on virtual environments as pedagogy advances. The possibilities of these tools have not yet been sufficiently explored. The first reason is the lack of knowledge among instructors about how to merge their methodology with electronic tools. Pedagogy of translation is still quite neglected. There has been no significant change since Király declared more than ten years ago that "there has also apparently been no attempt to apply general pedagogical principles to translation teaching. There has been little or no consideration of learning environment, learner-instructor roles, scope and appropriateness of teaching techniques, coordination of goal-oriented curricula, or evaluation of curriculum and instructor" (1995: 11).3 Quality of teaching lies not only in the simple use of e-mail, the Internet and intranets. The novelty of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) often leads its erroneous use such as, for example, offering traditional learning material online, so that only the medium changes. But there is a need to adapt this material to the new environment in order to exploit all the advantages of technology. In addition, new interaction strategies should be developed and trained with instructors and learners. In fact, most instructors first need training in ICT and the didactic shifts that it brings about. Of course, an additional effort is needed to bring about this change successfully. Also, efficient use of the new technologies frequently implies investing more time in class preparation and a conscious planning of communication processes through different means and channels.

Nevertheless, at Malaga University the virtual platform, and especially some of its tools, are underused in the area of Translation and Interpreting, as it could be observed after talking with colleagues, who do not know how to apply and exploit this platform adequately for their subjects. Mainly it is about the application of a teaching methodology that is common to all translation subjects and pursues the objectives of certain skills or (sub)competencies that learners should acquire in order to translate in a professional manner. In this context, ICT has great advantages such as the possibility for planning activities for asynchronous working and without depending on a specific location. Learners and instructors can work and communicate wherever they are. This way, face-to-face teaching can be combined with distance or open learning to become mixed learning. Another point is the possibility to adjust the teaching/learning process to the individual needs of each learner. Because now it is the learners who are responsible for what they learn, it is easier for them to control it and produce the results and the data in which they are interested. They become the active constructors of their knowledge.4 Applied to translation training, we previously have to render the knowledge, (sub)competencies and skills we are talking about with greater precision, to be able to decide afterwards how to use a virtual learning environment (VLE) as a support for teaching and learning.

2. Translation competence and its acquisition or concepts and misconceptions about translator training

Learning to translate means acquiring the knowledge, skills, techniques, and strategies that allow translators to render a text in another language so that it causes the same effect in the target reader as the source text did in the source-language reader. Translation theorists have not yet reached a common fixed "catalogue" of the subcompetencies and skills that would maek up translation competence,5 that is the identikit of a professional translator. However, practice and experience of translation teaching shows us that the knowledge about correct decoding of the original text and idiomatic encoding into the target text, that is knowledge about language use and linguistics (text analysis, for instance), comprehension of cultural features, research skills, but also the correct use of the tools for terminology management and computer-assisted translation, are necessary to guarantee quality in the final product. In consequence, we may distinguish between factual and instrumental knowledge. In Spain, the first one is usually acquired during the first terms of translation studies , whereas the second is taught in the second part of the studies. A perfect knowledge on the use of ICT is considered more and more important for the translator's profession, as several authors do insist. Király, for example, suggests that "more generalized specializations such as research skills, terminology management and familiarity with electronic information sources will be of greater use" in translator studies (1995: 17). In a similar way, Mayoral expresses his conviction that the efficency of basing translator exercises on textual criteria is doubtful, although it is a very common approach in Spanish translator institutes, since there is no textual typology that is accepted by all translator trainers. That is the reason why he insists on focussing on tasks (2001: 315), a concept that Hurtado Albir also emphsizes (1999), and this is the principle on which we base our classes. It is about helping the learners to construct knowledge that will help them to manage day-to-day problems such as text volume, time schedules and deadlines, as well as the comprehension of specialized texts. As far as it is possible, we can try to simulate real life situations of translators, by using authentic texts, letting learners work in teams and making them use ICT tools. In our classes, the acquisition of the knowledge needed to work with these tools is one of the main goals (Corpas y Varela, 2003), as well as the achievement of professional skills through tasks. But we must keep reality in mind, since the assumed and necessary language and cultural knowledge is often lacking.

3. Web-based translator training

The so-called blended learning (b-learning) is a learning methodology using both face-to-face classes and e-learning and tries to combine the advantages of both. In fact, it narrows the gap between traditional and e-learning methods. Although sometimes b-learning is implanted because of the financial problems of fully shifting to e-learning, it can often be a question of pedagogic quality. B-learning allows instructors to assume their new tutorial role, but allows for a personal, face-to-face relationship. In this way, both learners whose learning style is social and those are who prefer the auditory, visual, kinesthetic or metacognitive modality are accommodated.

Most of the materials offered in VLE may combine information within different codes such as traditional linear text with hypertext that can include multimedia like sound and video files, links to other text types, etc. This permits users to choose variable reading order and sequences and to switch between different texts and materials that represent diverse information and senses. Locating them on different computers within a network increases their educational potential.

As we said before, the goals of the course have to be very clear in order to construct the adequate exercises and select the best-fitting techniques. Our proposals aim at practicing linguistic and ICT skills as well as professional habits with Spanish mother-tongue learners who have already studied German for three years and have learnt to translate general texts from and into German. Moreover, our intention is to gradually steer learners toward autonomous learning, and prepare them for their future lifelong learning.

We normally begin by giving them authentic texts from the Internet, from friends, or using texts which we wrote for translation jobs assigned to us. It is extremely important to pay attention to the quality of the composition (e.g. that there are no spelling or grammatical errors except for using them with pedagogical purposes) and to use the suitable text type and degree of difficulty for our purposes. But we also prepare auxiliary material like parallel texts, background information, bibliography and resources such as specialized web sites, and glossaries. Apart from offering materials, resources and tools, we conceive suitable exercises for the goals we want to reach together with the learners. Regarding the skills we want to practice, we can distinguish among the following ones:

  1. to deepen linguistic knowledge,
  2. to increase cultural knowledge,
  3. to improve research techniques, especially the technological ones,
  4. to practice translation techniques,
  5. to learn the professional aspects of translation such as working under time pressure, stress toleration, contact with clients (client acquisition, contact with clients, and the financial side of the assignment),
  6. to revise a translation and quality assurance,
  7. to manage a translation project and to be able to work in a team,
  8. terminology management, and
  9. to strengthen learners' autonomy to learn by themselves and to assess themselves.

Of course, we could make this list larger, but we limited it to the most important points. The following examples show the possibilities that the Open Source Learning Management System Moodle offers for translator training. We have excluded the tools scorm, book, lesson, and assignment as they are quite close in their application to the resources that basically allow for the addition of material like texts, files in different formats, hyperlinks, etc. We also excluded the surveys because their use is for course evaluation by learners. However, we will concentrate on those tools that are used not only for factual, but also for procedural learning.

3.1.Questionnaires (also called quizzes)

This activity allows instructors to design questionnaires with closed or open responses. Normally, instructors believe that they can use this activity only for testing knowledge acquisition. But it can also be useful for increasing language skills. So choosing the option "short answers" (open responses) one of the exercises we can think of is to revise text chunks of a faulty translation by comparing it with a source text. The chunks can be contiguous parts of one text, but they would be presented more or less like the working interface of a translation memory. Therefore, the errors have to be clearly identified as linguistic and/or cultural ones, and a collection of model solutions for each sentence or paragraph has to be offered. The difficulty of the exercise can be increased by emphasizing stylistic aspects or grammar aspects studied in high level-courses. As learners can be given the chance to make several attempts, this type of exercise is suitable for self-training. Besides a general point system which assesses the learner after successfully finishing the exercise, there will be automatic feedback on the performance in each presented text unit. The possibility of an automatic comparison between wrong learner solutions and model solutions should also be given. In the case of a bad performance, the checking the related grammar topics in referred bibliography or supplied additional texts will be suggested. In addition, learners will be given the chance to repeat parts of the units. A variant of this exercise could be proposing various alternative translations of which learners have to select the version they deem the best. In this case, the skill focused on is the critical view of correcting and revising target texts.

All these proposed activities can also be developed under time limits by configuring the settings, having learners trained in dealing with stress and working under time pressure.

The skills trained directly with the propose method made would be a), b), e), f) and i).


Chat is a synchronous tool by which communication among people can take place while they are at different places. Normally, it is used like a virtual forum, but since it permits conversations of the participants to be saved, it can have quite a different use.

So, for example, teams of not more than five learners translate a short text, but each member communicates with the rest of the group through the chat utility and explains why he or she would make this translation decision, and no other, and suggest how to research or look up terminology and where. In this way, learners are forced to think carefully about and become aware of the different steps of the translation process. Besides, instructors can observe translation as a process and examine it closely, although the result will be distorted up to a certain point, as learners will not have the same level of spontaneity as in a conventional translation process. Instructors will not be "big brothers", and as to legal limitations, learners have to know before beginning the exercise that their chat conversations will be recorded. A variant of this exercise could be the participation of the instructor in order to give feedback or a new idea. Exploitation of this approach has already been initiated by researchers like Neunzig (2001). Exercises like the one proposed emphasize collaborative learning and construction of knowledge, but they also make the students see the translation process as a series of problem-solving and decision-making steps. So, skills c, d), and i) are directly trained.


Wikis are shared workspaces similar to web pages where several people can write and rewrite the same text. The wiki-concept is already widely known through the already mentioned Wikipedia. The feature of this tool is that old versions of a wiki are stored and can be restored if wanted. We experienced a blended use of wiki with chat in a project initiated by our colleague Àngel Tortadès from the Vic University in Northern Spain, who is a specialist in the use of new technologies in translator training:6 learner groups of two or four members, each one consisting of one-to-one or two-to-two learners from Vic University and Malaga University, were supposed to discuss translation solutions and to solve problems through chat communication, then they had to write down the subsequent variants on the wiki. This way the instructors could afterwards track the translation processes of each team, which was very interesting for research on problem solving in translation. Wiki and chat worked as complementary information tools. In order to make learners aware of the features of the translation process as a whole, and their own process in particular, they could read afterwards not only the wikis and chat debates they had taken part in, but also the ones of their companions.

Another way to use wiki in translation classes is as an e-portfolio7. The portfolio is a resource frequently mentioned nowadays. Because of its utility as an assessment tool for instructors and self-assessment for learners it is more and more employed in the teaching-learning process. This digital resource gives samples of the personal development in a set area like the gradual achievement of one or several learning goals, as an assessment tool, as a curriculum vitae, and much more. The advantage of wiki is that learners can easily attach documents of all format types (not only text files, but also sound, picture and video files, etc.) from their work during the course or at home which fit in with the goals of the course. These documents are briefly commented on in order to get to know the relevance they want them to have. This way, learners can select what they want to be assessed, choosing what they consider the best sample of their work, their most favorable side. An example could be a wiki with the learners' best translations, best terminological and research work and their self-assessments, all of them commented. Instructors can demand publishable and printable translations according to professional quality criteria (perhaps saved in set format models, using translation memories, etc.).

The portfolio has several advantages: learners become more self-confident and motivated as they observe their progress and capacity for good performance, but also the instructors' assessment task becomes easier to fulfil and even also to justify if a student's best work does not reach the goal. At the same time, learners become familiar with an instrument they can use to reflect their lifelong learning evolution.

With the uses of wiki we mentioned, we focussed on skills c), d), f) and i), although, in short, the portfolio use can cover them all.

3.4. Forum

Forums, like chats or emails, can be used as tutorial tools. Instructors work also as chairpeople and as motivators to facilitate interactions and debates. Basically, it is a tool that has to do basically with social interaction and attitudes. That is why it is often used as an element of collaborative learning. Translator training can hereby be developed in several ways. So, instructors can hand out a source text where problems are already marked, or with an imperfect translation to be corrected. Another variant would be to have the learners correct each other's work. Solutions proposed on the forum have to be discussed and justified. It is an exercise similar to the one suggested in the paragraph about the chat. But when working with a forum, learners have much more time to decide what to write, and so their contributions are much more reflected. The skills trained working with a forum are a), b), c), f) and i).

3.5. Glossary

The aim of this activity is to create a list of equivalences and/or definitions that works like a dictionary. The instructor can configure the settings so that the defined terms will be marked by hyperlinks leading to the glossary entry, wherever the term appears in texts used in the virtual campus. The requirements of the glossary entries can be as strict as the instructor wishes, comprising the consulted sources such as dictionaries, corpora, and web sites, definitions, grammar and other linguistic information, context examples, visualizing figures and pictures (interesting above all for specialized translation), and much more. The glossary does not only work as an information instrument, but also assures quality as it standardizes the terminology that should be used in certain texts and homogenizes it.

The skills trained are a), b), f), h) and i).

3.6. Workshop

The workshop is an activity that allows a great number of diverse group tasks. The most common one is the proposal of a text, which can be accompanied by questions which the instructor raises, with the assignment of a proper translation done in teamwork. This teamwork may simulate an authentic project translation such as in a virtual translation company, where each member has to perform different tasks like previous thematic and terminological research prior to compiling parallel texts, translating, editing and post-editing, revising linguistic and content accuracy, terminology and consistency checking as part of the quality assurance. As in real life, a deadline must be set for sending the job to the platform. Afterwards, the groups can discuss problems that arose, explain why they chose a certain solution, etc. During the whole process, the instructor must be available to the learners and give them advice. Once the translations and the justifications are sent to the platform, each group will vote the best solution with the most adequate reasoning. The assessment of colleagues' translations can be included as an element to construct the final grade.

Instead of translation assignments, we can vary this exercise by, for example, asking for the creation of a common terminological database or the construction of comparable and parallel corpora related to a source text to be translated.

The workshop can be use for training of skills c), d), f), g) and i).

4. Learners' assessment

The learner's assessment is normally carried out by traditional mechanisms, since tests and exams can be automated by using the VLE only in few cases, such as in closed questions exercises. Usually, automated methods are more suitable for checking knowledge. In such cases the verifications or the points given to each question and the final results and report can also be sent automatically to learners.

We basically use formative assessment (Varela and Postigo, 2005 and Varela, 2006) with a prompt feedback. But the VLE allows learners some forms of self-assessment as a complement to instructor assessment. For example, the portfolio and the results of the questionnaires may give learners a hint of where they are on their way to the learning objectives.

Whenever a score is presented after an online exercise, the assessment can be made only after first attempt, for the most recent one, for the best one or as an average of all of them. If learners know they will only have the first attempt assessed, they will try very hard because they are not able to improve their grade. The most recent attempt will be usually the same as the best one, which does mean that learners' motivation will be kept up. The "average"-solution may have learners trying several times to solve the exercises which encourages them to train more often and to memorize and consolidate more efficiently.

In relation to the communication activities, assessment will focus on the analysis of frequency and quality of intervention and the degree of participation in the common knowledge construction during the teaching-learning process.

Overall, it is important for instructors to remember that assessment influences the way learners perceive what they have to learn, building pathways of wrong and right, better and worse, top and poor quality, and so on. In that sense, this is not only assessment of but also a learning process and self-assessment (Barberà, 2006: 6). That is why realistic and objective assessment criteria adapted to professional life, but also prompt feedback and individual advising, are so important for motivating a personal lifelong learning process.

Finally, learners may use a reciprocal evaluation of performance such as in teamwork activities or in forums, either individually or as peer groups, so that they achieve skills related to translation evaluation, revising, quality assurance, and self-criticism.

5. Conclusions: achievements and limits of pedagogic technology

As translator trainers don't usually use formal textbooks in their classes, the presented suggestions can help them to create activities for themselves by downloading texts from the Internet and integrating them in exercises using the tools of a virtual platform like Moodle. Our examples showed how this can involve learners more in their own teaching-learning process, and, as a consequence, how they can become more responsible and the main agents of that process. The use of ICT permits us to overcome time and space barriers, to design new methods and instruments of teaching, tutoring and evaluation, preserving at the same time a personalized approach. Nevertheless, challenges remain. First, the use of new technologies needs to be learned and mastered first, not only the instructors but also by their learners, before they can be applied correctly and to everyone's benefit. Therefore they need technical and pedagogical advice that should be organized by the university itself. But there is also a need for a change of the traditional roles, which is not easy. First of all, because it requires a change of mind in order to make learners conscious of their own responsibility in achieving the necessary knowledge which is no longer presented to them in a comfortable and compact way by the instructor; now they have to construct their own personal learning process. The instructors also have to accept that their role is a new one, and that there is a shift from information facilitators to tutors and guides. These changes are not always easy and need time and patience to allow for adaptation. On the other hand, the VLE requires investment in staff and equipment as well as in maintenance and training, which focuses on the economic aspect which is not always considered or solved in a satisfactory way at institutional levels. Furthermore, young learners do not always master ICT, which is contrary to what is often assumed.

We have to add to the aforementioned difficulties that many learners are reluctant to work in teams. This has to do with the different learning strategies each one prefers, with lacking interpersonal competences, but also with refusing to share their own successes with the other components of the group, as well as to suffer the consequences of the other ones' failures.

Nevertheless, the increasing importance of the electronic communications and tools for translators, as well as of teamwork and social abilities, should lead us to rethink our teaching models and to integrate electronic tools and collaborative learning not only as means, but also as an objective in translator training. Furthermore, the inclusion of a VLE like Moodle motivates learners and engages them more in their own learning process.

Besides, autonomous learner-learning and assessment or collaborative learning and working in activities that can be carried out outside the classroom strengthen the learner's autonomy.

What will future look like? In my opinion, in the area of translation studies, the development of more interactive materials for self-study is needed. Computer-based testing for translation is very difficult to imagine, but not necessarily impossible. There are already some European projects, like Mellange, that stress this aspect. Finally, the strong shift in learning habits to a more visual culture should lead translation pedagogy to include more visual resources such as videoconferencing and videostreaming. We are also still waiting for the development of adequate learning games and good simulations that could bring professional environments and situations nearer to learners.


1 The Spanish Ministry for Education has published some months ago a book as a guide for the Universities to adjust to the new requirements of the European Space for Higher Education (Comisión de renovación de las metodologías educativas, 2006).

2 For a constructivist approach to learning and its environment, see e.g. Jonassen, 1991, Duffy and Jonassen, 1992, Kahn and Friedman, 1993, Sherman, 1995, Mayer, 1996, Murphy, 1997, Doolittle, 1999, Boyle, 2000, Richards, 2001, Carswell, 2001, Stacey, 2002, Mazzucelli, 2003, Johnson/Dyer, 2005, and Carwile, 2007.

3 This critic is explained with more details in Kiraly (1995, 18-19).

4 A paradigmatic example for this is the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia, a project driven by Jimmy Wales. Its text is open and multilingual and is constructed in a collaborative way by any person interested in contributing. As Wikipedia started only in 2003, the incredible increase of articles proves its success.

5 However, for some years there has been a research tendency focussing on the translation process and its development. In consequence, we are learning more about that process and the skills and know what the translator is supposed to do to make a good job.

6 As an example of his reflections on ICT for an interacting and collaborating approach on translator training, see for example Tortadès, À. (2006): "Interacción en la clase de traducción mediante el uso de las tecnologías de la información y la comunicación".

7 For a definition of e-portfolio see, for example, the specialised website of Helen Barrett: http://electronicportfolios.org/ [accessed: 2007/06/16] or the ePortfolio Portal: http://www.danwilton.com/ eportfolios/ [accessed: 2007/06/16].


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