Challenges in teaching translation

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

Nechayeva Yelena, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan
Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan

We live in the world where international relations and collaboration in economics, science, culture and other spheres continuously broaden. Development of information and communication technologies greatly contributes to this process. International communication is mainly performed in English. Knowledge of this language is a basic condition for getting access to the world scientific literature, doing business with foreign partners and integrating into foreign markets. In this context, the profession of a translator has started to receive greater acknowledgement. Demand in highly qualified translators has grown immensely for the last few decades. Requirements to professional qualifications and competences of trans lators have changed similarly.

Now translators are expected to ensure effective interlanguage communication in every sphere of industry and produce authentic written translations of specialized English texts of various difficulty levels. In this connection the concept of teaching translation in higher education institutions has changed. In order to teach translation effectively educators started developing new teaching methodologies, which can meet the demand in highly-qualified translators. Still contemporary education science does not provide a thorough study of this topic. There are many textbooks on translation techniques and translation theory, but few books on methodology of teaching translation. Moreover, some scholars dispute on the content and sustainability of those few existing methods for teaching translation. The relevance of studying and development of teaching methodologies is proved by the need in well-trained, qualified translators, besides, theoretical knowledge and training methods are not well-defined and studied.

In our research we have studied works on teaching translation by several scholars. Alekseeva I. in her textbook Professional Training for Translators discusses separately training of interpreting and written translation. In teaching written translation she gives an overview of traditional methodologies and proposes complex methodology that incorporates some traditional methods with new ones [1, 56]. Another scholar, Prof. Gerding-Salas C. proposes cooperative work procedure as a method for teaching translators at an undergraduate level. According to this method the educator acts as a facilitator of the translation task and students accomplish it both collectively and individually with further discussion of translations made [6, 9]. Mikel Garant in his book Current Trends in Translation Teaching and Learning discusses Nord’s model of translation-oriented text analyses, the process-oriented approach to translation teaching and the competence and skill-led approach [5, 27-28]. These authors describe and analyze traditional methodologies and approaches to teaching translation. Another author, Alekseeva L.M. raises an issue of inadequacy of traditional teaching methods in the article Methodology for Teaching Written Specialized Text Translation. She favors a modern methodology based on the belief that translation is modeling of the original text meaning by translator [2, 78]. Thus, the literature on the topic discusses mainly traditional methodologies of teaching translation; however some authors criticize them and propose completely different approaches in teaching translation.

Prior to studying and analyzing the existing methods of translation teaching, it is necessary to review the notion of “translation”. There are multiple definitions of this term. Each definition depends on the research purpose of an author. For example, the advocates of structural methods to translation propose that it is “conversion of a text structure from one language to another with the meaning remaining unchanged” [3, 11]. Scholar and stylist I.R. Galperin defined translation as “rendering meaning and stylistic peculiarities of an utterance in one language by the means of another language” [4, 21]. Although many authors concur that the translation process is transfer of meaning, structure and stylistic features of a text from the original language to the target language, some scientists propose a completely different term. According to Shveitser A.D., translation is “a one-directional two-stage process of interlingual and intercultural communication when, based on the primary text that underwent committed analysis, a secondary text is created which can substitute the primary text in another language and cultural environment” [7, 14]. In term of specific functions of translation in professional communication, this definition is more complete and appropriate. This definition also reflects the function of translation as a means of interlingual communication.

Studying translation, it is essential to distinguish between two types of translation: translation in foreign language teaching process and professional translation. Vermes A. called the first type pedagogical translation and defined it as “an instrumental kind of translation, in which the translated text serves as a tool of improving the language learner’s foreign language proficiency” [8, 83]. This type of translation concentrates on language. On the contrary, professional translation, as Vermes put it, is “aimed at a reader who is fundamentally interested in the contents of the text” [8, 83]. Professional translation focuses on the text. This is a more difficult type of translation, because its primary purpose is to convey information for specific use. When speaking about methods for teaching translation, we mean professional translation, because in the first case translation is a method itself used in foreign language acquisition.

The review of traditional methodologies for teaching translation made by Alekseeva comprises 4 methods. The first method, the most popular one, is training translation in a specific field (e.g. technical translation, legal translation, etc.) The training starts with studying vocabulary of the field and giving equivalents in the language of translation. Based on this, students proceed with complicated grammatical structures of specialized written texts. The author notes that this method concentrates mainly on acquisition of the terms and specialized vocabulary of a chosen field. However, such vocabulary can be found in different types of texts: scientific article, manual, official letter or advertisement. Unaware of stylistic peculiarities of these texts, students may fail translation of such texts [1, 53-54]. This method of teaching translation represents an approach of teaching on a particular example; the example here is translation of texts from a specific field. Obviously such example is too limited in features and cannot train translation of other completely different types of text such as literary texts.

The second popular method for teaching translation is text analysis and translation. Text analysis is traditionally one of the most significant aspects in training language and translation in higher education institutions. It results in identifying peculiarities of the text and some general principles of such type of text. But out of variety of peculiarities found, in the author’s opinion, translators are not able to pick out those features that are strictly recommended for translation and should be distinguished from those that can be neglected. In other words this method assumes intuitive choice of translation strategy [1, p. 54]. Kashkin V. characterizes conventional practice of text analysis as focused on grammatical structures, set-expressions, realities and other elements of the text that can cause difficulties in translation. Text analysis does not give proper consideration to the features of the text as a complete substance such as the type of the text, sphere of application and recipients. Although, they also play an important role for making correct translation. He proposes a discourse method of making text analysis, which is to analyze a text as an integral communicative message [9]. Obviously both theorists concur that this method of teaching translation have certain drawbacks, but text analysis ranks an important place in translation process.

The third method consists in finding all existing translation equivalents. The method is popular in contemporary western education systems. The base for the method lies in the belief that “form - content” relations do not have only one equivalent. The same meaning can be expressed by different means. In a class, students have a task to find as many translation equivalents for a word or phrase as possible in the text that they translate together. Of course, students discover a lot of equivalents for a single word, but upon taking into consideration the type of the text, word compatibility, and meaning shades the variety of equivalents invariably reduces. Depending on the type of the text, either an emotionally colored, literal or neutral word shall be selected. Thus students deal with extensive material practically based on their active vocabulary. Similarly to the previous method, Alekseeva I. marks, that students make an intuitive choice when translating the text [1, p. 54]. The method operates with polysemanticity of vocabulary and involves cooperative learning and the basics of text analysis.

The last method, which has a long history, is comprised of the translation training being conducted by an experienced talented translator. The method can be successfully used alone or in addition to the first and the second methods and often succeed in teaching. This is when an experienced translator trains young translators. The trainer selects texts for translation training which can vary greatly. When assessing different translation variants, the trainer rarely gives grounds for the assessment and provides students with own variant of translation. In this method, the trainer relies on own knowledge and prestige. Likewise this method can be called the “authoritarian-creative” method [1, p. 54]. This method relies on the process of sharing experience and teaching translators’ competences of the trainer that were acquired through a long-term translation practice.

Having studied traditional methods of teaching translation and concluded that none of them can ensure proper translation training, Alekseeva I. proposed a complex method. The method is comprised of 3 stages: preparatory, basic, and training. The preparatory stage consists in the study of different types of texts in the language of translation. Subjects like critical reading, text analysis or writing training can cover objectives of this stage. The author also recommends practicing not only analysis of texts type in the native language but synthesis, too [1, p. 62]. Students should find a similar type of text in the language of translation, observe its characteristic features and write a text of this type observing its features [1, 56]. Thanks to this method students can familiarize themselves with the types of texts and acquire skills of reproducing any peculiarities of different types of texts found.

The basic stage subdivides into text analysis for translation, analytical search of translation variants and analysis of translated text. Text analysis for translation is a necessary step. It should not have scientific or research character, but concentrate on the needs of consequent translation [1, 56]. Upon completion of text analysis, students proceed with translation. The search of translation variants lies in finding an appropriate translation equivalent subject to the text analysis results. It is essential to formulate and write down the “ideal” translation for each word and phrase. Alekseeva I. stresses that the teacher’s status plays significant role in this process, however the teacher should not impose own variant to students, as it can demotivate them [1, 57].

Ideally, the best translation equivalent should be chosen from those offered by student. The search of translation variants can be practiced using other people’s translation, too. Students comment on the choice of words or phrases and can propose their own variants of translation [1, 61]. The basic stage ends with analysis of translated text. The translation is to be compared with the original text: whether all words and phrases have been translated. Then style integrity of the translation is assessed without looking into the original text and any required editing is performed. At the beginning of the teaching process it is the teacher who should edit students’ translations. Later students are to edit one another’s translation. Finally, students should edit their own translations and read it aloud to the audience, which is the most complicated task. In addition, if possible, the translated texts can be compared with the accomplished translation of the same text made by a professional translator [1, 62].

The last stage stipulated in Alekseeva’s complex method is the training stage. Training is conducted on the materials of one type of texts or texts of a particular professional field. Since it is impossible to touch upon translation of all existing types of texts, only a few of them are trained. Their choice is usually determined by market demands. Sometimes training also provides basics of the spheres in which texts are translated. Actually, it is very rare when a translator happens to make translation only in one or two professional fields. Thus translators have to learn translation of texts from new spheres on their own using basic knowledge they have acquired [1, 56]. The method proposed by Alekseeva I. represents a more thorough study of the translation teaching process and incorporates the best techniques used in traditional methods as well as new tools such as analysis of the types of texts in the language of translation.

The next methodology of teaching translation applies to translation of specialized texts. Alekseeva L.M calls it modern methodology and describes in her article “Methods for teaching specialized written translation”. In her opinion, it is a specific branch of translation studies, which challenges traditional training methods that treat text as an objective phenomenon and define translation as work with signs of an original text [2, 77]. Contemporary view on translation techniques, according to the author, relies on the following statements: (a) the technique is based not on the use, but on handling with text; (b) the original text as an object for translation totally depends on translators; (c) translator adds comprehension of meaning to translation; (d) translation techniques are determined by the text integrity [2, 77]. Alekseeva L. understands translation as modeling and consequent transmission of a complex-structured meaning of the text. The the researcher singles out four stages of the translation teaching process. The first stage she calls building space for translation. It relates to finding conceptual meaning based upon the unity of the old and new knowledge about the text. The second stage is compression of special knowledge, whose one form is modeling. The third stage is interpretation of special meaning. The main aim of this stage is sequential interpretation of concept-forming language units. The fourth stage consists in identifying theme and rheme of the text, based on the theory of actual division of the sentence and principles of logical narration [2, 81-82]. Modern methodology of teaching written translation of specialized texts completely differs from what we used to know about translation and translation instruction. The method differs in views on text, meaning, and role of translators and challenges the adequacy of traditional methods for teaching translation.

The review of the available teaching methods shows surprising diversity. However, each teaching method may be productive in one environment and inconsistent in another. We studied traditional, complex and modern methods for teaching translation. The first traditional method, training translation in a specific field, may be good in teaching translators for working in one particular field, which happens very rare in real life. So students trained to translate in metallurgy will experience difficulties when translating texts on electrical engineering, and even more difficulties in translation legal documents, because, in the first case they have not studied vocabulary of the topic, and in the second case, they are not familiar with vocabulary plus peculiarities of new type of texts. The method is limited by the subject of texts and lacks very important step of translation: text analysis. In the next teaching method, it ranks high importance. The method of teaching translation, called text analysis and translation, enables learners to translate different types of texts. But as mentioned by Alekseeva I., upon analyzing a text, students may not be aware of what peculiarities they should render in translation. To learn this, they need to familiarize themselves with peculiarities of such types of texts in their native language. So probably, the second method of teaching translation should be supplemented by studying different types of texts in the native language of learners in order to have stylistically correct translations.

The method of finding all existing translation equivalents differs from the above methods by its cooperative nature. Students make translation together, can exchange ideas and find the best choice. They not only look for the most suitable word but aim to preserve the style of the text. The drawback of the method is that it concentrates on translation of words, and do not regard the text as an integral communicative act. Sometimes equivalents should be found for a whole sentence, paragraph or even text in order to preserve their communicative value. Text analysis can be helpful for identifying such issues in the text. Moreover, the method of finding translation equivalents requires more time than the other teaching methods, because words have a lot of synonyms and the process of choosing an appropriate one takes time. The last of traditional methods for teaching translation is training by an experienced translator. This method involves a lot of practice, discussions and advice. The trainer may help in resolving particular practical tasks and issues based on his or her experience. This method may be used together with other methods mentioned before and this will enhance the quality of teaching. Students probably appreciate to be educated by an acknowledged translator and become therefore more motivated for study. However, the disadvantage of the method is that it contributes to the development of professional skills but do not guarantee them. Students are presented with ready solutions of translation tasks but do not find them through personal practice, thus they may not fully understand them. Besides, this way of teaching is quite subjective, because it is the trainer, who selects training material which may be based upon personal preference.

The complex method, proposed by Alekseeva I., represents a more comprehensive view on translation and teaching translation. It addresses not only working with original texts, but studying the norms of such type of texts in the language of translation. As a result, the quality of the translated texts improves. Text analysis, as one of the components of this method, is also a necessary condition for making translation properly, and works well as united with further training. In addition, this method recognizes the limitedness of training translation in a specific field, and therefore suggests that as many of such fields should be touched upon as possible. But it does not take into account the fact that text is an integral communicative unit. On the contrary to all the previous methods, the modern method, suggested by Alekseeva L., emphasizes the role of translators in translation and challenges the concepts of equivalence of text. Under this teaching method, translation acquires a cognitive function. Translation process is recognized as extraction of the meaning and modeling in the language of translation, not as transfer of meaning. This method stresses the importance of the text as an integral unit, which is not mentioned in the previous methods. However, the teaching method proposed by Alekseeva L. concentrates on the theory and does not provide us with direct instruction how the above features of translation process can be taught to students, what tasks should be used, and etc.

The translation teaching methods cited in this article represent different approaches to translation and teaching. Traditional methods have obvious disadvantages and do not comply with the whole set of goals, faced by educators. Some of them even proved to be insufficient for teaching translation as a complex subject. Therefore researchers try to study the problem and find the best method for satisfying all goals and needs in training translation.

The new methods proposed by some of them cast light upon the topic, but still have some drawbacks or require further thorough investigation. At the meantime, the demand in professional, qualified translators enhances the relevance of further investigation. Thus, teaching translation remains a topical issue and has great potential for research.


1. Alekseeva I. Professional Training for Translators: a textbook on interpretation and written translation for teachers and translators. - Sankt-Petersburg, 2000.

2. Alekseeva L. Methodology for Teaching Written Specialized Text Translation, Perm University Vestnik, 2(8), 2010.

3. Barkudarov, L. Language and Translation: Issues of General and Specific Translation Theory. – Moscow, International Relations, 1975.

4. Galperin I., Translation and Stylistics. Theory and Methods for Teaching Translation. - Moscow: APN, 1950

5. Garant M. Current Trends in Translation Teaching and Learning. - Helsinki, University of Helsinki Press, 2010.

6. Gerding-Salas C. Teaching Translation: Problems and Solutions, Translation Journal, 4(3), 2000.

7. Shveitser A. Translation and Linguistics. – Moscow: Voenizdat, 1973.

8. Vermes A. Translation in Foreign Language Teaching: A Brief Overview of Pros and Cons. Eger Journal of English Studies 83(93), 2010.


Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №4 - 2012

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