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A microdegree program on translation technology and machine translation

Monday, June 27th, 2022

By Reelika Saar, Junior Lecturer, University of Tartu, Master’s in Translation Studies

Quick technological development and the changes to the job market that come with it also have a very strong influence on the educational landscape. A notable development is the increase in the demand for flexible options for continuing education and retraining that allow students to adapt to the changing situation without having to dedicate several years to their studies. In addition to the traditional one-off continuing education courses, microdegree programs (or micro-credentials) are a clear example of this flexible learning, and several Estonian universities have recently started offering them (University of Tartu 2022, TalTech n.d, Tallinn University n.d, Estonian University of Life Sciences n.d, Estonian Academy of Security Sciences n.d). Microdegree programs are comprehensive continuing education programs, meant to allow students to upskill themselves, make themselves more competitive in the job market and/or support a change in career; they also serve to give the student a better idea of whether the formal education (degree) options on offer are a good choice for them (University of Tartu 2022). Such shorter and more flexible study programs are quickly becoming common throughout all Europe and worldwide (European Commission n.d).

Source: unsplash.com

In the 2021-2022 academic year, the Department of Translation Studies of the University of Tartu offered for the first time the microdegree program “CAT tools, machine translation and web-based tools on the basis of EU texts” (12 ECTS), which brings together three courses. Two of the courses deal with technological facets of the translation profession which grow in importance every year: CAT tools, translation memories and machine translation. The third focuses on the particularities of translating texts connected to the European Union (EU), including the use of sources (such as EUR-Lex and the IATE terminology database) and tools (like the machine translation system eTranslation) which are especially important when working with EU documents. These microdegree courses very closely match the equivalent courses in the master’s program in Translation Studies, with only minor changes made to adapt them to the continuing education context, since all the University of Tartu’s microdegree programs are built with the intention to allow graduating students to continue their studies through a full degree program if they so desire (University of Tartu 2022).

The first edition of the microdegree program offered by the department of Translation Studies lasted two semesters, and 23 students registered to participate. The number of students was limited to allow the lecturer to provide some degree of individual feedback to every one of them. Even though the intended main target group of the microdegree program was professional translators and revisers, a survey carried out at the start of the program revealed that around half of the students had not actually done any translating nor revising on a professional level, which shows that microdegree programs can be of great interest to people who are specifically looking for a way to retrain and change their careers. To ensure the highest level of flexibility, especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the microdegree program was taught fully online, with live webinars every other week on the BigBlueButton teaching platform. In between webinars, the students received exercises and teaching materials for individual learning (including screen recordings) through the Moodle platform. In addition to said screen recordings, recordings of all live webinars were also shared with students in Moodle for watching later. Even though recordings were made available, more than half of the students opted to attend the webinars live during the autumn semester. The program participants were also offered the option to join the university students during their lessons (for example to use the university’s computer classroom), but at least this year they preferred to do all their learning online. Any questions the students had between webinars could be asked from the lecturer through a web form or via email, and the students also had the option to communicate with each other through forums on the Moodle platform. The questions sent to the lecturer were answered either directly via email or, in some cases, as part of the next webinar, serving as a basis for a wider group discussion on the topic.

The production of screen recordings allowed students to go through the study materials at their preferred speed, and to review them later if desired. The recordings were made available through the Panopto platform, which also provides statistics about which videos students actually watched and for how long. These statistics provided the lecturer with clues about the topics which the students might have found especially difficult and to which more time needed to be dedicated. In addition to the attainment of specific technical skills, the courses that were part of the microdegree also put importance on learning from real-life situations and the analysis of possible problems and risks connected to them, including in connection with the importance of ethics in translation training (about which Joss Moorkens (2022) recently wrote in the EMT blog).

At the time of writing the current post (June 2022) the microdegree program has reached its last week, during which the participants will complete the last exercises and get the chance to give feedback about the whole program. So far, the individual feedback received has been positive and has shown that a microdegree program can be a valuable way of improving existing skills and attaining new ones not only for professional translators and revisers, but also, for example, for people interested in a career change into translation. Hopefully once all feedback has been received and analyzed it will be possible to better evaluate the program (whether its duration is adequate, the pros and cons of it being fully web-based, how well it matched the expectations of the target groups, etc.) in order to improve it further. It is clear that there is an interest in this form of continuing education, since several would-be participants have themselves contacted the university and inquired about the registration options for the next edition of the program after seeing information about the current one online. We have also seen that continuous education can give participants a push to continue their studies by working towards a master’s degree in the Department of Translation Studies.

References:

Estonian Academy of Security Sciences. (n.d).Mikrokraad – amps kõrgharidusest! https://www.sisekaitse.ee/en/node/5455?language_content_entity=en (15.06.2022)

Estonian University of Life Sciences. (n.d). Mikrokraadiprogrammid. https://mikrokraadid.emu.ee/mikrokraadiprogrammid/ (15.06.2022)

European Commission. (n.d). A European approach to micro-credentials. https://education.ec.europa.eu/education-levels/higher-education/micro-credentials (15.06.2022)

Moorkens, J. (2022). Incorporating ethics in translation programmes. EMT blog. https://blogs.ec.europa.eu/emt/incorporating-ethics-in-translation-programmes/

Tallinn University. (n.d).  Mikrokraadid. https://www.tlu.ee/mikrokraad (15.06.2022)

TalTech. (n.d).  Avatud õpe, mikrokraadid. https://taltech.ee/avatud-ope/mikrokraadid (15.06.2022)

University of Tartu. (2022).  Mikrokraadiprogrammid. https://ut.ee/et/mikrokraadid

On (intercultural) communication as professional skill and outlook for translation trainees

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

By Dr Ludovica Maggi, Research Associate, Academic Department Director, Intercultural Communication and Translation, ISIT, Paris

January 2014. My first contact with ISIT, Paris was a teaching assignment in technical translation, quickly followed by one in web translation, then one more in business translation.

I arrived with a composite background, which had (and has) sometimes revealed a hurdle, in a country in which consistency is a logical credo and in certain professional milieus in which experience in non-related fields tends to be perceived as a proof of decreased competence in the relevant area rather than a source of additional skills, let alone an added value. I had studied Classics, then specialized in business management and communication and worked in international marketing before going back to (modern) languages and starting a new academic, then professional adventure in translation and interpreting, with a focus on business, marketing and institutional discourse.

As of day one, it was clear that nobody at ISIT would ever blame me for exploring so many (inconsistent!) paths. Rather, I had the quite reassuring feeling of having set foot on an unusually open-minded county, a place where hybridization was thought of as the most natural key to success in education and professional placement.

Five years later, I ended up leading ISIT Master’s programme in Intercultural Communication and Translation. Which, since then, means to me: embracing and developing – through teaching, research and pedagogical engineering – a vision of translation rooted in (intercultural) communication.

On International Translation Day, this post is an essential, unpretentious manifesto on the nourishing potential of (intercultural) communication for translation training and practice, as I have learnt to prize and promote it within this Master’s programme.

Communication for translation, or translation as communication

At ISIT, the motto “translation is communication” does not hang on walls, for it is stuck in any student’s mind. It is promulgated in the Communication and Translation Theories lecture course with the following memento: general communication principles are the basis of a successful translation. Indeed, the object of translation is not a set of words, but a whole communication setting. In this framework, the linear model communicator-message-medium-receiver (in other terms: who says what in which channel to whom) is the entry point to a critical treatment of source and target texts which also takes into account desired effects, possible interference, reception and feedback and extends to pragmatics, with the fundamental categories of language act, context and performance, that is, accomplishment of a language act in context (C. Durieux course materials).  

On this basis, textualisation and discourse analysis are also brought into consideration.

Inspired by textual linguistics (notably, J.M. Adam), translational textualisation is meant to raise awareness on the key role of connectedness in written communication. Trainees are invited to structure reverbalisation (D. Seleskovic/M. Lederer) not only by generally reproducing semantic consistency and linguistic cohesion and more specifically by respecting enunciation markers, time and space organisers and logical connectors, but also by arranging source segments in a functional target network, in which formal architectural choices have an impact on meaning reception. More precisely, alongside with cutting, melting or displacing source segments, this might imply intervening in the internal order of the latter, to manage focalisation and thematic progression (known vs new) according to the expectations of target speakers and/or the canons of target genres.

Discourse analysis (D. Maingueneau, P. Chareaudeau) is introduced to deepen the insights given by pragmatics while stressing the social footing of communication. Translation trainees are invited to take its theoretical categories into account to build target texts in which general communicational functionality is enriched by the awareness of the actual extra-textual context in which discourse is produced and received. To this aim, they are notably reminded of the importance of social identity (knowledge, expertise, authority of the communication subject’s as acknowledged by the communication partners) and discourse identity (adequacy of discourse form and content with social identity, stakes of successful contact with the partners and credibility for the subject). In addition, communication contract, situation and genre are presented, respectively as 1) a reciprocal understanding about meaning construction, interaction and influence being the prior aims of communication, 2) the social place in which communication occurs, that is a specific domain of practice with specific roles, relationships, aims and themes connected to it, 3) a pool of forms and language habits shared by a specific community of practice. Objectives of communication – such as information, prescription, demonstration or instruction – and discourse attitudes – such as neutrality, engagement, seduction, polemic or dramatization – are also evoked. Moreover, attention is drawn to socio-discursive imaginaries, that is, those underlying systems of beliefs that shape discourse content and nourish intertextuality. Critical discourse analysis is also touched upon, with a focus on thematic fields related to power dynamics (T. Van Dijck).

Finally, communication is reinjected in the cycle as a global pragmatic frame, a systemic network of actors, aims, strategies and channels (politics, businesses, media, public opinion, the web…) in which individual communication acts take place and become meaningful.

Translation for communication, or the translator as communication professional

At ISIT, communication is not only a theoretical background. Conceived as a professional sphere, it is considered as the primary reception environment of translation. In this sense, translation should not only be generally communicative, but also suitable for the communication purposes of specific actors: companies, brands, national institutions and international organisations, media outlets… To meet this challenge, students are trained to develop communicational functionality in a targeted way: the prototypical “who-says-what-in-which-channel-to-whom” communication principle – augmented with discursive awareness and a clear vision of business, institutional and media communication practices – translates therefore into a concrete analysis of the communication strategies, messages, plans, targets, tone and supports of a potential client in a given context, both in connection with its activity and its external ecosystem. Trainees are notably faced with CSR reports, financial communications, e-commerce contents, advertising materials, parliamentary reports, press releases, video interviews, institutional websites, social awareness campaigns, social media accounts of foundations, NGOs, public persons, technical (internal, B2B or B2C) documents, scientific information materials for the general public, news articles…

To better understand what is concretely at stake in each source text, a thorough knowledge of communication practices is fostered through a series of “non-translation” taught and interactive courses: business management, business communication, digital communication, communication planning, marketing, web marketing, web interfaces analysis and construction, brand image, community management, international communication, crisis communication, press relations… A complementary set of hand-on writing and translation workshops (such as web translation, business communication translation, translation-communication-transcreation, writing for the web…) allows the students to practice translation for communication, with specific attention to discursive stand and textual arrangement in target writing.

Empowered by their communicational vision and skills, translation trainees are invited to perceive and position themselves on the market as communicators. Indeed, they team-play with other communication professionals, supporting them in achieving their clients’ goals. What is more, they share with communicators a series of working methods and required skills which fully justify their inscription in a common professional category. Like communicators, translators are source scouters: often confronted with subjects they are not experts in, they know how to quickly analyse source materials in order to get a full understanding of the general context, main facts, key dynamics, players and objectives at stake, as well as specialized terminology. Like communicators, translators are discourse service providers: they work for a client, they give voice to their message, they handle words, texts and genres in order to answer to specific communication briefs. Like communicators, translators are target-sensitive: they know that the client’s discourse can rarely be transferred as it has been generated within the client’s “comfort zone”, for it is informed by sectorial jargon and concepts, logical shortcuts and general mind-sets which paradoxically need to be somehow diluted in order for the source discourse to be received by the target public as efficiently as the client has wished.

Following this logical thread, one can even draw a more radical “non-translational” conclusion: once trainees have seized the sense of communication for translation, understood the mission of translation for communication and realised that they indeed are on an equal playing field with communicators, they can dare cross the line and choose to pursue their career in communication after graduating. With a substantial plus on their record: language and interlanguage skills, which are not commonplace among communications graduates and are particularly valued by organisations operating internationally. Jobs involving written (multi-lingual) communication – such as social media manager, public relations specialist, press officer, editor, copywriter, content manager, SEO specialist, localisation manager – can be targeted, along with positions not specifically focused on writing, be it specialized – like event manager or web analyst – or rather all-round – internal or external communication officer, key account manager, for instance. More strategic roles can be held after some years’ experience.

A step forward: intercultural communication

One keyword has been kept in brackets up to now: “intercultural”. The cross-fertilizing relationship between translation and communication that I have tried to sketch here cannot be fully outlined without including it in the picture.

Indeed, at ISIT communication is not just communication, be it in the sense of discursive practice or professional playing field. It is first and foremost intercultural. In other words, it is deeply intertwined with Intercultural Studies: a network of theories and approaches aimed at describing and understanding the impact of culture on a series of phenomena, including but not limited to, social behaviour, governance and management, artistic creation, human interaction, actions and communication in international politics and business. This network revolves around different poles, which I shall tentatively summarize as follows: general theories of culture (cultural approach); contrastive study of cultures on the basis of descriptive categories (cross-cultural approach); study of interaction between individuals and groups belonging to different cultures (intercultural approach); management issues applied to multicultural teams; social and governance issues related to the encounter and co-existence of different cultural groups.

One methodological caveat is to be raised: culture must not be exclusively perceived as related to national groups (provided that the existence of clearly defined geographical or ethnic clusters is epistemologically acknowledged and/or accepted) but is rather to be considered – once again, allow me here an approximate definition – as a set of knowledge, values and practices that contribute to shaping the mind-set of an individual or a group and to determining the way it understands the world and interacts with other individuals and groups. In this sense, culture can refer to age groups, professional communities, clusters of consumers, categories of target public for information and communication…

At ISIT, translation-for-communication trainees are made aware of this theoretical framework and invited to consider the impact of cultural factors on communication actions as produced by a subject and received by partners who do not share the same cultural background. This broadly applies to communication activities of the aforementioned actors (business, institutions, media…) and is of particular relevance for the management of written communication in translation. More explicitly: in communication actions, language, discourse and textuality are culturally marked. Students are invited to take account of the gap this might entail between production and reception and be able to critically handle target communication texts in order to restore communicational efficiency. To this aim, they are trained to acknowledge and develop intercultural agency, that is to be aware of the possible cultural divide between communication subjects and their partners; analyse the reciprocal perceptions of these actors and the possible impacts of such perceptions on produced discourse and reception patterns; recognise their own cultural bias; gain confidence in their own communicational action as translators-for-communication.

In this sense, intercultural and communicational awareness (should I dare speak of competences?) can turn translators into actors, make them conscious of their distinctive value and help them thrive on whichever market they might like to establish themselves in. After all, if “translation is communication” one might think of a large shared professional space where hybridization is, indeed, the key to success.

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