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A “Matryoshka” of training

Thursday, November 4th, 2021

Developing a new translator training programme at the Translation and Interpretation Faculty – School of International Interpreters of the University of Mons (UMONS)

by Béatrice Costa (Associate Professor in Translation) and Natacha Body (Freelance translator, Translation teacher) at the University of Mons

In October 2019, the Professional Renewal Group, whose mission was to reflect on a new Master’s programme specifically adapted to the training needs of future translators, started its first meeting. Such a reflection was necessary, even more so the profession of translator has undergone considerable changes under the influence of new technologies and artificial intelligence. If, some fifteen years ago, not all translators were necessarily convinced of the usefulness of translation memories, of these databases capable of recognising, within a text, the sentences, parts of sentences or paragraphs previously translated and memorised by a computerised system, the world of translation today has integrated these constantly perfectible archives so well that it no longer wonders whether systematic recourse to pre-translated segments is useful for the translation issue. This being said, the matching between the source sentence and the machine proposal is far from easy, which means in terms of training that the budding translator must be made aware of how to validate the proposed segmental pairs, how to identify alignment errors due to structural differences; he or she must be trained in the need to correct them, even if the rectilinear arrangement between the target sentence and the source sentence suggests a perfect match between the text to be translated and the translated text.

A new role for the translation teacher?

At the same time, the emergence of new technologies is contributing to a redefinition not only of the role of the translator but also of the function of the translation teacher, whose status is suddenly called into question. What will be its role from now on? A language specialist? A project manager? Should he or she be teaching grammar or technological skills? What material will he or she be made of? Will it be comparative stylistics? Project management, translation theory or even soft skills? For the Professional Renewal Group, composed of teacher-translators, teacher-interpreters and teacher-researchers, these issues were the background to our discussions. But did we succeed in overcoming the old divisions? Only one thing is certain: the heterogeneous composition of the group, the fact that it contained translation “professionals” and “theorists”, budding and experienced researchers, practitioner-translators and practitioner-interpreters, was a most enriching element and the very condition for the elaboration of a programme that had to respond to the accumulated need of the market for linguistic, translational, technological, interpersonal and interactional skills.

Within the group, we agreed quite quickly that new technologies should be an integral part of the overall construction of the training programme. The challenge was, in view of the plurality of CAT (Computer Assisted Translation) and Translation Memory tools, to reflect on the one hand on how technological tools should be integrated into learning activities, and on the other hand to develop the skills that a future translator must acquire, so that it becomes possible to interact easily with the machine. Throughout our lively discussions and debates, we came into conclusion that we were looking for a “Matryoshka” of training, the image of the Russian doll implying that a training programme should be conceived as a whole, as an enveloping or grouping unit, where each element is somehow connected to another element, like the different figurines, all nested, in descending order, in a larger figurine.

The Competence Framework of the EMT

In our efforts to establish causal relationships between transmissive contents and competences to be acquired, we relied on the Competence Framework drafted by the Council Members of the European Master in Translation. Composed of five major areas of competences (“Language and culture”, “Translation”, “Technologies”, “Personal and interpersonal”, “Service provision”), this reference system directs the translator’s training towards a translation service that complies both with the expectations of the market and with the codes of ethics in force in the member countries of the European Union. Because it focuses on skills that are directly related to the know-how required in the professional world, it forces its users to submit to the weight of the facts: the essential prerequisite of the new technologies on the one hand, and the increased need (equally essential) for intercultural mediation. Thus, thanks to the reference framework, we have been able to proceed to a complete redefinition of the intercultural purpose, which aims, in addition to a high level in the foreign language, at interactional skills. The European reference framework has proved to be an effective tool insofar as it combines the dual dimension of an extreme concern for particularity and a globalising approach to the translating act. Such an interconnection has the advantage of orienting the translator’s training towards a more integrative training and towards an offer of translation services truly centred on societal needs, or even on the needs of the individual. Without wishing to claim to have achieved a “Poetics of training”, the new Master’s programme of the Faculty of Translation of the University of Mons offers to the budding translator a training programme “where everything is connected”. All that remains to be done is to put it to the test: in September 2022, our new training poetics will be implemented.

On the Need to Comply with the Professional Market Requirements

As previously mentioned, the Professional Renewal Group is composed of researchers and teachers who practice translation and interpretation as professionals. This heterogeneity allows the members of this group to take into account all aspects of the profession and its requirements as well as to integrate them into university training. As mentioned above, the EMT Competence Framework has offered not only a basis but also a springboard for reflection and discussion.

In addition, the group turned to graduate students through a survey. The aim was to find out what professions they were pursuing, which of the skills that they had acquired during their studies had helped them the most, and what skills they considered to lack or found insufficient. The results of this survey were therefore particularly interesting and informative, providing food for thought, reinforcing some ideas for new approaches and removing others. 

The experience of the “professionals” in the group combined with the results of the survey, made it possible for us to define more precisely and more specifically the unmet needs for training in our program and to combine them with translation theories. It was clear from the beginning that integrating theory into practice-based teaching and keeping up with the changes in the profession (including the emergence and use of new technologies as mentioned above) would be essential pillars of the work ahead. The needs for more flexibility, to work faster, to adapt to the (new) field of localisation as well as to develop skills in post-editing had to be tackled if the students were to be able to start working well and efficiently after their graduation.  In fact, all these elements have been the driving force – and also a benchmark – in the conception of this new Master’s program.

Indeed, since the goals of a university education in translation or interpreting are to pass on knowledge, to teach know-how, and to maintain the essential balance between those two aspects of the craft, it was critical to be able to rely on stable and weighty elements.

Why implement those changes only during the Master’s degree?

The balance between practice and theory can only be achieved once a solid theoretical foundation has been acquired. Therefore, the integration of the professionalizing aspect in the training cannot start too early. 

Students who start a Master’s degree in translation or interpreting must already have acquired a solid linguistic and cultural knowledge, a certain mastery of interpersonal skills, the command of basic technological tools (such as Word, Excel, etc.) as well as good translation skills. They must also have acquired certain translation reflexes. Just as one does not build a house without foundations, one does not develop know-how without knowledge. 

Without these foundations, the greater the risk of becoming a translator whose work is not better than that of a machine because they do not use what they have learned, because they do not cast a critical eye on their translation and do not use their analytical skills. The translators of tomorrow must provide added value, otherwise the machine will quickly replace them.

It is the reason why the blueprint for this new program focuses exclusively on the Master courses.  

It has been a long process, but the new Master’s degree of the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Mons is ready, and it establishes the necessary links between theory and practice, knowledge and know-how, traditional and new skills, new technologies and critical thinking.

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