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My Distance Learning

Sunday, January 24th, 2021

By Reka Eszenyi, EMT co-representative Department for Translation and Interpreting, Eötvös Lóránd University, Budapest (ELTE)

The title above is taken from the book recently published by our department on the lessons we learnt from the spring semester of 2020. We run MA courses in translation (EMT) and interpreting, conference interpreting (EMCI), audio-visual translation and distance learning courses in translation, revision, and terminology.

The circumstances of courses that normally required the presence of students and teachers radically changed in March 2020. We realised this was the new normal in our classrooms, at least for the unpredictable, but hopefully only near future. We carried on with teaching and learning, and lots of new skills, tricks and lessons were learnt in this extraordinary period. And we kept asking ourselves, and our students questions on how distance education should be given in courses where personal presence is much needed and appreciated. What is the optimal amount of tasks that brings the students to the competence levels required and is still optimal as workload for the tutors? What should the mode of instruction be? Synchronous, asynchronous of a combination of the two? What platform(s) should be used? How should exams be organised so that they test students in a valid, fair manner, granting all participants equal opportunities? And how do our choices and preferences fit into the institutional framework of the university?

These questions, and some answers given to them contributed the backbone of a volume of studies we published at the end of 2020. The topics include classrooms, platforms and exams, translator, audio-visual translator, interpreter and PhD training as well. One of our authors, Szilvia Kovalik-Deák describes the shift from presence to online as follows:

The classroom was filling up with students. Everyone was talking at the same time, a routine before class. Someone came up to me and inquired about a translation problem. The place was bustling as usual. Then I turned to my students and asked the same question I had always asked, namely how they felt on that beautiful spring day. We were talking in French, our common language for work. I asked each member an individual question, which was the signal to focus their attention on class. With this, the seminar based on interactions between lecturer and student, student and student started. (2020:6)

The screen is filling up with faces. We are chatting a few minutes before class, as usual. The students are not speaking at the same time but there is a chance for everyone to say a couple of words. I can see one of my students’ cat stretching lazily and jumping off the desk. Bence has forgotten to switch on his microphone again, so I remind him to do so. Then, as always, I turn to my students and ask how they are feeling themselves on this beautiful, spring day. We are talking in French, our common language for work. I am asking each member an individual question, which is the signal to focus their attention on the class. With this, the seminar based on interactions between lecturer and student, student and student starts. Slightly differently, but anyway, almost as usual… (2020:16).

Some colleagues compiled questionnaires to find out the usefulness of the tools they employed in the course to make up for the lack of personal, presence contact, like fora, or recordings, while others used artificial intelligence to test students’ progress. We have learnt that courses in subtitling, translation projects or conference interpreting can all be given in the online mode, at an acceptable standard. I am not sure if this is becoming the new normal, but in each case, all our online attempts and effort had elements we will stick to once we return to our real classrooms. These include the vast amount of tasks and assignments neither printed nor sent by e-mail but uploaded to learning management systems and drives, the new platforms and applications we learnt to use that can successfully complement presence classroom communication, using artificial intelligence to assign and correct tasks that can be done without human assistance, and last but not least the enormous flexibility and motivation form both the students’ and the instructors’ part that made and makes our courses work in these extraordinary times.

The closing article in the book lets the students’voices be heard. By answering open-ended questions, they describe their experiences of the spring semester of 2020.

I think we managed to get the most out of this situation. So, high-five to everyone!!! :* (Robin, 2020:189)

Our book was published in Hungarian at the end of 2020 and is expected to come out in English in May 2021.

Enhancing transition from the classroom to the workplace: finding the middle ground through an internship programme

Tuesday, December 29th, 2020

By Dr. Cristina Álvaro Aranda, former student in the MA in Intercultural Communication, Interpreting and Translation in Public Services, University of Alcalá, Spain

Completing our university studies puts an end to a phase, but it also opens doors which can lead to a new horizon of concerns and questions about where our professional career is taking us. Have I learned enough during my university degree? Am I ready to face the labour market yet? Years later, I reflect on these issues from a slightly different angle. I no longer face these questions as a recent graduate student of the European Master’s Degree in Intercultural Communication, Interpreting and Translation in Public Services (Master CITISP) at the University of Alcalá (Spain), but as one of its collaborators. Therefore, my interest now lies in how universities can facilitate the integration of students into their future jobs.

The job market for translators and interpreters in the public service domain evolves with the economic, political, and social reality in which it is immersed, which inevitably requires multi-faceted and multidisciplinary professionals with transferable skills and a great capacity to adapt themselves to everchanging contexts. The most recent proof for this statement can be found in the COVID-19 health crisis, which has pushed against the ropes all the sectors of our world as we know it. Universities, as home to knowledge, must respond to social needs. Thus, designing training and education programmes should be consistent with the demands and requirements of the industry that will employ future graduates, both locally and internationally. However, the transition from the classroom to the workplace can be complex if there exist disparities between the profile of students when leave the classroom and the professional sector. One of the first ways students can encounter “real world” is through university internship programmes, where they apply the knowledge they have acquired during their training to several professional activities.

The Master CITISP of the University of Alcalá has been taught for more than a decade to train future translators and interpreters in administrative, legal, health and educational fields, who will act as interlinguistic and intercultural liaisons between public service providers and users. To complete their education, students are required to complete an internship in different centres and institutions (T&I companies, NGOs, universities, hospitals, courts, clinics, or schools), where they have the opportunity to progressively familiarise themselves with the internal functioning of the host entities and test their skills, supported at all times by a mentor who guides their activity. Representing an area of intersection between university and industry, internships are an ideal point to promote a vision where training and employability can complement each other.

In this sense, approved internship centres play a fundamental role in education stages. They can provide universities with information about their demands and expectations. In turn, and guided by key stakeholders, university curricula can incorporate updated knowledge in undergraduate, postgraduate or continuing education programmes, which allows students to develop a profile in accordance with the work context. Examining the vision of potential employers can be done by means of surveys and information days. However, with the advancement of social networks, an online platform could be a better option (or, why not, a Tinder-for-jobs App?). Each centre would complete an information sheet covering the basic characteristics of their work activity, the criteria they follow for hiring or what they are looking for in their employees. Defining these points clearly would help the industry to welcome graduates that have received training consistent with realistic professional characteristics and needs. For example, the popularity of remote interpreting or the need for basic notions of text and image editing and layout in the translation sector requires specific training, which the CITISP Master’s has been implemented with optional complementary workshops for students. Of course, universities and employers are not the only voices that should be heard. Regardless of the university programme, students from previous editions carry very valuable lessons on the competences and skills that, presented in the classroom during their training, were useful in their internships and current jobs.

In short, internship programmes are a key stage in the transition from the classroom to the workplace that all students will irremeably face. As a middle ground between theory and practice, we find ourselves in a “limbo” that must be exploited to, on the one hand, integrate realistic and updated knowledge into training programmes that respond to the profile of employers and, on the other hand, to train competent and prepared students who know how to navigate the practical difficulties of the labour market and its needs. It is our responsibility to create spaces where all parties involved in translation and interpreting (in public services) can be heard. Employers must identify the shortcomings of the students they host, while universities must not only accompany students in their experience, but also incorporate their suggestions to improve future editions. The synergy of all these voices may be precisely the way to improve our work.

Machine Translation or the Nutella® Ordeal

Wednesday, December 16th, 2020

By Jean-Yves Bassole, dr.Phil. dr.Litt., Head of the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Strasbourg, France.

Translated from French by Duncan Miller, MSc by Research in Science and Technology Studies, MA in Professional Translation, sworn Translator/Interpreter at the Court of Appeal of Colmar, lecturer at the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Strasbourg, France.

Translation lecturers are increasingly confronted with a threatening reality, which is likely to be detrimental to their lessons: machine translation. Admittedly, this subject is taught as such and translation courses include postediting lessons. However, it is often too big a temptation. Some students cannot avoid using a variety of machine translation tools, kindly made available by the companies that produce them. Who would easily turn down a jar of Nutella? Let’s be honest, everyone can understand this temptation. Who has never given into it?

Actually, the succumbence to this temptation is not what bothers us the most. No one can possibly criticise students for using all the available tools. After all, is that not what we recommend them to do on the day they become our colleagues, as translators? We are not concerned about them using these tools as such, we are concerned they will use them too early, without initially attending the appropriate lessons, which are designed to raise their awareness of the advantages and drawbacks of the given tools.

Therefore, from a lecturer’s perspective, the following question should be addressed. If students do not have the patience to wait for the right moment to use the aforementioned tools, wouldn’t it be wiser to redesign our courses by including an introduction to these tools at an earlier stage? The answers vary according to different countries, cultures and universities. The answer to this question is also linked to the inherent structure of translation studies. Some university systems consider that translation can already be studied in first year, while others consider that sound linguistic and cultural knowledge is required before focusing on translation itself.

This is the case for the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Strasbourg, where translation studies start in the first year of the Master’s programme. Access is granted to candidates with a three-year university experience (in languages, literature, law or any other subject), who pass the admission tests, which are conducted to ensure their linguistic and cultural background is sufficient.

Noticeably, our conception is defined by a minimum required to reach the next level. Under these circumstances, it is hardly surprising that we only provide postediting lessons in the second year of the Master’s degree in Professional Translation, Literary Translation and Audiovisual Translation and Accessibility. For us, it seems obvious that machine translation tools can only really be useful when students are sufficiently trained in translation.

Considering the stance of the lecturers and the aforementioned temptation of the students, the only viable solution consists in informing the first-year Master’s degree students about the inherent dangers of machine translation tools. It is with this in mind that I will deliver a speech, at the next congress organised by ITIRI, entitled ROBOTRAD, which is scheduled for autumn 2021. I will endeavour to present what I try to demonstrate to our students, that in general no one can become a virtuoso without studying music theory beforehand.

Some of our translation lecturers sometimes give their students a text to translate along with several “translations” generated by machine translation tools. This highly pedagogical approach, that I would in fact compare to some sort of mine-clearing, is generally carried out with texts associated with so-called “pragmatic translation”. In contrast, I decided to conduct the experiment on texts from twentieth century authors, but with a preference for extracts which are more based on spoken language.

This is how I managed to select an array of vocabulary, syntax and morphology difficulties, along with a few flashes of wit. These sentences or groups of sentences were submitted to five machine translation engines, to be translated into English. The chosen methodology consisted in submitting a sentence to the five engines, on the same day and virtually at the same time. This same procedure was repeated twice, after a minimum period of twenty-four hours, in order to confirm or disconfirm the stability of the answers. The same procedure was carried out from two other workstations.

Without going into the details of the findings, three significant trends immediately arose:

– In numerous cases, the generated translation presents no sense of stability: the same sentence may be translated differently by the same translation engine at a twenty-four or forty-eight hour interval;
– The generated translations from one workstation to another do not present a sense of stability either;
– The expressions related to spoken language or humor are rarely identified.

As a case in point, here are a few translations obtained for the title of this post that I would have modestly translated as “Machine Translation or the Nutella Ordeal”: 

The machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or Nutella supplementation.

Machine translation or Nutella torture.

With regard to the proposed translations, we can notice there are as many perceptible improvements as there are astonishing deteriorations.

The students very quickly come to the conclusion that they cannot trust such translations. Owing to the multiplicity of the solutions, they become aware of the inconsistencies, the variability from one workstation to another, and the necessity to err on the side of caution. They realise that these tools, which are freely made available on the internet, are not really going to help them but are more likely to turn into time-consuming traps.

Once they are aware of this, the students often manage to identify the repeated faulty tricks. Sometimes, they even manage to provide an explanation for certain types of deficiencies. Undoubtedly, from then on, they are ready to resume their training without taking the risk of being lured by the machine translation mermaids. Once passed this first level, they will also be ready to take on postediting lessons, in a confident manner.

Google Translate

Automatic translation or the torment of Nutella®

Translation teachers are more and more often confronted with a threatening reality which is likely to affect their lessons: machine translation tools. Of course, this subject is taught as such and translation courses generally provide for post-editing courses. Yet the temptation is often too great: some students cannot help but use various machine translation tools made available to them free of charge by the companies that have developed. Who would give up a jar of Nutella without flinching? Let’s put it bluntly, we can all understand this temptation – who has never succumbed to it?

What really bothers us the most is not that the temptation materializes – no one can criticize their students for using all the tools at their disposal. Isn’t that ultimately what we will be asking them to do the day they become our colleagues in the profession of translator? No, what bothers us is not that they do it, but that they do it too early, without having previously taken the appropriate courses, which are likely to make them aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the instruments offered.

A question then arises, on the teachers’ side: if students do not have the patience to wait for the right moment to use the aforementioned tools, would it not be wise to rethink our courses by integrating earlier contact with these? instruments? Answers vary by country, culture and institution. The answer to this question is also linked to the very structure of translation studies: some university systems consider that one can start studying translation from the first year of the license, others consider that it is necessary first to have acquired solid linguistic and cultural foundations before starting the practice of translation.

This is the case of the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Languages, University of Strasbourg: translation studies begin in the first year of the master, the entry ticket being made up of, ” on the one hand, three years of university studies (in languages, humanities, law or any other field) and, on the other, success in admission exams aimed at ensuring linguistic level and background cultural background of the candidate.

As we can see, our conception is that of a minimum required to move to the next level. Under these conditions, we should not be surprised to see us maintain post-editing courses in the second year of the master’s degree in professional translation, literary translation or audio-visual translation and accessibility. It seems obvious to us that machine translation tools can only be of real use when the student is already sufficiently trained in translation.

Faced with this choice in principle of the trainers and the student temptation mentioned above, the only viable solution consists in informing the first year master’s students of the dangers inherent in automatic translation tools. It is in this spirit that I will present a paper at the next congress organized by ITIRI, entitled ROBOTRAD, which is scheduled for the fall of 2021. I will endeavor to expose what I am trying to demonstrate to our students, to know that as a general rule no one becomes a virtuoso without having studied music theory.

Some of my translation colleagues sometimes give their students a text to translate along with several “translations” provided by machine translation tools. This highly educational operation, which I would consider altogether to a kind of demining, is generally carried out on texts relating to what has come to be called pragmatic translation ’. For my part, I wanted to experiment with texts taken from 20th century authors but with a preference for passages that are more related to the spoken language.

This is how I was able to select a palette of difficulties, vocabulary, syntax or morphology, without forgetting one or two wit. These sentences or groups of sentences were submitted to five machine translation engines for translation into English. The methodology adopted consisted in submitting a sentence to the five engines on the same day, practically at the same time. This same procedure was repeated twice, after a minimum of one day, the objective being to confirm or not the stability of the responses. The same procedure was implemented from two other workstations.

Without going into the details of the findings here, three main lines immediately emerged:

in many cases, the proposed translation does not present any stability character: the same sentence can be translated in a different way by the same translation engine 24 or 48 hours apart;the translations offered from one workstation to another are not stable either;expressions relating to spoken language or humor are often not identified.

– in many cases, the proposed translation does not present any stability character: the same sentence can be translated in a different way by the same translation engine 24 or 48 hours apart;
– the translations offered from one workstation to another are not stable either;
– expressions relating to spoken language or humor are often not identified.

By way of illustration, here are the translations obtained for the title of this post, which I humbly translated « Machine Translation or the Nutella Ordeal »:

The machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or utella supplementation.

Machine translation or Nutella torture. 

With regard to the proposed translations, there are as many appreciable improvements as there are astonishing deteriorations.

Very quickly, the students come to the conclusion that they cannot trust these translations. They discover, through the multiplicity of solutions, the lack of stability of responses and their variability from one workstation to another, the need to be wary, to doubt and to consider that these tools, made available free of charge on Internet, are not likely to help them but can rather constitute a trap which will make them waste more time than it will save them.

This once understood, the students often manage to identify wrong turns which are repeated; sometimes they even manage to offer an explanation for certain types of deficiencies. There is no doubt then that they are ready to continue their training without risking being seduced by the sirens of machine translation; they will also be ready, once this first cycle is completed, to approach post-publishing courses with confidence.

DeepL (free version)

Machine translation or the torture of Nutella®

Translation teachers are increasingly confronted with a threatening reality, which is likely to affect their lessons: machine translation tools. Admittedly, this subject is taught as such and translation curricula usually include post-editing courses. However, the temptation is often too great: some students cannot help but resort to various machine translation tools made available to them free of charge by the companies that developed them. Who would give up a jar of Nutella without flinching? To put it bluntly, we can all understand this temptation – who has never succumbed to it? 

What really bothers us most is not that the temptation actually materialises – no one can criticise their students for using all the instruments at their disposal. Isn’t that what we advise them to do when they become our colleagues in the translation profession? No, what bothers us is not that they do it, but that they do it too early, without having first attended the appropriate courses, which are likely to make them aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the instruments offered.

A question then arises on the teachers’ side: if students do not have the patience to wait for the right moment to use the above-mentioned tools, would it not be wise to rethink our curricula by integrating earlier contact with these instruments? Answers vary from country to country, culture to culture and institution to institution. The answer to this question is also linked to the very structuring of translation studies: some university systems believe that one can start studying translation as early as the first year of the bachelor’s degree, while others consider that one must first have acquired a solid linguistic and cultural basis before starting to study translation.

This is the case at the Institute of Translators, Interpreters and International Relations (ITIRI), Faculty of Languages, University of Strasbourg: translation studies begin in the first year of the master’s degree, the entry ticket consisting, on the one hand, of three years of university studies (in languages, literature, law or any other field) and, on the other hand, the successful completion of entrance exams aimed at ensuring the candidate’s linguistic level and cultural background.

As you can see, our conception is that of a minimum requirement to move to the next level. Under these conditions, it should come as no surprise that we maintain the post-edition courses in the second year of the Master’s degree in Professional Translation, Literary Translation or Audiovisual Translation and accessibility. It seems obvious to us that machine translation tools can only be of real use when the student is already sufficiently trained in translation.

Faced with this choice of principle by the instructors and the student temptation mentioned above, the only viable solution is to inform first-year master’s students of the dangers inherent in machine translation tools. It is in this spirit that I will be presenting a paper at the next congress organised by ITIRI, entitled ROBOTRAD, which is scheduled for autumn 2021. In it, I will attempt to explain what I am trying to demonstrate to our students, namely that as a general rule, no one becomes a virtuoso without having studied solfeggio.

Some of my colleagues who teach translation sometimes give their students a text to be translated accompanied by several ‘translations’ offered by machine translation tools. This highly educational operation, which I would describe as a kind of mine clearance, is generally carried out on texts that fall within the scope of what is known as ‘pragmatic translation’. For my part, I wanted to experiment with texts drawn from 20th century authors, but with a preference for passages that are more relevant to the spoken language.

This enabled me to select a range of difficulties, vocabulary, syntax or morphology, not forgetting one or two witty features. These sentences or groups of sentences were submitted to five machine translation engines for translation into English. The methodology used consisted of submitting one sentence to the five engines on the same day, at practically the same time. This same procedure was repeated twice, after a minimum delay of one day, with the aim of confirming or not the stability of the responses. The same procedure was carried out from two other workstations.

Without going into the details of the findings here, three broad outlines immediately emerged:

– in many cases, the proposed translation is not stable: the same sentence can be translated differently by the same translation engine 24 or 48 hours apart;
– the translations offered from one workstation to another are not stable either;
– expressions in the spoken language are not often identified.

By way of illustration, here are the translations obtained for the title of this post, which I would have humbly translated « Machine Translation or the Nutella Ordeal » :

The machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or the torment of Nutella.

Machine translation or utella supplementation.

Machine translation or Nutella torture.

As far as the proposed translations are concerned, there have been as many significant improvements as astonishing deteriorations

Very quickly, students come to the conclusion that they cannot rely on these translations. They discover, through the multiplicity of solutions, the lack of stability of the answers and their variability from one workstation to another, the need to be wary, to have doubts and to consider that these tools, made available to them free of charge on the Internet, are not likely to help them but can rather constitute a trap that will make them lose more time than they gain.

Once this is understood, students often manage to identify repeated wrong turns; sometimes they even manage to offer an explanation for certain types of disabilities. There is no doubt that they are ready to continue their training without the risk of being seduced by the sirens of machine translation; they will also be ready, once this first cycle is completed, to tackle the post-editing courses calmly.

Acquiring multiple competences through IATE Terminology Projects

Monday, November 2nd, 2020

By Elpida Loupaki, Assistant Professor of Descriptive Translation Studies and Terminology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (GR), teaching Terminology at the Joint Postgraduate Studies Program “Conference Interpreting and Translation”

From 2013 our Master Students are introduced to Terminology Management through a special course delivered during their third semester of studies.

After the completion of this course, combining both theoretical and practical aspects of Terminology Management in Translation, Master Students can opt for a terminology project as a Master thesis. During these years, the vast majority of our students had the opportunity to cooperate with the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (TermCoord), in order to contribute to the IATE term-base with well-documented and reliable terms in the Greek language[1]. These terminology projects include different domains such as:

Our goal today is to demonstrate the benefits of such EU projects to EMT Master Students in acquiring multiple competences – not only related to terminology – as it will be explained. For this purpose, we are going to briefly present the methodology of these projects and then discuss the competences involved in this learning process.

A terminology project starts with the proposal by TermCoord for a domain in which documented and reliable terminology is needed in the Greek IATE. Then, a number of authentic textual resources are selected and different corpora are created and processed by the use of Sketch Engine. After term extraction is completed, a solid definition and context in both English and Greek is provided for each term. Furthermore, the conceptual relations existing among the terms are also examined. Finally, results are discussed with experts in the field and verified by them.

A standard workflow of a terminology project is here depicted in Figure 1:

According to EMT Competence Framework, translator education and training at Master’s degree level should provide competences to students in five main areas, including: 1) language and culture; 2) translation; 3) technology; 4) personal and interpersonal; 5) service provision. As explained in the Framework (2017, p. 5), “within each of these areas, a number of skills are deemed to be essential or important within the context of a Master’s degree in translation. […] the five areas defined should be considered as complementary and equally important in providing the translation service, which is the ultimate goal of the translation process.”

If we compare the competences acquired by our Master Students throughout the IATE terminology project with the competences described in this reference document, we observe that the majority of areas are included. These projects boost especially the development of the following skills, as expressed in the Framework:

  • Evaluate the relevance and reliability of information sources with regard to translation [here terminology] needs.
  • Acquire, develop and use thematic and domain-specific knowledge relevant to translation [here terminology] needs (mastering systems of concepts, methods of reasoning, presentation standards, terminology and phraseology, specialised sources etc.).
  • Understand and implement quality control strategies, using appropriate tools and techniques.
  • Use the most relevant IT applications, including the full range of office software, and adapt rapidly to new tools and IT resources.
  • Make effective use of search engines, corpus-based tools, text analysis tools […].
  • Plan and manage time, stress and workload.
  • Comply with deadlines, instructions and specifications.
  • Work in a team, including, where appropriate, in virtual, multicultural and multilingual environments, using current communication technologies.

Furthermore, we consider especially useful the cooperation of our students with experts from different specialized domains, as they acquire networking techniques, interview skills, and learn inside information in the fields involved.

Finally, a very important asset in this educational process is the partnership with an EU institution, such as TermCoord, providing students a multilingual and multicultural environment of work, a high quality framework and a firm guidance from experienced terminologists.

As a conclusion, we could assert that this kind of activity is very challenging for both students and trainers involved. Moreover, benefits can outweigh the eventual drawbacks of organization and coordination of such projects. In our ever changing world, we believe that real life projects help students to better integrate into translation market, teaching them to work in teams and offering them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience.


[1] For further information, see: https://termcoord.eu/cooperation-with-universities-on-terminology-projects/