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Innovating for accessibility: Sign language at the University of Geneva’s FTI

Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

Authors: I. Strasly, P. Bouillon, M. Starlander & F. Prieto Ramos, FTI, University of Geneva.

What is accessibility and why does it matter to translators?

Accessibility is about making sure that people with disabilities and/or with special needs have access to society on an equal basis. Accessibility has become a major concern of modern societies and has led to the adoption of new legal provisions on non-discrimination and equal opportunities for all. In 2006, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) became the first binding human rights treaty to address accessibility (see Broderick 2020). By ratifying it in 2014, Switzerland committed to its full implementation. This means that public entities have to strive to become accessible to all, including people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing. In Switzerland, this builds on national legislation that promotes accessibility, like the Swiss Disability Discrimination Act of 2002, which states that communication has to become accessible.

Translators and interpreters have a crucial role in lowering language barriers, making content accessible beyond the cultures who produced it (see, for example, Bernardini et al. 2020). In line with these developments, Geneva’s Faculty of Translation and Interpreting (FTI) introduced French sign language to its BA in Multilingual Communication in September 2021, and will add Italian sign language in 2023. These innovations were developed in the context of FTI’s newly created Centre for Barrier-Free Communication, with the financial support of the FTI, the Swiss Federation of the Deaf and the Procom Foundation.

Why did we integrate sign language in our programmes?

We had two main goals in setting up this programme: improving the inclusion of Deaf people by making the workplace more accessible, and making information more accessibleto a wider public by training communication specialists in sign language. The new FTI degree specifically supports the implementation of the above-mentioned legal frameworks, in particular by raising public awareness of Deaf people, their needs and their culture. Furthermore, there are not enough interpreters in sign languages to meet the increasing demand in the French-speaking and Italian-speaking regions of Switzerland (see ARCInfo 2018). Training students who can work in the communication field with sign languages thus responds to the needs of the Swiss market, and contributes to a more accessible society.  

This is the first university degree to offer a complete curriculum in sign language in Switzerland. The aim is to provide students with strong foundations in topics related to sign language, communication and technology, so that they can then pursue their academic path up to the PhD level, either in translation, interpreting or accessibility. We also expect to contribute to the development of new teaching resources, and promote research in this field.

In total, 11 new courses per language combination have been created. Students will also be trained in related accessibility and digital skills. Most classes are taught by Deaf people. This helps to make the university accessible to a more diverse population and enables hearing students to immerse themselves in a Deaf-centered environment. You can learn more about the programme and conditions for admission by visiting the dedicated webpages: https://www.unige.ch/fti/fr/faculte/departements/dtim/enseignement/languesignes/

Additionally, a separate part-time programme (Certificat complémentaire en langue des signes française / Complementary Certificate in French Sign Language) is also offered to applicants who hold a BA in Multilingual Communication from the FTI (or an equivalent degree), and who wish to add French sign language to their language combination. The curriculum and admission conditions are also available online: https://www.unige.ch/fti/fr/enseignements/certificats-complementaires/. If you have a degree in translation including French, you may be eligible.

Why did our first students choose the programme?

Cindy: “As a professional in cultural production for more than 15 years, the Covid period was a time of questioning for me, as it surely was for most cultural actors. What to do when we are no longer considered essential and when cultural venues are no longer accessible? What will be the future of the performing arts after the lockdown era? It became apparent that I needed to open other doors and create new opportunities for a new career. This BA seemed to be a great way to get back to university and so that I could open myself to other options for my future career.”

Sophia: “In France, few schools allow for the study of sign language and almost none combine a curriculum with the learning of other languages. As a French citizen, the University of Geneva offered me the opportunity to continue learning French Sign Language. By choosing the University of Geneva, I am sure I will get a high-level education at the heart of an international city and I can prepare myself for careers related to sign languages as well as those related to vocal languages.”

Margaux: “I was intrigued by the idea of training in translation and interpreting in sign language. I was curious to see how it was done. I like the visual side of this language: learning a sign language seems to be very different from a spoken language and being a rather manual and visual person, I felt that it would suit me well. It’s also a language that involves human contact and exchange, which I really like. I didn’t see myself working in Belgium, where I previously studied. I don’t know in which country I will work yet, but I knew that I wanted to continue learning sign language, in order to include it in my future work.”

Chloé: “What made me decide to enroll in the programme offered by the Faculty of Translation and Interpreting at UNIGE? First of all, the fact that it is offered by a University and a Faculty of recognised excellence. Secondly, this course is part of a remarkable project, aimed in particular at resuming the teaching of sign language at a university level after a long period of interruption. When I heard about the creation of this course, I jumped at the chance and I am very happy to be able to take part in this initiative!”

Annick: “This is the only training currently existing in French-speaking Switzerland that could lead me to become a sign language interpreter in the future. Even if this is not necessarily my end goal, it allows me to study sign language at a university level, i.e. in greater depth from a linguistic point of view than in the courses taken in local associations (the courses were also good, but the pace is rather slow, since it has to be adapted to a larger public)”.

Léa: “In January 2021, I received an email announcing the opening of a training course in sign language and I did not hesitate to enroll. I knew the University already because I had studied there and I was passionate about the idea of studying sign language, I knew that this institution was reliable and that I would benefit from a serious education that I could use later on, in the job market. Since the beginning of the academic year, I have often been asked why I am learning sign language, while during my previous studies no one asked me why I wanted to speak Spanish. However, in both cases, I was driven by the same desire to understand other speakers and to use a language other than French.

Chloé: “I chose to enroll in the sign language course offered by the FTI, as I would like to become a French sign language interpreter. I am also studying translation (Italian, English and French), so when I heard that I could take the Sign Language certificate, I didn’t hesitate for a second! Now I can study all the languages that will be useful for my work in the future!

References

ARCInfo. 2018. Langue des signes: manque d’interprètes pour les sourds en Suisse romande. Available from: https://www.arcinfo.ch/articles/suisse/langue-des-signes-manque-d-interpretes-pour-les-sourds-en-suisse-romande-727130 [Last accessed: 01.11.2021]

Bernardini, Silvia, et al. 2020. Language service provision in the 21st century: challenges, opportunities and educational perspectives for translation studies. In: Sijbolt Noorda, Peter Scott, Martina Vukasovic. Bologna Process beyond 2020: Fundamental values of the EHEA. Bononia University Press, 2020. pp. 297-303.

Broderick, Andrea. 2020. Of rights and obligations: the birth of accessibility. In: The International Journal of Human Rights, 24:4, 393-413, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2019.1634556

Swiss Federal Council. 2002. Federal Act on the Elimination of Discrimination against People with Disabilities (Disability Discrimination Act, DDA). Available from: https://www.fedlex.admin.ch/eli/cc/2003/667/en

United Nations. 2006. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Available from: https://www.un.org/development/desa/disabilities/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities.html

How French can universalism try to be? Afterthoughts on the “Dutch affair”

Thursday, November 18th, 2021

by Nicolas Froeliger, Université de Paris, UFR EILA (Etudes Interculturelles de Langues Appliquées)

As translators, we strive to render meaning, intention and nuance as precisely as possible, with what some used to call fidelity, or, increasingly, loyalty (which is not exactly the same). How is it then, that translation studies fares so bad in translation? Of course, translations of translation studies books there are a-plenty, but are we always satisfied with them? The answer is a blatant no. A simple observation to substantiate this claim: how often are those translated books reprinted, even when they have become classics in their original language?

This is one of the many paradoxes we have to live with in this realm. I myself am both victim and culprit of such a paradox. A few months ago, I was asked to write a small piece on what the French call the “Dutch affair” (more on this below). Publication was meant for a book on the said issue (under the generic title faut-il se ressembler pour traduire?, to be published by “Double punctuation”: www.double-ponctuation.com). And since, as translators, we feel something like an attachment to our native working language, I did write the paper in question in French.

A brief summary of the facts:

  • on January 20, 2021, during Joseph Biden’s oath-taking ceremony, young poetess Amanda Gorman made a tremendous impression by reading her poem “The Hill We Climb”;
  • immediately, publishers everywhere rushed to have her works translated;
  • among them, renowned Dutch house Meulenhoff gave the assignment to another young author: Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, and made it widely known;
  • Dutch journalist and social network activist Janice Deul then criticized that decision, deploring the choice of a white woman to translate an African-American woman, triggering an avalanche of reactions;
  • in the face of this uproar, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld gave up the assignment before explaining her reasons in the form of a poem;
  • the world of translation and the general public expressed their outrage. At least in France and French speaking countries (notably Belgium).

A most telling development, one would say… What did I then set out to write, in my French version?

  • That although translators have a special taste for nuance and balanced arguments, resorting to those would be counter-productive here: no matter what one thinks of the state of inequalities the world over, this affair has to be judged in terms of overarching values: universality or fragmentation;
  • That the rich debate on this issue is a sign that the translation profession at large has started to reflect on translation related issues such as this one on its own terms, which is a positive sign regarding professionalization;
  • That translation studies itself, notwithstanding all its diversity, could help the translation community adopt a clearer, broader view on such a subject. One that places openness and, precisely, diversity, above such essentialist, passé reactions such as “why defend someone [Marieke Lucas Rijneveld] who is not even a (real) translator?”;
  • That obviously, the reactions in the profession were much more varied than that, which hints at a yet imperfect connection between research and actual practice in our field. And calls for further investigations on the sociological side of the profession.

The gist of the argument, in even more synthetic form: as in translation proper, universality and reaching out to the other should always prevail other the particular. There was only one problem with the paper I wrote to substantiate this: all of the authors I mentioned (in French) to sustain my argument were conspicuously… French. A few simple questions, then: is it simpler, or more expedient to raise the flag of universality in this particular language, than it would have been in, say, English? Would my paper have been different if I had set out to write it in this language in the first place? Why did this “Dutch affair” create such an uproar in French-speaking countries (and, to the best of my admittedly insufficient knowledge, not elsewhere)? Why (the hell) does translation studies fare so bad in translation? It should after all be the exact opposite!

Other than a long history of provincialism from which translation and translation studies have only recently started to emerge, I do not have solid answers to those questions. I can only suggest that research should tackle them, both for the sake of research as such, but also for the good of the whole profession.

And I will leave the reader with yet two other questions (which I am also asking to myself): to what extent can the article she or he has just read in English be considered a translation of the French original published in book version? And what does it tell us about our definition of translation? Food for thoughts, indeed…

Translation and accessibility: a pairing for inclusion

Thursday, September 23rd, 2021

Written by Silvia Toribio Camuñas and Antonio Hermán Carvajal (current students, Master’s Degree in Professional Translation, University of Granada, Spain)

Accessibility implies that a product or service relating to any aspect of human life can be used by everyone, regardless of their needs. From the field of Translation and Interpreting, a theoretical and applied line of research has been developed on the analysis, description and practice of accessibility, which contains a wide variety of modalities of intersemiotic translation, both inter and intralinguistic. This line of research has a great social impact, as it aims to guarantee access to knowledge and culture, universal rights recognised by the United Nations General Assembly in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities of 2006. However, accessibility not only helps attain fundamental rights for people with disabilities. For instance, nowadays it is increasingly common for people without any kind of hearing impairment to choose the option of subtitling for the deaf and hard-of-hearing (SDH) offered by streaming platforms when in contexts or places where it is practically impossible to enjoy the sound of any audiovisual product. In the administrative and legal fields and in the museum context, to name but a few, the benefit provided by easy-to-read (E2R) texts, whose content would otherwise be inaccessible to the lay public, is unquestionable. These examples show how accessibility greatly improves the lives of the entire population, and not just minority groups.

Accessibility has been an ongoing line of study for several researchers related to the Master’s Degree in Professional Translation at the University of Granada, many of them members of the TRACCE research group (Translation and Accessibility, HUM770) or frequent collaborators, as well as some members of the LexiCon research group (Contrastive Lexicography: Applications To Translation, HUM122). In their pioneering research works, they have focused on the access to knowledge for people with sensory disabilities, studying audio-description for the blind and visually impaired, SDH and sign language interpreting. Especially the first two modalities mentioned allow users other than those of the primary target groups to enjoy audiovisual products more. For instance, and in addition to the examples already provided, SDH can be very useful for foreigners learning a new language or for children learning to read. More recently, their line of research has also addressed E2R, whose primary users include people with cognitive diversity and reading comprehension difficulties, the elderly, immigrants, children and adolescents.

The extensive experience and knowledge of accessibility of all these researchers plays an important role in the syllabi of courses within the speciality of Audiovisual Translation and Accessibility of the Master’s degree, such as Translation and Accessibility or Subtitling. However, the transversal nature of this line of research, which is linked to Corpus Linguistics, Terminology and, in general, to the field of Translation Technologies, gives it a certain prominence in other core and specific courses outside the speciality. For instance, in courses such as Practice in Scientific-Technical Translation, students are trained to translate specialized texts for groups with special needs by means of the production of E2R texts. This situation allows students to acquire basic knowledge of the different types of accessible translation and to recognise its relevance, transcendence and social impact throughout the Master’s degree. The presence of pioneering researchers in the field of accessibility is complemented by the collaboration of companies and associations working in this field, such as Kaleidoscope Access, which host students during their internships and facilitate their participation in professional accessibility projects.

An example of the latest initiatives carried out in the museological context was the audio-descriptive visit for visually impaired people to the Archaeological Museum of Granada, organised by the Spanish National Organisation for the Blind (ONCE) and the TRACCE research group, with the collaboration of Kaleidoscope Access.

In a society in which we must aspire to leave no one behind, the translation-accessibility binomial takes on special relevance to achieve this goal. Students of the Master’s Degree in Professional Translation are trained for this purpose, both because of the niche market it represents for graduates and because of its usefulness to society.

Profiles and prospects for future language industry professionals

Friday, April 16th, 2021

By Prof. Dr. Gary Massey, Director, IUED Institute of Translation and Interpreting, and Nicole Carnal, Head of the Specialisation in Professional Translation, MA in Applied Linguistics with Specialisation in Professional Translation, ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences

A mounting number of publications and events, both academic and professional, have been addressing the position, roles and value of translators in the current and future translation ecosystem. Symptomatic of this trend is the last EMT meeting of 24-25 March 2021 focussed on “digital linguists” and a spate of recent conferences devoted wholly or partly to the conjunctions of artificial, cultural and intercultural intelligence in translation, interpreting and T&I education – such as last week’s excellent #AFFUMT event  on the present and future of translator training.

Accelerating technological developments are reshaping the way professional language mediators work, changing processes, tasking and demand structures. The advance of NMT into the routine cognitive work of language industry professionals has hugely increased demand for post-editing and technology-led skills, but it is also opening spaces for adaptive experts able to identify, deliver and advise on the added value of language service provision beyond the scope of automation. At the same time, demographic developments and socio-ethical requirements to provide inclusive access to information and services are also extending the mediatory roles and responsibilities expected of language mediators, supported by assistive technologies, in a growing variety of settings. The multiple challenges and opportunities presented by digitalisation, technologisation and globalisation are diversifying the responsibilities, roles and working contexts of language industry professionals. They now go well beyond what has been prototypically associated with the professional designation, ‘translator’.

The agile dynamics of the language industry is the subject of a recent interview that our institute conducted with one of its graduates, Florian Faes – Managing Director of the language industry news and intelligence platform Slator. The last part of that interview was devoted to the value and position of the “humans in the loop,” the linguists, localisers, translators and many other professionals who are central to the industry.

Despite the “amazing” quality of MT, he sees no evidence of industry disruption. On the contrary, growing volumes are compensating the efficiency gains of automation, but this goes hand-in-hand with higher quality expectations. Language industry professionals must be “even better” in an environment where demand is driven by the realistic prospect of attainable high-quality translation, placing a premium on the value of the humans in the loop who must meet the vastly diverse profiles and roles that the industry requires.

Language Industry Studies: Teaching and researching professional diversity

The increasingly diverse language industry jobscape is a central feature of last year’s Slator 2020 Language Industry Market Report. It presents a list of no less than 700 buyer job titles, building on a 2018 study where some 600 titles were identified. Titles are grouped by function into eight categories, spanning language and quality, translation process management, localisation and operations management right through to marketing and communications. The core “language and quality” category alone contains over 50 separate titles, including such diverse designations as consultant, (digital) content editor, localisation specialist, lawyer-linguist, various types of specialised translators and interpreters, engineering manager, quality manager, terminologist, technical writer, copywriter and communications officer. “Translation process management” embraces even more – some 110 titles.

Diversification is also key to recent publications like the Bloomsbury Companion to Language Industry Studies (Angelone et al. 2020a). Localisation, transcreation, multimodal and audiovisual translation, user-centred translation, accessible barrier-free communication, revision, pre-editing, post-editing, terminological services, linguistic intercultural mediation, public service translation, language and communication consultancy – these are just some of the areas in which the professional group still largely known as ‘translators’ works. The solidification of closely related but autonomous profiles points in the same direction of diversification and diffusion – the example of post-editing with its own dedicated international standard (ISO 18587:2017) and specific competence modelling (Nitzke et al. 2019) springs most immediately to mind.

Of course, the multiplicity of tasks and activities has for some time been recognised by educational networks and institutions, with the broadening base of the EMT Competence Framework as an apt case in point. But the question remains as to how we, the educators, should respond on the ground.

One reasonably low-threshold option is to re-frame and re-orient parts of the curriculum as Language Industry Studies, a term and concept originally proposed by Angelone et al. (2020a) in a research context, and one rarely seen in translator education up to now. It advocates “a deliberate broadening of the scope of beyond translation and interpreting studies in research endeavours pertaining to today’s multifaceted language industry” (Angelone et al. 2020b, p. 5). The implications for training and pedagogy are legion and are discussed at length by Cathy Way (2020).

As you may already have guessed, the interview with Slator’s Managing Director is taken from an online teaching unit. It forms an initial component in rolling out a longer-term strategy at our home institution to increase student knowledge and awareness of the language and communication industries where they may eventually be working. This particular unit is embedded in the core first-year BA curriculum for all students in our School of Applied Linguistics, but other components have been flexibly integrated in further courses and modules offered on our BA and MA programmes.

The aim is to sensitise students from the start of their studies to the many career options available to them at graduation, and to provide them with a thorough knowledge of key facts, structures, processes and issues in a dynamic and ever-changing language industry. In addition to input on aspects of the industry in the form of lectures and online tutorials, seminar, workshop and independent-study activities at higher levels of proficiency include researching and reporting on industry end-client verticals, market segments, core services, buyer profiles and professional roles. In the past year, of course, there has been special interest in the way the industry has been faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are also encouraged to develop industry-related research questions in their BA and MA theses.

By transversally integrating a growing suite of measures into our curricula, we are seeking to provide our students – as future language industry professionals – with much-needed tools and points of orientation to navigate the potentially bewildering array of professional demands and choices, challenges and opportunities in a rapidly evolving industry. We fully expect that, equipped with this up-to-date knowledge, they will be more able to find their way, place and identifiable added value in an ecosystem reaching far beyond the narrower prototypical concepts of translation per se.

References

Angelone, E., M. Ehrensberger-Dow M., & Massey, G. (Eds.). (2020a). The Bloomsbury companion to language industry studies. Bloomsbury Academic.

Angelone, E., Ehrensberger-Dow M., & Massey, G. (2020b). Introduction. In E. Angelone, E., M. Ehrensberger-Dow M., & G. Massey (Eds.), The Bloomsbury companion to language industry studies (pp. 1-13). Bloomsbury Academic.

Way, C. (2020). Training and pedagogical implications. In E. Angelone, E., M. Ehrensberger-Dow, & G. Massey (Eds.), The Bloomsbury companion to language industry studies (pp. 179-207). Bloomsbury Academic.

ISO 18587. (2017). Translation services — post-editing of machine translation output — requirements. Geneva: International Organization for Standardization.

Nitzke, J., Hansen-Schirra, S., & Canfora C. (2019). Risk management and post-editing competence, Journal of Specialised Translation, 31, 239-259.

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.

From Trieste to Luxembourg… during a pandemic

Monday, August 17th, 2020

By Jasmine Mazzarello, Blue Book trainee, former student in Specialised Translation and Conference Interpreting at the University of Trieste (Italy)

2020 is probably not the best year to graduate and start looking for a job. Back in December 2019, when I graduated from the University of Trieste, I was already worried about the scarcity of job prospects for young people, especially with a background in humanities. Although the pandemic certainly worsened the uncertainty across Europe, my experience has been a positive one so far and I hope it can be encouraging to those finishing off their studies in translation and struggling to find their way in these ever-changing circumstances.

I completed my university education in Trieste obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Interlinguistic Communication and then a Master in Specialised Translation and Conference Interpreting. In these years, I gained specific skills in translation across different sectors, alongside a strong knowledge of linguistics, focussing on Italian (my mother tongue) and my three working languages: English, German and French. The way translation classes were structured gave me the opportunity to work from the very beginning on texts resembling those encountered in a work setting. Moreover, the regular feedback and group work helped me improve at practical projects, after studying the theoretical aspects.

During my final year I had the chance to take part in the Double Degree Programme with Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. There, I was able to enhance different skillsets, in particular my ability to work in extremely multicultural settings. Melbourne’s diversity strongly contributes to shape the linguistic services available to the population and to ethnical minorities, who nowadays can benefit from translators and interpreters across almost all public services. The offer of universities cannot but reflect this reality with several courses in community interpreting (while in Trieste the focus is rather on conference interpreting) in healthcare as well as in the legal sector, with internships and job offers to match these training paths.

Although in its very own way, Trieste also is a crossroads of cultures, maybe even the most multicultural city in Italy. Melbourne and Trieste represented for me the ideal places to learn how to build bridges among people and communities, as I had the chance to compare two different systems and get the best out of each one.

After making my way back to Trieste to graduate, I aspired to keep improving my skills in translation in a European context. So, I applied for the Blue Book traineeship of the European Commission which, once selected, gave me the opportunity to work at the Luxembourg-based Italian Unit of the Directorate-General for Translation.

The Blue Book traineeship, which I completed in July, was a highly formative experience which enriched my education and allowed me to put to the test the skills I had gained in Trieste. I learnt how to approach different text types, research efficiently, and solve translation problems justifying my choices. It also reinforced my language and digital skills, necessary to be a translator in the 21st century. During the past months I have grown significantly as a professional, being given the responsibility to handle translation projects, learning constantly through the feedback of colleagues and developing a detail-oriented approach, as well as peeking behind the curtain of the Directorate-General for Translation of the European Commission. Even though it was only for 5 months, taking part in the biggest translation service on earth fuelled my desire to keep breaking down language barriers and to contribute to the European project – which, thanks to translators and language service providers, speaks all of the 24 official UE languages.

But let’s not forget the pandemic going on…

The outbreak of COVID-19 inevitably affected my traineeship at the Commission. Due to the pandemic, I could only work at the office for the first two weeks; after that, teleworking became the norm. After getting to know a few colleagues and receiving key instructions for my tasks, I worked from my rented bedroom in Luxembourg for four months and a half, in what turned to be an unprecedented, stressful, challenging but uplifting experience! Moving to a new country and working from home with a pandemic going on: certainly not how I thought my EU traineeship would unfold.

As absurd as it may seem, there was also a positive consequence to my traineeship. As a matter of fact, I had the opportunity to witness from the inside the Commission’s response and, above all, how the Directorate-General for Translation and my Unit adjusted to the crisis. The texts that were being translated gradually shifted in topic dealing more and more with the pandemic, COVID-19, the economic, social, and employment-related consequences, as well as the immediate needs for digitalization. In order to write about all this, new words were being used (for example, the name of the illness itself); the challenge was translating and using those in a consistent way in the Commission as well as in the other EU institutions. Observing this process has been extremely interesting and allowed me to better understand the workflow within the DG, also focusing on more general issues related to the UE, like the green and digital transitions.

To give any sort of professional advice is now extremely complex for obvious reasons. However, I am confident my generation will succeed in rising to the challenges of the healthcare crisis, also thanks to the EU, and do all it can to keep on obtaining quality education and new professional experience across Europe. During a global crisis like this one, it is crucial to highlight the role of the Union and of the cooperation among professionals responsible for making information available on a large scale in the respective target language. Likewise, quality education to provide language services is also crucial, just like the one offered at the prestigious University of Trieste and all EMT universities. They allow us to stay united and face even the most complex and unprecedented challenges, like the one we are living right now.

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