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Training Specialised Translators in a Global World: Internationalisation as an Asset for Relevant and High-Quality Training

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Daniel Linder (Programme Director, 2017-2021), M. Rosario Martín Ruano (Programme Director, 2010-2016 and from October 2021), María Cantarero Muñoz and Margarita Savchenkova (former students), Master’s Programme in Translation and Intercultural Mediation, University of Salamanca, Spain

How to adequately train specialised translators has been a fundamental and recurring question for decades now. Undoubtedly, this question proved to be vital in the period when specialised translator training programmes began to be systematically established at tertiary education institutions across the globe. The diversity of forms and designs of and approaches to the training of specialised translators in different geographical contexts shows that this is a question to which there is no easy or single answer, partly because the reality and demands of translation are highly varied in different linguistic, cultural, political and institutional coordinates. This question was and is also at the basis of extremely useful initiatives undertaken by professional associations, the academia and institutions which, beyond the particularities of specific contexts, have sought to identify the core competences required by professional translators to be efficient and competitive in today’s markets, including the renowned EMT Framework for Translator and Translation Competence, first published in 2009 and finetuned in 2017 in the light of profound changes which have impacted current market needs and the profession. In any event, however useful and accurate existing answers are, precisely by virtue of the changing and multifaceted nature of translation, the question about the ingredients that ensure that the training of specialised translators lingers and is one that we must continue to ask ourselves. This will allow us to continue to add insights into how to guarantee that trainee translators and experts in multilingual and cross-cultural communication are properly equipped to adequately respond to the challenges not only of our present but also of the future. In fact, our mission is to contribute to the best practices in the education of the professionals who will be in charge of translation and language service provision in scenarios that are in constant and fast-paced transformation, in which the very concept, understanding, challenges and possibilities of translation and of communication in general are changing day by day, minute by minute. The challenge is to get them ready to face a professional reality that is still, and by definition, yet to be discovered.

1. Domain specialisation as a core focus for training

In 2012-2013, the University of Salamanca had the opportunity and the privilege to coordinate the WP5.2 working group of the European OPTIMALE Project, a team of scholars from some 20 universities dedicated to exploring the challenges of (domain) specialisation in translator training programmes. In November 2016, a Translating Europe Workshop devoted to the same topic, entitled “Specialisation in Translator Training and Continuing Professional Development: Challenges and Choices”, was held at the Faculty of Translation and Information Science in Salamanca[i]. Although little more than five years later our daily teaching and professional practice has undergone major changes, especially as a result of the progress and democratisation of machine translation, the conclusions of both that working group and of the 2016 meeting are still valid and very enlightening to continue searching for answers to the question that we must continue posing ourselves.

The OPTIMALE Synthesis Report of the WP5.2. on Domain Specialisation[ii] (Martín Ruano, Linder, Toda & Sánchez Iglesias 2013),  stressed that, in contrast to the idea of (domain) specialisation as a goal to be fully achieved upon completion of university studies, both the concept of “specialisation” and the ways to achieve it needed to be addressed in a critical, innovative manner that would enable students both to achieve it to a certain degree and to internalise it as a long-term –in fact lifelong– goal –as a permanent and unwaivable aspiration that must also be developed as a core competence and that must be continuously nurtured throughout professional life. Indeed, the report noted that, in our day and age, in which the traditional view of knowledge as a stock of ideas that can feasibly be transmitted and acquired has given way to approaches in which knowledge is considered to be inseparable from social practices and in which any professional and disciplinary field is, by definition, interdisciplinary, any attempt to achieve specialisation must also integrate this dynamic and socially situated conception of knowledge, as well as the awareness of interdisciplinarity as a key feature of today’s disciplinary and professional realities. The analysis of the specialisation offer in the different programmes of the EMT network (i.e., the specific domain-based translation specialism and translation modalities and/or activities closely related to translation covered in the curricula) and of the methodologies and resources used in different programmes to advance students’ specialisation revealed a picture characterised by an extremely varied diversity of focuses, as well as of teaching and learning methods.

Comparison of Master’s programmes in the network in terms of (domain) specialisation showed options ranging from curricula that aim at hyper-specialisation in translation and translation-related practices in very particular professional or institutional domains and contexts to syllabi that give students the possibility of being introduced to a wide range of topics, subject areas, and professional roles and skills. Similarly, it was observed that the recipe by which each particular programme achieves the goal of reaching an adequate level of specialisation of its students was different in each case. Far from being considered an obstacle, this fact showed that each university, inscribed in a different academic, linguistic, cultural and political reality, tried to find the best possible formula depending on and in consonance with the available resources and possibilities, the surrounding circumstances and existing constraints. In any case, as common denominators among the heterogeneity of very singular training offers, certain shared ideas were perceived: 

  • the certainty that “the current panorama demands that all professionals [experts who translate and specialised translators working in highly specialised fields] be flexible and adaptable, intellectually curious, willing and prepared to pursue specialist knowledge independently and consistently, capable of continually rebranding themselves, able to act as information brokers and transcultural mediators in fields that are constantly evolving, undergoing sweeping transformations, and establishing unexpected and surprising interdisciplinary connections”.
  • the importance of convincing students of the need for pursuing further education and specialisation on their own throughout their lives and of providing them with sufficient tools for this goal: “versatility, adaptability and the capacity for self-teaching and learning must also be sought after as learning outcomes on all translator training programmes regardless of how highly specialised they may be”.
  • the realisation that the students’ attainment of an appropriate level of specialisation to meet the challenges of the market was and is not strictly dependent on the presence of one particular subject or module, since the pathways to specialisation and the learning tracks that can be proposed and followed are many and varied, and depend on many individual and contextual factors. In fact, it was concluded that “specialisation should be seen as the result not necessarily of specific individual didactic units but of entire programmes which offer students the chance for advancement in domain specialisation through socialisation constructs that are at the same time coherent and multidimensional. In order for this to take place, Master’s programmes must factor in the full array of possible training formats and teaching/learning methodologies and choose those that best allow students to systematically adopt working habits commonly used in the domains they are learning about and attain the high degree of specialisation sought by the programme. Master’s programmes must also teach autonomous learning strategies, a clearly essential skill in a professional world where specialisation is a never-ending process of lifelong learning”.

The report also listed some components that are often present in formulae that have proven to be successful for the purpose of properly training sufficiently specialised translators: familiarisation of students with a number of thematic areas and with the characteristics of the specialised discourses of certain specialised fields; emphasis on transversal competences for the adequate management of contents, including information mining strategies and for terminology management; gradual acquisition of translation methodology through learning activities and opportunities in line with the real requirements and conditions of the market and, ideally, in collaboration with market actors; the use of student-centred methodologies enabling the integral acquisition of the various interrelated competences and skills required of professional translators; an adequate integration of theory as a basis for the development of analytical skills and of a critical stance that is expected of and appreciated in professional translators; the integration of technology in translator training, and the fostering of interdisciplinary and collaborative efforts, for instance with staff from other departments, with relevant industry actors and other stakeholders, and with professional associations.

Undoubtedly, the combination of these elements in the most appropriate proportion, dosage and layering for the characteristics and needs of the different training contexts increases the possibilities of guaranteeing quality training that makes students market-ready, market-aware while also enabling them to develop the critical thinking expected of university graduates. However, many other ingredients can contribute to making training both more tasty and more nourishing. As we can also attest at the University of Salamanca, a high degree of internationalisation is a factor further enriching the training programme, the students’ experience and their employability. In this sense, it should not be forgotten that training specialised translators today means showing students a whole range of job opportunities in a wide spectrum of interdisciplinary professional scenarios in today’s global markets where translation is in demand, and even to prepare them in anticipation of future career opportunities and market needs.

From our experience, we can highlight that the presence of a high percentage of international students in the classroom generates an enriching multicultural environment that also makes it possible and even urges both students and teachers to think about the possibilities of translation beyond the often narrow confines and frames of what, in our global era and in our digitally interconnected societies, is often too restrictively assumed to be the “receiving culture”. For instance, in our case, the opinions of Latin American students on the Master’s degree help all the students to become more aware of diversity and cultural difference even within the borders of a shared language, and to seek more elaborate, complex and accurate answers to the question of what translating a text into a polycentric language such as Spanish means and involves today. In addition, the participation of students taking translation modules in language pairs without their mother tongue and different to those they will be working with in their future career as translators is not only another element that enriches class debates on what may constitute an appropriate and acceptable translation in a given context and for a given purpose, but in itself it also underscores the importance of keeping tabs on methodological, transversal and transferable skills and competences in training. The variety of geographical origins, life and professional experiences of the regular teaching staff and extraordinary collaborators also ensures that the process of socialisation that is training in specialised translation is varied, rich and diversified. Cooperation with scholars, practitioners, institutions and organisations from many parts of the world also guarantees regular exposure to a colorful palette of views of the profession and access to a wealth of information on different working methods and varied career opportunities. The training stage always results in a concrete network of contacts and, beyond that, it also opens one’s eyes to how, where and at what level to make contacts and do networking. Translation training with a high level of internationalisation offers a broader horizon to future translators; in the long run, showing students the practices and possibilities existing in the global translation and interpreting environments ends up paying off for the programme in a circular way, as the programme’s alumni network, which has proven to be one privileged way for training institutions to be keep up with market developments, also ends up being more international and diverse. In our experience, internationalisation proves to be a particularly valuable additional asset to ensure the quality and relevance of training.

2. Internationalisation as an essential complement for specialisation development

In addition to belonging to the EMT network since its inception in 2009, the Master’s Degree in Translation and Intercultural Mediation (MUTMI) offered at the University of Salamanca, Spain, belongs to two networks that interconnect us with European university partners (METS and MATEM) and to two other networks that strongly link us with premier international organisations (MoU and UCG). Each of these initialisms to which we have become accustomed to using point various ways to specialised training and professionalisation in specialised institutional and legal translation.

We are members of the consortium of universities offering the Mobilité Européenne en Traduction Spécialisée (METS) since 2014. By offering the METS pathway, we receive students from other universities in the network, which increases the internationalisation of our MA students, and we can send up to five USAL Translation and Interpreting graduates to French, Belgian, Dutch, German and Italian universities in the network, which increases the internationalisation of our former BA graduates. In 2021-22, there are two people from USAL who have chosen the outgoing METS pathway in France, Belgium, the UK and Italy and five people from French and Belgian universities who have opted for the METS pathway that has brought them to Salamanca.

Since 2018, we offer a double degree programme with the University of Heidelberg (Germany) called MATEM (Master in Specialised Translation and Intercultural Mediation). It is a two-year programme in which a maximum of 10 students do their first year in Salamanca and the second year in Heidelberg. After completing the 120 credits of the programme, students obtain two degrees: a Master’s degree in Translation and Intercultural Mediation from the USAL and a Master’s degree in Translation Sciences (M. A. Übersetzungswissenschaft) from the University of Heidelberg. In 2019-20, the first class of seven students graduated and those starting their studies this year 2021-22 will be part of the fourth class.

Over the years, students from very diverse backgrounds have been drawn to our programmes, including students from Latin America and North America as well as students from other countries in the European Higher Education Area, China and French-speaking North African countries. In December 2018, a satisfaction survey collected 57 responses from the 207 graduates up to then, and one of the items asked them to rate the collaboration between the Master´s in Translation and Intercultural Mediation and international institutions and networks. On a scale of 1 to 5, 29 respondents chose either 3 or higher (77.2%).

Moreover, since 2009 USAL has had a training agreement with the UN (called the Memorandum of Understanding, MoU). The MoU network of universities meets every two years at a UN headquarters or at a member university of the network. The Focal Point for this agreement, Daniel Linder, participated in the 5th Conference (UNHQ, New York) in the panel on “Précis writing” and in the 6th Conference (Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California) in the panel on “Implementing the MoUs: University perspectives”. At the 7th conference (ESCWA, Beirut), the Focal Point and another USAL lecturer, Icíar Alonso, participated in the breakout sessions on translation and interpretation. The UN holds information sessions and training workshops in our on-site and virtual classrooms, and it organizes annually the St. Jerome Translation Contest, won by a USAL student, Julia Pozuelo Menéndez, in 2019. The University of Salamanca is the only university in Spain that has signed a MoU agreement with the UN, which is a competitive advantage that is worth promoting much more. The MoU agreement with the United Nations is a clear example of the internationalisation of our master’s degree, but there is one more.

Since 2009, the University of Salamanca has also been a member of the Universities Contact Group (UCG), a group made up of universities that offer training in translation and of representatives from international organisations that use translation which are members of IAMLADP (International Annual Meeting on Language Arrangements, Documentation and Publications), a network of institutions employing conference and language service providers. This group meets once a year at the European Parliament and aims to promote the exchange of information, multilateral cooperation and good relations between universities and international institutions. In 2019, a special meeting of the UCG was convened at the Shanghai International Studies University on 24-26 September 2019, with the participation of USAL Focal Point, Daniel Linder. With the support of the UCG, the 8th Seminar on Legal and Institutional Translation for International Organisations was organised from 17-21 February 2020, focusing on two thematic axes: on the one hand, technologisation and globalisation, and, on the other, accessibility and respect for diversity. (https://diarium.usal.es/stjuridica/). The 9th Seminar is expected to be held in Salamanca in February or March 2023. In the seminars, students can participate as assistants or as volunteers who carry out tasks related to information, reception of speakers and interpretation between the official languages. For future translators and language mediators, this non-formal element of the curriculum is undoubtedly very formative and enlightening, both personally and professionally.

These network and partnership relationships allow master’s degrees access to funding and organisational support for events such as the Translating Europe Workshop mentioned in section 1. The leadership in Salamanca harnesses these opportunities to host events that bring together members of international organisations, professional associations and translation/interpreting scholars in order to seek mutually beneficial ways forward through topic-centered roundtables and open debates with all attendees. In November 2019, we held a second TEW on the subject of “Professional Freelance Translation and Interpreting. Enhancing Employability, Providing Outsourced Services and Assuring Quality”.

3. Two first-hand accounts from graduates who have become researchers and professional translators: The value of specialisation and internationalisation

The testimonies of two students who recently completed the Master’s Degree in Translation and Intercultural Mediation at the University of Salamanca USAL highlight the impact of internationalisation at various levels in the core MUTMI programme.

María Cantarero Muñoz, a student in 2016-2017, offers the following perspective:

From the point of view of a Master’s student who has interacted and collaborated with classmates from very different parts of the world, the internationalisation of the Master’s degree is fundamental. The diverse environment that is built in the classroom helps us as students to have a different perception of each translation task or project we face. At the same time, a network of collaboration between students is woven and extended beyond the course itself.

In addition, during the year (or years, in the case of the MATEM programme) of the Master’s degree, for some students there is already the possibility of putting into practice what has been learned in the programme and of furthering the acquisition of competences in international environments such as the European Union, as was my case. Having applied and been selected for a four-week unpaid internship with the Directorate General for Translation of the European Commission, I relished the opportunity to continue learning the profession in a specific context. This type of work experience broadens our vision of the translation activity and helps us to meet other translation professionals.

All of this is evident in terms of the professionalisation and professional activity of students after the Master’s. Many of my Spanish classmates work in different parts of Europe now, or are in international work environments.

Undoubtedly, in my opinion, the reception of students first and the subsequent departure of students to international work environments is invaluable for future translation professionals, and it is something that is reflected in the employability rates and the multiple professional directions that former students take.

María completed her PhD, which focused on new digital texts, especially in the field of advertising, from a TS perspective, in 2021. In 2021-22 she has collaborated with the MA programme by teaching part of the subject “Translation for the Publishing Industry and the Media”.

Margarita Savchenkova was enrolled in the MA Programme in Translation and Intercultural Mediation in 2019-2020:

Although I worked as a freelance translator and interpreter before joining the Master’s degree, I would like to highlight that this programme has been a turning point in my career and has opened up new horizons for me, allowing me to grow professionally. At the beginning of the programme, I had doubts about my performance, as the language    combination I had to work with was English-Spanish, and my mother tongue is Russian. However, thanks to the training I received, today I feel more confident when it comes to translating into Spanish, as well as translating from English. And I believe that self-confidence, along with curiosity, is one of the main qualities of a translator.

The Master’s programme is designed in such a way that international students (in my case, there were students from Germany, Belgium, Italy, Morocco, India and many other countries) feel fully included at all times and are always supported by the lecturers and faculty members. Being immersed in a multicultural environment helps all of us not only to practice the art of translation and study it from different perspectives, but also to get to know other cultures, which is the key in our profession.

In my opinion, one of the strengths of the Master’s programme lies in helping students to build their professional profile. Both lecturers and guest experts share with students their ideas and tips on how to access the profession more easily and make headway in the labour market and become sought-after and valued international specialists. That motivation is extremely important for those who are just starting out in the profession and have uncertainties about the future of translation (especially, in view of the growing popularity of machine translation). I want to emphasise that the mention of the Master’s degree on my CV attracts the attention of new clients and helps me to distinguish myself from other translators.

Furthermore, in the Master’s degree, novice translators can find their professional vocation and specialise in various translation fields: editorial and media translation, scientific and technical translation, legal and economic translation, or localisation. They can work in all these modules and decide which one(s) interests them the most. It is extremely important since sometimes translation students believe they want to specialise in a particular area because they have never tried working with other types of texts. In my case, many years ago, I had a legal translation assignment (Russian>Spanish) and it took me a lot of effort to get it done: from then on, I always refused this kind of job. However, after attending classes on legal translation, I completely changed my opinion about this field and since then I have started to accept these assignments. The University of Salamanca Master’s degree allows students to approach different fields of translation and to discover their true passion.

Margarita Savchenkova, currently a research assistant at the Department of Translation and Interpreting under a Predoctoral Grant financed by the Regional Government of Castile and Leon, is working on a PhD on Translation and History.

The report by the working group on domain specialisation of the European Commission OPTIMALE Project, backed by a tremendous amount of research, discussion and debate, as well as the results of the follow-up Translating Europe Workshop on Specialisation in Translator Training and Continuing Professional Development have shown us a varied range of best practices that are effective and may be used  in a solid postgraduate translation programme in specialised translation, and international opportunities are indeed one of them. In Salamanca, students can specialise in such domains as legal, economic, scientific and technical translation as well as the translation for the publishing industry and the media, and they can pursue these  specialisations in Salamanca as well as in METS university affiliates and in a double master´s degree in Heidelberg, Germany. The European Commission-sponsored EMT network and the Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations provide opportunities for professional practice on an international scale, as well as useful information, resources and cooperation for enhancing the employability of our students. When the ingredients that make up a specialised translator training programme are seasoned with structured opportunities for applying translation competences in international contexts, the students’ learning experience becomes broader and richer, and the resulting graduate profiles amply meet the demands of professional and institutional markets.

References

Martín Ruano, M. R., Linder, D., Toda Iglesia, F. & Sánchez Iglesias, J.J. (2013). “Aproximaciones a la especialización en la formación de posgrado en traducción”. In B. Santana López & C. Travieso Rodríguez (eds.). PUNTOS de encuentro: los primeros 20 años de la Facultad de Traducción y Documentación de la Universidad de Salamanca. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca. https://gredos.usal.es/bitstream/handle/10366/131600/978-84-9012-400-0-0099-0117.pdf;jsessionid=4CB2F4AE931BBF4A636E1AB5F2A97A13?sequence=2


[i] The complete programme for the Translating Europe Workshop held on November 11, 2016 at the University of Salamanca is available here: https://diarium.usal.es/mastertrad/files/2016/11/SPECIALISATION-IN-TRANSLATOR-TRAINING_Programme1.pdf. The title of the workshop was “Especialización en formación (continua) de traductores: Retos y alternativas / Specialisation in Translator Training and Continuing Professional Development: Challenges and Choices”.

[ii] The report was produced in Spanish and English. The English version was available for a while at http://www.translator-training.eu. The Spanish version of the Report, preceded by an introduction on the contextualisation of the report in the general framework of the OPTIMALE project, was published as an article (Martín Ruano, Linder, Toda Iglesia and Sánchez Iglesias, 2013).

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