Authentic translation projects world-wide

Our workshop dealt with authentic translation projects outside our home university, the School of Applied Linguistic and Cultural Studies of the University of Mainz in Germersheim, Germany. By authentic projects, we mean the translation of texts which will later be used in real life. Our workshop consisted in collecting data concerning these kind of projects from as many countries as possible, assessing, and summarizing the results. We wrote a questionnaire and published it on the internet. To reach the broadest audience possible, we sent the link of the address of the questionnaire to a chat group discussing innovations in translator training. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/itit)

The questionnaire was geared towards teachers who offer translation classes at their universities and who already have had experience with authentic translation projects. Our main focus was on the resonance of teachers, students, and clients. We were also interested in how students and teachers go ahead with the translation, how they work and which tools they use.
We like to thank all of you who kindly shared their experience with us!


Results of our study

Age of the interviewees

At the beginning of our workshop we had some prejudices that the majority of the teachers who offer authentic translation projects to their students would be younger than 40 years of age. We were surprised to find out that only 43% of the interviewees were part of this particular age group (20-30 years: 7%; 30-40 years: 36%). Only 14% of the interviewees were between 40 and 50 years old. We did not expect the huge group of teachers between 50 and 60 years of age (36%). There were even 7% of interviewees who were older than 60 years.


Language of instruction

Translation teachers usually work in countries in which their mother tongue is spoken. We also heard from teachers who teach in their mother tongue but not in their home country. Interestingly, some teachers also offer translation classes into a language different from their mother tongue. An English native speaker, for example, also offers classes into Portuguese.
Furthermore, in one classroom there are students from all kinds of countries with their respective mother tongues. Students are not separated because of their mother tongue. English and French students translate texts into French together and help each other understanding the original text and transferring the meaning into French.


What prerequisites have teachers who offer authentic translation projects?

Is it necessary to work as a freelancer in order to be able to offer authentic translation projects? We found out that almost 50% of the interviewees do not work as freelancers apart from their job as a teacher.
It is not important what kind of texts are used for authentic translation projects. 50% of the interviewees offer general and specialized translation courses.


Criteria by which the texts are chosen

The length of texts to be translated by students seems to be most important to the teachers. Numerous interviewees mentioned in this context that there is always a lack of time during the semester. Compared to professionals, students need more time to translate a text. Pressing deadlines thus present difficulties for students and teachers during the course of authentic translation projects.

Almost as important as the length of the text is the topic of the document to be translated by students. When students are familiar with a certain subject, their motivation increases. The translation is easier because students do not need to search for much background information on the topic.

The style of the text is also important because it influences the level of difficulty of a translation. The remuneration students receive for their work is not a factor when choosing the text for an authentic translation project. Most projects are translated voluntarily or for a good cause. If students receive money for their work, they are paid below the usual standard rate. In these cases, the money is either donated to charity, divided up among the students or used to buy new equipment for the department.

Where do the texts come from?

In some cases, teachers do not even have to take the initiative of looking for suitable texts. The clients ask the teachers if their students are interested in translating a text for them. In only a quarter of the cases, the teacher has to go about searching for texts. Sometimes students receive texts from their freelancing teachers, which they translate with the permission of the client. For some teachers, the search for a suitable text is part of the authentic translation project and they let their students find their own texts to translate.
If teachers are not able to find a suitable text for a project, they try other ways to preserve an authentic atmosphere. In these cases the teacher takes over the role of the client and sets deadlines which the students have to take into consideration. Sometimes students even have to pay the person who is proofreading their translations.


Working methods

Apparently, the number of students in one class does not play a role for the teachers willing to offer authentic translation projects. The spectrum ranges from classes with less than 10 students to classes with more than 25 students.

How do the students work?

We were surprised to find out that the students spend more time working on their projects at home than in class. We suppose that the reason for this shift lies in the lack of time during the semester.

What kind of sources do students use for their translation?

In every translation classroom the internet seems to play the most important role, followed by dicitionaries. Reference texts are frequently used as well. In some cases, students also contact professional translators or the client. Computer-based translation programs are of minor importance.


Reactions

How do students like authentic translation projects?

According to their teachers, all students without exception seem to be enthusiastic about authentic translation projects. Their motivation increases and they are willing to invest more time than in translations of newspaper articles which nobody ever reads. If possible, they take similar classes in the following semesters.

What do the colleagues of the interviewed teachers think of this teaching method?

Just one of the interviewees pointed out that he was being criticized for offering authentic translation projects. In most cases, the colleagues endorse the projects but do not change their own teaching method accordingly.

What is the reaction of the clients?

Exactly half of the interviewees stated that the clients usually like the idea of students translating their texts but on condition that the teacher proofreads the translation before it is handed in. 33% of the clients were skeptic in the beginning but convinced later on. The remaining 17% of the clients did not care who translated their texts as long as they received the translation on time.

How do the teachers themselves judge their experience with authentic translation projects?

The majority of teachers did not give up after carrying out their first authentic translation project but sticked to this innovative teaching method. Nevertheless, this kind of teaching does not seem to have been around for a long time since most of the interviewees have "only" offered between 2 and 5 authentic projects to their students.

Do authentic translation projects involve more work for the teacher?

Many teachers reported that authentic translation projects indeed involve more work on their part. This has mainly to do with the fact that clients usually do not allow much time for a translation. Teachers have to plan the different steps of the project, have to coordinate the steps effectively and have to ensure a final product consistent in style. Since clients often insist that teachers proofread the work of the students, the teacher spends more time for authentic projects compared to standard translation teaching methods.

Despite occasional problems teachers agree that "advantages far outreach any disadvantages." All interviewees put emphasis on the increase in motivation which authentic translation projects inspire. Students are enthusiastic and proud that their work is published and accessible to an audience. Authentic translation projects prepare them for their life as professional translators. They learn how to negotiate with clients, how to work with databases, how to do research, how to cooperate with other translators or experts, and how to deal with time pressure. We therefore come to the conclusion that authentic translation projects are the best way to prepare students for their life as professionals.


Conclusion: Authentic translation projects are an indispensable part of translator education!


If you like to have more detailed information, please contact us at:
authentic_translation_projects@hotmail.com

Click here for information on Multilingual Translation Projects, which another group collected a few years ago.