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Teaching Translation: Problems and Solutions

Posted by longquoc on May 25, 2012 - 12:35 AM  (7013 Reads)

The present article deals firstly with some theoretical reflections about the translational process and the various approaches to verge on texts to be translated. Then, a sequential work procedure carried out with undergraduate translation students is described. This methodology, consisting of a step-by-step, either sequential or successive procedure for workshops, which has proven quite successful in translator training at an undergraduate level.

The educator is understood as a facilitator of the translation task: The lion's share of the transfer process is accomplished by the students both collectively and individually. The methodology proposed and the corresponding evaluation process are discussed, and the human profiles and the work facilities are defined.
All the aspects presented and analyzed here respond to empirical

very translation activity has one or more specific purposes and whichever they may be, the main aim of translation is to serve as a cross-cultural bilingual communication vehicle among peoples. In the past few decades, this activity has developed because of rising international trade, increased migration, globalization, the recognition of linguistic minorities, and the expansion of the mass media and technology. For this reason, the translator plays an important role as a bilingual or multi-lingual cross-cultural transmitter of culture and truths by attempting to interpret concepts and speech in a variety of texts as faithfully and accurately as possible.

Most translation theorists agree that translation is understood as a transfer process from a foreign language—or a second language—to the mother tongue. However, market requirements are increasingly demanding that translators transfer texts to a target language that is not their mother tongue, but a foreign language. This is what Newmark calls "service translation." "I shall assume that you, the reader, are learning to translate into your language of habitual use, since that is the only way you can translate naturally, accurately and with maximum effectiveness. In fact, however, most translators do translate out of their own language..." Newmark (1995b).

This fact makes the translating process a harder task, sometimes resulting in a mediocre output that should undoubtedly be revised and post-edited before delivery to the client.

Through experience I have learned that the consequences of wrong translations can be catastrophic—especially if done by laypersons—and mistakes made in the performance of this activity can obviously be irreparable. Just think of what could happen in cases of serious inadequacy in knowledge areas such as science, medicine, legal matters, or technology. There must be thousands of examples, but I find this anecdote worth mentioning here: Lily, a Chilean exile who had been granted refugee status in a non-Spanish-speaking country, was going to undergo surgery for the simple removal of a skin blemish from her face. However, because of a misunderstanding by the translator on duty in the hospital at the moment she was going to be anesthetized, she was about to undergo breast surgery! ##

It is quite clear that a poor translation can not only lead to hilarity or to minor confusion, but it can also be a matter of life and death. Hence the importance of training translators, not only in the acquisition and command of languages and translation strategies and procedures, but also in specific knowledge areas and, what is equally important, in professional ethics. #

If translating is a discourse operation interposing between language and thought (Delisle, 1980), we should accept that in the art or skill of translating we are inexorably going to come across assorted and numerous obstacles. Delisle (1981) illustrates what a subtle form of torture translation is:




Translation is an arduous job that mortifies you, puts you in a state of despair at times, but also an enriching and indispensable work, that demands honesty and modesty. There are many thorns that can mortify us during the translation process, whatever the nature of the text we face, and translators should be aware of them. The first problem is related to reading and comprehension ability in the source language. Once the translator has coped with this obstacle, the most frequent translation difficulties are of a semantic and cultural nature (Tricás, 1995): "Linguistic untranslatability" (cognates, i.e. true and false friends, calque, and other forms of interference; institutional and standardized terms, neologisms, aphorisms, etc.), and "cultural untranslatability," (idioms, sayings, proverbs, jokes, puns, etc.). One should adopt a very cautious attitude toward these words or expressions so as to avoid interference and/or language misuse (Kussmaul, 1995).

Similarly, we quite often run into those painful "not found" terms, for which not even the best dictionary, an expert in the topic or a native speaker of the source language can provide us with a solution to convey an accurate meaning. We should always bear in mind that one of the greatest virtues of a good translator is what I have called "contextualized intuition," i.e. the ability to find the nearest common sense interpretation of the "not found" element within its context.

Whatever the difficulty in the translation process, procedures must aim at the essence of the message and faithfulness to the meaning of the source language text being transferred to the target language text. In the words of Nida and Taber (1974):
Translating consists of reproducing, in the target language, the nearest equivalent to the message in the source language, in the first place in the semantic aspect and, in the second place, in the stylistic aspect.## To a great extent, the quality of translation will depend on the quality of the translator, i.e. on her/his knowledge, skills, training, cultural background, expertise, and even mood! Newmark (1995b) distinguishes some essential characteristics that any good translator should have:





  • Reading comprehension ability in a foreign language

  • Knowledge of the subject

  • Sensitivity to language (both mother tongue and foreign language)

  • Competence to write the target language dexterously, clearly, economically and resourcefully

In addition, Mercedes Tricás refers to intuition, or common sense as the most common of all senses; in other words, making use of that sixth sense, a combination of intelligence, sensitivity and intuition. This phenomenon works very well if handled cautiously:

...the transfer process is a difficult and complex approach mechanism, one in which one must make use of all one's intellectual capacity, intuition and skill (Tricás, 1995). Apart from the previously mentioned aspects, it is relevant to emphasize the necessity for sound linguistic knowledge of both the SL and the TL, an essential condition, yet not the only one, to begin swimming up the streams of professional translation. However, neither knowing languages nor being efficiently bilingual is enough to become a translator.

For more than twenty years, translation theorists have been pointing this out, and yet many people believe and claim that knowing two or more languages is identical to knowing how to translate properly. We must banish this idea. Delisle (1980) states it clearly:
Linguistic competence is a necessary condition, but not yet sufficient for the professional practice of translation. In addition to reading comprehension ability, the knowledge of specialized subjects derived from specialized training and a wide cultural background, and the global vision of cross-cultural and interlingual communication, it is a must to learn how to handle the strategic and tactical tools for a good translating performance.

Hence the importance of a didactic translation approach: A methodology that allows the development of an effective and efficient transfer process from one language to another. As is widely known by those committed to the field, translation as a formal professional activity with a theoretical background is relatively new. Thus, a number of terms have recently been coined for the subject called Translation Theory ("Translatology" in Canada, "Traductología" in Spain, "Translation Studies" in Belgium and the Netherlands).

This discipline being so new, little has been done in terms of academic training in higher education in Chile to devise didactic methods and procedures to teach or learn how to translate. I quite agree with William Weaver, the translator of The name of the Rose, who claims that "Translation is something you learn only by doing." Nonetheless, we teachers may facilitate our own task and that of our students if we take advantage of the appropriate tools and strategies.

Cognition sciences have provided us with simple but very useful ideas about meaningful learning, i.e. a positive approach to learning that comes from the relationship between previous knowledge and new knowledge.

This cognitive approach perfectly applies to the transfer process of ideas from one language to another, which obviously implies a lot more than the simple reproduction model. In the preparatory phase of a translation, cognition, in the form of self-consciousness and self-confidence, plays a very important role, inasmuch as this period implies conscious mental activities, where translating problems are detected and analyzed, and information and knowledge are accumulated (Kussmaul, 1995).

From the psychological and social point of view, the translator, whose profile should be that of an intellectual worker with professional training characteristics such as the above-mentioned, will be more successful if her/his social-affective development is given more emphasis, for s/he may be better prepared for cooperative work, and s/he may reach a higher tolerance level, showing respect, self-criticism and sensitivity.

The Global Approach

With regard to the principal approaches to a translation text, the most renowned translation theorists (Delisle, Newmark, Nida, Nord, Kussmaul) are in agreement on the following aspects:

Firstly, there is comprehension and interpretation of texts which implies the management of the approach principles to various types of texts, considering the textual, referential, cohesion and naturalness levels. This competence includes reading comprehension and message interpretation (encoding and decoding). ##

Secondly, re-wording is also important. It means the application of the various strategies for the restitution process of the message (re-coding) by choosing the appropriate method(s), techniques and procedures. Among the most frequently used procedures for the restoration of ideas contained in a translation unit, a translator may resort to transfer, cultural or functional equivalent, synonymy, transposition, modulation, compensation, reduction and expansion or amplification (See Newmark, P., 1995: A Textbook of Translation). These skills constitute the essence of translating competence and should most strongly emphasized in the training prospective translators. For this purpose, it is also indispensable to make effective use of different types of documentation: Parallel texts, monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, encyclopedias, term data base, informants, other sources. #

And thirdly, translation theorists give great importance to the assessment of the result, i.e. evidencing the capacity to confront the translated text with the original text, being able to assess earnings and losses and showing self-correction capacity. It is the accurate revision of the output that will definitely result in a final translation of higher quality. <!--pagebreak-->



The Specific Approaches

According to most translation theorists, the specific approaches to text translation tend to be similar. On the one hand, it is necessary to use one or more translating approaches or models. On the other, there is always a way of approaching an SL text, whether the translator chooses the author-centered traditional model, the text-centered structuralistic model or the cognitive reader-centered model. Depending on their training, translators will adopt one model or another, but many will tend to tend to an eclectic integration of the three approaches.

Translators should be aware of the fact that incorrect comprehension of a text considerably decreases the quality of the translation. We must, therefore, use reading comprehension strategies for translation (underlining words, detecting translation difficulties, contextualizing lexical items—never isolating them -, adapting, analyzing, and so on.)

Finding solutions to dilemmas is a constant in the work of the translator. This includes translating problems such as linguistic or cultural "untranslatability," being able to manage losses and gains, solutions to lexical ambiguity, etc., through various mechanisms such as compensation, loans, explanatory notes, adaptation, equivalence, paraphrasing, analogies, etc.

Translators should also be aware that meaning is not only conveyed by words. Hence adequate decoding and re-coding of nomenclatures, figures, tables and charts; standardized terms, acronyms, metonyms, toponyms, etc. is a matter that must be properly considered.

A good translator should define some essential starting-points for the approximation to a text to be translated, such as the author of the text, the aim of the text, the readership, and the standard to be used, for which it is important to identify and categorize the author, the message, the kind of discourse, the translator and the readership.

Another important aspect is the pre-editing of the original text to detect eventual source text defects, on the one hand, and the post-editing of the translated text to verify the use of the most adequate syntactic, semantic and graphemic levels (recognition of the reviser's role), on the other hand.

Among formal matters, translators should be aware of and control the sound effect and cadence of the translated text ("translating with the ear") to avoid cacophonous combinations and calque on the source language.

Regarding the use of translation procedures and strategies, translators must constantly make choices, in each paragraph, sentence or translation unit, so as to decide which of them is the most useful for the transfer of the ideas in the text being translated. It means adapting the most suitable strategies and techniques to the requirements of the text rather than adopting a certain technique and using it for ever.

Last, but not least, translators should observe that the essence—in terms of meaning and sense, register and style, etc.— and the lay out of the original text— in terms of format, i.e. sources, paragraphs, indentation, columns, tables, etc.—is properly adhered to in the translated unit.

A Translation Methodology: A Cooperative Work Procedure

My experience in the field of translation training has given me some useful hints on how to elaborate a translation methodology with undergraduate students who want to become translators. This approach attempts to develop some workshop activities for the translation process—as a cooperative activity with the students—through a graded and sequential procedure. We must assume that students have sound linguistic knowledge, both theoretical and practical, and a wide cultural bilingual background, achieved during their first years in college.

This methodology, consisting of a step-by-step procedure workshop, (stages may sometimes be sequential and successive, sometimes, alternated) has proven quite successful in my classes in terms of students' motivation, productivity and the quality of their work. However, I do think that this methodology can be improved.

    • The teacher makes a selection of the material to be translated. Texts must be chosen according to previously defined objectives for translation practice, taking into account the degree of difficulty of the texts (semantic, cultural, stylistic, etc.), the topic or the specific knowledge area (science and technology; social, institutional, economic and/or political topics; and literary or philosophical works), the translation problems to be solved, and so on.


    • After browsing through the text (scan reading and/or skim reading), the students, assisted by their teacher, should identify the source, the norm, the type of text, the register, the style and the readership of the text selected. It is a kind of game of the imagination in which the text is real but the client and her/his needs are imaginary.


    • The students should read the whole text at least twice: The first reading will be comprehensive and general, to become acquainted with the topic and to understand the original, always bearing in mind that meaning is context-determined.


    • The second reading must be a "deep" reading, placing emphasis on items where translation problems may appear. In other words, this is what I have called "reading with translation intention," i.e. doing pre-editing and assessing the quality of the writing (Reminder: Not all texts are well written). In my opinion, when translating into the TL, if the translator detects mistakes (usually due to misprints) in the original text, s/he should be entitled to amend them in her/his version if too obvious or else consult the client or an expert in case of doubt. When doing this "reading with translation intention," students should first underline unknown terms and then they should mentally confront potential translation difficulties in the text with suitable translation procedures.


    • The teacher then divides the text into as many segments as students in the group. Depending on the degree of difficulty and the length of the text, these segments may be paragraphs, columns, pages or even whole chapters. Then, each student is assigned a fair portion of the text. The segment distribution order should rotate so that a different student begins a translation unit every time.


    • If the topic is already quite familiar to the students, they do a preliminary translation. As this is the first approach to the text, it will probably lack naturalness, since students tend to transfer SL units of translation to TL units of translation ("one-to-one translation," Newmark, 1995a). This first approach can often be made orally and suggested annotations may be written in the margins.


    • If the topic is completely unknown to the students, they should consult complementary literature. In other words, before beginning the transfer process, they should resort to various documentation sources, especially parallel texts (those which are similar in nature and style) in the language of the original. This allows them to achieve a deeper understanding of the topic under study.


    • Once the "one-to-one" version is accomplished, the students do a second version of their own translation—this time a written draft—handling the most suitable translation strategies and procedures and being faithful in the transfer of ideas.


    • With the original text in front of her/him and being careful to follow the same correlative order of the SL text, each student reads out her/his own version of the translated text, making the necessary pauses between sentences.


    • The students and the teacher follow the reading of each text attentively. As a monitoring activity, everybody should feel free to stop the reading at the end of a given sentence and have the reading of the segment repeated, when the situation warrants comments, suggestions, questions, contributions, etc. The students have to "defend" their work against criticism.


    • During this procedure, the students and the teacher need to set up all necessary conventions with regard to the homogeneity of the terms and the coherence and cohesion of the final version.


    • As Newmark states, "translation is for discussion" (Newmark, 1995b). Students should then be encouraged to take notes and discuss the (in)convenience of the contributions and comments arising from this analytical reading of each one of the different versions proposed.


    • As a metacognitive activity, the students, assisted by the teacher, analyze the translation strategies and procedures used, and discuss the reasons taken into account in the choice of each analyzed criterion: "The ability to discuss translations in an objective way is central to a translator's competence", (Kussmaul, 1995).


    • The students hand in the final version of their revised and post-edited segments, which have already been amended in the light of the whole text. The work must be typed, double-spaced and paged according to the original.


    • The teacher makes a final revision (second post-edit), gives formative evaluation and makes comments, emphasizes findings, "happy" solutions and creative acts, on the one hand, and analyzes failures and weaknesses in the process, on the other.##

In seminars of this kind, I assume that the teacher is understood as a facilitator of the translation task, since the lion's share of the transfer process is accomplished by the students, mainly collectively, but also individually. I therefore consider it valid for students to consult all possible information sources, including the traditional written forms, the "live" sources or informants, e.g. their own teacher (the "client," in this case), experts in the topic, native speakers, translation software, term data bases and the international data processing nets. For this process to be efficiently carried out, the following minimum conditions should be met: 



Profile of the Student


    • Sound linguistic training in the two languages


    • Knowledge covering a wide cultural spectrum


    • High reading comprehension competence and permanent interest in reading


    • Adequate use of translation procedures and strategies


    • Adequate management of documentation sources


    • Improvement capacity and constant interest in learning


    • Initiative, creativity, honesty and perseverance


    • Accuracy, truthfulness, patience and dedication


    • Capacity for analysis and self-criticism


    • Ability to maintain constructive interpersonal relationships


    • Capacity to develop team work


    • Efficient data processing training at user's level (an introductory course is NOT enough)


    • Acquaintance with translation software for MT and MT edition

In sum, translators must understand the original text, for which they must have wide general knowledge, handle the vocabulary of the topic in the SL as well as in the TL and, last but not least, write their own language well (Orellana, 1994).

Profile of the Educator

    • Sound knowledge of the SL and the TL, translation theory, transfer procedures, cognition and methodology


    • Comprehension of what translation is and how it occurs (Bell, 1994)


    • Permanent interest in reading various kinds of texts


    • Ability to communicate ideas clearly, empathically and openly


    • Ability to work out synthesis and interrelationship of ideas


    • Capacity to create, foster and maintain a warm work environment, "an atmosphere of sympathetic encouragement" (Kussmaul, 1995)


    • Capacity to foster search and research


    • Accuracy and truthfulness; critical, self-critical and analytical capacity


    • Clear assessment criteria

The Infrastructure

    • Terminological resources (tools to save time and to make translation more profitable): Monolingual and bilingual dictionaries, specialized dictionaries, encyclopedias, glossaries, various texts on translation theory and practice, access to international data processing nets, informants, expert and other sources.


    • International collaboration via congresses, symposia, seminars, conferences, inquiries through international nets, etc.


    • PCs, translation software, printers and printing material, term data bases.


    • Appropriate environment: The right place and enough time for reflection: Ideally, a translation laboratory.


As suggested by Kussmaul (1995), it is a good practice to classify the kinds of errors/difficulties. The most frequent types of difficulties arising from translation that I propose to assess in any translation are the following:

    • Comprehension, sense and ideas


    • Lexico-semantic level


    • Morphosyntactic level


    • Writing style and register


    • Spelling and punctuation


    • Creative solutions to translation problems


    • Transfer and re-wording (use of translation procedures)


    • Cohesion and coherence


    • Assessment of the result and post-edition


    • Format

The method of penalization of errors must be previously established, using clear criteria, and placing emphasis on the lack of coherence, especially regarding meaning and sense, whether it is due to faulty translation, missing items or the wrong application of lexical, semantic, grammatical, graphemic and/or cultural transfer. I suggest being drastic with text omissions, but I find it important to point out to the students all the positive aspects of meaning of her/his translation.


Translators—like all "professional professionals"—must undergo permanent training. Their productive capacity, however, should not always be measured or weighed in terms of pages, words or hours done, but rather taking into account the quality of the output or finished work—work that consumes lots of neurons (although it stimulates many others).

It often shocks me to hear some people in my country say that MT has come to solve their translation problems... Undoubtedly, those of us who are acquainted with translation software know the enormous output difference between a machine-translated text and a human-translated text. In order to solve translation problems, a human translator must make use of his/her cleverness, creativity, curiosity, intuition, ingenuity, reflection, resourcefulness, and much more; a machine, however, no matter how well-fed it is, is unable to discriminate or discern. Hence, the importance of translator training.


Bell, Roger T. 1994. Translation and Translating. Longman Group UK Ltd.

Delisle, Jean. 1980. L'Anayse du discours comme métode de traduction. Cahiers de traductologie, 2, Université d'Ottawa.

Delisle, Jean. 1981. L'Enseignement de l'interprétation et de la traduction. Editions de l'Université d'Ottawa.

Kussmaul, Paul. 1995. Training the Translator. John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Newmark, Peter. 1995. Manual de Traducción. Prentice Hall International (UK) Ltd. Ediciones Cátedra, S.A.

Newmark, Peter. 1995. A Textbook of Translation. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data.

Nida, E. y Taber Ch. 1974. The Theory and Practice of Translating. Brill, Leiden.

Orellana, Marina. 1994. La Traducción del Inglés al Castellano. Guía para el Traductor. Editorial Universitaria.

Tricás, Mercedes. 1995. Manual de traducción francés-castellano. Gedisa S.A.

Varela, Francisco J. 1990. Conocer. Gedisa Editorial




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Author: fatbear
Jul 24, 2010
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Teaching Translation: Problems and Solutions
I like this article, honestly. From this article, now I know much about translation and an adequate procedure to approach a good, sensible, and comprehensible translated product.

No need to mention much about the danger and extreme risk of wrong reading and then wrong understanding any kinds of texts: from educational to economic ones. Only right comprehesion and sufficient knowledge about the specific area which needed to be translated could make successful no mistakes.

I highly appreciate the methods sugggested in the article about teaching and learning to translate at institutes. Those methods, in my own opinion, are really helpful and can make both trainers and trainees feel relaxed and deeply interested in both reading and translations.

About the profile of educators and of students as well as infrastruture, I think that they also need to be truly considered by anyone before starting with this tough and laborious issue.

Thanks so much for this informative and definitely helpful article./.

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