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Monday, 24 November 2014

Training and educating translators differently....innovating in course design and classroom interventions

Training and educating translators differently..... innovating in course design, development and classroom (f2f or online) interventions:

Today highlights will be about a two important experiences i have been through in my teaching in two different types of settings and teaching/training modes. The first is about an online synchronous course, the second is  about a course for translation undergraduates in Oman.

- Using Case Studies ( Experience # 1):

  In 2012, I decided to take a challenging step when I decided to teach and facilitate an on-line (synchronous) course in one aspect of 21st century professional translation practice (Cloud sourcing). It was the first time I taught such content in Arabic. It was a real challenge in terms of the use of concepts and terminology, since the metalanguage for that type of content is still emerging and it is not yet stable. This also applies to the countries that have a long tradition in translator training, let alone the Arabic context where the teaching of translation in a university context is still in many contexts a new tradition and there is still a lot of work to do in terms or pedagogy and discipline at large.

So, I decided to divide my intervention in two phases. First, I used an ON-LINE Power Point-lecture (using a virtual interface-software so as students can visualize the slides) comprising three major components. At the end of each component, I stop and get students to ask questions. Students did that via the text box (chat box) or ask questions via the audio-visual medium. After that, I moved to the practical part using case studies related to the theoretical part. For instance, a case on the client-translator or Project manager - translator(vendor)  negotiations over tasks, technical issues, pricing. I looked for pertinent case studies that could match the type of skills and concepts I wanted the students to appropriate and interact with. The fact that they were already practicing freelancers, some of them own their own translation agencies, made the second part of this course very interesting. I relied on educational constructs to guide me through like the constructs of learning styles, learning strategies for adults (Andragoy) and studies in psycho-education (motivation). At the professional level, all participants, including myself, have benefited from the various expereiences  and practices highlighted by the participants living in various countries worldwide (Australia, USA, Europe, The Arab world). So, we had really benefited from this intercultural dimension, which enriched our global understanding of the profession. Each participant resolves the problem or proposes a solution to the problem  according to the local practices in his or her country.  Last, the lecturing was done in Arabic, while the language of instruction in the practical part was English. This is done to instigate various students to participate at ease: many students have Arabic as a passive language. They understand the language well, but at the oral level, and being adult learners from various countries and various nationalities and MOST of all  meeting for the FIRST time on-line, I thought it could be better to use the language they could express themselves at ease.

Using Project–based approach (Experience #2).

The second innovative move was in a face to face classroom context. In 2013, I worked at one of the Omani universities teaching Translation and Interpreting (community interpreting) for undergraduates female students. I had four courses: 1- Modern theories of translation, 2- Arabic-English practical translation, 3- Introduction to interpreting, 4- Business Translation.

For the practical course (Eng-Ara), I decided to apply Kiraly's project based approach. This was for the final year students. At first, when I spent nearly 1 hour trying to explain what project based work is, the students felt (many of them) uncomfortable, since this practice is new to them and different from the traditional( collective and pastoral) methods they were used to (in year 3, for example). I decided to do that, because of a very important factor I thought it would help: student number ( they were 22 students). It would have been difficult to do that  if the number was reaching the 30 or 35 as is it the case in the other classes I had. Also, because students are in their final year and their level of maturity and language mastery helped ( in a way) to implement the Project-Based approach.

The Process:

It took me a while to figure out the type of activities to design for students to motivate them and make them see its relevance to their future career. So, I checked...and checked. I found out that the HR department at the university have their employee manual published  only in ENGLISH.... no Arabic version. Strange !!!. I paid a visit to the HR manager and explained the initiative. She liked it...of course a possibility of having a FREE manual in Arabic...Not a bad idea!!. However, I defended my students by suggesting an officially stamped recognition certificate that students could add to their portfolio and use to enhance their CV in the future. She agreed to that.

The following week, I came to the classroom and informed the students about the way they will be re- compensated.They were buzzing!!!...they liked the idea. They liked it more when I said that I am going to count the activity in the assessment (formative assessment). I told them I will note down observations during every class session of the project (4 weeks) on each of the candidates and the groups. I noted down how each member of the team puts in efforts and  commits herself to the project as well as  the dynamics of each group.

I divided the group into 7 groups (3 in each group). Each student did the role of a terminologist, translator and reviser. Students were checking their colleagues' performance (peer assessment). This type of assessment, to my surprise, provoked various types of negative attitudes from the students. Some of them did not like to be criticized on their translations (This a very important cultural variable for my ongoing research). Some of the students, who did not want to complain in the classroom in front of their colleagues, came to my office and did that. Next class, I explained them further how they should improve their attitudes, since this is a project and they are collaborating for one sole purpose : to hand back the project in its best shape, on time and get paid for it (have the certificate of recognition). This is a first step toward developing the professional aspect of the activity. It is a transition phase for them, so these types of negative attitudes happen.

At the end of the project, I submitted a type of survey comprising ONE question whereby I asked them to describe their experience. I told them not to put their name on the sheet. I gave them 10 min to do that. I went out and came back after 10 min. At home, I read the replies. I was surprised to the changes this activity had (especially) on their attitudes and the way they conceive and understand translation (as a profession and not an activity to improve their L2 competence as it has been -and still is-  the tradition in this context). I guess this is what Kiraly (1995, 2000) refer to as the development of the self-concept. Two of the students expressed their dissatisfaction,  since they did think that translation is not what I showed them, but they enrolled in the program to improve their language... And be a language teacher after graduating. 

These are two true experiences I would like to share with my community, and I hope that other colleagues could engage in more innovative initiatives. However, these innovations must be backed up by insights from educational sciences (concepts in Higher Education pedagogy and curriculum studies).

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