here is no doubt in anyone's mind today that the professional translator/ interpreter is an asset to the university classroom. Professionals " know what's going on" in the business of translation; they have access to state of the art technology. More often than not they are also enthusiastic role models students might emulate.
Nevertheless, it must also be said that as professional as these teaching translators may be, they are not university instructors per se and in general have had no pedagogical training other than the training they received as students in the classes they themselves took. According to Gerding-Salas (2000), translation theorists have been emphasizing for years that it is not enough to be bilingual in order to be a translator. May I add that it is not enough to have a degree in a subject matter in order to be called a "teacher." With this in mind, is it logical for university administrations to force translators who wish to teach to obtain a teaching certificate in addition to their existing degree? This is not always possible nor is it reasonable. What is reasonable however is to offer on-the job training workshops to those translators who do decide to teach so that they become familiar with the principles of classroom instruction.
The presence of a syllabus does away with the question often asked by untrained instructors, What will I do in class today?
The aim of this article is to give an overview of three critical aspects so necessary if an instructor is to facilitate learning in his or her classroom and to provide a mini-workshop for those translators who wish to teach in the future. Three of the major components to be covered in this article are: syllabus writing, lesson planning, and cooperative learning. It should be noted that these three elements are among the most critical; testing and evaluation, as well as teaching methodology are equally important elements which must be dealt with separately.
Syllabus Writing /Lesson Planning
A syllabus may be defined as the map of one's course. It serves both the instructor who thus has a clear vision of the overall course; it also serves the student by laying out his or her responsibilities by clarifying the elements to be taught and encouraging autonomous learning. The presence of a syllabus does away with the question often asked by untrained instructors, "What will I do in class today?" "Which text will we work on?" With a well-planned syllabus the answers are obvious. They are also obvious to the student who is informed in advance of the class content and is responsible for his/her work. Syllabi must be regularly updated and department heads must insist that each instructor who teaches the particular course review their contents and contribute suggestions for renewal before the course is taught again.
The elements of a syllabus are the following: heading, major textbooks, or texts to be covered, course objectives, methodology employed, attendance requirements, means of evaluation, the weekly/hourly distribution, and list of supplementary readings.
The heading should include the instructor's name, office number and hours during which the student may consult with him or her. The major textbooks to be used in the class should be indicated on the syllabus; some instructors also indicate where the texts may be bought.
The course objectives are extremely important in that they indicate what competencies the students will have acquired at the end of the course. Samples of course objectives are the following.
- Students will have acquired the basic principles and vocabulary necessary for English/French legal translation.
- Students will be able to write commercial correspondence in English (memos, letters, reports)
- Students will practice expository and argumentative writing in both English and French.
Instructors may decide to include one objective or as many as five or six. The decision concerning the number of objectives to be included in the syllabus must be made on the basis of course length, student level and whether the course is an overview or a major course.
The methodology should also be very clearly indicated in the syllabus. Students should be informed as to whether the course will be carried out as a lecture course, in a workshop format, or will the assignments be done cooperatively or individually. Examples of methodology statements are the following:
- Students will be expected to work in teams of three to four on five assignments.
- Very little lecturing will be done during this class; students will be asked to read before the class session and will be allowed a question period at the beginning of each session.
- This class will be organized in a workshop format; students will be informed of the text to be treated during the class hour and must come to class with a proposed translation ready to exchange with a partner for peer review. After discussion, a model translation will be agreed upon at the end of each session.
Both the objectives and the methodology sections of the syllabus require much thought, as the course content is dependent thereon.
Since university attendance requirements may vary, it is the instructor's duty to inform the student of the particular requirements concerning make-up assignments, and the number of sessions a student may miss. Some universities actually require a student to drop a course if, for example they have missed more than six class hours. It is important that the student be aware of the rules at the beginning of the course rather than be surprised by them when it is too late to change. The evaluation requirements should be included in the syllabus for the same reason. Students should be informed at the beginning of the semester on to how their final grade will be calculated. This is quite simple. For example, many translation instructors divide their grades as follows: Quizzes 25 %, Midterm Exam 20%, Class work 30%, Final Exam 25%.
In this manner, class work and quizzes (announced and unannounced) given during the class hours themselves account for 55% of the final grade. A student who does his or her work competently during class hours will surely succeed. A student who is often absent and does not actively participate will not.
The weekly distribution of work is also a necessity in a clear course syllabus. Most university courses are divided into 15 weeks, each with two or three class sessions depending on the instructor's schedule. If an instructor plans to cover all five major types of expository writing, he or she will be able to devote 3 weeks to each type. In this way, two class sessions can be devoted to writing workshops, one for a graded essay, and the others for various other purposes. Here is an example of a three-week class distribution whose objective it is to teach the methodology of comparison contrast writing in the English language.
Students may also benefit from a list of supplementary readings at the end of the syllabus. Pertinent web sites and library resources on reserve encourage the students to do research on their own and become capable of learning how to learn. The supplementary readings list also emphasizes the well-known fact taken for granted by university instructors, but not by beginning university students that learning should not be limited to the material covered during one class hour; it must be supplemented by outside research and documentation. This is particularly pertinent in translation studies where documentation skills are critical to success.
In some universities, it is also common to add a section on research rules and regulations to the syllabus; students are informed of the professor's policies concerning plagiarism, for example. Other universities request that instructors also clarify the form and format required in research papers. Basically, a well-organized, complete syllabus will set the tone at the beginning of a semester or academic year and will help the student to see that your main goal is to encourage academic competence in the subject being taught.
It is very clear that once an instructor has a clear syllabus at the beginning of the course, the weekly planning process is simplified. However, it is not enough to know what material will be presented during a class period; it is necessary to plan how this information will be presented so as to make it effective. In order to do so efficiently, the Teaching Process Model may be used (Cangelosi, 2000). The Teaching Process Model emphasizes that all instruction should have four basic components: the needs of the students should be taken into consideration, the lesson objectives should fulfill all or part of that need, activities or tasks should be designed so that students acquire the ability to perform and finally, each lesson should have an element of evaluation incorporated within the lesson. Instructors are also encouraged to organize their lesson plans in a pro-active manner so that students are given the opportunity to carry out tasks during the contact hour. Pro-active, a term, which is used quite frequently in pedagogy, simply means that instructors should endeavor to vary the activities planned for the class hour. Even highly motivated university students have a limited concentration class and are unable to sit for 75-minute sessions and listen to the lecture of one person. In fact it has been reported that students actually retain only 20%-60% of material given during lectures (Green, 2000). It is for this reason that it is suggested that activities be varied between active and passive so as to ensure optimal concentration. Thus a collegiate atmosphere where active participation is encouraged would be ideal. A sample lesson to cover a 50- minute session entitled, "Current Events for Translation Students" could be organized in the following fashion.
- Why does Canada want to be involved in European arms agreements?
- What role does Canada presently play in world politics?
- What role does the Canadian public believe they should play in world peacekeeping? Why?
Instructors using the material indicated in the lesson above would re-consolidate and review during sessions that follow this particular one. The texts that had been used as an informative means only could also be translated; the television documentary could be used as an exercise in consecutive interpretation. Students could be asked to choose one of the main terms employed in the texts and to do supplementary documentation on the subject. A lexicon could be developed; the possibilities are endless. In fact, experienced trained instructors are able to make use of one text or one film in a myriad of ways. Organized lesson plans do not necessarily imply an enormous quantity of learning material; it does mean using the material to meet objectives fully.
Due to an increased emphasis on teamwork in all domains, curriculum developers have been insisting on the inclusion of cooperative learning in most learning settings as well. The rationale behind this is indeed logical; due to the increasing numbers of highly educated individuals in the business world and in all other specialized work settings, many companies are finding it advantageous to include more and more employees in the decision-making process. Many managers feel that the contributions of each individual's work will enrich the final result. Responsibility for decision-making is thus shared. The translation profession is no longer such an individual endeavor as it was in the past. Today's translators must be able to consult efficiently with specialists; discuss appropriateness of terminology with fellow translators and present their translations effectively to the client. All these activities are carried out in a more professional manner if the translator has acquired the habit of working with others smoothly.
The main forms of cooperative learning in an educational setting are: pair work, small group, large group and, particularly important to translation classrooms, the workshop.
It is certain that instructors have a tendency to shy away from group work in their classrooms due to the following perceived drawbacks: instructors feel that less work is accomplished in a group format; there is a higher noise level; some instructors believe that results taken in tests by individuals after the group work have not been conclusive. If correct techniques of group work are not applied, these perceived drawbacks quickly become reality. It is presently believed that students interiorize the information acquired in well-organized group work quite efficiently.
The correct technique begins with the recognition of the three phases of any group work: pre-group, during-, and post-group work. In the pre-group work phase, the instructor presents the material to the students: a principle, a theory, or a concept. It must be added here that there is some discussion as to whether students should be encouraged to discover facts themselves rather than be told. It is this author's belief that basic theory, of translation, for example may be explained to the students, and then practiced in a cooperative learning setting. Most university instructors run on a tight schedule and literally cannot afford to give time to an extraordinary amount of discovery learning. This does not mean that the social construction approach cannot be used in the classroom; it cannot always be used. In the second phase, students apply the information learned within the group format, and during the third phase, the student is evaluated individually or is held accountable individually for the work carried out in the group. The second principle is that students must be given a role to play or a specific task to carry out during the group activity. This activity must contribute to the work of the entire group. From a translation educator's point of view, this would mean assigning one member the role of documentation; another would be responsible for terminology, the actual translation, the editing, etc. The essential idea is that the work of the group cannot be completed without the cooperation of all its members and that all members are responsible for all the components in the final evaluation. The third and final principle is that instructors should train their students in the procedures of cooperative learning by first beginning with simple tasks in pairs, followed by small group work and finally larger groups of 5-7 students, when applicable.
Conclusion: Professional translators who wish to share their competence and their experience with university students should be encouraged to do so; on-the-job pedagogical training is one way of ensuring they enter the classroom equipped to do so efficiently.
Cangelosi, J. (2000). Classroom management strategies, gaining and maintaining students'cooperation, 4th ed. London: Longman.
Gerding-Salas, C. (2000). "Teaching translation: problems and solutions" Translation Journal 4, n.3. July, 1-11.
Green, T.D. (2000). "Responding and sharing: techniques for energizing classroom Discussions" The Clearing House. 73, 16, July, p.331. .