This article focuses on student-centered learning (SCL) activities designed to enhance the teaching of translation in universities and colleges where there
are only a few translation courses. As a teaching approach, SCL has the advantage of placing the student at the center of the learning experience, while
the teacher, acting as “a guide on the side”, assists the student in acquiring the tools necessary for achieving success in the course, in
particular, but also, generally, in decision-making, problem-solving and critical thinking, among other “transferable” skills. These analytical
functions are necessary for our students in today’s world, where translations are ordered at the speed of light, and even the least typo can spell
disaster and a loss in the message of the source-text. Following a theoretical discussion regarding SCL, this article presents two SCL activities designed
for the translation course, discusses the usefulness of the workbook Traduire? Avec plaisir!. Indeed, following Dr. Reeves’ admonition, this
article presents a theory of SCL, along with a rationale, and then it presents two practical examples of SCL activities and demonstrates how their use can
indeed enhance the teaching of translation at ground level.
he teaching of translation has greatly changed since I was a student in the early 1980’s. No longer is it sufficient to teach a thème et version course, based solely on the practice of literary translation. Nor is it enough to tell our students that there are a number of
jobs in translation, all they have to do is complete the required courses, then finding a job will be easy. And no longer is the teacher seen as the keeper
of all knowledge: “Teachers are not ‘Atlases’ that carry upon their shoulders the full responsibility for instruction, because students
are no longer passive receptors of knowledge, but active participants in the learning process” (Colina 53). Much has been said about the importance
of training our students as non-professionals translating texts as a pedagogical exercise only, and translation as a professional activity (see Fraser
1996). But in today’s “global village” where cultures interact frequently, and many different subfields of translation exist, it is
crucial that we train our students in a number of those subfields, and that we help them acquire the tools to execute accurate translations, along with
empowering them with confidence in their own intuition and decision-making skills. In this article, I will focus on student-centered learning as a valuable
and newer approach to translation pedagogy, in order to enhance a translation course. I will discuss in order: I. Student-centered learning and how it can
greatly improve our approach to teaching translation; II. Next I will describe and discuss two student-centered activities that I have adopted in and
adapted to my translation courses; III. Then I will describe how student-centered learning activities can prepare students much better for the tasks of the
translator in the real world; IV. Following that, I will then examine the usefulness of the workbook Traduire? Avec plaisir!, V. And finally, I will
present my conclusions on the topic of student-centered teaching and learning, along with questions for further reflection.
I. Discussion of the Student-Centered Learning Approach
Perhaps one of the most pivotal changes that has occurred and is still occurring in translation pedagogy is, as Király points out in Pathways to Translation: Pedagogy and Process, “new ideas [which are part of a new pedagogy in translation and which] include:
· Moving from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction…” (Király 33)
Indeed this fundamental shift in focus from the teacher to the student on whom the onus to make the best informed decisions possible and produce
translations under time constraints as well as accuracy requirements, will fall once they graduate from university and find themselves in a full-time
translator position, is necessary not only to keep the students engaged with the texts under study, but also, and much more importantly, to assist them in
acquiring the tools necessary for making those informed decisions and producing those texts which, in order to gain and maintain clients, are superior to
those produced by their competition.
Student-centered learning requires teaching and learning in different ways, but the payoff is great.
In Student-Centered Learning: A Toolkit for Students, Staff and Higher Education Institutions, a working definition is provided to foster a clear
understanding of “student-centred learning”:
Student-Centered Learning represents both a mindset and a culture within a given higher education institution and is a learning approach which is broadly
related to, and supported by, constructivist theories of learning. It is characterized by innovative methods of teaching which aim to promote learning in
communication with teachers and other learners and which take students seriously as active participants in their own learning, fostering transferable
skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking. (Attard et al. 5)
Students becoming active participants in their own learning is cause enough to adopt student-centered learning to at least some degree. In today’s
world, if we, as teachers, can impart knowledge to our students, along with skills that the students can use in, or transfer to, different, yet essentially
similar, situations in problem-solving, critical thinking and reflective thinking, we are essentially doubling our efficiency and greatly increasing our
effectiveness. In addition, in the field of translation, the science part of the profession denotes that each text requires the same tools of reading and
analyzing, rewording and recomposing the source-text in the target language, but as each text is different in content and focus, students require
transferable skills to work effectively.
Benefits of student-centered learning for both teachers and students are in keeping with sound educational goals, and are valuable. For the teacher,
benefits include: a more interesting role as a facilitator and not as an instructor; solutions for tackling diversity in medium and target audience,
including meeting the increased demands for quality teaching as requested by students; a positive impact on working conditions, as the teacher can transfer
the responsibility for their learning onto the students themselves; continuous self-improvement, as teachers can review and improve the content of their
courses and their teaching methods; increased learner motivation and engagement, as the students are more engaged in the learning process and their
participation is, therefore, greater; and professional development for academia, with regard to the development of knowledge, skills and competence, for
both personal development and career advancement of the teachers (Student-Centered Learning 9-10).
Benefits for students are also numerous and significant. Indeed, if the teacher outlines the course objectives, they will find that the focus is on the
students, as individuals, such as in the enumeration of the following course objectives, as a minimum level to attain:
After taking this translation course, the student will:
Be able to translate, at least rudimentary texts, from L2 to L1 and vice-versa;
Be able to reflect on and discuss the process and products of translation, using fundamental translation terms, at least at a basic level;
Possess a basic knowledge about the field of translation, and some of the main principles at work in this field.
Quoting Pym, Snel Trampus (41) emphasizes the importance of the student’s capability to discuss their translation choices “with justified
confidence”. Thus it follows that if they are trained well in analyzing others’ translations, they should be able to transfer their analytical
skills to their own translations, which skills will help them make good decisions and justify their decisions in the working world. One springboard for
discussions, using the Socratic method of questions and answers and, indeed, scaffolding (Herrington and Herrington 8), might be having the students
vocalize possible choices for a given translation, and not just their fears and trepidation. Snel Trampus notes the importance of vocalization, as
students describe the decision-making process they follow in producing their translation:
Students who are more sensitive to linguistic aspects, in most cases students who attend only translation courses [as opposed to those who attend
interpretation courses, as well], often tend in a first place to dwell on problems on the micro-level of the text and only in an advanced phase are they
able to grasp the text as an organic whole. In decision-making these students want to test and to refine the solution to every element in the source
text…For a translation problem they give a tentative solution as a first hypothesis, then they ask their colleagues for “Error
Elimination” … and, replacing the tentative solution with an alternative, they justify their own solution because it is possible that the
alternative solution represents a second problem. It is evident that such a situation in the translation class gives ample scope for dealing with norms as
a theory-coordinating concept.
It seems viable to present translation principles as norms, and to treat discussions based on what is or are the best translations for a certain word,
expression or text not as moments to stifle as some of the more savvy students might try to use such situations to obtain the “correct”
translation from the instructor, but more as verbal, or even graphic, flowcharts which the students can assimilate, and learn to justify their choices with
confidence. Many times, as teachers, we might know the correct answers, but in choosing between just telling the students the right answers, and letting
them wrestle with a problem, we should opt for the most exciting of learning situations for the students themselves, and let them come up with their own
solutions as best they can, while we guide and direct them where necessary. We might also point out the existence of the field of translation as a
profession, while allowing our students to choose to begin a career as a translator upon graduation, or not.
Benefits to students include increased motivation to learn, as student-centered learning can encourage deeper learning, according to the Learning Pyramid
which lists in descending order: lecturing (10% retention), reading (10% retention), audio-visual (20% retention), demonstration (30% retention),
discussion (50% retention), practical doing (75% retention) and teaching others (90% retention rate) (Student-Centered Learning 8). This inverted
pyramid clearly indicates that the closer the course moves to having the students teach each other, the greater their retention rates are, and the better
they assimilate and understand the course material. In a translation course where student-centered learning is the major approach adopted, all of the levels
in the learning pyramid will be activated including audio-visual, with an adapted CD that outlines the translation process for example, the demonstration
or modeling of the translation process and appropriate decision-making, discussions as an entire class or in small groups, practical translation and
revision work, and teaching others through group work and especially through individual or group projects. Other benefits of student-centered learning for
students include independence and responsibility in learning, where the students are expected to take full responsibility for their learning, due
consideration for different student needs, as the students can engage with the material in a number of different ways. In addition, the students can focus
on their best learning techniques for assimilating the course material. Finally, student-centered learning makes the students an integral part of the
academic community. This benefit is described in the following terms:
Students are said to be part of the academic community, but in practice this can be difficult to achieve due to varied practices of rigid teaching
structures. Via SCL [student-centered learning], students can become part of that community much earlier, given that the teacher acts as a facilitator,
rather than an instructor. In encouraging students to think for themselves, analytical skills and critical thinking are gained earlier on. In this context,
research-led teaching becomes all the more possible. Teachers are able to discuss their research and hear the views of students on the matter. Increased
cooperation and a feeling of having one’s views valued can further increase the interaction and engagement of students. This can lead to
participation in the development of research and also to help develop a given course, due to the sense of ownership that students feel. Lastly, it may also
encourage more students to enter the academic community as members. We must not forget that students are the teachers of the future! (Attard et al. 7)
The benefits greatly outweigh the additional work required, which is necessary at least in the beginning, to develop course material that shifts the focus
onto the students while ensuring the value-added student-centered learning focus in the material. And if a bank of student-centered learning activities were
to be collected, such a repository would greatly reduce the amount of additional work required to develop new activities and material.
In reference to the Learning Pyramid, with an emphasis on the student-centered learning activities, a possible syllabus might include the following
1. An introduction to translation: an illustration of the process of translation, an article on the process, an introduction to translation terms and
meta-language used to describe the act and product of translation (6 hours). This activity includes lecturing, reading and audio-visual work, but
discussions can transform the learning from passive to active. Work with translation terms is invaluable as the students become conversant with the
translator’s jargon, which they assimilate for the mid-term and will draw on in analyzing a pre-existing translation for their class project.
2. Work with “broken English”: sentences to be revised and discussed, and compared to same sentences in French (6 hours), amusing and
problem-based, as well as student-centered learning activity. Much can be derived from the tasteful presentation of humor (For example, in Translation Teaching: From Research to the Classroom, Colina includes humor in a basic curriculum [p. 76].) This activity focuses on group work
where the students teach each other, and practice revision while “repairing” the broken English and French sentences, a sample of which will be
presented in this article. A number of other translation skills, which will also be discussed further, later in this article, are activated at this point,
3. Translation from L2 to L1 and then from L1 to L2: analyze previously translated texts, model a translation together with students, have them do 2 into
each language (but count best 3 out of 4, to give them a “dry run” assignment). The demonstration (or modeling) mode is activated here, and
students often like to compare their attempts at translating certain phrases with the teacher’s translations or the official translation. Also, in my
experience, at this point, students tend to appreciate an “official” version of the translation, so they can compare their own efforts and see
where to improve.
4. Test L2 to L1 translation and translation terms on mid-term: A certain amount of rote work is required to assimilate the translation terms, therefore
emphasis should be placed on their constant use in real-world situations. The practice level can also be activated by the students practicing their
definitions and examples of certain terms selected from the list of translation terms. The short translation from L2 to L1 can be prepared for by the
students through class work on a different part of the same text, or a similar text, during a practice test for the mid-term. The students will also
greatly benefit from a reiteration of the teacher’s explanation of “transferable skills” so that they will feel more confidence in
translating unseen texts for the mid-term and final exams.
5. Translation from L1 to L2 (same as no. 3 above): This step is very important, as well, because lexicon-building exercises and grammatical precision are
more evident in translating from L1 to L2. A word regarding “reading” on the Learning Pyramid: in reading a text to be translated, the
“reading” is active, so the retention rate may, in fact, be slightly higher than simply reading a text in an attempt to retain the concepts it
6. Class projects (during the last 2 weeks of the course): either individually or in small groups of 2 or 3, the students teach each other as they present
to the class their analysis of a pre-existing translation, using a good number of the translation terms to describe what processes were used in the
target-text, a demonstration of what a literal “back translation” of the target-text produces, a discussion regarding levels of language, and
7. Final Exam: L1<>L2 translations, with dictionary, Internet (Larousse.fr, granddictionnaire.com, etc.): Emphasis is placed on the translation
process and products.
Although Fitzsimmons (168) addresses the teaching of literature specifically, his tenets of a course based on student-centered learning would adapt quite
easily to a translation course:
The approach adopted for the course supports Winn’s (1977) model of student learning: it will be consistent enough to allow new information to be
interpreted, but flexible enough to adapt to new interpretations. It will also be sufficiently abstract to apply to a large number of cases, and to allow
students to draw inferences even though all the information is not available. It will allow students to describe what they understand to other people, and
guide students to relevant sources of information. Such a model requires a fashioning of knowledge that is active so that students can connect information
with existing mental models and alter them to accommodate the information. Moreover, the social nature of knowledge construction must be considered and
opportunities provided for students to interact with other students, teachers, or other members of the community.
Such a course puts the student first, and emphasizes active learning and knowledge construction, from which the entire class, including the teacher can
II. Activities based on Student-Centered Learning
As part of the introduction, present the act of translation: The passage of a text or written statement from a source language to a target language, such
that the newly created text in the target language is equivalent to the source text. At this point, also activate the list of translation terms, so that
the students can see what elements are at play in executing a translation:
Source-text written in source-language (L2):
J’ai faim/Je meurs de faim./Je crève de faim/J’ai une faim de loup.
Translation terms such as level of language, message vs. meaning, figurative (metaphors) vs. literal meaning(s), grammatical, linguistic and cultural
transfer in translation, register, tone and style, and augmentation in intensity, should be used in teaching about translation as a process and a product.
Then ask the students: What is the definition of a good equivalence?
Translation (begin translating into L1):
I am dying of hunger./I’m starving (“starvin’”), I’m so hungry I could eat a horse/bear/or Hungry like the wolf (Duran
Among the choices, guide the students in choosing the best solution that will be: 1. Faithful to original text, and 2. Fluent in the target text. Snel
Trampus (40) indicates the relevance of Popovič’s “faithfulness and freedom” dichotomy. Avoid literal translations such as: I have a
hunger of wolf or even: I have a wolf’s hunger. Finally, a list of the basic 7 translation techniques (borrowing, calque, literal translation,
transposition, modulation, equivalence and adaptation) can be found at: http://www.interproinc.com/articles.asp?id=0303.
The teacher should ensure that the terms presented will be the most relevant and level appropriate (Experience has taught me that implicit meaning and
explicit meaning, and explicitation as defined by Vinay and Darbelnet, for example, is one concept that should be taught at the intermediate level
and not at the introductory level.) Present a complete definition, along with a bilingual example for each term. For example, under “borrowed word: un emprunt”, a common example is: a tsunami: un tsunami. This word in particular allows the professor to begin to discuss the
translation of culture, and words with related semantic fields, such as “a tidal wave”, and why some words have full coverage and some have
only partial coverage, and demonstrate to the students how inaccuracies, such as: a ripple, instead of a tsunami, can “lose” or deform the
meanings and, indeed the message, of the source-text.
III. Two Student-Centered Learning Activities
With regard to the first new element I have added to make my course more student- and problem-centered, I chose some howlers, and I don’t use them
only to show how not to write, but I have the students work in small groups to revise the sentences and find the “ideal text” behind the
interlanguage-based translations. The humor in the original texts serves to lighten the mood of the class, and to show that all texts can be revised and
all texts refer to some reality. I also chose these texts specifically, because we live in a tourism-driven part of British Columbia, which is actually
most of the province, and the reality is that the students work with, or may work with, such language barriers during their career (the examples presented
below are drawn from: http://www3.sympatico.ca/srajano/jokes.html) (see also “Text
Selection for Developing Translator Competence: Why Texts from the Tourist Sector Constitute Suitable Material” (157-167) by Dorothy Kelly in: Developing Translation Competence). Here are two examples of the interlanguage signs which the students are asked to decipher:
2. From a Japanese information booklet about using a hotel air conditioner: Cooles and Heates: If you want just condition of warm in your room, please
Dans un livret d’information japonais sur l’utilisation d’un air climatisé d’hôtel : Refroidit et réchauffe : si
vous voulez la condition juste de chaleur dans votre chambre, veuillez vous contrôler.
Revised texts : Cooling and heating your room: Adjust control to desired temperature.
Refroidissement et réchauffement de la chambre : afin de garder votre chambre à la température voulue, veuillez régler la
2. In a Yugoslavian hotel: The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.:
Dans un hôtel de Yougoslavie : L’aplatisement des sous-vêtements avec plaisir est le travail de la femme de chambre.
Revised texts: The housekeeper will be happy to iron your underwear.
La femme de ménage se fera un plaisir de repasser vos sous-vêtements.
Remember to assist your students in learning to use their intuition, or ‘gut feelings’, along with correct grammar and precise vocabulary in
executing this task. The humor will be evident, and welcome on the part of the students who react much better to correcting a third party’s texts,
rather than their own or those of their classmates.
Some lessons learned from the above-noted revision exercises, include: intralingual translation vs interlingual translation, what constitutes
“interlanguage” and how to avoid it. How revision works, including the “ideal target text” in the reviser’s mind, and the
search for the “mot juste”, or the right word in the right context. The use of language to describe concepts and actions becomes clearer, and
the students begin to play with language, finding the “flow” in their target language and “faithfulness” or fidelity to the
source-text. Students learn the usefulness of the technique of the back translation, in order to ensure equivalence between the target-text and the
source-text. The students get a feel for “calques” and learn how to discard them in favor of better translations. The discussion itself
demonstrates how to hone in on the best solutions, and yet see that there are no black and white solutions, just various shades of gray. The students learn
to manipulate language and work with various levels of language, and the creation of meaning. In practice, especially for beginners, I have found that
“formal, informal and slang” levels of language should be taught, and that beginning students can indeed learn “augmentation” and
“diminution”, or how to intensify or decrease the emotion(s) associated with a word.
The second new activity that I bring to the teaching of translation is an individual or small group “class project”, which is the analysis of a
previously translated text, and which is presented in class as an exposé during the last two weeks of the course. As part of this project, students
are to use the translation terms learned during the course to analyze what the translator of the target-text they have chosen has done well or not so well,
in relation to the source-text. Their analysis should be 3 to 5 minutes long, they are to make good use of PowerPoint or sparse photocopies, in order to
present their exposé. The professor should describe in detail the goals of the assignment. The students are to present their critique regarding the
quality and effectiveness of the translation while concentrating on the parts of the text translated literally and well in contrast with the parts of the
text not translated literally, or translated literally and less well. They must also properly use the translation terms learned before the mid-term exam.
In past courses, the students have chosen such texts as:
A passage taken from a literary or pragmatic text (do not expect them to be able to analyze a Shakespearean sonnet, although I have seen an excellent
analysis of a translation of a fable by La Fontaine and Lewis Carrol’s Walrus poem.
A song by Elton John or Avril Lavigne translated into French, or by some other pop artist. Also, a very accomplished singer analyzed the translation If you go away, as sung by Terri Jacks,of the song Ne me quitte pas, as sung by Jacques Brel.
A poem, do at least one model for the students (One student chose In Flander’s Fields as translated into French).
Two students working together chose an excerpt of a French movie, Jeux d’enfants, and its subtitled translation. Remember that the more
difficult and complex the text, the more knowledge will be required to critique the translation of it. The professor must direct or assist some students in
choosing their text and it is a good idea to verify each student’s choice of text.
One L2 student from France presented an exposé on the translation into French of the Christmas song Little Toy Trains, by Roger Whittaker, and
taught everyone about the existence of two Santa Clauses in France, le Père Noël and le Père Fouettard. The latter element demonstrates the
importance of culture in translation, which should be emphasized where applicable.
Finally, tell the students that they will be judged on the richness of the translation metalanguage they use, on the correct use of the translation
procedures and terms learned in class, and also on the accuracy of their grammar, and the interest raised by their choice of text and the presentation of
their analysis/critique. Usually, the critique, PowerPoint and approach should be verified by the professor before each student presents their exposé.
Encourage the students at this point that what they present will be interesting and helpful for all members of the class in revising for the final exam,
and for one final opportunity to improve their analytical skills and examine the decision-making processes of the pre-existing translations. Be sure to
point out to the class the better translations and fill in any gaps in the students’ presentations, which have been very well done, for the most
part, in my experience.
IV. Traduire? Avec plaisir!
An essential element of this syllabus is the new and extremely useful workbook Traduire? Avec plaisir! Written in French and based on Vinay and
Darbelnet’s seven translation procedures, its approach is easily understood by third year students. It claims to be an advanced course, yet it is
adaptable to beginning translation students, and its pedagogy is solid. I supplemented this workbook with a few texts from my work with Translators without
Borders, and news reports, film critiques and the material noted earlier in this article. Lappin-Fortin’s workbook is very well laid out. It follows
a logical progression, and the texts and examples are well-chosen. More background information on some of the selected texts, such as Nancy Huston’s Plainsong/Plain chant, and Anthony Burgess’ excellent subtitling of Cyrano de Bergerac (Rappeneau 1991), would be a welcome addition.
The only difficulty encountered in the use of this workbook was Lappin-Fortin’s explanation of transpositions, which did not mention partial
transpositions, and the related exercises which did require an understanding of partial transpositions. Other than those two shortcomings, even for my
beginning translation course, this workbook is a welcome and outstanding addition to student-centered learning in my translation courses. I highly recommend
In conclusion, in his Foreword to Authentic Learning Environments in Higher Education (Herrington and Herrington), Reeves notes:
Although the need to adopt more student-centered, problem-based, and technology-enriched learning environments has been recognized for many years, few
academics seem able to comprehend what it means to teach and learn in fundamentally different ways. To change their mental models of teaching and learning,
academics need exposure to strong rationales and practical examples…
The time for significant support for the development of more authentic learning environments throughout higher education is now…
My personal experience of teaching undergraduate and graduate students for the past 25 years has been that the more authentic the tasks and activities in
my courses are, the more students are engaged, the more they learn, and the more they retain. My own perhaps idiosyncratic style of designing learning
environments boils down to: “It’s the task that matters most- make it authentic.”
Indeed, student-centered learning requires teaching and learning in different ways, but the payoff is great. There are clear advantages which include, more
than translation practice alone, a more diverse and inclusive course, with respect to the skills students acquire (of which revision is one of the most
important) and the syllabus definitely suggests a more varied course. It is also a more creative course, drawing on a wider range of texts, and is aimed at
producing a wider set of skills, which include the ability to execute, analyze and think critically about, and make better decisions regarding,
pre-existing translations and the students’ own translations. This course demonstrates that translation can be fun, and while still emphasizing
translation practice, it empowers the students to assume the responsibility of their own learning through group work and real-world situations. Indeed,
from the outset, emphasis is placed on “real-world” situations as the “broken English” signs are drawn from the real world.
However, one need not be a world traveler to find such obvious howlers, but often one has only to drive through some of our own National Parks, or northern
Ontario, to find interesting examples on signs. The rigor necessary in translation, as it is a perfectionist’s occupation, is student-centered; and
the research demonstrates that students learn more discovering information and techniques for themselves and from their peers, with the teacher acting as
“the guide on the side”, than from a one way lecture, from the teacher acting as “the sage on the stage”. Critical thinking skills
are focalized and varied (see: http://www.tc2.ca for a list of 21 critical thinking skills). The importance of theory AND
practice together is demonstrated, and both are assimilated by the student. The course is more interesting for the instructor and should, therefore, prove
to be more interesting for the students. The timing of handouts and the sequencing of concepts are important. This course gives the professor flexibility
in both of those crucial elements. Students are responsible for their own development, and when they feel more accountable, the quality of their
translation and their class projects improves immensely.
Through this type of course, developed through my more than 20 years of post-secondary teaching experience, students receive a more rounded education on
the theory and practice of translation. Drawing from a wide range of real world examples and text examples also models actual work in the field of
translation, and helps students prepare for the work world.
At the university where I teach, we offer 2 levels of translation courses, translation as a subject begins at the third-year level, with the course
outlined in this article. Then, it continues at the fourth-year level, more focused on translation subfields and deeper questions in the field of
translation, as well as more difficult texts in a variety of the subfields. Also, at the fourth-year level, there are two courses, translation from French
to English, and from English to French. The variety of texts selected for translation at the third-year level include journalistic, pragmatic, restaurant
and tourism, and a few simple literary texts. They are selected for their relevance, such as texts on the Winter Olympic Games held in Vancouver in
February 2010. A planned follow-up to this text will include how I see the fourth-year courses flowing from this third-year course, and other possible
student-centered learning activities.
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