I have recently been appointed to teach a course called Lengua Inglesa II Aplicada a la Traducción, which is taught for the first time in the Translator Training Program at Universidad Nacional del Comahue (as part of the new curriculum, launched in 2012). This new design includes two years of general English training and three of English applied to translation, the first of which is the course I teach, together with an assistant, who, unlike me, is a Certified Translator.
When I embarked on the long selection process leading to appointment, I realised the challenge ahead was big. To start with, I had to design a syllabus to effectively fit in the new curriculum in terms of rationale, aims and procedures, and taking into account correlative prior and subsequent courses. In addition, this is a pilot experience in the country, since no other Argentinian university offers a course of similar characteristics and, thus, there are no published materials that completely satisfy our expectations and the needs of our students. And last, but certainly not least, I have had to chart the route in terms of achievements. This involves, first, foreseeing what our learners may need contents and strategies-wise before the beginning of the course, and then making provisions for assessing outcomes and implementing the necessary changes.
After completion of the first term of the course, this article aims at analysing, with the benefit of hindsight, the assets of the program and the challenges still lying ahead. For this purpose, it is necessary to revisit the main theoretical tenets behind the initial proposal -particularly those associated with the role of language acquisition and translation studies in the definition of course objectives. Then, it is important to assess the choice of coursebook and the need to design of supplementary materials in order to realise such framework and goals. Finally, it is relevant to focus on some preliminary feedback collected from the students attending the course.
Proposal: Rationale and Goals
Before appointment, Argentinian universities require a complex selection process called concurso de oposición y antecedentes. This involves the presentation of your CV and a proposal which includes both a curricular activity plan (and syllabus) and an extra-curricular research or extension activity. After a thorough review of the literature, I came to the preliminary conclusion that Lengua II Aplicada a la Traducción would inevitably straddle Second Language Acquisition (SLA) and Translation Studies (TS); English fpr Specific Purposes (ESP) and general English teaching; Linguistics and Pragmatics.
Thanks to the contribution of TS, translation is not only seen as “1- the process of transferring a written text from SL to TL, conducted by a translator or translators, in a specific sociocultural context”, or “2- the written product, or TT, which results from that process, and which functions in the sociocultural context of the TL”- it is also “3- the cognitive, linguistic, visual, cultural and ideological phenomena which are an integral part of 1 and 2” (Hatim and Munday, 2004). TS have given Translation a scientific status, claiming that translating involves acting according to certain guidelines within a cultural poly-system. Acquaintance with TS enables translators to be updated with the current established practices, rely on norms that may predict with a certain degree of accuracy the success of their translation and make an informed decision when opting for a certain approach to translate a source text (ST) (Manfredi, 2008; Hurtado Albir, 2008/2001]; de Felipe Boto, 2004).
Nevertheless, no matter how clear it is that translation presupposes extra-linguistic knowledge such as knowledge of the world, of the source and target language cultures and specialized knowledge; it is also undeniable that every translation process requires a series of mechanisms that are ultimately justified in linguistic studies. The future translators’ knowledge of the system of the foreign language (FL) or Language B (LB, the main foreign language a translator learns and works with) is fundamental since the translation process cannot begin until they have clear palpable knowledge of structural divergences between their mother tongue (or LA) and the LB, sensitivity towards their respective linguistic representations and metalinguistic manifestations, and a command of technical procedures to overcome these differences (Vazquez Ayora, 1977 in Clouet, 2010).
The literature also favours an integrated approach to linguistic skills, encouraging the development of “self-regulated L2 learning strategies” (Oxford, 2011), on the grounds that translators will need to read, write, listen and speak in their future profession. However, the order in which I am introducing the skills reflects the relevance they should be given, considering the tasks awaiting our translation trainees in their future professional lives (Hurtado Albir, 2003/1999). In any case, translation students need to acquire translation competence, which involves being able to work with a text (oral, written or audiomedial) and to determine an objective and a suitable strategy depending on the communicative situation (Presas, 1996 in Clouet, 2010). Among the main sub-competences discussed by Hurtado (1996, in Clouet, ibid.), professional or work-related issues such as documentation, use of new technologies and knowledge of the labour market should become our main focus given the specific needs of our students when learning English as a foreign language.
Consideration of such work-related competences gives a specific purpose to the course. An ESP (English for Specific Purposes) course implies the inclusion of methodologies and techniques related to the field of specialisation (in this case, translation), and the adaptation of the language and activities included to the grammar, lexis, register and skills specific to such field. Besides, students will also need to learn about current practices, norms, and advances made by research through the analysis of different approaches and criticisms contributing to translation theories. Thus, this course can be said to teach English for Translation Purposes (ETP), understood as the teaching of English in such a way that it may enable students to create coherent texts which share the same value –efficiently fulfil the same function– as the source text (ST). This implies they should have the tools to solve any text-construction problem in the source or target language, including both knowledge of the linguistic elements and a command of the cultural specificities of the source and target community (Clouet, ibid.).
Such specific purposes highlight the need to choose a linguistic paradigm that somehow exceeds the realm of Linguistics. Pragmatics seems to be a suitable frame of reference for our purposes, because it involves the study of language in use, that is to say, the elements, factors and principles that make language work (both when producing and interpreting it), focusing on the relation between linguistic (textual) and extra-linguistic factors (the way speakers use the language within certain social groups and in different situations). This paradigm encompasses different theoretical tenets, which share common principles such as the communicative purpose of language use; a greater interest in the functions of the language than in its forms; the importance of context and authentic language and the inherent interdisciplinary feature of Pragmatics, since it resorts to other fields of knowledge. The view of the teaching-learning process resulting from this linguistic paradigm is a communicative one. The communicative approach, rooted in Discourse Analysis, highlights the importance of authenticity as regards to choice of materials and activities for the development of learners’ interlanguage (Selinker, 1972 in Clouet, 2010). Extensive exposure to different text-types and input as ungraded as possible and communication activities involving interaction and mediation, resembling real-life contexts facilitate the acquisition of new structures and their transfer to new communicative situations, while motivating learners in their progress and autonomy (Clouet, ibid.).
On the basis of these theoretical tenets, the goals set before defining the syllabus and materials are that our learners continue to develop their communicative competence in English, both for the understanding and expression of meaning while also enhancing their intercultural competence to become effective mediators across cultures. This can only be achieved by strengthening their linguistic competence, particularly in the specific skills, strategies and techniques relevant to translation; and by making them aware of the specific linguistic and extra-linguistic needs of translation practice, through sensitivity to textual features (genre, text-type, register, coherence and cohesion) as well as to contextual, communicative and cultural factors such as the purpose and target culture of a translation and the choice of a suitable translation strategy. More specifically, we must develop in our students not only linguistic and communicative competence (including reflection over the language system and discursive competence) but also sociocultural competence (developing knowledge of genres, linguistic conventions and connotative and cultural significances); contrastive competence (discovering linguistic and textual divergences between languages); strategic competence (developing mediation, metacognitive, cognitive, affective and social strategies and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity) and autonomous learning competence (learning to learn, to manage time, to do research and to use resources).
Materials analysis and design: textbook and action book
Straddled once again, and knowing that, given the specificity of the course, there would be no commercial materials to satisfy the course’s specific needs, I was inclined to choose a textbook mainly on what it offered in terms of the development of learners’ communicative and socio-cultural competences. Although most post-communicative approaches in SLA claim that learning should be a highly cognitive and individual, yet social and interactive process, and thus favour a “process- oriented” syllabus, this and the advances in Pragmatics research are not yet evident in the commercial materials available (Ishihara & Cohen, 2010); and most textbooks are still designed on a multi-syllabus basis. In view of these facts, I took a more “eclectic” approach for syllabus design, and decided to include tasks and activities which adhere to the general theoretical framework but resort to diverse activities, methods and techniques related to the activity and the study of translation.
As the course’s textbook, I chose Life Upper Intermediate (Dummet, Hughes & Stephenson, 2013) because the book has a practical, competence-based multi-syllabus approach, which may contribute to the development of students’ intercultural and communicative competence and encourage their conscious focus on grammar and vocabulary to make their acquisition more effective. In fact, the whole Life series highlights learning in a real life context and producing language in a broad range of speaking and writing situations. Additionally, it has a strong multi-cultural component, featuring a wide range of oral, written and audio-medial texts of varied types and genres rooted in different cultural settings, supported by powerful, engaging para-textual features.
In terms of supplementation, materials have been designed to achieve a successful integration between language and specialist activities (Dudley-Evans & St John, 2005/1998), to increase students’ motivation by adding variety to lessons, appealing to students’ interests according to their age, context and educational background, providing choices to meet individual preferences and level of attainment, activating and recycling acquired lexico-grammatical and discursive strategies and raising their cross-linguistic and intercultural awareness. In addition, by “flipping” instructional work out of the classroom, lesson time can be maximised, and student-student and student-teacher interaction enhanced (Tucker, 2012).
Supplementary materials have been organised in seven “Action Books”, an introductory one raising students’ awareness as to what translation is and what they will be expected to do in terms of English in their future profession, and six more, revolving around the main topics of the textbook units dealt with: relationships, science and technology, development (in the first term) and natural resources, the news and the economy (in the second term). In particular, the following types of materials and tasks have been included:
(Preliminary) feedback from students
Being the first time this course, exclusive to translation trainees, is taught in Argentina, it is mandatory to collect as much formal and informal feedback as possible from students, the end users and main beneficiaries of our work. So far, formal feedback has been collected through electronic questionnaires, which students have completed over the winter break. Questions were closed, and students had to rate different aspects of the course on a 1-5 Lickert scale, in which 1 is the lowest score (for example, quite boring, quite irrelevant, unappealing) and 5 is the highest (such as very interesting, clear and appealing, relevant and useful). Some of the questions included optional text boxes for additional comments. The questions asked students to rate (from 1 to 5) the following areas and sub-areas of the course: textbook: topics and organisation; action books: topics and relevance; PCPs (professional development projects): level of difficulty, topics, relevance to translation; lessons: balance in activity type (individual work, pair work, classwork), skills integration (reading, writing, listening, speaking, translating, critical thinking); written assignments: level of difficulty, number and distribution across the term; oral presentations: topics, groups dynamics and team work.
It is interesting to notice that respondents seem satisfied, in general terms, with all the aspects of the course they have been asked about, but have shown more enthusiasm in questions which involve materials and activities produced by the team. For example, 46% and 54% of students gave the coursebook a 4 in terms of topics and organisation, respectively, and 23% and 15% gave them a 5. These scores are very good; however, those for materials designed by the teaching team are even better: 62% gave a 5 to the action book in terms of both topics and relevance; 46% gave a 4, and 38% a 5, to PCPs in terms of topics and 46% a 4, and the same number a 5, as regards relevance to translation. As for oral presentations, which were about the pragmatic analysis of different short stories and documentation work prior to reading a novel (Inferno, by D. Brown), 46% gave a 5 to topics, while 38% gave a 5, and 54%, a 4 to group dynamics and team work. Likewise, it is also significant to point out that students feel the number, distribution and level of difficulty of tasks is largely adequate, with around 85% of all answers between 3 and 4, a low percentage considering they are rather too many or too difficult; and none considering them too few or too easy.
Conclusion: what lies ahead
Although at this stage there are at least as many uncertainties as there are certainties, the teaching team for Lengua Inglesa II Aplicada a la Traducción believes that conscientious analysis of the course so far supports the decisions taken as to the rationale and syllabus design. However, we are convinced that there is hard work ahead, particularly in terms of changes to improve our practice during the second half of the academic year, more significant changes to apply to the choice, grading and sequencing of materials for 2015 and cooperative and collaborative work with the teachers in charge of the subsequent language course, to be taught for the first time next year, too.
In addition, there is the imperative need to interact with other subjects. For different academic and administrative reasons, this year efforts have been mostly targeted at setting common goals within the teaching team in terms of agreement on theoretical foundations, lesson planning, assessment criteria and materials design. Although the syllabi of subjects belonging to the second and third years of the program have been taken into account for course design, it is still felt that more can be done in terms of interdisciplinarity. A first, rather spontaneous, attempt has been made to provide help in reading comprehension strategies to students dealing with translation tasks for other subjects. Yet, further efforts are necessary, and it is our aim to submit the materials we have designed to the teachers of translation-specific subjects, so that they can assess whether they believe that they may help to cater for learners’ linguistic and extra-linguistic needs when it comes to actually facing a source text for translation.
During the rest of this year, more feedback needs to be collected, and the final results of the course should be assessed. For the coming academic year, we expect to further adapt our plan, continue researching and learning about translation theories and be able to apply them to the learning of English as a second language. What is more, we also expect to meet the expectations of our students, our colleagues and our institution, particularly with a view to paving the way for the teaching of English with the specific purpose of helping our students translate, and straddle as effectively and thoroughly as possible the fields of language acquisition and translation studies.
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