Creating a translation program for the 21st century

The information age began with the mass spread of personal computers and general technological advancements that allowed not only for free and fast information transfer, but also the creation of tools to automate some of the tasks humans handle. Since then, the digital world has been developing for almost 50 years and has further decreased the number of repetitive tasks humans have had to tackle themselves.

With this major shift in thinking, working and approach to life, the need for a different learning and training process has inevitably emerged. In an information-driven digital world, an information-driven training based on the use of new technologies is imperative, otherwise the result of such training — namely students, the future of the oncoming development — would not be able to deliver the results expected.

Students are actively pursuing their goals in deepening human knowledge. In the process, they mold the future of many others. So it is not acceptable that such people are trained in the paradigms of the past. On the contrary, lecturers should aim to train future professionals, to train individuals with the ability to withstand the ever-so-dynamic currents of the 21st century. The thing is, presently, 18-year-old university students were born in the year 2000, and have not experienced the past century at all. Wow, right? If Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns is correct, they are going to live and work in a completely different world.

It is obviously not possible to train students in approaches, tools and areas that have not yet emerged. What is possible, however, is to prepare individuals to be capable of embracing the constant change.

For this particular reason, I have delved into the ways various translation departments use computer-aided translation (CAT) tools in university translation courses. I have identified nine best practices that translation program creators and lecturers in general tend to follow to effectively increase their students’ employability. Following are the four most crucial:

Project-based learning

Real-life assignments are project-based, so university assignments should mirror that. If a lecturer wants to prepare students for work, it is important to train them similarly. This approach is not suitable for theory-based courses, so it should not be applied in a blanket manner — there are courses that require the read-and-repeat method. However, project-based learning is perfectly suitable for CAT tool and project management training, as it offers an easy way to adjust or rearrange the contents of the course on-the-go.

Projects create a modular approach that is easily adapted to the specific situation — as the learning materials must not stop being dynamic, it is always necessary to allow space for change. Projects also help to deepen student involvement in classes. By structuring the project workflow the way translation agencies structure it, students are made dependent on each other and can see that they are part of a longer process. Students are also much more likely to cooperate and approach the problematics responsibly if their work and decisions affect their classmates.

It is advisable that the lecturer set up several shorter projects during the course as that enables them to put each of the students in all the different roles. By doing this, the lecturer lets the students show their strong sides and can assess their performance more precisely.

This approach might also help some students find what role they like best. For example, a student might have great potential as a proofreader but wouldn’t have known had they not tried it. All in all, the project-based approach offers a highly adaptable, student-centered, accurately assessable and fair environment that resembles real-life practice.

Student-centered approach and lifelong learning

A student-centered approach, self-motivation and lifelong self-learning are all interconnected and should be discussed separately. If a lecturer wants to train individuals who are able to educate themselves after graduation, their mindset should be trained accordingly. Of course, this ability is dependent on the individual personalities of students, but it can be shaped and steered.

Lecturers should step down from their sage-stage to give their students the ability to feel how significant an influence they themselves have on what they learn: let the students work on the course content, let them shape the structure of individual classes. Experience shows that this approach not only puts more emphasis on student self-motivation, but if led correctly can enhance the course itself by bringing ideas the lecturer might not think of. Students are not only receivers of knowledge, they are also active creators of it and they should be made aware of this fact.

If students feel they are in power of the knowledge gained, they will approach it more responsibly than if they feel they are just machines for meeting the education system’s expectations. Students should be an active part of both class preparation and execution, and should be prompted to not only learn what the lecturer presents, but also to seek knowledge and experience through extracurricular activities.

The translation market is dynamic, and it is not possible to supply the students with knowledge from the future. For that reason, students should be taught to learn on their own, with the understanding that their studies are not finished with graduation.

It is also important to note that it is inevitable that some students will not be able to cope with such an approach, as it requires a high level of self-motivation and a strong desire to learn. The lecturer must do his or her best to try to prepare students for their future careers, but it should not be the lecturer’s goal to let everyone pass.

Situated translation

Translation never takes place in a vacuum separated from the outside world. On the contrary, it always has its purpose, original and target audience, culture and environment. It has a vendor, a client, requested effect, quality standard, obligatory terminology usage, deadline, price and so on.

Translation assignments used to train future professionals at universities should be no different as it is essential to train students in an environment simulating the one they are trained for. If the translation assignment’s only “reference material” is “translate this until next week and you’ll receive ECTS credits,” then development of numerous competences that a translator should possess is omitted. When this happens, only language competence is developed, which is an approach not far from the former purpose of translation — as a tool for second language acquisition.

When structuring a translation assignment for students, a simulated environment should be created as well. Students should be given the information on who the readers of their translations will be, what effect it should have on them, what rate would be applied to such a task, what would be the appropriate level of quality, whether a proofreader is going to go through their text and so on. By using situationalization, students are directly prepared for the work they will be doing for many years after graduation, and additionally, they are still enhancing their language and translation skills.

External cooperation

If a lecturer wants to provide their students with the most realistic training, it is advisable to set up a cooperation with technology providers to get (often free) access to the latest tools, and with language service providers willing to provide the program with internship vacancies and additional training. These companies do not have to wait passively until students are sent to them; they can participate in the training process in different ways. To give a real example from a program that already exists: they can act as visiting lecturers, sit in assessment commissions or take part in the simulated translation bureaus.

Ways of external cooperation are numerous, and it is only up to the department management which companies they will find and what opportunities they will negotiate for students. It is a favorable cooperation for the companies, too, as they can work on preparing their potential future employees and influence the skills they receive during their studies.

Such cooperation provides students with experience they would not be able to access in the academic environment as the real process will always be at least slightly different from the simulation the lecturer can achieve. Thanks to external cooperation, students get in direct touch with the processes and the people, creating important contacts and connections for their future careers. Furthermore, both the department and the company benefit from the cooperation thanks to constant exchange of information and feedback.

Establishing such cooperation might also solve the issue with the shortage of staff skilled to train students in translation technology, project management and other vocational skills, as these people work in the field every day. It does not mean that they are automatically capable of teaching students, but this again offers a space for joint learning and possibly for training the trainers themselves.

The time is now

Although these best practices do work alone, they work best when combined. They also have to be supported by the right technology and led by all-around experts with experience in the current translation market. Achieving all of this is not easy, but it is also not unreachable.

Luckily, both software companies and language service providers are opening up to the cooperation with academic institutions, making it easier than ever to bridge the gap between the academia and the industry. Our own talent endorsement program is one example. There is no reason for the ivory towers of academia to stand anymore.