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Review of  Translation in Undergraduate Degree Programmes

Reviewer: Dorothy Kelly
Book Title: Translation in Undergraduate Degree Programmes
Book Author: Kirsten Malmkjaer
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.2834

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Date: Sun, 2 Oct 2005 13:08:24 +0200 (MEST)
From: Dorothy Kelly
Subject: Translation in Undergraduate Degree Programmes

EDITOR: Malmkjær, Kirsten
TITLE: Translation in Undergraduate Degree Programmes
SERIES: Benjamins Translation Library 59
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2004

Dorothy Kelly, AVANTI Research Group, Departamento de Traducción e
Interpretación, Universidad de Granada, Spain

This edited collective volume brings together twelve papers and an
introduction under the general umbrella theme of translation in
undergraduate degree programmes. To a certain extent, it can be seen as a
continuation of a previous collection of papers collated by the same
editor in 1998 (Malmkjær 1998) which brought together papers on
translation in language teaching and language teaching for translation. As
such it reflects an academic tradition in some European countries whereby
strict compartmentalization of academic disciplines, objectives and
approaches is avoided. In this respect, the book is a welcome product of
cross-fertilization between the disciplines of Translation Studies and
Modern Languages, all too often at loggerheads. However, this eclectic
tradition also means that the content of the volume is on first reading
extremely heterogeneous in subject matter and approach, making it
difficult initially to trace one clear underlying theme. For that very
reason, I have chosen not to comment separately on each individual paper
in this review, but have rather attempted to establish connections which
arise among the different papers, and from there tendencies relating to
Translation on undergraduate degree programmes.

Seven of the papers are by authors working clearly within the field of
Translation Studies and concentrate squarely on the training and/or
education of professional translators, including in two cases language
learning for future professional translators. Four papers reflect on
translation elements in more general language courses of different kinds,
covering both translation as a means to the end of language learning, and
basic preparation in translation as an optional element and potential
secondary professional activity for general language graduates. The final
paper deals with the complex issue of the role and evolution of English as
an international language, its implications for undergraduate language
degree programmes in English-speaking countries, particularly the UK, and
its implications for monolingual speakers of English and their
communication with the rest of the world.

The first general reflection the book provokes is the enormous range of
teaching situations in which translation is involved as an activity, and
the tremendous wealth of experience which can be drawn from that.
Schjoldager and Källvist present the results of two empirical studies into
the efficiency of translation in language learning; although their
different studies are ongoing and results so far are essentially
inconclusive, there appears to be little confirmation of the usefulness of
translation in this context. Sewell, in an original contribution, argues
from a student-centred perspective the virtues of translation as a
language learning activity which allows students to move in situations
they feel they control better and hence not to lose face, in contrast with
typical role-play components of communicative methods. From a different
perspective, Beeby and Bernardini each put forward the case for
translation-specific teaching of language skills for future translators,
the former using a genre-based approach, the latter a corpus-based
approach. Both Schäffner and Prelozniková & Toft present case studies of
undergraduate courses which combine translation with other language
skills, whereas Bernardini (who has two separate contributions in the
volume), Wilss, González Davies and MacKenzie clearly situate themselves
in the realm of training/educating future professional translators in
translation. Translation, then, is still used as a (compulsory) language-
teaching activity in some contexts; future translators must acquire sound
language skills prior to and parallel with learning to translate,
interestingly enough rarely through translation itself; general language
graduates acquire what Barbour refers to in his paper as "translation
awareness" either as a potential professional option or simply to round
off their linguistic skills and their ability to act professionally as
language experts; and finally, of course, an increasing number of
professionalized courses are training (educating?) translators for the now
highly technological language industries. This all makes for a fascinating
mix of approaches, offering at the very least food for thought for those
working within different paradigms: an important virtue of this volume.

In a paper which serves as an introductory overview of some of the issues
involved in translation pedagogy, Wilss reminds us (p. 11) of the dangers
of dogmatism, insisting that there is (or should be) no "fixed canon" in
translation teaching method. This very welcome warning is borne out by the
papers which follow it, as different authors illustrate how their academic
traditions, systems and environments impinge on what is done on their
courses, and how it is done. Represented here are the UK, Slovakia, Spain,
Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany, although the contributions
from the latter two do not make specific reference to their context.
Surprisingly enough, despite some quite detailed descriptions of course
structure and content, no specific mention is made of the pan-European
move toward the creation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA),
except very much in passing to only one element thereof (the credit
system) by González Davies. The reformed system currently being introduced
in some 40 European countries is based on three distinct levels of
teaching/learning on the Bachelor-Master-Doctor model, most typically
lasting 3 + 2 + 3 years. The extent of this ongoing reform process,
together with the length of time it often takes for papers to appear in
print form, means that at least some of the information given here on
course structures is either out-of-date or about to change extensively,
which is unfortunate.

Although the authors make no explicit reference to the EHEA as the overall
framework for their curricular design decisions, many of its elements and
the debate surrounding them are however present in the papers, and form an
interesting, if implicit, connection among them. Bernadini's impassioned
plea for a first degree centred on education rather than training and for
an overall "reasoned, timely and thought-out balance of education and
training" (p. 27) is especially opportune in this respect, as it reflects
the potential dangers identified by many academics in current higher
education trends of allowing an often transitory market situation to
determine how and in what students should be educated within the proposed
3+2+3 structure. Differing approaches to this issue can be observed in
this volume, for example in Bernardini's rejection of replication of
potential professional situations (typical of training) as reductive and
as purely cumulative, in contrast with the generative nature of more
educational approaches which promote further learning ability and the
growth of the individual; this in stark contrast with MacKenzie, who bases
her proposal fully on the replication (simulated or otherwise) of
professional situation within a marked training paradigm.

Bernadini's appeal for more attention to general educational and social
concerns at undergraduate level links indirectly to Wilss's caveat
regarding "premature over-specialization" (p. 10), and no less so to the
many references to the role of new technologies throughout the volume.
Wilss sees no "rational grounds for opposing the setting up of a strongly
modern(ised), computer-oriented course in translation [...], focusing not
only on machine translation, and machine-assisted translation, but also on
artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology" (p. 12). MacKenzie
includes IT skills in her list of essential translator competencies (p.
32). On the other side of the debate, Bernardini (p. 22) and Beeby (p.
42), for their part, both quote Mossop (2000) with whom they are in
varying degrees of agreement: "If you cannot translate with pencil and
paper, then you can't translate with the latest information technology"
(p. 22). The debate boils down to deciding whether new technologies
constitute an object of study in themselves (Wilss), or rather an
instrument at the service of the student, teacher and translator (Mossop,
Bernardini). Both approaches are, of course, legitimate, but they
correspond to different aims and ends. Does a course aim at educating
graduates who will be able to translate as responsible reflective citizens
and professionals in the XXIst century, or at training specialists in
translation technology who will be able to help in the development of
better tools for the future? There is no single answer, and context is
determinant in setting objectives for individual courses.

In setting objectives for undergraduate courses and modules, several of
the authors use or refer to the concept of competence, central to the EHEA
in an attempt to move away from purely declarative knowledge and to
incorporate more procedural knowledge into university education. The
problematic nature of the very concept of competence in the context of
higher education is made abundantly clear by the range of terminology used
by the different authors, who speak of competence, competency, skill,
knowledge and/or capacity to refer at least partly to the same thing. The
debate surrounding the concept of translation/translator competence is, of
course, not new in Translation Studies, although the EHEA definition is
not exactly coincidental with many of those used in our field. In the
context of higher education, competence can be understood to mean: "a
transferable, multifunctional package of knowledge, skills and attitudes
that individuals need for personal fulfilment and development, inclusion
and employment" (Working Group "Basic skills, entrepreneurship and foreign
languages", 2003:11). This is much broader in scope than more narrowly
professional training view of competence often put forward in Translation

In this volume, Beeby in particular argues heavily in favour of a
competence-based model as a "useful checklist for designing any
translation-related syllabus" (p. 44). This does not of course mean that
all courses will end up doing the same in the same way, as underlined by
González Davies and Wilss in this volume: "The most salient misconception
is [...] the belief that there is a royal way in translation teaching
methodology" (p. 14). Adaptation to the local cultural, social,
educational, professional context is essential if any course is to be

Malmkjær in her introduction and Barbour in his concluding paper make
explicit reference to a phenomenon promoted without a doubt by the EHEA
and the internationalization of higher education worldwide, already
strongly present in some countries and emergent in others: the
increasingly multicultural and multilingual nature of our classrooms. This
phenomenon calls into question much of the received wisdom regarding
translation learning and practice, not least in relation to the concept of
directionality. Multiple language combinations in the classroom, together
with external considerations such as the limited supply of translators for
certain combinations, or the complex situation of English as an
international language (with its many, not always entirely mutually
comprehensible varieties, as pointed out by Barbour) all point to the need
for a more flexible approach to the concepts of mother tongue, the
direction of translation, and the idea of the translator as a team player,
all present in this volume. Here again, curiously, we come up against
terminological differences which do not help intra- or interdisciplinary
communication. Translation into non-mother tongue (Grosman et al., 2000)
is referred to in the volume by different authors as inverse translation,
reverse translation and translation into L2, reflecting both disciplinary
and national influence! (For detailed recent discussions of
directionality, see Kelly et al., 2003 and Pokorn, 2005.)

A further and important aspect of the multicultural classroom is that
teachers must be prepared for much greater diversity in learning styles
than they have hitherto experienced. An interesting hint of this aspect of
teaching translation, on which much work is still needed, appears in the
volume with regard to inductive versus deductive approaches. Schäffner,
following Hönig and Kussmaul (1991) and working in the UK, adopts and
reports on the success of a strongly inductive approach, as does
Bernardini (she uses the term "discovery learning") in reporting on the
use of corpora in language teaching for future translators. González
Davies, on the other hand, although adopting a strongly inductive approach
herself, reports on Orozco´s (2000) finding that Spanish students perform
better when theoretical modules are introduced at an early stage of their
courses (a deductive paradigm).

Pleas are made by various authors for research to feed back into teaching
both of translation and of language. Valuable steps in this direction are
already reported on in several papers in this volume, and can of course be
identified in other authors (see e.g. Colina, 2003 for an interesting
overview of how Translation Studies research can feed back into the
classroom). Such an essential move is certainly facilitated by research
reports as detailed, transparent and cautious as those by Schjoldager and
Källvist in this volume.

One last common theme linking the various papers is that of evaluation.
Wilss (p. 14) identifies it as an immediate challenge for translation
teachers, and it is certainly the case that Translation Studies as a
discipline has yet to reach agreement on what a good translation is. None
of the papers in the volume actually go into this thorny matter in any
further depth. They do, however, touch on a slightly different, but
strongly related issue for translation teachers: that of how to assess
learning on translation courses. On this point, Schäffner and Prelozniková
& Toft both offer interesting information and innovative suggestions for
assessment of learning in translation from a pedagogical point of view.

In conclusion, a volume which initially gives the impression of being very
heterogeneous proves on detailed reading to have many common threads which
can be drawn together to pose questions of considerable interest to anyone
working with translation in the university classroom or in curricular and
syllabus design for translation teaching. Those of us involved in teaching
within Translation Studies have much to learn from the long and rich
experience of those working in language acquisition; this volume is proof
that our work in Translation Studies is now also producing results and
feedback, hopefully of use not only to ourselves but also to those using
translation for purposes other than educating future professionals in the
classroom. Alongside these common interests, we also increasingly share a
common higher education framework across disciplines and national borders,
which none of us can afford to ignore.


Colina, Sonia. 2003. Teaching Translation. From Research to the Classroom.
McGraw Hill.

Grosman, Meta et al. (eds.). 2000. Translation into Non-mother tongues.
Tubinga: Stauffenburg.

Hönig Hans and Paul Kussmaul 1991. Strategie der Übersetzung. Ein Lehr-
und Arbeitsbuch. Tübingen: Narr.

Kelly, Dorothy; Anne Martin; Marie-Louise Nobs, Dolores Sánchez y
Catherine Way (eds.) 2003. La direccionalidad en Traducción e
Interpretación. Granada: Atrio.

Malmkjær, Kirsten (ed.). 1998. Translation and Language Teaching. Language
Teaching and Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome.

Mossop, Brian. 2000. "What should be taught at translation school?" In
Anthony Pym (ed.) Innovation in Translator and Interpreter Training - An
Online Symposium. Online: http://www.fut-es/~apym/symp/mossop.html

Pokorn, Nike K. 2005. Challenging the Traditional Axioms. Amsterdam: John

Working Group "Basic skills, entrepreneurship and foreign languages"
(2003) "Implementation of 'Education and Training 2010' Work Programme:
Progress Report". Unpublished working document. European Commission,
Directorate-General for Education and Culture


Dorothy Kelly is senior lecturer in Translation at the University of
Granada, where she has been teaching on the undergraduate programme for
over twenty years, and currently coordinates a programme of doctoral
studies in Translating and Interpreting entitled "Traducción, Sociedad y
Comunicación". She obtained her first degree in Translating and
Interpreting at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh (Scotland), and her
doctoral degree from the University of Granada. Her main research
interests are translator training and directionality in translation. Among
other publications, she is author of A Handbook for Translator Trainers: A
Guide to Reflective Practice (2005), editor of La traducción y la
interpretación en España hoy: perspectivas profesionales (2000) and co-
editor of La direccionalidad en Traducción e Interpretación (2003). She is
currently series editor of Translation Practices Explained at St Jerome
Publishing, Manchester.