Highlights of the Monterey Forum 2011

I’ve just returned from my trip to Monterey, where I attended (and presented at) the Monterey Forum on Innovations in Translator, Interpreter and Localizer Education. (See my last post for more details). Although many of the presentations focused on interpreter training, I did come back with some new ideas and tools to integrate into my translation classes. I thought I’d write about some of the points I found useful, in case those who weren’t able to attend are interested in some of the tools and teaching strategies the presenters discussed. For brevity’s sake, I’ll focus on just four presentations, although many others were also very helpful.

On Friday, Jost Zetzsche, one of the keynote speakers, briefly touched on crowdsourcing in response to a question from an audience member. Jost argued that translation programs need to train not just translators, but team leaders, because crowdsourcing has become such an integral part of the translation process in a few specific industries, such as social media. Although Jost believes crowdsourcing is unlikely to affect the translation industry as a whole, it will affect the way translation is performed for companies like Facebook or Twitter. If these companies don’t turn to professional translators to lead the crowd, Jost argues that translators should instead go to them, and that translator trainers should therefore prepare students to fill these kinds of leadership roles. While I could see Jost’s point, I haven’t quite decided where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, incorporating some kind of leadership training into the translation curriculum will likely be beneficial to students, whether they go on to manage crowdsourced translation projects, small translation companies, or large translation agencies; on the other hand, training translators to work in the shadows of crowdsourced projects (as the invisible correctors of translations generated by bilinguals who usually have little or no formal training in translation), helps lower the professional status of translation, giving the impression any bilingual can produce accurate, effective translations, when these translations are actually being reviewed and revised up by professionals who work behind the scenes. I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this problem, but it’s something translator training programs will likely have to consider for at least the next few years.

On Saturday, I attended a number of interesting talks. Cécile Frérot’s presentation on bilingual corpora and corpus-analysis tools was particularly useful, since she teaches French/English translation at the Université Stendhal and the corpora she discussed would therefore be well-suited to most translation classes here in Canada. She discussed the Corpus of Contemporary American English (available for free at this website), a fantastic resource of more than 400 million words (spread over 175,000 texts published between 1990 and 2011). As the website notes, the corpus is evenly divided between five genres: spoken, fiction, popular magazines, newspapers, and academic journals. Users are able to restrict searches to any one of these genres, sort by frequency, search for collocates and more. In addition, the website interface allows users to search the British National Corpus, the TIME Corpus, which contains 100 million words published between the 1920s and the 2000s, and the Corpus of Historical American English, which contains 400 million words published between 1810 and 2009. I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered this website before! I will definitely be introducing it to my students next year. She also mentioned AntConc a free monolingual concordancer for Windows, Mac OS and Linux, in case instructors want to develop their own corpora for use in the classroom (e.g. a corpus of scholarly/scientific articles published in a specific domain, to be used in a specialized translation course).

Barry Slaughter Olsen, from the Monterey Institute, talked about filming his students in class while they interpreted, and then uploading the videos to YouTube so students could watch themselves and their classmates and then leave feedback for one another. One of the more helpful points I got from his presentation was the need to give guidance to students when you ask them to leave online feedback for their peers. One student wanted to be told which issues to focus on each week. Another thought students should be asked to comment on one or two other students each week, instead of being expected to provide feedback to everyone. Both these points are applicable to translation students as well. If the class had just spent some time exploring ways to reduce wordiness, for instance, students could be asked comment on how well some of their peers incorporated these strategies into their homework. This would help reinforce what the students had learned, while giving more students direct feedback, since instructors can’t possibly comment in detail on everyone’s homework in a class of 15+ students. I’ll definitely be incorporating this tip into my translation classes next year, when I start using WordPress as a platform to complement our in-class sessions. I had already been thinking of having students comment on the submissions of their peers, so hearing what Barry’s students thought about the peer-to-peer feedback process was very helpful.

Finally, my Glendon colleagues María Constanza Guzmán and Lyse Hébert, discussed translator engagement, ideologies and agency. They really made me realize the importance of encouraging students to recognize their own ideologies and so they can realize that their backgrounds, training, and (political, social….) beliefs are inevitably going to affect their translations. Until now, I had left questions of engagement, ideology, and agency for the translation theory course, but I see now that even practical translation classes can benefit from having students briefly consider a) what their own views, prejudices, assumptions, etc. are, b) whether and how these views might differ from the ST author’s and the intended SL readers, and c) whether students should (or even want to) compensate for these differences.

I’ll have lots to consider over the summer, as I revise the syllabi for my existing courses and prepare for my new classes. If you were at the Forum, feel free to add your thoughts on these or other presentations. And if you weren’t able to attend, feel free to comment on anything I’ve said or to discuss your own teaching strategies and tools. I’m particularly interested in hearing about whether you encourage peer-to-peer feedback in your classes and if so, how it works.

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