Wikipedia translation projects: Take 2

Last year was the first time I assigned a Wikipedia translation project in my Introduction to Translation into English course, and I was happy enough with the experience that I tried it again this year. Now that I’m more familiar with Wikipedia, I was able to change the assignment in ways that I hope improved both the student experience and the translations we produced. Here’s an overview of how I modified the assignment this year and what students thought about the project:

Overview of the assignment

For this assignment, students are required to work in groups to translate an article they choose. Like last year, I recommended they select from this list of 7000+ articles needing translation from French into English. Also like last year, as part of the assignment, students had to submit a report about how they divided the work and made their translation decisions. Finally, they had to do a presentation in front of the class to show their finished article and explain the challenges they faced when translating it.

First change: More training on Wikipedia policies and style guides

This year, I spent more class time talking about Wikipedia policies and discussing what would make a “good” English article. During our second week of class, for instance, we covered Wikipedia’s three Wikipedia’s Core Content Policies: neutral point of view, no original research, and verifiability of sources. I asked students to consider how this might affect the articles they chose to translate, and reminded them that they should be aware that even a single word in the source text (e.g. “talented”, “greatest”, “spectacular”) could run counter to these three policies. Last year, for instance, the group translating an article about a historic site in France found adjectives like “spectacular” and “great” used in the French article to describe a tower that stood on the site. In their translation, they deleted these adjectives, because they found them too subjective. After we discussed this example, I asked students to think of other evaluative words they might encounter in their source texts, and then we came up with some strategies for addressing these problems in their translations, including omitting the words and finding a reliable secondary source to quote instead (“X and Y have described the tower as ‘spectacular’).

On Weeks 3 and 4, we took a closer look at the Wikipedia Manual of Style, and in particular, at the Manual of Style for articles about the French language or France and the Manual of Style for Canada-related articles. Though students could choose to translate articles on French-speaking regions other than France and Canada, only those two French-speaking countries have their own style guide. I pointed out the recommendations for accented characters and proper names and we discussed what to do in cases where no rule existed, or where considerable controversy continues to exist, as is the case for capitalization of French titles and expressions. In this case, we created our own rule (follow typical English capitalization rules), but students could still choose to do something else: they just had to justify their decision in the commentary accompanying their translation.

Second change: revised marking scheme

Last year, I’d intended to mark the translations just like any other assignment: I told students I would give them a grade for the accuracy of their translation, based on whether they had any errors like incorrect words and shifts in meaning, and a grade for English-language problems like grammar errors, spelling mistakes, and ambiguous wordings. But a good Wikipedia article also needs to have hyperlinks to other articles, citations to back up any facts, and various other features that are mentioned in the Manual of Style. My marking scheme from last year couldn’t accommodate these things. This year, I marked the translations out of 50, broken down as follows: 15 marks for the accuracy of the translation, 15 marks for the language, 10 marks for conforming to the Manual of Style and adding relevant hyperlinks to other Wikipedia articles, 5 marks for citing references and ensuring hyperlinks are functional, and a final 5 marks for ensuring the translation is posted to Wikipedia, with the corrections I suggested. I also had students submit their translations earlier so I could start marking them before the end of the semester, giving them time to post their final versions before the course was over. Together, these changes made the assignment work much better, and I noticed a big improvement in the quality of the final articles.

Student reactions to the assignment

At first, some students were very nervous about working within the Wikipedia environment. In the first week of class, when I asked how many had ever edited a Wikpipedia article, no one raised their hand. As the weeks went on, I heard comments from the groups about how they needed to spend some time figuring out the markup language, and how to use the sandbox, but by the end of the term, everyone succeeded in posting their translations online.

During their presentations this week, some students even noted that the markup language was fairly easy to learn and that they were glad to have more experience with it because it’s a tool they might need to use in the future. As I’d hoped, many students discovered that researching an article is a lot of work and that just because you’re interested in a topic doesn’t mean it will be easy to translate an article about it. Some students commented that adapting their texts to an English audience was challenging, particularly when English sources about the people and places they’d chosen to write about weren’t readily available. And nearly all of them felt the assignment has made them look at Wikipedia more critically: some students said they would check how recently an article had been updated (since their French article had out-of-date tourism statistics, for instance, or dead hyperlinks), while others said they would be looking to see whether the article cited reliable sources.

Not all of the translations have been corrected and posted online yet, but here are a few that have. I’ll update the list later, when everyone’s done: [List updated April 19]:

  • Aubagne (Students translated the “History”, “Politics” and “Environment and Environmental Policies” sections)
  • Fundy National Park (Students translated the “Natural Environment” and “Tourism and Administration” sections)
  • Louis Calaferte (Students translated the introduction, along with the “early life” and “Career” sections)
  • Lyonnaise cuisine (Students translated the “Terroirs and culinary influences” and “The Mères” sections)
  • Die2Nite

One thought on “Wikipedia translation projects: Take 2

  1. Excellent! If I were still teaching, I would follow your example.

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