Research Methodologies in Translation Studies

This semester, I’m teaching our newly created, MA-level Research Methods in Translation Studies course (more on that in a future post), so Gabriela Saldanha and Sharon O’Brien’s recent book, Research Methodologies in Translation Studies (St. Jerome, 2013/Routledge, 2014), couldn’t have come at a better time.

While I was deciding how to organize the course, I leaned heavily on the structure of the book, which opens with a chapter on principles and definitions, and then delves into product-oriented, process-oriented, participant-oriented, and context-oriented research before ending with a section about how to structure a research paper. With only six chapters (excluding the introduction), it doesn’t align perfectly with a 12-week course, but some of the topics it covers in a single chapter (e.g. product-oriented research) can certainly be split into two or even three class sessions, with students exploring, say, critical discourse analysis one week and corpus linguistics the next.

In terms of content, the chapters offer exactly what I was looking for: comprehensive overviews of the research methods at hand, discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of each, and brief reviews of key publications. The section on process-oriented research, for instance, covers introspection, key-stroke logging and eye-tracking methods. The authors explore the advantages and disadvantages of each, consider the various challenges involved in collecting and analyzing data using these methods, and briefly discuss the research questions that have already been tackled by TS scholars. Particularly helpful were the references to the hardware/software most commonly used to do this kind of research (e.g. keystroke logging software Translog, which I was familiar with, and eye-tracker developer Tobii, which I was not).

When Magdalena Bartlomiejczyka reviewed Research Methodologies in Translation Studies for the Translator and Interpreter Trainer earlier this year, she noted that the book was probably too advanced for BA- or MA-level researchers. I certainly agree that BA students would likely be intimidated by the breadth of research methods covered here; this semester, for example, many of my undergraduate students felt overwhelmed by the quantity of information in the “Quality of Translation” entry from the Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, so I imagine that reading through some of the details in this book would have much the same effect on them, given that they haven’t yet been exposed to much translation theory and research.

I do, though, think that MA-level students (and PhDs too, of course) would find this book helpful: in general, it is comprehensive without being overwhelming, and for students who are unsure of the kinds of research they would like to do, the book gives them a good idea of the possibilities available to them, as well as the challenges they will likely face when they actually start their projects. I didn’t assign this book as a required textbook in my MA class this year, because instead I wanted my students to read journal articles as examples of research projects that use the methods in question, but as I’ve been preparing lecture and discussion materials, there is little I’ve needed to simplify for my students, and much that I might have otherwise overlooked.

The book is not primarily intended as a textbook for teaching research methods (or at least the authors do not specifically mention instructors when describing the intended audience), so it does not include related pedagogical exercises for the classroom. I’d have liked these, even if the exercises were offered only in a companion website rather than the book itself. Nonetheless, exercises are easy enough to develop based on the existing content: Saldanha and Brien offer, for instance, many examples of the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting various kinds of research projects. Instructors can easily look to these examples when designing related problem-solving activities. (E.g. Having students work in groups to brainstorm responses to questions like: “What tools would help you effectively study the working process of translators in a busy, open-plan office?” or “How would you design a corpus to ensure it is representative of a wide range of literary translations?”). In short, I think both instructors and researchers (whether they are novices looking for an overview of existing research methods or more experienced researchers looking to adopt a new methodology) will find the book a helpful introduction to the kinds of Translation Studies research that can be done, the challenges researchers will face when planning and conducting this research, and the ways these challenges can be addressed.

Introducing Translation Studies, 3rd edition

A few weeks ago, Routledge sent me a copy of the latest edition of Jeremy Munday’s Introducing Translation Studies, which I’ll be using in the fall with my undergraduate theory of translation course (in combination with the Reacting to the Past method I’ve already discussed here). We’ll be publishing a review of the book in the March 2013 issue of The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, but in the meantime, I thought I’d write a short review of my own here.

So what has changed since the last version of the book, which was published four years ago? Visually, this third edition, released in February 2012, is quite appealing: it uses both blue and black text throughout, which makes navigating through the chapters much easier. It’s also been expanded: the 2008 edition, which was also smaller in size, was 236 pages, while this one is 366. Although a new chapter, which discusses how to apply theory to translation commentaries and research projects, accounts for most of the extra pages, the other chapters generally contain new material as well.

As with the 2nd edition, a companion website has been prepared to accompany the book. There, students will find material to accompany every chapter–typically an introductory video, a series of multiple-choice questions, recommendations for further reading and suggestions for related research projects. While the book itself includes some of these same features (reading list and research project topics), the online material is different enough that students will find a visit to the website helpful. For instructors, the companion website offers free access to journal articles related to each chapter (annotated by Jeremy Munday), along with PowerPoint presentations that cover the main points of every chapter. I’m torn, though, as to whether these PowerPoints are an advantage or disadvantage: on the one hand, new instructors will likely find the files helpful; the slides can be customized, and the fact that the main points are already summarized in the presentations will help save some preparation time. On the other hand, a PowerPoint lecture is, at least in my view, a fairly boring way to present the material, and, as others have argued (e.g. Bligh 1998), lecturing alone is not an effective way to help students learn. For this reason, I would have liked to have seen Munday suggest different ways of integrating the content of his book into a translation theory class. For instance, the website could have offered activities related to each chapter’s content, additional case studies that could be analyzed together in class, or even recommendations for integrating various technologies (e.g. Twitter, blogs, wikis) into the classroom to help students reflect on and apply the material in the book. (For those who are interested, The Chronicle has published a number of articles discussing how professors have integrated these kinds of technologies into their classes, which could provide some inspiration for translation studies professors. Here’s one describing a professor’s experience allowing students to ask questions in class via Twitter, another offering advice on teaching with Twitter, and one more discussing how to integrate blogs into the classroom).

Companion website aside, this new edition of Introducing Translation Studies definitely has more to offer than the 2008 volume. In the new media chapter, for instance, Munday has been able to briefly address topics like crowdsourcing, fan-subbing and activist translation, three subjects that are increasingly popular of late, judging by the number of books and journals that have recently focused on these issues (e.g. the upcoming issue of The Translator focusing on non-professional translation, the 2011 issue of Linguistica Antverpiensia on community translation, or the 2010 book Translation/Interpreting and Social Activism). Students interested in cognitive approaches to translation will likely appreciate the new addition to Chapter 4, which discusses some of the ways of conducting observational research. While I would have liked to see additional case studies related to some of this new material (either in the book or on the companion website), the updated reading lists and discussion of new trends in translation studies make switching to the third edition worthwhile.

Bligh, Donald. (1998). What’s the Use of Lectures? Exeter: Intellect.

Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom I

Late last year, I bought a copy of Maria González Davies’ Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom, which describes 70 activities, 23 tasks and 3 projects that can be used in the classroom to develop various translation skills. Activities are considered brief exercises designed to help practice specific points, tasks are chains of activities “with the same global aim and a final product” (2004: 23), while projects are “multicompetence assignments” designed to help students engage in professional and pedagogical activities and tasks while collaboratively completing an end product—either an authentic translation commissioned by a client or a simulated situation (2004: 28). For brevity’s sake, in this post, I’ll use the term task to refer collectively to the activities, tasks and projects Davies describes in her book. These tasks are suited to a variety of translation classes, including comparative stylistics, general and specialized translation, and, in some cases, even terminology. I’ve now had a chance to try out one of them in my Introduction to Translation into English class for anglophone students, and I plan to try a few others, so I thought I’d write a series of posts about my experiences.

I should start off by saying that I’ve found the tasks quite useful and well-designed. Each one is broadly grouped into categories (e.g. translation and cultural studies, degrees of fidelity, developing linguistic skills) so that if you’re interested in working on certain types of translation skills, you can quickly flip through four, five, or more tasks to use with (or adapt for) your own class. Each task is also prefaced with very helpful details about the aims (e.g. to learn to peer edit, to practice inter- and intralinguistic translation), the suggested level (beginner, intermediate, advanced), the length of time and the number of sessions that might be needed (e.g. 10 minutes for one of the activities, or three 2-hour sessions for one of the tasks), and the suggested groupings (individual, pairs, small groups). Each task has a sample text for the students to work with, but unless students are translating from English into another language (and ideally into Spanish or Catalan), the texts will have to be substituted with something similar. This isn’t really a drawback, though, as it’s the ideas and goals behind the task that are important, and many texts could be used to achieve the goals highlighted by Davies.

One complaint I had, however, was about the formatting of the book: I would have preferred the tasks to each begin on a new page instead of following one another with just a few blank lines in between. I found it hard to flip quickly through the book to get a few details about each task, as each one seemed to start somewhere near the middle or end of a page, hidden among all the bullet points and numbered lists. That’s a small complaint though, and it doesn’t detract from the overall value of the book.

This week, I tried out Task 4: Can translation expectations be fulfilled?
Although this task was supposed to take place over four 2-hour sessions, I adapted the exercise to fit into a single 1.5 hour class. Together, we analyzed a 350-word text to see what kinds of problems it would pose. (Ours, for instance had some slightly specialized healthcare terms, some direct quotations from a healthcare spokesperson, some organization names and some vague references to geographic areas familiar to SL readers but probably less familiar to most TL readers). I then asked students to decide who their readers would be and where the translation would be published (e.g. website, magazine, newspaper). Finally, I asked the students to translate the first three paragraphs (about 160 words) to meet the expectations of their imagined readers and client. We then took a look at some of the students’ translations, and they explained how they’d solved (or to tried to solve) some of the problems we had discussed before starting the translation. Although the original exercise involved having the students write a paper at the end of the translation to reflect on whether and how they were able to fulfill these expectations, I had students just write a short paragraph on this question and then submit their responses at the end of the class.

I think the exercise worked well as a back-to-classes-after-the-winter-break activity. Shortening it to just one session, though, was probably a mistake. Another half hour or possibly even an hour would have been useful, since students could have polished their translations (as some noted they didn’t get very far), and we could have spent some time discussing what the students thought about whether and how they were able to fulfill the expectations of their imagined audiences. Instead, students had to rush through their paragraphs about how the constraints under which they worked affected their translation strategies, and I didn’t have time to guide the discussion back to how translation expectations can be met or not. I’ll try to cover this point for a few minutes at the beginning of class next week.

From the student responses, though, I think the exercise worked well enough as a way to reflect on translation strategies. The students gave a few examples of why they had translated one of the problematic passages in a certain way based on their imagined audience. The justifications students offered were reasonable and well thought out. For instance, one student chose not to provide a translation for a local health agency (which has no official English name) because her audience was English-speaking Quebecers and she assumed they would be familiar with similar agencies and could recognize most of the French words in the name (e.g. agence, santé, services sociaux). Another student chose to add an explanation about how far away Abitibi-Témiscamingue is from Montreal, as he assumed his Ontario readers might not be familiar with the various Quebec regions but would know where a major urban area like Montreal is located. On the other hand, some students mentioned that they had trouble deciding how to resolve some of the problems, as knowing who their target audience was didn’t always help. For instance, one student who chose to translate for a general, English-speaking audience of newspaper readers couldn’t decide whether “stomach flu” or “gastroenteritis” was a more appropriate translation for “gastroentérite”.

I’d do this exercise again, but I’d plan it so that we could have about two hours to complete the task instead of a single 1.5-hour session. I plan to try a few other tasks this term, so I’ll blog about the results after we complete them.

Davies, Maria González. (2004). Multiple Voices in the Translation Classroom: Activities, Tasks and Projects. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Jeff Howe on Crowdsourcing

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m in the midst of writing two articles on crowdsourcing and translation, which means I’m busy reading some background material on the topic. I thought I’d post a few quick reviews of the books I’m reading, in case someone else is interested in finding out more about how crowdsourcing can change (and in some cases has changed) the translation process.

Jeff Howe’s Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business is a good introduction to the crowdsourcing phenomenon. According to Howe, crowdsourcing emerged due to four factors: 1) a rising amateur class, 2) the development of open-source software that inspired these amateurs and provided them with a platform to contribute to tasks, 3) the proliferation of the Internet (and cheaper tools for such tasks as photography, film making and graphic design), and 4) the evolution of online communities, which helped organize people into “economically productive units” (2008: 99).

Howe offers a plethora of examples of crowdsourcing in action, with detailed profiles of such ventures as, where people design, vote on, and then purchase winning T-shirt designs, iStockphoto, a community of amateur photographers selling their photos for a nominal fee, and InnoCentive, a network of scientists that help solve R&D problems for fortune 500 companies such as Procter & Gamble (and are paid a financial reward for doing so).

With these kinds of examples, Howe illustrates how crowdsourcing is changing the way work is done. He uses the collaborative effort of Linux, for instance, to show how software can be developed more quickly than with traditional, “heavily managed, hierarchical approach” (2008: 55) and still contain very few bugs. With the InnoCentive example, he shows how problems can be solved by a fresh set of eyes from outside the field and how crowdsourcing often results in a meritocracy, where people are judged on the product they produce rather than their nationality or professional qualifications (2008: 45-46).

I didn’t find any examples of crowdsourced translation initiatives, but Howe does raise some interesting questions about how crowdsourcing challenges traditional concepts, such as how we define the term “professional.” He argues that because information is so readily available on the Internet, “amateurs are able to use the Web to acquire as much information as the professionals” (2008: 40). And that poses problems when we try to determine what makes someone an “amateur” and someone else a “professional”:

relying on financial information to draw distinctions between professional and nonprofessional is a good rule of thumb if you prepare tax returns for a living. But if you’re looking at crowdsourcing, it only produces confusion. What is evident in crowdsourcing is that people with highly diverse skills and professional backgrounds are drawn to participate. While very few iStock contributors are professional photographers, more than half have had at least one year of formal schooling in “art, design, photography, or related creative disciplines” (2008: 27-28).

I do, however, have two complaints about the book. First, the author often doesn’t fully cite his sources, making it hard for readers to fact check or get more information about something Howe says. For instance, on page 15, I came across this tantalizing reference:

A study conducted by MIT examined why highly skilled programmers would donate their time to open source software projects. The results revealed that the programmers were driven to contribute for a complex web of motivations, including a desire to create something from which the larger community would benefit as well as the sheer joy of practicing a craft at which they excel.

Now, since I’m trying to determine why people volunteer to translate websites and other texts, I would really like to take a look at this MIT study to find out about this “complex web of motivations” and to see how the survey was designed. Unfortunately, Howe doesn’t provide the date, authors or title of the publication where he found this information, so I’m out of luck. I realize that Howe’s book is published by a trade publisher rather than an academic press, but it does include endnotes with bibliographic details for a number of other references, so there’s no reason for this reference to be missing. (Incidentally, I did manage to find several papers on the motivations of open-source developers, and I’ve listed them at the end of this post, in case anyone is interested. One even appears in a volume published by MIT.)

My second complaint is that Howe seems to have assumed that few people will read through his book from beginning to end (as I did). Otherwise, why would he repeat sentences (and sometimes paragraphs) in multiple chapters. For instance, I found these three sentences on pages 134 and 159, when Howe describes “idea jams”, or the use of crowdsourcing to generate new ideas:

People have pointed out that this is little more than an Internet-enabled suggestion box. Just so. The Internet didn’t make crowdsourcing possible–it just made it vastly more effective.

Despite my two quibbles, though, this is an interesting and very accessible book that explores various facets of crowdsourcing (from for-profit initiatives like YouTube and MySpace, which make money selling advertising around user-generated content, to projects like Wikipedia and the futures market like the Iowa Electronic Markets). If you’re at all intrigued by the phenomenon, it’s worth a read.

Freeman, Stephanie. (2007). The Material and Social Dynamics of Motivation: Contributions to Open Source Language Technology Development. Science Studies, 20(2): 55-77 [available online here].

Ghosh, Rishab Aiyer. (2005) Understanding Free Software Developers: Findings from the FLOSS Study. In Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam & Karim R. Lakhani (eds). Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hars, Alexander & Shaosong Ou. (2002). Working for Free? Motivations for Participating in Open-Source Projects. International Journal of Electronic Commerce, 6(3): 25-39.

Howe, Jeff. (2008). Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business. New York: Crown Business.

Bilingualism and translation

While I was researching a paper I’m writing on the motivations of those who participate in community translation projects, I came across an interesting book on bilingualism:
Bilingual: Life and Reality, by François Grosjean.

At the moment, I’m preparing a survey for people who have participated in any crowdsourced translation project, and I was looking for a resource that could help me word the questions about language proficiency. Grosjean’s book did the trick, although not quite as I expected. It’s a very accessible introduction to bilingualism, and although it didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know about issues that include how people become bilingual, why they have accents, why code-switching occurs, and whether bilinguals are also bicultural, it did remind me of all the aspects of bilingualism that I need to keep in mind when I ask survey respondents who were involved in a crowdsourced translation initiative how often they use the languages that were part of the initiative.

Bilingual: Life and Reality is divided into two parts: the first focuses on bilingual adults, and the second, on bilingual children. As I mentioned earlier, it is a very accessible book, targeted at a general readership: “those who are interested in bilingualism or involved, in one way or another, with bilinguals” (2010: xv). Thus, it is sprinkled with anecdotes about bilinguals (such as the ones about his baker’s wife, who serves customers in both French and Swiss German, or the comments by bilingual authors like Nancy Huston), and it indicates the references to scholarly works in endnotes rather than footnotes or in-text citations. It also explains in considerable detail terms like code-switching and borrowing, which readers who are unfamiliar with linguistics might not know very much about.

Of particular interest to me (since I am trying to reflect on what it means to be bilingual and to word my survey questions about language proficiency) is Grosjean’s definition of bilinguals as “those who use two or more languages (dialects) in their everyday lives” (2010: 4) and his debunking of a series of myths about bilinguals, namely that bilingualism is rare (2010: 13-17), that bilinguals are equally proficient in all of their languages (20-35), that being bilingual automatically makes one a good translator (36-38), that bilinguals code-switch because they are lazy (rather than because certain concepts are better expressed in another language or because someone wants to identify with a certain group, show expertise, etc.) (52-62), that bilinguals have no accent in their various languages (77-81), that real bilinguals acquire their languages as children (90), that being bilingual means also being bicultural (108-112), that bilinguals seem to have a different personality for each language they speak (121-125) and that bilinguals always express their emotions in their mother tongues rather than their less dominant languages (129-133). Grosjean does argue against some prevalent myths about bilingual children as well (e.g. that bilingualism will delay a child’s language acquisition and that bilingualism negatively affects a child’s development), but these sections were less relevant to my research, and so I didn’t spend much time reading them.

I can see the point of adopting a wide-ranging definition of bilingualism like the one Grosjean proposes rather than a definition that excludes those who do not master two or more languages equally well; as he argues, if we use “bilingual” to refer to only the small group of people who master two or more languages so skillfully that they could pass for a native speaker of each one, what term could we use to refer to the larger group of people who speak two or more languages on a regular basis but are not completely fluent in all of them?

Now I just have to sit down and transform these details about bilingualism into succinct survey questions designed for respondents who might not have any formal training in translation or linguistics and who therefore might not be familiar with some of its terminology. I want to see how often respondents regularly use the source and target languages of a community translation initiative, how often they translate(d) into their most proficient language (which may not be their mother tongues), and how comfortable they feel writing in the target language. My next step is to check out language-related questions from surveys conducted by the Canadian and US governments as well as the European Commission.

Grosjean, François. (2010). Bilingual: Life and Reality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Grosjean’s blog also discusses some of the issues that are raised in Bilingual: Life and Reality.

Translation in Global News

Recently, I’ve been reading Esperança Bielsa and Susan Bassnett’s Translation in Global News, which I’m reviewing for TTR. I came across the following paragraph about news translation, which also applies to website localization:

What research in this field [news translation] is starting to show is that translation is one element in a complex set of processes whereby information is transposed from one language into another and then edited, rewritten, shaped and repackaged in a new context, to such a degree that any clear distinction between source and target ceases to be meaningful. This is in total contrast to more established research into translation practice, particularly in the field of literary translation, where discussion is always in some way focussed around the idea of the binary distinction between source and target texts. Research into news translation poses questions about the very existence of a source and hence challenges established definitions of translation itself (Bielsa & Bassnet 2009: 11).

One of the challenges when studying localized websites is comparing the “source” site with that of the target locale. In some cases, various versions of a company or brand website were clearly developed with a general template. For example, the Pampers Canada and Pampers US sites have nearly identical layouts, images, colours and advertisements:

This is the French-Canadian site:

Here’s the English-Canadian site:

And the US English site:

As you can see, except for the fact that the French Canada site is missing the purple “Shop” tab in the menu bar and the banners in the upper portion of each site, (which differ only because I took the three screen shots at different points in the four-ad cycle), the sites are visually identical. In this case, it’s probably safe to assume that the US English site served as the source for the Canadian English site, since the Pampers brand is owned by US-based Procter & Gamble. The French Canada site was likely translated based on the English-Canadian content (an assumption supported by the fact that the French-Canadian banner ad still has some English text in it, as the first screen shot shows).
But what happens with other sites, when the layouts are not as similar?
Consider the AT&T US website:
And the AT&T Canada site:

Can we still talk about a source website? A researcher I met at the LISA@Berkeley conference told me that he looks at the source code of websites localized for Spanish-speaking locales to see whether it contains traces of English (e.g. comments by the programmers) to help confirm that the local Spanish-language websites were created based on the US/UK English-language sites. That works when the source and target locales have different languages, but not with English Canada and the United States.

Website localization does pose some problems for translation studies research, since the source locale cannot always be confirmed. In some cases, it’s easier just to analyze the site of a particular target locale (e.g. English Canada) without comparing it to the assumed source website. This reduces the kinds of analysis that can be done (studies based on parallel corpora, for instance, become difficult), but it still allows one to draw conclusions about how a given locale is being targeted through images and colours, or even through the text prepared for the target-locale users.


Bielsa, Esperança & Susan Bassnett. (2009) Translation in Global News. London; New York: Routledge.