Fall semester wrap-up I

This has been an unusually busy Fall semester, which is why I haven’t posted anything here in several months. With classes over and all of the outstanding grading almost finished, I thought I’d take advantage of the temporary lull to post a few thoughts on some of the courses I taught this term. In this post, I’ll be talking about a third-year undergraduate course called Theory of Translation.

Last year, I’d experimented with having students prepare Wikipedia articles as part of their coursework, and since the results were largely successful, I made the project mandatory this year. This time, though, students submitted their projects in three stages: 1) a 100-word proposal, in which students had to describe the topic they wanted to cover, justify why it needed a new or expanded Wikipedia article, and demonstrate that they would be able to find relevant secondary sources to draw on, 2) a draft version of their article posted to their Wikipedia user page sandbox, and 3) a final version published in Wikipedia that incorporated the feedback I’d given them on their drafts. In total, the Wikipedia project was worth 45% of the final grade (10% for the proposal, 15% for the draft, and 20% for the final version). About 20 students were enrolled in Theory of Translation this semester, which means that together, these students added about 10,000 words to Wikipedia.

For the most part, the articles turned out very well. I tried to prepare students for the research and drafting process by spending time as a class thinking how to write a good Wikipedia article. Early on, we reviewed resources like WikiProject Translation Studies so we could think about what topics needed new or expanded articles. Three weeks into the course, we walked over to the university library to explore possible resources, and a week later, we took at a look at the Wikipedia article on Computer-assisted translation, which has a number of quality issues. We then spent about fifteen minutes in class trying to improve its references, structure and content: this activity doubled as a way to apply some of the readings from our unit on translation technology. These preparation sessions seem to have been worthwhile: most of the draft versions my students submitted a few weeks ago needed only fairly minor revisions to be added to Wikipedia. With only a few exceptions, all of the final articles made it into to Wikipedia.

In future years, though, I will ask students to write a longer proposal so they can better assess the potential need for an article and the resources they have access to. A few students did not fully explore the feasibility of their topic during the proposal stage and then had trouble drafting an article that relied on at least three secondary sources that met Wikipedia’s verifiability and reliability criteria. This happened most frequently when students wanted to write a biographical article on a translator or Translation Studies researcher. If the person was not very well known to the general public, students could usually rely on only primary sources such as a CV or personal website for the biographical details, and these are not considered reliable by Wikipedia standards. (Incidentally, this was the most common reason that articles my students had prepared were rejected by Wikipedia editors, although in one case my student had prepared an excellent biography relying only on secondary sources, but the translator was still deemed “not notable enough” to merit a Wikipedia page). I’d like to help students avoid these problems in the future.

Here’s a sample of the Wikipedia articles students added or expanded this term:


Translation institutions:

Other translation-related topics:

Games, games and more games II

In my last blog post, I described The Twitter Race, the game my Introduction to Translation into English students most enjoyed playing last semester, and I promised to follow-up with a post about the game my students enjoyed the least: Wikipedia Level Up. Since I’m presenting a paper about the games at the didTRAD Conference in Barcelona this afternoon, I think now is a good time to write this post, so I can share a few thoughts about why this game was not as effective as it could have been and how I will improve it in the future.

Wikipedia Level Up

For this game, students had to edit and revise a translated Wikipedia article I had selected from a list of articles needing cleanup after French translation. To complete Level 1, students had to identify and correct at least five language errors in the English version, without consulting the source text. Once they had finished, they could then move on to Level 2, where they had to compare the French ST and English TT to identify and correct at least four transfer errors. Level 3 involved identifying at least three violations of Wikipedia’s core content policies, and Level 4 involved identifying and correcting at least four instances where the English translation did not conform to Wikipedia’s Manual of Style. To successfully complete each level, students had to show me the errors they had identified and the corrections they were proposing. I would then award points for each error they had correctly identified and resolved: they earned 1 point per Level 1 error, 2 points for Level 2 errors, etc.

Students could win either by completing all four levels in 45 minutes or by accumulating the most points in 45 minutes. This meant we could have multiple winners.

So what went wrong? Well, when designing this game, I had assumed students would try to get through the levels as quickly as possible, finding just the minimum number of errors (or perhaps one or two more to earn a few extra points) and then moving on–particularly since I had weighted the points to make Level 4 more lucrative. After all, a student who whipped through all four levels resolving just the minimum number of errors would finish with 38 points, whereas a student who stayed at Level 1 looking for as many errors as possible would have to find and correct 39 problems to beat their classmate. As a player, I would want to head to Level 4 as quickly as possible so I could accumulate points up to four times faster than students in lower levels and be guaranteed to win the game. As it turned out though, some students focused on correcting as many mistakes as possible mistake at each level, and since I had purposely chosen a translation that had a lot of problems (to give students a better chance of finding errors quickly), only 2 of the 10 students who attended class that day were able to win the game. When I surveyed my students about the games after the course had ended, I wasn’t surprised to read a comment that the Wikipedia Level Up game was too complicated to be easily completed in the time allowed.

For next year, I will double the time I had allotted for the game (from 45 to 90 minutes) so that students are better able to complete the existing levels. I will also add “Level 5: Enter your corrections into Wikipedia”, so students become more familiar with the platform, and a bonus “Level 6: Decide whether the translated content should be adapted to better target English-speaking readers” to help students develop their subject-matter expertise.

Finally, since the most important objective of this game is that students are exposed to as many aspects of Wikipedia translation as possible, I will change the criteria for winning the game so that points are collected only as an extra challenge: students will be trying to set a high score that future students may want to beat, but the points won’t count toward winning the game. Instead, students will win if they successfully complete all five levels within the allotted 90 minutes, and they will earn an additional 50 bonus points if they can complete the bonus round.

Next year, after I’ve implemented these changes, I’ll write a follow-up post about whether this game was more successful with my next group of students, and I’ll offer a few thoughts about how the rest of the games fared the second time around.

Games, games and more games I

For the past few years, I’ve been making an effort to incorporate games into my translation courses: last term, I asked my Theory of Translation Students to try making their own games, which we played in conjunction with a Reacting-to-the-Past-inspired game related to the drafting of CAN/CGSB-131.10-2008, the Canadian Standard for Translation.

So this year, I wanted to see whether I could create games for some of the other classes I teach, and I started off with my introductory translation into English course, where students are expected to acquire translation strategies, increase their knowledge of research tools and learn how to resolve translation problems. With these aims in mind, I created a series of 10 games, and we played a different one almost every week of the course. Most took somewhere between 25 and 45 minutes to complete. Each had different rules and aimed to develop a different combination of translation skills: In some games, students competed in teams, while in others they worked individually; sometimes, students competed against one another, but in other cases, they competed against an external foe (such as a published translation). Some games were designed to develop documentation skills (e.g. learning to use online tools and reference materials), some aimed to help students improve their ability to work under pressure, and quite a few focused on specific translation challenges (e.g. wordplay) or specific types of texts (e.g. comics).

After the course was over, I surveyed my students to see what they thought of the games (and the leaderboard where everyone could see their progress). I’ll be talking about the games and the survey results later this month at the CATS conference in Calgary, and then in July at the PACTE conference in Barcelona. I try not to repeat in my blog things that I’ve already said at conferences or in publications, so this post won’t cover the survey results. Instead, I wanted to write two complementary blog posts: one that talks about the game students enjoyed the most, and another that discusses the game they enjoyed the least. Today, I’m starting off with the game most students identified as their favourite.

The Twitter Race

Four weeks into our twelve-week course, we played a game I called “The Twitter Race.” Before we began, I reviewed some of Twitter’s conventions and constraints, just in case students weren’t familiar with the platform (e.g. tweets must be 140 characters or less, URLs and images are included in the character count but require a maximum of 23 characters, hashtags are commonly included in tweets). I also showed a few examples of translated tweets from bilingual organizations like the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages. Students then had to break up into groups or partners, since not everyone in the class brings a laptop and this activity required access to a shared Google Document. Each team chose a Twitter handle (e.g. @GoTeam1), and then worked together over six rounds to translate a total of six tweets. I used PowerPoint slides to project each tweet to the class and describe the context in which it was being translated:

Sample Twitter Race instruction

For each tweet, the teams had a few minutes to collaborate and then add their translations to a shared Google Document (signing their submissions with their twitter handles so we could tell which team was responsible for which translation). Once all the translations were submitted, I gave feedback on each version and awarded points in the following way:

Requirement Points
First to submit a complete translation 1 point
Shortest translation 2 points
Translation includes a relevant hashtag (e.g. #onpoli) 1 point per hashtag
Translation includes a relevant Twitter handle

(e.g. @radioCanadaInfo)

1 point per handle

I updated a Google Speadsheet with the points after every round and posted the results to the course website so the teams could see where they stood. At the end of six rounds, the team with the most points was declared the winner. A lot of strategizing took place: one team, for instance, was less interested in being the first to get their translations in because they wanted to have the shortest version and as many hashtags and twitter handles as possible. They ended up accumulating 33 points and winning the game.

Why did this game work well? Although the students who responded to the survey didn’t comment on why they liked the game, their comments on how the games could be improved in the future (more on that in my next post) have led me to some of my own conclusions. First, this game took about an hour and a half to play (including the time for establishing groups, going over the rules, etc.), but each of the tweets we translated presented a different challenge: some were almost 140 characters long and would therefore be harder to keep under the character limit; some had several hashtags or twitter handles that might need to be adapted; some were supposedly being translated by the same person who had posted the original tweet, while others were supposedly being retweeted by another user for a different purpose, etc. This meant that students had to adopt different translation strategies each round. Second, the students had to work under low-stakes pressure: each group was conscious that another group might post their translation first (and therefore win 1 point), but they also wanted to make sure they had a short translation and relevant hashtags, so they were constantly trying to translate quickly and succinctly. The stakes were low, though, because the students’ performance in the games was extremely unlikely to affect their final grade in the course since 90% of the course grade was based on assignments and tests, and the 10% set aside for in-class participation was based largely on attendance and homework rather than performance in the games. Finally, we were able to spend about 15 minutes setting up the game–that is, going over the rules, reviewing the context in which tweets might be translated, and thinking about the constraints Twitter users work with. This helped students feel more comfortable with the game before it started.

In my next post, which I hope to be able to write later this month, I’ll talk about one of the less successful games and why it didn’t work as well as this one.

An experiment with student-led translation games

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been integrating two Reacting to the Past-themed games into my undergraduate theory of translation class for the past three years. While I’ve found the games a helpful way to have students participate in discussions, delve into complex theoretical texts, and learn about the historical context in which translation decisions are made, I wanted to try something a little different this term. In an effort to have students take a more active role in choosing the topics of our in-class debates, I played only one of the Reacting to the Past-themed games with my class and added an assignment entitled “Invent-a-Game”, where students were invited to develop a game that would:

  • Take about 30-45 minutes to play together in class
  • Focus on one of our weekly topic
  • Engage everyone in the class by finding a way for all students to participate
  • Help the class critically engage with the topic at hand
  • Include references to texts and real-world examples that were not listed on the syllabus

This assignment was experimental: It was the first time I’d asked students to create a game, and because I wasn’t sure how well it would work out, I offered students the option of preparing a 500-word Wikipedia article instead, if they preferred. This way, only students who were enthusiastic about developing a game would opt to do so, and I’d be able to decide whether the Invent-a-Game assignment should be included again next year (with or without modifications), or scrapped altogether. About a third of the class decided to prepare a game, while the other two thirds opted for the Wikipedia assignment instead (and I’ll have more to say about that in my next blog post).

Now that the semester is over, I can safely say that the Invent-a-Game assignment was largely successful: students were very engaged in playing the games, and the groups that did develop a game had very creative ideas for incorporating practical translation exercises, discussions, debates, and examples that were related to the themes we had been exploring in class. Here’s one example of a particularly successful game:

The Censorship Mini-Games
On Week 10, two students presented a game focusing on translation and censorship. They split the class into three teams and then played four mini-games, which the teams chose by spinning a colourful (and very sparkly) arrow to see where it landed: ballin’, a mini-game where one team was tossed a Styrofoam ball decorated with debate questions and then had to prepare either the “for” or “against” side of whichever debate question was face up when they caught the ball, need for speed, a mini-game where all three teams had to compete to see who could come up with the most answers to a question in the allotted time, pick-a-stick, a mini-game in which one team member chose a popsicle stick with a word or phrase and then had to work with their team to prepare an answer to a discussion question related to this word/phrase, and yay or nay, a mini-game where the game inventors read a contentious passage from a translation studies book or article and the teams had to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement.

When designing their game, this group prepared not only physical props including the oversize spin wheel, the Styrofoam ball with debate questions and thumbs-up/thumbs-down cards for the yay or nay mini-game, but also digital props like PowerPoint slides with images and examples to contextualize the discussion questions in the pick-a-stick and need for speed mini-games. For instance, when a student chose a popsicle stick with the word “healthcare” on it, the accompanying PowerPoint slide reminded students of the ethical dilemma discussed in Andrew Clifford’s article “Healthcare Interpreting and Informed Consent” (which we had read six weeks ago) and linked the issue with censorship so the team could more effectively prepare their response to the discussion question. Although the mini-games involved competitions between the teams, everyone in the class won an ample supply of the chocolate, candy and bubblegum rewards provided by the students who had developed the game.

Trying out student-led games this year has convinced me that games can be a viable alternative to student presentations in the classroom. I will definitely integrate the Invent-a-Game assignment into my Theory of Translation course again next year: I’ll incorporate more game-design resources into the curriculum, share some examples of the games that were developed this year, and spread the games out over the entire semester so students have a wider selection of topics to choose from.

Over the next few months, I’ll be blogging more about games in translation courses, as I’m working out some ideas for integrating game components into my introductory translation course this winter. But in the meantime, I’d be very interested in hearing from anyone else who has experimented with games and gaming in their translation classes: was one game technique particularly successful? Would you do anything differently next time? How have students reacted?

How do you translate “expulsé” or “chanson”? Another Wikipedia challenge

“I realize now why professors say ‘don’t use Wikipedia'”, one of my students remarked during a group presentation about the challenges of translating a Wikipedia article from French into English. Once again, I had assigned Wikipedia articles as a final translation assignment for the 22 students enrolled in Introduction to Translation into English this past winter. This student’s remark came about after the group became frustrated with the French article’s lack of sources and occasionally promotional tone. In their final translation, they took a 2800-word text about French-Canadian singer-songwriter Pierre Lapointe with 21 references and turned it into an 1600-word article with 47 documented sources and a more neutral tone. Another group’s article on reasonable accommodation went from 14 references in the source text to 66 in the English translation.

But references weren’t the only challenges my students faced this year. When they reflected on their projects, one group discussed the trouble they had trying to find the right translation for “la chanson française” as a genre (they finally opted for French chanson, since there is a Wikipedia article with that title), while another group struggled with “expulsé”, as in:

En février 2005, deux ambulanciers ont été expulsés d’une cafétéria de l’Hôpital général juif de Montréal parce qu’ils mangeaient un repas qu’ils s’étaient préparé.


Le 24 février 2007, à Laval, une jeune musulmane ontarienne de 11 ans est expulsée d’un match de soccer auquel elle participe et qui réunit de jeunes joueuses canadiennes.

(Both of which came from this article on reasonable accommodation in Quebec)

In this case, they settled for “ejected” in the first example and “sent off” in the second, after consulting various English media reports. A graduate assistant helped me correct these assignments, and since we both recommended different translations, I’d certainly agree with my students that this was a tricky case. In the end, I suggested “asked to leave” for the first example, because it seemed to depict the event in the most neutral way, which is one of Wikipedia’s core content policies.

Most groups took various liberties with their source material, rewriting and reorganizing the article to present information more effectively, remove details that couldn’t be verified, and update details that were several years old. In almost every case, these decisions made the final English articles much better quality than the original French articles, and it helped students look more critically at their source material (as the comment from the student I cited earlier suggests).

Due to a lengthy strike at the university this year, I had to extend the submission deadline for these projects, and consequently had to finish marking the translations long after the term had ended instead of doing so in mid-March. This meant that only a few groups have been dedicated enough to post their final, corrected translations to English over the past few weeks, something that is perfectly understandable given that most students are now working, travelling or taking summer courses and would therefore have trouble finding some free time to revise their work. So I was very happy to see that at least three articles have made it to Wikipedia. Want to check them out? Here they are:

Teaching Project Management

Until I started this post, I didn’t realize it’s been three months since I’ve blogged. This was partly due to a hectic fall term, so I’m taking advantage of a few relatively quiet weeks to finally write something new. I was inspired, actually, by the fact that I’m doing something different this term: for the first time in three or four years, I took on a course I’ve never taught before. In fact, I’m co-teaching a course we’ve never offered before in our program: Project Management.

Since I spent a few weeks in late December working out the syllabus with my co-instructor, I thought I’d write a brief post about some of our plans for the course. Incidentally, for anyone who might be teaching (or preparing to teach) a course with a project management component, Circuit, the magazine published four times a year by the Ordre des traducteurs, terminologues et interprètes agréés du Québec, recently released an issue focusing on project management. Debbie Folaron’s article on what to include in a PM course is very helpful, while many of the others (like this one describing a freelancer’s first experience as a project manager) can serve as case studies in the classroom.

The bulk of the coursework we eventually settled on revolves around two main activities: a group translation project, and a group corporate website. On the first day of class, students formed their groups, which they’ll be working with for the rest of the term. To help them choose their team-mates, I adapted an activity I first heard about from Egan Valentine, who teaches at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. On the train back from a conference at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona last summer, Egan told me about his online class, where students formed groups early in the term by posting profiles of themselves on the discussion forum in much the same way that translators typically do on websites like Translatorscafe.com. So for our class, we spent some time looking at job ads for translators and project managers and brainstorming about the skills these jobs require. Students then had a few minutes to prepare a brief profile of themselves that we could tape onto the classroom walls (don’t worry–I brought in low-tack tape so we wouldn’t ruin the paint), and then they could walk around and browse the profiles to help them choose team members for their mock translation company. Once they finished, each group chose a name for themselves.

Now, the students spend anywhere from a quarter to half the class each week collaborating on activities that range from preparing a quote for a large translation project to working out a revision and review process for their group to follow. In addition, over the course of the semester, students will have time in class to prepare a functional but fictitious website on wordpress.com. Last week, they worked on their About pages, where they discussed their company’s strengths and posted a profile of each team member. In three weeks, after we’ve had a chance to discuss issues like international standards, they’ll prepare a statement about their quality control process. Two weeks after that they’ll add a blog post describing how they’ve handled their translation project, and at the end of the term, they’ll prepare a FAQ page where they can respond to questions a client might ask a translation company, such as who owns the content of translation memories and whether crowdsourcing is a viable solution for a large, multilingual translation project. I’m hoping that these exercises will help them consider the issues faced by project managers while also making them more familiar with a platform like WordPress in case they need to create their own websites when they enter the professional world.

I’ll write another post about the course once it’s finished and I’ve had the chance to reflect on what worked well and what needs improvement. If anyone else has taught a project management course, I’d love to hear about how you run the class.

Some of my favourite talks from the CATS conference at Brock University

I’ve just returned from the 27th annual conference organized by the Canadian Association for Translation Studies, which was held at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario this year. The theme was “Translation: Territories, Memory, History”, and although a number of the talks addressed topics you might expect to find in this theme, namely the history of translated texts in regions like Asia, Latin America and Brazil, others were more broadly related, addressing subjects like the history of language technologies in Canada, or “new territories” like fansubbing norms. Since many of these topics are likely to interest to people who weren’t able to attend, I thought I would summarize some of my favourite presentations and offer a few thoughts on the wider implications of these research questions. Very roughly, the talks I most enjoyed can be grouped into three broad, and somewhat overlapping, categories that also match my own research interests: technological, professional and pedagogical concerns.

Technological Concerns

Two talks on technology-related topics were particularly intriguing: Geneviève Has, a doctoral candidate at Université Laval, spoke about the history of language technologies in Canada, focusing particularly on the role of the federal government in projects like TAUM-MÉTÉO, the very successful machine-translation system for meteorology texts, and RALI, a lab that developed programs like the bilingual concordancer TransSearch. Has explored some of the reasons why entire research labs or specific research projects had been dismantled, and noted that when emphasis is placed on producing marketable results within a set period of time, funding is often pulled from projects if the results are not what the funders are looking for, even if useful research is being produced by the lab. For instance, the quest to develop a machine translation system as successful as TAUM-MÉTÉO led to later systems being abandoned when the results were not as impressive.

Valérie Florentin, a doctoral candidate at the Université de Montréal, meanwhile, gave a fascinating talk on fansubbing norms, noting that in the English to French community she studied, online forum discussions between the fansubbers showed how they wanted to ensure the subtitles would be easily understood by francophones in various countries. Thus, they avoided regionalisms as well as expressions and cultural references they thought typical viewers would not understand. They also followed style guidelines to ensure the subtitles, on which various people had collaborated, would be consistent in terms of things like whether characters should use tu or vous to address one another. In her conclusions, she wondered whether the collaborative model used by this fansubbing community (in which about eight people translate and review the subtitles for any given episode) could be useful in professional communities. Recognizing that it would be unfeasible to expect companies to pay this many people to work on a project (even if each person was doing less work than they would if they prepared the subtitles alone), she argued that the model could be useful in training contexts, allowing students to debate with one another about cultural concerns and equivalents, while also following a set of style guidelines to ensure consistency in the final product. I found this suggestion particularly relevant to my own teaching, since I like to try collaborative models with my students, and since I have argued in other talks that crowdsourcing models often offer elements that could be adopted in professional translation, such as greater visibility for the translators who work on projects.

Professional Concerns

Marco Fiola, from Ryerson University and Aysha Abughazzi, from Jordan University of Science and Technology, both spoke on translation quality. While Marco’s presentation explored competing definitions of translation quality and specifically addressed issues like understandability and usability, Aysha spoke about translation quality in Jordan, discussing the qualifications of translators and the quality of translations she obtained from various agencies. Both of these talks underscored for me the difficulty translators and translation scholars continue to have when defining quality and in determining what “professional” translation should look like.

Pedagogical Concerns

Philippe Caignon, an associate professor at Concordia University, offered an excellent presentation on concept mapping and cognitive mapping, illustrating how these can be useful for students in terminology courses as an alternative to tree diagrams. Although he didn’t show the software itself, he did mention that Cmap Tools can be used to create concept maps fairly easily. As I listened to his talk, I decided I could incorporate concept mapping into the undergraduate Theory of Translation course I usually teach, to help students think about the terms translation and translation studies. I think examples like this one would help students see how they can visualize translation, and if they had a few minutes to work on their concept map individually before discussing their map with the rest of the class, I think we would be able to explore the different ways translation can be understood. More on this after I’ve tried it out in class.

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

Integrating blogs into a Translation Studies course

At the CATS conference in May 2010, I attended a presentation by Philippe Caignon, who talked about his experience integrating blogs into a terminology course. (Incidentally, Philippe has just one of the prestigious 3M National Teaching Fellowships, an honour he richly deserves, and which you can read about here). After the conference, when I finally got around to writing a post about Philippe’s presentation, I resolved to add a blogging component to at least one of my courses in the next academic year. I felt that doing so would expose students to a platform they might use after graduation, since they might be maintaining a company blog, translating blog postings, or creating and sharing their own blogs. I also thought it would provide us with more flexibility, allowing students to reflect on the coursework and exchange ideas outside of the classroom. Although I never wrote a follow-up post, I did, in fact, integrate blogs into the MA-level Translation Studies course I taught in 2011. Since then, I’ve taught the course twice more, and I’ve made some changes to the way I incorporate blogging activities. I thought I would share some of the things I’ve learned in case others are considering adding a blogging component to their courses. I’ll focus on three aspects:

  • Blogging platforms
  • Designing the assignments
  • Grading

Blogging platforms

Although Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Blackboard have integrated blogging tools, I wanted to have students work with a platform they’d be likely to use again outside of the classroom. So I asked students to create their own blogs using WordPress or Blogger, and then and send me the URL so I could add a link to these blogs on the course website. This solution has worked out well: the blogs are easy to find (since they’re all listed in the “blogroll” of the course website), students can express themselves more creatively because they can customize the look and feel of their blogs, and I don’t have to deal with emailed assignments and incompatible file formats because every graded assignment must be submitted as a blog post.

So what about privacy then? You might be wondering why students would want to share all their coursework with a) everyone on the Internet and b) everyone else in the class. The answer to the first issue is easy: blogs don’t have to be visible to search engines, nor do they have to be accessible to every Internet user. Once I told students they had to create their own blogs, I made sure to explain how to adjust the privacy settings so that the blog remained invisible to search engines and/or could be accessed by invitation only. Most students chose to make their blogs invisible to search engines, because if they made their blogs private, they would have to email invitations to everyone else in the class. I did mention, though, that they could always change the privacy settings once the course was over, making their blogs as accessible or inaccessible as they wanted.

As for the second issue, whether students might be reluctant to share their coursework with their classmates, I invited everyone to use pseudonyms. Some students liked this option, and named their blogs something like “Translation Studies 5100” or “Glendon Translation Student.” Others didn’t seem to mind either way and used their real names. I also informed everyone that when commenting on their classmates’ blogs, they had to be respectful and constructive, rather than negative. To date, I haven’t had any problems with inappropriate comments. Generally, students have found the feedback from their peers very helpful. In fact, many of the comments offered a perspective very different from mine: details about cultures and languages with which I’m unfamiliar, references to sources I hadn’t seen, etc. And as one student mentioned to me last year, students are able to get a better sense of how they compare to their classmates, in terms of their writing skills, their background knowledge and their familiarity with theoretical texts, which can give them greater confidence in their own skills or alert them that they may need to do some catching up.

Designing the assignments

A big mistake I made the first time I assigned blogging as part of the coursework was not indicating specific deadlines for the blog posts. Although students were required to post five critical reflections on the assigned readings, I didn’t assign a specific due date for each post because I wanted to provide some flexibility about which readings the posts could cover. Unfortunately, most of the students procrastinated and posted nothing until the last week of the semester, leaving their classmates with very little to comment on (more on that in a minute). Ever since then, I’ve assigned fewer blog posts (just two critical reflections this year), and I’ve also set specific due dates for these posts: the first is due on Week 4 of our 13-week course, and the second is due on Week 8. These deadlines still allow students to choose which course readings they want to comment on in their post, but it also ensures they are submitting their posts throughout the semester rather than at the end.

As part of the coursework, students are required to comment on at least six different blog posts over the course of the semester. This means they can read six different blogs and leave comments on each one, or they can leave several comments on just two or three blogs. After my experience the first year, I’ve set deadlines here as well: comments are due by Weeks 6 and 10, though of course everyone is welcome to leave comments at any time. And based on some of the advice Philippe gave during his presentation, I also require students to respond to the comments they receive from their peers: this helps maintain a dialogue rather than a one-way discussion.


The critical reflections, along with all the other coursework (like an annotated bibliography and the final paper) are submitted via the blog and are all marked in the same way I’d grade a traditional paper: based on the clarity of the argument, the relevance of the examples, the extent of the documentation, etc. I send students an individual email with my feedback and their grade because I don’t feel this is something that should be shared with everyone.

As for the comments, I assign a mark for completion, provided the comment meets the standards I set out in the syllabus (i.e. it offers thoughtful constructive criticism that also highlights some of the argument’s strengths). At the end of the term, I tally up the number of comments and replies, award an A+ to any student(s) who went beyond the requirements, A’s to the students who left the required number of comments and replies, B’s to the students who missed a few, and so on. In total, comments are worth 15% of the final grade for the course (10% for comments and 5% for replies).

Overall, I think blogs are a useful tool to integrate into the classroom. Although this was a graduate course, Philippe’s presentation focused on his experience with an undergraduate class, so blogs can definitely be used in a variety of contexts to achieve multiple learning objectives, include peer collaboration, asynchronous discussions, and critical reflections on the coursework.

ACFAS Conference

I’ve just returned from Quebec City, where I was attending the 81st Congress of the Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS), which took place at the Université Laval this year. It was the first time I’d been to an ACFAS event, which, for those of you who might not know, is similar to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in that a number of conferences from different disciplines take place there, each organized by a different group of scholars. Unlike the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, which is held at universities across Canada and is bilingual, ACFAS is usually hosted by Quebec universities and takes place entirely in French.

This year, three translation-related conferences were taking place at ACFAS, and I was able to attend two of them: La formation aux professions langagières : nouvelles tendances (Training Language Professionals: New Trends), which took place on Wednesday, and La traduction comme frontière (Translation as Borders), which took place Thursday and Friday. Unfortunately, I had to miss the third conference, Langues et technologies : chercheurs, praticiens et gestionnaires se donnent rendez-vous , (Languages and Technologies: A Meeting of Researchers, Practitioners and Managers), because it was taking place at the same time as the conference on translation as borders, where I was presenting a paper. But here are a few points I found interesting and useful at the two conferences I did manage to attend:

La formation aux professions langagières: Nouvelles tendances
This conference gave me a lot of practical ideas to integrate into my courses next year. For instance, I really enjoyed the presentation by Mathieu Leblanc, who carried out an ethonographic study at three Language Service Providers (one public and two private) several years ago. These three LSPs each had at least 35 employees, including new and experienced translators, and he spent one month at each one, conducting interviews and observing workplace practices. (Mathieu presented some of the data from this study at the CATS conference last year. I wrote about it in this post). Although his research goal had been to study translator attitudes toward tools like Translation Memories, the data he gathered during his fieldwork also allowed him to explore questions like “What do translators think about university training programs?” He noted that although both novice and experienced translators noted that university training was good overall, some areas could still be improved: students could be better prepared to meet the productivity demands they will encounter at the workplace, taught not to rely so extensively on tools like Translation Memories, and encouraged to be more critical of sources and translations.

The presentation by Université de Sherbrooke doctoral candidate Fouad El-Karnichi, focused on converting traditional courses to online environments, and I learned that other universities are using a variety of platforms to offer real-time translation courses online. At Glendon, we’ve adopted Adobe Connect for the Master of Conference Interpreting, but the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, is using Via for their new online BA in translation. I’ll have to take a look at it to see how it works. Fouad has just posted a few of his own thoughts on the ACFAS conference. You can read them on his blog here.

Finally, Éric Poirier, from the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, described a number of activities that could be integrated into a translation course to help familiarize students with online documentary resources like dictionaries, corpora, and concordancers. Here are a few of the activities I found interesting:

  • Have students use a corpus to find collocations for a base word (e.g. Winter + ~cold = harsh)
  • Have students read one of the language columns in Language Update and then translate the word that’s been discussed
  • Have students practice using dictionaries to distinguish between paronyms like affect and effect

In an online course, these kinds of activities could be integrated into the course website via an online form or a quiz that needs to be completed.

Other presentations were very interesting as well, but this post is getting a little long, and I also wanted to discuss some of the talks from the second conference.

La traduction comme frontière
Although several presenters cancelled their talks on the first day, we still had some very stimulating discussions about translation as borders, whether these borders are real, imagined, pragmatic, semantic, political, ideological or something else entirely. Two papers were particularly thought-provoking (at least to me): Chantal Gagnon, from the Université de Montréal, spoke about Canadian Throne Speeches since 1970, with particular emphasis on the words “Canada”, “Canadien/canadien” and “Canadian” in these speeches. The fact that the number of occurrences of these words in English and French differed was not really surprising, since Chantal had found similar differences in other Canadian speeches, but the fact that the 2011 Throne Speech under Prime Minister Harper differed from the others was very intriguing. Finally, Alvaro Echeverri, also from the Université de Montréal, raised some very illuminating questions about the limits of translation, particularly with respect to how we might define the term translation. Based on work by Maria Tymoczko, he proposed studying the corpus of texts before trying to determine what should be considered a translation: that way, researchers will know what kinds of translations/adaptations/inspirations to include.

So all in all, these three days in Quebec City were very stimulating, and I’m anxious to incorporate some of these ideas into my courses next year and my research this summer.