Translator Training: A Threefold Approach

The importance of a three-fold approach in translator training.

Whether they’re beginners or more experienced, translators have always been aware of the importance of continuous professional development. But in the last few years, translator training has become a lightning rod for discussion, with translators stuck in the middle between developing skills requested by their customers and following their professional interests.

On the one hand, translation buyers are very clear about what kinds of skills they are looking for. They’re ready to forgo the traditional translation competences (based mainly on linguistic knowledge) for new, state-of-the-art skills (post-editing, data management, etc.) or even to do away with linguists and go for subject matter experts (SMEs) for translation-related tasks. Many industry experts have also been coining new titles for the future roles translators might cover, like global brand promoters, multilingual content managers, content profiling experts, or cross-cultural storytellers.

On the other hand, most universities and translation training centers still offer somewhat traditional language-centered training, partly because of the lack of real collaboration between the industry and the academic world.

The Immediate Future of Translator Training

The ambitious European Master’s in Translation Program (EMT) — a partnership between the European Commission and higher education institutions that offers master’s level translation programmes — is a good attempt to close the great divide between academia and industry and prepare the future generation of translation professionals.

In the framework of the EMT program, for the last three years the KU Leuven university in Belgium has been organizing a Translation Technology Summer School promoting an exchange among translators, trainers, and professionals. From the discussions held on the first day of the third edition of the Summer School, it was clear that translators were ready to go the extra mile, without having to succumb to hypes. The discussions also made it clear that, in order to be more effective and to the point, translator training programs should now be centered around four essential aspects: language, data, technology, and collaboration. That is, for at least the next 5-10 years: Considering the speed of technological development, it’s logical to think that current skills will be obsolete within that timeframe and new skills will be needed.

Three Profiles for Translator Training

When developing translator training programs, we should consider three different profiles: a) recently graduated translation students who want to pursue a career in the industry; b) translation researchers building an academic career; c) and professional translators with some years of experience who want to hone their skills.

Unfortunately, at the moment, these three profiles share the same starting point in terms of training and follow roughly the same methodology, although the needs and requirements of each vary, especially when it comes to translation technology.

Recently graduated translation students need the widest information possible. There is no need for them to become experts in one single technology. The focus of the training should be on methodology: The future translation professional will put into practice the principles learnt in order to work with any kind of technology available. In terms of translation competence, the main topic might be language data (e.g. translation memories, electronic corpora, terminology databases), while translation management systems and machine translation will take the lion’s share as far as translation technology is concerned

(Aspiring) academic researchers should be reserved a more vertical/specialized technological approach. The focus will be on specific topics and consequently, on those technologies that best fit the topic(s) studied. For example, if the chosen topic is translation quality evaluation, the researcher will concentrate time and energy on learning the relevant tools available and the underlying quality principles.

Translation professionals with some years of experience will also have different needs and requirements. In terms of translation technology, they will want to acquire a deeper knowledge of the tools they already have and move from basic to intermediate to advanced level. It will also be important for them to learn about new, state-of-the-art functionalities that are or will be implemented in the everyday translation workflows.

There’s another aspect to keep in mind: Professional translators might need to learn something brand new, a new technology or competence (e.g. machine translation, SEO, marketing) or even soft skills (like time management or teamwork) that somehow end up being forgotten or neglected.

Translator Training: Collaboration as a Starting Point

There’s no way around it. Collaboration is the way to move forward and it should involve all stakeholders, i.e. academics and trainers, translators, language services providers, and translation technology providers.

Translation technology providers can offer support to universities and training centers through academic programs.

Trainers can use various platforms and software to illustrate methodological principles. For example, in the case of project management, comparing translation management systems could provide students with examples of the main principles and functionalities, as well as different approaches and solutions to the same problems.

What’s in it for the translation technology provider in addition to the obvious promotional aspect? The always-appreciated user feedbackCollaboration means a deeper commitment towards future and existing users, and it leads to insights about their preferences. The feedback from future translation professionals about consolidated functionalities as well as about functionalities that (for whatever reason) might not be available yet could be very useful for future developments.