Volume 5, No. 4 
October 2001

  Moustafa Gabr





Translation and International Politics
by Gabe Bokor
Index 1997-2001
  Translator Profiles
How to Become a Translator
by Isa Mara Lando
  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
Choosing the Best Bid—An Application of Two Managerial Decision-Making Theories
by Aysel Morin
An Easy Translation Job
by Danilo Nogueira
  Bible Translation
Problems of Bible Translation
by Ilias Chatzitheodorou
  Literary Translation
Fidélité en traduction ou l'éternel souci des traducteurs
by Nassima El Medjira
The Power of Sound
by Joanna Janecka
  Translation Theory
Constructing a Model for Shift Analysis in Translation
by Dr. Mohammad Q. R. Al-Zoubi and Dr. Ali Rasheed Al-Hassnawi
  Translator Education
Trial and Error or Experimentation or Both!
by Moustafa Gabr
  Book Review
Virgin Birth and Red Underpants—The Translator's Responsibility in Shaping Our Worldview
by Zsuzsanna Ardó
  Science & Technology
A Translator’s Guide to Organic Chemical Nomenclature XXV
by Chester E. Claff, Jr., Ph.D.
  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
  Translators’ Tools
Translators’ Emporium
Translators’ Events
Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

Translator Education


Trial and Error or Experimentation or Both!

by Moustafa Gabr, FIL

Readings in the Training of Translator Trainer Seminars
at Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Université de Rennes 2, and Monterey Institute


his year, three seminars for the training of translator trainers were announced by Université de Rennes 2, France, Universitat Rovira i Virgili, Spain, and Monterey Institute, USA. Program announcements, as suggested by Harris and DeSimone, "... should indicate the purpose of the program, when and where it will be held, and how the [trainee] can qualify to participate in the program" ( Harris and DeSimone: 1994, 156). It can be seen from the course announcements that these courses, particularly the first two, lack some prerequisites of a sound translator-trainer development program. This deficiency is evident in several phases, from the admission requirements to the contents covered and the duration of the training sessions. Some of the components of these three seminars do not seem to adequately meet the objective of developing efficient translator trainers. Following is a discussion of some concerns in this connection.

Until very recently, the training of translator trainers hardly received any attention. Translator trainers have been self-made practitioners with no formal training based on properly conducted training needs assessment (TNA) or, therefore, clearly defined objectives. The success of translator training programs depends in part on the availability of teachers who have the required professional and pedagogical skills, knowledge, and experience. Still, there is an on-going debate among translator training researchers about who should qualify to teach translation. Gouadec argues that

"...both professionals with a talent for teaching and teachers with good knowledge of the job ... that they are supposed to train people for." (Gouadec 2000, 3)

Sainz supports a similar view:

"I agree ... the most adequate and competent teachers at university are those who, apart from their teaching positions, are also practising professionals in the subject they are teaching." (Sainz 1994, 139)


Gabr (2001) argues that there are, so far, three groups with differing opinions on who can qualify to competently teach translation. The first group supports the notion of the academics; the second supports the idea of the professionals; and the last group is of the view that a team of academics and professionals should perform this task. The academics should teach linguistics and the theoretical aspects of translation, while practicing translators should handle practice-in-translation modules.

Given the above, there seems to be unanimous agreement that those who can qualify as translation teachers are professional translators and/or academics.

Gabris (2000) argues that translation teachers need to attend formal training in language and translation teaching, and should have some sort of certification or accreditation attesting to their ability to translate. This requirement is also supported by Barcsak: "It seems that teachers must be trained in teaching translation" (Barcsak 1996, 174).

Gerding-Salas (2000) concludes that a competent translation teacher should have pedagogical skills, bilingual and bicultural competencies and thorough understanding of the theoretical aspects of translation. Harris and DeSimone (1994) also argue that the teacher must have both training competency and subject matter expertise. The first involves the knowledge and skills needed to design and implement a training course, the ability to communicate knowledge clearly, mastery of various teaching methods and techniques, good interpersonal skills and the ability to motivate students. Subject-matter expertise refers to mastery of the subject matter to be taught. Translation teacher development programs must focus on developing and enhancing these skills.

Due to the similarities between the two seminars of Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili, I will deal with them together, and then I will move on to discuss some concerns pertaing to the Monterey Institute program.


I - Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili

A - Objectives and Contents

Instructional objectives describe the intent and the desired result of the course. The effectiveness of instruction depends on the efficiency of the course designer in selecting and writing meaningful objectives (Gabr 2001). Tailoring efficient instructional objectives is easier said than done. Both Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili announcd subject-matter-centered objectives, a kind of objectives stated in the form of topics, concepts, principles, or other elements of the content to be taught in the program. The shortcoming of this kind of objective is that "it does not indicate what the trainees are to be able to do after the training ... What are they to be able to do...? Memorize the content of lessons? Apply principles? [These objectives] do not provide the answers to these and a lot of other critical questions" (Tracey 1992, 201).

An aim "normally consists of a statement of general intent" while "an objective states the requirements in precise terms" to be met to achieve the aim (Kroehnert 2000, 45). The announced aim of Université de Rennes 2's seminar is "[t]o undertake a comprehensive analysis of the problems encountered in translator trainer training - Tried and tested solutions." Its detailed instructional objectives are focused on problem areas encountered in teaching translation whereas the aim refers to problems that would arise in training the translator trainer. The aim of the seminar is thus irrelevant to the detailed objectives to be covered! Universitat Rovira i Virgili, on the other hand, announces that "[t]he program will focus on: Electronic tools in the classroom; Contemporary theories of translation and localization; Process modules of professional technical translation and terminology; Current research modules in translation didactics, and social constructivist approach to classroom interaction and syllabus design". The detailed instructional objectives of the training match the aim of the seminar. Nevertheless, the two seminars have fallen in the same pitfall, that is the program is crammed with "too much material" that cannot be adequately covered within the given time schedules.

Each of the two four-day programs of instruction announced by the Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili includes a total of 35 topics to be covered in only 28 hours, seven hours a day. In other words, an average of approximately nine topics is to be covered in seven hours daily (inclusive of breaks). The time element is too short to accommodate these "inflated" schedules. Following are two examples from the daily agendas of the two seminars:



Day 2



Université de Rennes 2






2-6 p.m.

A quality assurance model for professional translation.

Material and technical conditions required for translator training courses.

Case studies.

Quality assurance-based learning models.

Knowledge of student profiles.

Common teaching practices.

Lesson contents and organization: teaching theory and practice in the classroom.

Translation typology and learning objectives.

Project-based learning and team work.

Case studies.



Day 2



Universitat Rovira i Virgili

10 - 14







16 - 19

The translator's workstation

Integrating the internet

Electronic documentation

Translation memories


Using MT

Computers in the classroom

Use of dedicated software

ODL techniques


Stern and Payment argue that one of the errors that can be made by a course designer is include too much information to be covered.

"When training is necessary because there's a lot of new information for people to know, you design a training program to cover everything in one day."

[And as a result]:

    • "It's too complicated to understand all at once
    • There is too much for trainees to learn
    • There's no time to practice new behaviour
    • Trainees don't get enough time to "own" the new material
    • They only remember fragments of the information"

(Stern and Payment 1995, 79)


Although the two programs are heavily studded with scores of topics to be covered, their designers disregarded the importance of including one single item for the measurement of the trainees' performances.

"When asked to design and deliver a program, the trainer does just this. Afterward, it's reported everyone attended and nearly everyone liked it. The trainer's job is done.

[What is wrong is that]:

    • People don't learn what you want them to learn simply because they attended a class.
    • You need to look at performance changes, not head counts.
    • You have no way of knowing if additional learning is needed.
    • You have no idea if you have made a difference or not."

(Stern and Payment 1995, 83)


Moreover, it is taken for granted that things are best remembered if they are repeated and practiced.

I hear and I forget

I see and I remember

I do and I understand

(Confucius c. 450 BC)

Learning by doing is more effective. Listening and note-taking only do not count. By getting trainees to exercise or repeat new skills and knowledge, the trainer facilitates retention. But in light of the overloaded timetables of the two seminars, it can be safely concluded that the designers disregarded this very important aspect of the learning process.


B - Admission requirements

Tracey argues that

the effectiveness of training is determined by how well graduates of the training system do on the job. Theoretically, the individual who does well during training will do well on the job. But this goal ... can be achieved only if training is an integrated system that begins with the establishment of realistic prerequisites for entrance into the training program, continues with the application of valid screening and selection procedures, and .... The penalties for inadequate screening and selection procedures are heavy from both systems validation and systems operation perspectives.

(Tracey 1992, 393).

Ur also argues that "[t]o be effective and efficient, training of any type must be provided only to [those] who have been carefully screened and selected for suitability' (Ur 2000, 392).

The Universitat Rovira i Virgili course admission requirements are self-contradictory. The announcement states that the target audiences are professional translators and teachers.

The seminar is designed for two main groups: professional translators who want to teach, and teachers seeking to deepen their knowledge of contemporary translation practices.

Then, it goes on to ambivalently talk about undergraduate students:

Participants are required to have completed a first university degree (BA, Licenciatura, or equivalent) or to be near completion. There is no restriction on the field of the first degree. In addition, students are required to have a professional level of English (Proficiency or equivalent).

As for Université de Rennes 2, the task has been easier. No admission requirements are announced. And this is even more problematic because it opens the door to any applicant regardless of their professional backgrounds, educational levels, linguistic competency, etc.

Ur states that '[t]he terms 'teacher training' and 'teacher education' are often used apparently interchangeably in the literature to refer to the same thing: the professional preparation of teachers" (Ur, 2000, 3). Harris and DeSimone argue that "the purpose of train-the-trainer programs is to provide a subject-matter expert (SME) with the necessary knowledge and skills to design and implement a training program ... These programs range from instruction in a single training technique ... to a comprehensive program on how to design a training program " (Harris and DeSimone 1994, 131). Gouadec (2000) argues that as a start for a translation teacher, the teacher should spend one month in each of the three following situations:

    1. Working in a translation firm (either as a translator, a reviser, or a terminologist)
    2. Working in an in-house translation service (same as above)
    3. Being a free-lance professional (same as above)

(Gouadec 2000, 4)

Gabris also argues that "[t]eaching is a very difficult task. Imparting knowledge and experience to another person not only requires mastery of the subject matter, but also mastery of the communication of knowledge. Therefore, a T&I professor has to have knowledge and experience in T&I and the ability to teach" (Laszlo 2000, 2).

In consideration of these views, it can be concluded that the right audience for this kind of program should be teachers/trainers who need to develop their skills or professional translators who are considering teaching translation.

In addition, seminars by definition are groups of any size conducted for people who have a common need ( Kroehnert 2000). It can be safely said that the targeted audiences for the two seminars have not been properly planned for. Keeping the door wide open to an undefined body of trainees with differing backgrounds, experiences and interests should eventually result in having a "class whose members are particularly, or unusually, heterogeneous and which therefore present special problems for both learners and teacher" (Ur 2000, 302). Having academics and professional translators (insiders) with many years of diverse experiences sit side by side with undergraduates (newcomers), who are likely to lack the required knowledge base and precise expectations, should result in creating two distant groups with no common needs. Some of the differences that can be marked between trainees in this kind of situation include bilingual and bicultural competencies, knowledge, learning styles, attitude, personality, experiences, confidence, interests, educational levels, and maturity.

To sum up, having a group of differing levels of knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) requires developing a training program that works for all attendees. With newcomers and insiders, the program should cover the training needs of the former, and the developmental needs for the latter. The first type is concerned with providing basic KSAs specific to a particular task or job, while the second has a long-term focus on preparing the insiders for future tasks while enhancing their capacities to perform their jobs at present. If we try to devise a course to be attended by both newcomers and insiders, its content should either exceed training requirements in terms of levels of basic skills and knowledge appropriate to the newcomers, or fail to include the developmental skills and knowledge needed by the insiders to perform tasks at the required level of proficiency. In such a case, the facilitator/ trainer cannot ensure effective learning for all attendees because the tasks to be provided in the training are either too easy or too difficult for many of the attendees. As a result, the course materials will not be appropriate to all the participants. One group will require materials that cover the ABC of the trade; the other will expect topics that meet their developmental needs. It is assumed that all the information, training aids, case studies, and other elements of training to be covered in the program must be appropriate to the participants' needs. Participants will easily lose motivation if the materials do not adequately meet their needs. In such a case, learning will not occur.

Moreover, Kroehnert (2000) argues that "the training process involves communication with the participants, not at them. Any form of presentation should be a two-way communication ... and must allow for interaction between the trainer/facilitator and the trainee/participant" (Kroehnert 2000, 9). This condition seems inconceivable when training two poles apart together, that is newcomers and insiders. When the trainer is engaged in communication with one group, say the insiders, the other, that is the newcomers, will be completely shut out, and vice versa. In such a case, class participation is undermined because only 'more proficient and confident' attendees can interact with the facilitator/trainer and engage in discussion.

It is also logical to assume that the participants' personal characteristics, i.e. trainability, personality, and attitude, should have an effect on how they learn new tasks and new information (Harris and DeSimone 1994). Trainability refers to the readiness to learn, combining trainees' levels of ability and motivation with their perception of the work environment. Admitting newcomers to programs they are not prepared to do well in can, and will definitely, "sabotage" training. This inability will make them take longer to learn, and it is possible that they will not learn at all. Noe (1986) also argues that a trainee's personality and attitude toward course expectations and career exploration can have an effect on the success of training as well.

However, if we try to design a training program of this type, Harris and DeSimone (1994) argue, there will be many pitfalls that require close scrutiny to be avoided.

These pitfalls include:

  1. Disregard of individual learning styles of attendees
  2. Only one group is prompt to change
  3. Motivation is undermined
  4. The program will be too brief, too slow, or reactive
  5. The content is too shallow or too deep
  6. Resource materials are inappropriate to the whole group
  7. Curriculum is not adapted to trainees' needs or not matched with the skills and experiences of the trainer
  8. Training materials are not validated
  9. Training documents, lesson plans and programs of instruction, are not produced
  10. Discussion of certain issues is not allowed

In light of the above, the drawbacks of these two seminars can be summed up as follows:

  • Improper candidate screening and selection criteria
  • Inadequate training objectives
  • Training material irrelevant to the needs of participants
  • Too much to be covered
  • No assessment tools included
  • No possibility to make immediate correction during the course or plan future developments to improve the program
  • Grossly inadequate time frame

These drawbacks are more than sufficient to push the seminars headlong down into the pitfalls mentioned by Harris and DeSimone.

II - Monterey Institute

The announcement of the four-week training program offered by Monterey Institute reflects a program based on realistic needs and expectations. Nevertheless, it seems that the course designers were unable to avoid traps similar to some of those found in the seminars offered by Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili.

A - Objectives and Contents

The course announcement states as its aim that

[t]his intensive course will offer a forum for constructive dialogue and exchange of ideas and experiences. The curriculum is intended to reflect a successful blend of theory and practice, beginning with a review of principles of pedagogy with a special focus on and technology and culminating in a practicum.

The aim is consistent with the detailed objectives that are distributed over four weeks, each of which focuses on a main area to be covered through a number of topical objectives. Following is an example:

Week One: Principles of pedagogy: Principles & Methods, Classroom Management,

Educational Theory, Needs Analysis, Curriculum Design and Lesson Planning

The designers use subject-matter-centered objectives with the inherent disadvantages discussed before. They have also disregarded the importance of including one single item for the measurement of the trainees' performances. The time element here is fairly appropriate to the content to be covered. However, this more realistically-planned program is jeopardized by the selection criterion as shown below.

B - Admission Requirements

Admission requirements start well. The course is open to experienced teachers and professional translators and interpreters. Then, suddenly there is a sharp bend. The door is abruptly open to newcomers. They are in this case graduates of translation programs (if they still lack the professional background) and administrators, who have nothing to do with teaching or translating. It seems that the reason behind this 'no admission restrictions' is to ensure the enrollment of as many participants as possible for budgetary considerations.

The Monterey Institute's program is therefore characterized by realistically developed contents, although it does not include assessment criteria; the time frame is fairly appropriate, although it does not state whether there will be application modules included. Screening and proper selection criteria are virtually non-existent. As such, it has a better stand, but also suffers some of the drawbacks of the two seminars of Université de Rennes 2 and Universitat Rovira i Virgili.

The difficult question remains. What are the components of an efficient translation teacher development program? Hopefully, I will have an answer in the next issue.



Barcsak, A. (1996). Teaching Literary Translation - A Student's Point of View. In Dollerup, C. & Appel, V. (Eds). Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3. New Horizons. Papers from the Third Language International Conference, Elsinore, Denmark 9-11 June 1995. (Vol. 16). (pp. 171-174). Amsterdam /Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Gabr, M. (2001). Toward A Model approach to Translation Curriculum Development. Translation Journal (Vol.5, No. 2, April 2001).http://www.accurapid.com/journal/16edu.htm

Gabris, Laszlo (2000). Teaching Translation and Interpretation. Retrieved May 12th, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://ourwold.compuserve.com/homepages/laszlo_gabris/CHRISS03.HTML

Gerding-Salas, Constanza (2000, July). Translation: Problems and Solution. Translation Journal (Vol. 4, No. 3), 1-12. Retrieved May 12th, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://accurapid.com/journal/13edu.html

Gouadec, Daniel (2000). International Symposium on Innovation in Translator and Interpreter Training: Notes on Translator Training (replies to a questionnaire). Retrieved April 3rd, 2000 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fut.es/~apym/symp/gouadec.html

Harris, D. M. & DeSimone, R. L. (1994). Human Resources Development. TX: The Dryden Press.




Kroehnert, G. (2000). Basic Training for Trainers (3rd edition). Australia: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Noe, R. A. (1986). Trainee's Attributes and Attitudes: Neglected Influence on Training Effectiveness. Academy of Management Review, 11, 736-749.

Sainz, M. J. (1994). Awareness and Responsibility: Our Students as Partners. In Dollerup, C. & Appel, V. (Eds). Teaching Translation and Interpreting 3. New Horizons. Papers from the Third Language International Conference, Elsinore, Denmark 9-11 June 1995. (Vol. 16). (pp. 137-144). Amsterdam /Philadelphia: Benjamins.

Stern, N. & Payment, M. (1995). 101 Stupid Things Trainers Do To Sabotage Success (5th ed.). California: Richard Chang Associates, Inc.

Tracey, W. R. (1992). Designing Training and development Systems. New York Etc: AMACOM

Ur, P. (2000). A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory (6th printing). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.