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During recent years, a large number of studies within the discipline of translation studies have focused on corpora and their applications in translation classes. Such studies mainly look into the kind of information trainee translators can elicit from corpora and the effect of using corpus data on the quality of translations produced. Corpora, however, have a lot more to offer to both translation teachers and translation students. Corpus-based translation classrooms, by their very nature, can offer considerable advantages far beyond what traditional translation classes have to offer. This article, in fact, aims to elaborate on advantages of using corpora in translation classrooms for teachers and students of translation. It further focuses on translation students’ professional prospects and what corpora have to offer in this regard.

1. Introduction

In recent years a large number of studies within the discipline of translation studies have focused on corpora and their applications in translation classrooms. Such studies mainly look into the kind of information trainee translators can elicit from corpora and the effect of using corpus data on the quality of translation produced. Corpora, among other things, were shown to provide trainee translators with terminological and conceptual information (Zanettin, 1998), collocational information (Stewart, 2000; Kubler, 2003), phraseological information (Machniewski, 2006), information on cognates, false friends (Zanettin, 2001) and semantic prosody (Bowker, 2000) and contrastive knowledge about the two languages involved (Zanettin, 2001; Schmied, 2002). Furthermore, translations produced with the help of corpora were shown to be of a higher quality in terms of subject field understanding, correct term choice and idiomatic expression compared to translations produced using conventional resources available to translators such as dictionaries (Bowker, 1998).

Corpora, however, have a lot more to offer to both translation teachers and translation students. This article, in fact, aims to elaborate on the benefits of using corpora in translation classes for translation teachers on one hand and translation students in terms of their professional prospects on the other hand. The paper is thus divided into two sections; first section is devoted to the applications of corpora in translation classrooms both for teachers and students and the second section focuses on translation student's professional prospects and what corpora have to offer in this regard.

2. Corpora in translation classrooms

Corpora are among the hottest issues within the discipline affecting both pure and applied translation studies. As for pure translation studies corpora have done their part through their contributions to the study of the language of translation and its distinctive features (Baker, 1993). Yet, their major contribution is within the borders of applied translation studies, i.e. translator training and translation aids. The former is the focus of this paper.

A translation class has been traditionally the one in which the teacher was the sole speaker transmitting knowledge to students who were eager to find the answers to their questions in their teacher's words. In such classes, students usually translate a text chosen by teacher and bring it to the class to be discussed. Students read their translations one by one and the teacher passes comments on student's translations and finally the best translation is presented by the teacher to the class. The teacher is, in fact, the absolute authority, the depository of the answers to every question and students are to memorize instances and to reproduce which may overshadow the need to learn the technique. The translation teacher, thus, has a very significant role to play; s/he needs to know the answer to every question/problem students may have , s/he needs to be familiar with translating different texts types and genres or else to pick up a text type and focus on it during his/her professional life and so to acquire knowledge through experience and finally the teacher must be prepared to convince those students who need something more than their teacher’s intuition to accept what is acceptable or not. The students, on the other hand, are to listen, memorize and reproduce. As Gonzales Davis (2005: 70) states traditional teacher-based translation classes lack "a motivating component” with teachers being the absolute authority in the class. According to her, in such classes the aim is to “produce an ideal translation sanctioned by the teacher” (ibid).

This is how a translation class has been run for years. Now let us have a comparison between a traditional translation classroom as portrayed above and a modern corpus-based translation class. In a typical corpus-based translation class, the teacher who is already competent enough to work with corpora and corpus analysis tools may prepare the corpus before the beginning of the course or may decide to bring students into a corpus compilation experience by asking each one of them to take part in the process of corpus building. Students may discuss with their peers and their teacher about the type of corpus which best suits their course needs and later the texts which qualify for inclusion in the corpus. This indirectly attracts the student's attention towards the characteristics of different texts and text types and may eventually increase their knowledge of text types. Furthermore, this practice can prepare students to build their own corpora in future to help them with other courses or later with the translation jobs at hand.

Students are then asked to translate the text given by the teacher with the help of the corpus along with other resources they usually use. During this stage, students use the corpus analysis tools to elicit the kind of data they need from the corpus. Depending on the information they are looking for, they may use concordances or word lists. Concordances, for example, can be used by students to acquire information about the co-occurrence patterns or phraseology of the text type under study, while word lists can be used to see whether the equivalents found are common in the target language or not.  Students then hand in their translations to their peers to be assessed and revised. During this stage, students again use the corpus but this time to revise and edit the translations produced by their peers. The two students, then, agree on changes and only the final version is delivered to the teacher. It is worth mentioning that depending on teachers and students’ preferences, this practice can also be done with students put in the groups of three or four. Activities such as this, in fact, not only increase student’s assessment and editing skills, but also encourage group learning and cooperation among them. Students learn how to revise and edit translations and how to be open to the changes made to their translations.

In a typical corpus-based translation class, in contrast to the traditional translation class, the teacher is not the absolute authority and the depository of the answers to all questions. It is the corpus which is used to answer student’s questions and solve translation problems. The teacher, in fact, acts as an assistant who helps learners use the data offered by the corpus to do their translation assignments and find the answers to their questions. The role the teacher assumes in this class is thus far from being the sole problem solver. The Teacher acts as a guide helping student learn how to query corpora to find answers to their questions and the students learn to take part in their own learning process and to act independently. So whenever they have problem, they do not go directly to the teacher to get the answer. They go to the corpus instead and delve into it and even if they can not find the answers they were looking for, they have already benefited a lot from their query in the corpus. (See Chance Discoveries, Aston: 1999 & Zanettin: 2001).

Now let us see what the implications of this autonomy for translation teachers are. This situation implies that teachers are no longer supposed to know the answers to all questions and to come up with the best solutions to every problem students may have. Instead of providing learners with ready made answers, teachers teach students how to find answers by themselves and definitely the teacher is always ready to help students during the process. So in such corpus-based translation classes, the pressure on the translation teacher is reduced in the sense that the teacher is no longer the supposedly best translator to provide students with the final words. It implies that teachers do not need to be worried about not being able to provide the answer to student’s questions on the spur of the moment.

Moreover, there are always some students who find it difficult to accept something which does not seem acceptable to them. In such cases the teacher can easily refer to the corpus to provide such students with hard evidence. Furthermore, it is often the case that each translation teacher teaches translation of certain text types during his/her professional life. A translation teacher, for example, may teach translation of journalistic texts for years and may never have a class on translation of technical texts. One of the reasons behind this situation is that the teachers may not have full mastery over translation of all text types and genres included in the syllabus. So they usually put their energy into a few of them. However, with corpora of specialized texts at their disposal translation teachers can venture into teaching translation courses they may not have full mastery over and experience a cooperative learning environment with their students. This is especially useful for young translation teachers with limited experience of translation of various text types and genres.

It is worth mentioning that the roles teachers and students assume in a corpus-based translation class are in line with the social constructivist approach to translator education adopted by Kiraly which places emphasis on student’s autonomy and cooperation (2000). Kiraly, in fact, asks for translation classrooms in which the teacher helps students to learn the task at hand through hands-on experience. 

Apart from that, as mentioned by Coffey (2002), corpora can be exploited by translation teachers to create teaching and testing materials. Translation assignment given to students, for example, can be drawn from source language corpora or from the source language component of parallel corpora in order to have comparison between student’s productions with the work of experienced professionals and further to draw student’s attention to strategies adopted by professional translators (Pearson, 2003).

3. Corpora and trainee translator’s professional prospect

Nowadays professional translators, more often than not, work with variety of texts and texts types not to mention their different jobs as editors, technical writers and language consultants. As Ulrych (2005: 22) states “the idea that professional translators work predominantly in one or two specialist fields is in fact swiftly losing grounds as the need for translation expands exponentially in volume and variety”. To succeed in the present competitive market, translators need to expand both their linguistic and extralinguistic skills. Among other things, they need interpersonal skills to get the job and maintain a good relation with clients, subject experts and fellow translators; they need computer skills to work with translation software, translation memories and corpora; they need editing skills to provide their clients with an acceptable final version and finally they need an encyclopedic knowledge of various subjects to work with various texts.

Now let us see what a corpus-based translation class has to offer to trainees in terms of the above-mentioned skills. As Fawcett (1987) says the purpose of translator education is to equip trainees with skills transferable to any text, on any subject and a corpus-based teaching by its very nature can provide trainees with such skills. In a corpus-based translation class, once students learn about corpora, corpus analysis tools and their applications for translation, they can compile and use corpora for any kind of text they may encounter in future. Making students familiar with DIY corpora, for example, enables them to build disposable corpora for any type of text they may come across during their education or later when they enter the translation market. In fact, working with corpora during education gives trainees both the courage and the experience they need to continue using corpora on their own. Such students would definitely have a better chance in the market as they do not need to limit themselves to few text types. They know how to compile (disposable) corpora and how to extract information from different types of corpora and without doubt they are more confident to work on a variety of texts and text types. Receiving corpus-based training can also be beneficial for those translation graduates who enter other markets such as technical writing and editing. As stated by Bowker and Pearson (2002) LSP corpora can well be used as a writing guide to write in a particular style or to produce technical texts.

Furthermore, a corpus-based translation class provides trainees with a favorable opportunity to work together and to experience positive cooperation and group work. In such classes, students can use the corpus to assess and revise translations done by their peers and they can back up their criticisms of their peers’ translations with convincing evidences from the corpus. Such kind of practices can help students develop their interpersonal skills and prepare them to deal with future clients and fellow translators. Apart from that using corpus to revise and edit translation is itself a good practice for students to improve their editing skill which is highly needed in today’s market.

Another benefit of using corpora to teach translation has to do with student’s computer skills. Working with corpora demands computer literacy and having basic computer skills. Exposure to computers and corpora at undergraduate level would help trainee translators to acquire basic computer skills during their education and later they can better develop their computer skills depending on the market’s needs. Kubler (2003: 41) states

Learning to use corpora and corpus-analysis tools can give future translators the technical skills that were usually not associated with translation, but which seem to be more and more necessary especially in technical translation.

Furthermore, early familiarization with corpora helps students to build corpora of their own translations during their education and later they can do the same for the translation projects they get. They can further expand their repositories of their translations and develop them into translation memories of different genres to be used as a translation resource. This in long term can definitely increase their productivity and the quality of the translations they produce.

4. The Present Picture

There has always been some resistance against new ideas and corpus-based translator education is no exception. The very first proposals as for integration of corpora into translator education date back to 1990s. Zanettin (1998), for example, referring to the considerable benefits of corpora for trainee translators puts forward the idea of Translator Trainee Workstations which asks for the integration of translation activities based on corpora into translation curriculum. According to Zanettin, “a translator trainee workstation comprising a word processor, bilingual corpora and facilities for bilingual concordancing together with other resources may constitute a valuable aid in the training of translators” (p. 626). Since then, there has been a large body of studies on the applications of different types of corpora in translation classrooms; however, the evolution is not complete yet.

In fact, though corpora have found their real place in translator education in some countries (mostly in the West), it seems there is still a long way ahead to substantiate corpora as valuable tools in the context of translator education. There seems to be some major obstacles in this path. First, some translation teachers seem reluctant to make a change in what they have done for years. This resistance can be partly due to the fact that such teachers themselves were taught in the traditional way and they may have some fear of this novel method. Some of them may even need training as for working with corpora, corpus analysis tools and computers. Second, some students also seem unwilling to accept the change. They may either lack the computer skills needed to work with corpora or fear the burden of responsibility they may have in such classes. Third, the institution or the university may lack the facilities needed to run a corpus-based translation class. Extra funding is needed to equip classes with computers and projectors and to provide access to corpus analysis tools for all students. This especially imposes pressure on those institutions which have a traditional structure with only one or two computer laboratories intended for special courses on listening or audiovisual translation. Finally, most researches done on the applications of corpora in translation classrooms are limited to few countries and deal with few languages. This situation implies that similar researches are needed in different languages addressing the specific needs of educational settings of different countries. The results of such studies then can be used to convince the education authorities and universities to provide funding needed to run such corpus-based classes.


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Vaezian, H. (2009) ‘Corpora in Translation Classrooms’, in H. Che Omar, H. Haroon & A. Abd. Ghani (eds) The Sustainability of The Translation Field: The 12th International Conference on Translation, Kula Lumpur: Malaysian Translators Association, pp. 242-249.

Bio data:

I am a full-time PhD student of Translation Studies at University of Science Malaysia (USM) and I am working on Corpora in Translator Education for my thesis. I got my MA in Translation Studies from Allameh Tabatabai’ University in Iran. I have been active as a freelance translator since 2004 and currently I am a research assistant in a university project on building an English-Malay translation memory of legal texts. My academic interests include translator education, Corpus Linguistics, corpus-based translation studies and translators and technology.


Published - September 2009

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