Communication Strategies Do Work!
A study on the usage of communication strategies in translation by Iranian students of translation
Most people learn a foreign language to communicate. Through communication, they send and receive messages and negotiate meaning (Rubin and Thompson, 1994: 30). Translation is considered an act of communication. To translate most effectively, the translator should analyze the messages; to do so, he/she should have some tools at hand; such tools can be the well-known communication strategies (CSs) which prevents a communication from disruption.
And this is what turns communication strategies into a very important issue in translation studies and attracts the attention of many teachers, scholars and foreign language learners. In this paper we will consider the nature, importance, and usage of CSs in translation;, we will also investigate the translational problems Iranian students of translation might encounter during the translation process. This paper will show how they overcome such problems by making use of CSs and compensate for them. Again, this paper aims at confirming the important role of CSs in translation studies and recommending some ways to develop students' strategic competence in translation.
Keywords: communication, translation, communication strategies, translational problems, translation process, strategic competence
1 - Introduction
To become a translator, Nida (2002: 103) argues, an individual has to acquire competencies in one or more languages. First, let us have some definitions of translation and competence separately then some definitions of them together as translation competence.
At the same time all factual information contained in the original text must be retained in the translation (Meetham and Hudson, 1969: 242).
As Richards and Schmidth (2002: 563) define, translation is "the process of rendering written language that was produced in one language (source language) into another language (target language) or the target language version that results from this process."
According to Richards and Schmidth (2002: 94), competence is "the implicit system of rules that constitutes a competence person's knowledge of a language." This includes a person's ability to create and understand sentences, including sentences they have never heard before, knowledge of what are and what are not valid sentences of a particular language, and the ability to recognize ambiguous and deviant sentences. For example, a speaker of English would recognize "I want to go home" as an English sentence but would not accept a sentence such as "I want going home," although all the words in it are English words. Competence often refers to an ideal speaker/hearer, that is an idealized but not a real person who would have complete knowledge of the entire language.
Meetham and Hudson (1969: 242) define competence as "the implicit system of rules that constitutes a competent person's knowledge of a language." This includes a person's ability to create and understand sentences, including sentences they have never heard before, knowledge of what are and what are not valid sentences of a particular language and the ability to recognize ambiguous and deviant sentences.
The concept of translation competence has existed but has had different labels; It has been called transfer competence (Nord, 1991: 161), translational competence (Toury, 1995: 250-51; Hansen, 1997: 205; Chesterman, 1997: 147), translator competence (Kiraly, 1995: 108), translation performance (Wilss 1989: 129), translation ability (Lowe, 1987: 57; Pym, 1993: 26; Stansfield, Scotty Kenyon 1992) and even translation skill (Lowe, 1987: 57).
There are four definitions of translation competence, which are the following:
Bell (1991: 43) defines translation competence as "the knowledge and skills the translator must possess in order to carry out a translation";
Hurtado Albir defines it as "the ability of knowing how to translate" (1996: 48);
Wilss says translation competence calls for "an inter-lingual super-competence based on a comprehensive knowledge of the respective SL and TL, including the text-pragmatic dimension, and consists of the ability to integrate the two monolingual competencies on a higher level" (1982: 58).
Finally, the fourth definition, and the one we adopt in this article, is that of PACTE research; The PACTE research group (Process in the Acquisition of Translation Competence and Evaluation) was formed in October 1997 to investigate the Acquisition of Translation Competence in written translation into and out of the foreign language (inverse and direct translation). All the founding members of the group are translators and translation teachers who train professional translators in the Facultat de Traducció i d'Interpretació of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.
2 - Translation competence
PACTE (2000), which defines translation competence as "the underlying system of knowledge and skills needed to be able to translate."
According to PACTE, translation/translator competence which is the underlying system of knowledge needed to translate includes six interrelated and hierarchical sub-competencies:
1. communicative competence in two languages, Hymes (1971) first used the term "communicative competence" to denote an integrated concept accounting for both underlying knowledge of a linguistic code and language use for communicative purposes within a community. The goal of language teaching is to develop what Hymes (1972) referred to as communicative competence (Richards and Rodgers, 2002: 159).
Hymes' multidimensional concept of communicative competence includes elements of linguistic, cultural, and sociolinguistic knowledge, as well as cognitive, physical, and environmental constraints on communication, extra-linguistic competence as implicit or explicit knowledge about the world in general and specific areas of knowledge: knowledge about translation (its ruling premises: types of translation unit, the processes required, etc); bicultural knowledge; encyclopaedic knowledge and subject knowledge in specific areas (PACTE, 2000). Another definition of communicative competence can be : Communication competence is the ability to send messages which promote attainment of goals while maintaining social acceptability. Competent communicators attempt to align themselves with each other's goals and methods to produce a smooth, productive, and often enjoyable dialogue.
2. transfer competence (difficulty in finding the dynamic equivalence)
3. instrumental/professional competence (deriving from the translation brief, or documentation difficulties)
4. psycho-physiological competence (relating to creativity, logical thought)
5. strategic competence (all the individual procedures, conscious and unconscious, verbal and non-verbal, used to solve the problems encountered during the translation process).
All these the above mentioned sub-competencies make up translation competence and they are integrated in every translation act, establishing inter-relations, hierarchies and variations. The inter-relations are controlled by the strategic sub-competence because its role is to monitor and compensate for the other sub-competencies, as it makes up for weaknesses and solves translation problems.
2-1 Transfer competence
Among these sub-competencies, transfer and strategic competence, which cannot be observed directly in the texts, but only during the experimental tasks through direct observation, are essential; transfer, because it integrates all the others, and strategic, because it affects the others, compensating for deficiencies in other sub-competencies and crucial in solving problems arising during translation process, so it deals with translation problems which we intend to speak about in the right place; On the other hand, these two sub-competencies are related to our study, communication strategies (CSs).
In a 1998 model it was considered that transfer competence plays a central role in the hierarchy and integrates the other sub-competencies.
Transfer competence is defined as the ability to complete the transfer process from the source text to the target text, that is, to understand the source text and re-express it in the target language, taking into account the purpose of the translation and the characteristics of the receptor (PACTE, 2000).
2-2 Strategic competence
As Richards and Rodgers maintain (2002:160), strategic competence refers to the coping strategies that communicators employ to initiate, terminate, maintain, repair, and redirect communication. According to Richards and Schmidth ( 2002: 91), strategic competence is defined as knowledge of communication strategies that can compensate for weaknesses in other areas or an aspect of communicative competence which describes the ability of speakers to use verbal and non-verbal communication strategies to compensate for breakdowns in communication or to improve the effectiveness of communication. This sub-competence plays an essential role in relation to all the others, because it is used to detect problems, make decisions, and make up for errors or weaknesses in the other sub-competencies (PACTE, 2000).
3 - Translation Problem
Inevitably, translators and student translators encounter problems in the translation process. According to Nord (1991: 151), a translation problem is "an objective problem which every translator has to solve during a particular translation task." He also believes that all translation problems share three characteristics that make them reliable indicators of progress in acquiring translation competence: a translation problem may appear at any stage of the translation process; it is observable, as will be explained in the section describing the development of the translation problem-solving tool; and, in solving translation problems, subjects show their ability to use translation strategies, which is a relevant element of translation competence. As was mentioned above, here, strategic competence deals with such problems. The significance of strategic competence as a regulating mechanism was postulated by Nord (1991).
There are different types of translation problems and because they are not directly related to our study, we will just briefly mention them: pragmatic, extra-linguistic, transfer and linguistic problems.
Students who find a problem in the source text can either ignore it or try to solve it. They ought to decide to solve it because they want the target readers to understand or receive the target text in a certain way, and this is only possible if they have a particular concept of translation in the back of their minds. If this concept did not exist, then there would not be an objective to achieve. In this case, errors (and/or unsolved problems) can be caused by this "lack of knowledge" of general translation concepts. Translation problems, if left unsolved, become the origin of translation errors (Nord 1996: 96-100), to prevent this, second-language learners, student translators, and translators should develop translation sub- competencies, especially strategic competence.
4 - Communication strategies
Rubin (1981, 1987) defines communication strategies as those strategies used by a learner to promote and continue communication with others rather than abandon it. They are strategies used by speakers when they come across a difficulty in their communication because of lack of adequate knowledge of the language.
Bialystok, in her book Communication Strategies, cites four definitions relating to the strategies of second-language learners (Bialystok, 1990: 3):
1. a systematic technique employed by a speaker to express his ideas when faced with some difficulty;
2. a mutual attempt of two interlocutors to agree on a meaning in situations where requisite meaning structures are not shared;
3. potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a particular communicative goal;
(Faerch & Kasper, 1983a)
4. techniques of coping with difficulties in communicating in an imperfectly known second language.
All the above definitions reveal the same purpose of communication strategies, namely, to solve a communication problem that has emerged by applying some kinds of techniques. Among these, Corder's (1977) explanation seems to be more visual and pellucid from the viewpoint of a non-native speaker of English. The definitions from Faerch and Kasper (1983) and Stern (1983) also provide us with specific and precise descriptions of communication strategies, which refer to the employed techniques when speakers have problems in expressing themselves, i.e., a way used to express a meaning in a second or foreign language by a learner who has a limited command of the language. In trying to communicate, a learner may have to make up for a lack of knowledge of grammar or vocabulary. For example the learner may not be able to say It's against the law to park here and so he/she may say This place, cannot park. For handkerchief a learner could say a cloth for my nose, and for apartment complex the learner could say building (Richards and Schmidth, 2002: 89).
Varadi's (1973/1980) talk at a small European conference was considered the first systematic analysis of strategic language behavior; i.e., the use of communication strategies to solve problems encountered in L2 production. This work marked the beginning of CSs research, and was the first study that investigated the use of CSs in translation. Since then, the real study of CSs has become the concern of many researchers (Tarone 1977, Faerch and Kasper 1983, Poulisse et al. 1984, Kellerman 1991, Dornyei and Thurrel 1991, Khanji 1996, Kellerman and Bialystok 1997). However, this concern has been confined to CSs used in oral production.
According to Bialystok (1990: 1), "the familiar ease and fluency with which we sail from one idea to the next in our first language is constantly shattered by some gap in our knowledge of a second language." The forms of these gaps can be a word, a structure, a phrase, a tense marker or an idiom. The attempts to overcome these gaps are described as communication strategies (ibid).
Faerch and Kasper (1983: 36) define CSs as "potentially conscious plans for solving what to an individual presents itself as a problem in reaching a particular communicative goal." They also conceive plans as being of three types:
1. plans which are always consciously employed;
2. plans which are never consciously employed;
3. plans which to some language users and/or in some situations may be consciously used and which to other language users and/or in other situations are used unconsciously (Faerch and Kasper 1983: 35).
Having considered definitions of communication strategies, Tarone's typology of conscious communication strategies (Tarone, 1977 cited in Bialystok, 1990: 39) are the following:
a Topic avoidance
b Message abandonment
b Word coinage
3. Conscious transfer
a Literal translation
b Language switch
4. Appeal for assistance
There is another classification for communication strategies offered by Brown (2000) (see appendix 3).
5 - The study
5-1 Subjects of the study
The subjects of this study were 35 university students of translation for BA degree at Payem-e-noor University, Saveh, Markazi, Iran. They had similar socio-cultural and educational backgrounds and had never been to any English speaking country before. They were selected on purpose, that is, they were selected from among those students who had passed between 60 to 65 credits of specific courses and had between 15 to 20 credits left to graduate.
They had received the highest grades in the courses related to translation and linguistics. Their ages ranged from 21 to 24. After graduation, they could be employed as translators.
In order to investigate the translation problems the subject encountered during translation process, the subjects were given a one-paragraph Persian text (A More Intelligent Way of Eating, taken from Jabouri et al (1997: 152)).
to translate to English. They were given Persian to English dictionaries and were asked to do the task in one hour.
In our sample of 35 subjects, a total number of 448 instances of communication strategies were recorded after the analysis of their translations. The results showed that they made use of five CSs as follows:
approximation (37.2), message abandonment (29.4), literal translation (16.2), circumlocution (9.4) and topic avoidance(7.8).These results are demonstrated in table 1:
Table 1: Types and frequency of communication strategies employed by the subjects
These strategies, with have been documented in the CS literature somewhat differently (Tarone 1983, Faerch and Kasper 1983, Labraca and Khanji 1986, Khanji 1996, Rabab'ah 2001 and Rabab'ah).
Rabab'ah' s research subjects were 36 Arabic-speaking university students with fairly similar sociocultural and educational backgrounds. They were enrolled in a translation program offered at the College of Languages and Translation at King Saud University, Riyadh. They had never been to an English-speaking country. The program consisted of eight levels; i.e., four years. At the time of the study, they were at Level 5. Their ages ranged from 20-21. They were asked to translate the same material in our study from Arabic to English in one hour. Their translations were analyzed and the results are demonstrated in table 2:
Table 2: Types and frequency of communication strategies employed by the subjects
6 - Communication strategies used in the study
In this section we will provide some definitions of the communication strategies that our subjects employed in our study. According to Brown's classification of communication strategies, circumlocution, approximation, and literal translation are compensatory strategies, topic avoidance and message abandonment are avoidance strategies. Compensatory strategies involve "compensation for missing knowledge (ibid: 129). Dornyei outlines eleven types of compensatory strategies in a very comprehensive way (see appendix 3), which include circumlocution, word coinage, prefabricated patterns, appealing for help, and stalling or time-gaining strategies (Dornyei, 1995 cited in Brown, 2000: 128). Avoidance strategies can be further be broken down into several subtypes, such as phonological avoidance, syntactic or lexical avoidance and topic avoidance (Brown, 2000: 128). These strategies may be an effective way but not a beneficial way for FLL students to learn a foreign language. Topic avoidance may be the most frequent strategy that students have employed. When asked a specific question, the student who does not know the answer will just keep silent about it.
When using synonyms to replace the target language item needed, one is making use of circumlocution strategy. As was mentioned before, this strategy registered 167 instances and 37.2 % of strategies used. Here are some examples taken from our study:
Because of language difficulties, sometimes, the message is left unfinished and this is called message abandonment or reduction. This strategy registered 132 instances, accounting for 29.4% of strategies used. Below are examples taken from the data collected:
As Richards and Schmidth define (2002), translation that is similar to a word-for-word representation of the original is known as a literal translation.
Translating a lexical item, idiom, compound word, or structure literally from L1 to L2 is another definition for this strategy which registered 73 instances, accounting for 16.2% of strategies used which can be attributed to the limited vocabulary and lack of exposure to the target language. Below are examples taken from the data collected:
With respect to circumlocution, it can be classified as a paraphrase strategy because it indicates "describing or exemplifying the target object of action" (ibid). This strategy is used when describing or exemplifying the target object of action. In this study, this strategy registered 41 instances, accounting for 9.4% of strategies used. Examples are below:
When speaking or writing in a second/foreign language, a speaker will often try to avoid using a difficult word or structure, and will use a simpler word or structure instead; this is called an avoidance strategy (Richards and Schmidth, 2002: 44). Topic avoidance may be the most frequent means that students have employed. When asked a specific question, the student who does not know the answer will just keep silent about it and lead to the occurrence of topic avoidance. This strategy registered 35 instances and 7.8% of strategies used:
7 - Conclusion
To sum up, communication strategies remain an important element in translation. Compensatory strategies, in particular, will undoubtedly promote learners' communicative competence. Teachers can play an important role in conveying communication strategies to students and thereby assisting them to practice the target language. Neubert (2000: 3-18) claims that the practice of translation and, hence, teaching translation requires a single competence that is made up of or could be considered to integrate a set of competencies that include, for instance, competence in both the source and the target languages.
The results of the study support Nida (2002), who states that, although translation programs provide students with a great deal about foreign languages, these students usually don't learn how to use those languages in communication. Instructors teach communication strategies. Apart from that, they should also motivate translation students to apply communication strategies, since greater motivation relates to higher frequencies of strategy use.
As stated by Oxford (1990: 13), highly motivated learners adopt "a significantly greater range of appropriate strategies than do less motivated learners." To conclude, local educational organizations should attach more importance to learners' communicative competence in translation and need to design a program in a way to help them develop the translation sub-competencies, especially strategic competence, because they are crucial to producing good translators and, accordingly, acceptable translations.
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Appendix 1: Standard translation
هوشمندانه تر تغذیه کنیم
متخصصان تغذیه درباره یک رژیم موفق چه می گویند؟
آنها خستگی و بی حالی را نتیجه مصرف خوراکی های غیر مفید و کم تحرکی می دانند که انرژی لازم برای فعالیت بدن را تامین می کنند.
این متخصصان تصدیق می کنند که کاهش وزن به معنای کم خوردن نیست بلکه به معنای هوشمندانه تر خوردن و پیروی از دستورالعمل های صحیحی است که برای یک رژیم غذایی مفید لازم است:
Appendix 2. The original English text (from Jabouri et al.1997:153)
A MORE INTELLIGENT WAY OF EATING
What do nutritionists say about a successful diet? They consider the feeling of exhaustion and collapse a result of eating junk food in addition to the lack of exercise which provides the body with energy and activity. These experts confirm that weight reduction doesn't mean eating less, but eating more intelligently and following some health instructions which are useful in a diet:
First: Good knowledge must be acquired with respect to foods according to their calories. Such foods can reduce our weight and keep us energetic as well. The healthy average of weight reduction is one kilogram per week, and calories are related to age, weight, and level of professional activity.
Second: In order not to collapse, we must eat foods rich in vitamins and minerals, and completely avoid the fried, oily kinds. Besides, we must take desserts in lesser amounts and compensate for that by eating specific quantities of fruits.
Third: Three meals should be taken, or calories should be consumed within short periods of time; that is, sticking to fixed times. Supper should be taken before 7 p.m.
1. Message abandonment: Leaving a message unfinished because of language difficulties.
2. Topic avoidance: Avoiding topic areas or concepts that pose language difficulties.
3. Circumlocution: Describing or exemplifying the target object of action (e.g. the thing you open bottles with for corkscrew).
4. Approximation: Using an alternative term which expresses the meaning of the target lexical item as closely as possible (e.g. ship for sailboat).
5. Use of all-purpose words: Extending a general, empty lexical item to contexts where specific words are lacking (e.g., the overuse of thing, stuff, what-do-you call-it, thingie).
6. Word coinage: Creating a non-existing L2 word based on a supposed rule (e.g., vegetarianist for vegetarian).
7. Prefabricated patterns: Using memorized stock phrases, usually for "survival" purposes (e.g., Where is the ... or
Comment allez-vous?, where the morphological components are not known to the learner).
8. Nonlinguistic signals: Mime, gesture, facial expression, or sound imitation.
9. Literal translation: Translating literally a lexical item, idiom, compound word, or structure from L1 to L2.
10. Foreignizing: Using a L1 word by adjusting it to L2 phonology (i.e., with a L2 pronunciation) and/or morphology (e.g., adding to it a L2 suffix).
11. Code-switching: Using a L1 word with L1 pronunciation or a L3 word with L3 pronunciation while speaking in L2.
12. Appeal for help: Asking for aid from the interlocutor either directly (e.g., what do you call...?) or indirectly (e.g., rising intonation, pause, eye contact, puzzled expression).
13. Stalling or time-gaining strategies: Using fillers or hesitation devices to fill pauses and to gain time to think (e.g., well, now, let's see, uh, as a matter of fact).
Published - September 2009
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