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A Comparative Study of Translation Teaching in Iran and Spain

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This article seeks to compare university educational system of translation in Iran with that of Spain and also shed light on aims of both systems and how they try to achieve their desirable purposes. At first, a short history of translation teaching at academic level in both countries is provided and then the courses that trainees have to pass for M.A. and PhD courses and the problems they have faced so far are mentioned. Both systems intend to train researchers that are willing to conduct research within the domain of translation and also train qualified instructors for courses of B.A. and M.A. of translation and promote instruction of translation courses including theory and practice of translation. But both systems still should try to resolve some challenges.

Key Words: Translation, Educational system, translation courses, Iran, Spain


Translation is no longer admitted as a sub-branch of linguistics as applied linguistics and people who suppose that translation is just replacing words of a target language with those of a source language have to reconsider this issue as the number of universities that establish translation as a specialized major is increasing throughout the world and they are conducting lots of researches on various aspects of translation act, such as theoretical and social and cultural and political and philosophical facets, to improve the quality of translation since global communication is increasing day by day. But this major is still considered as a new major globally and lots of efforts should be made to make it widely accepted among all education authorities and academics and train capable translators. Education staff and authorities of universities are always revising their curriculum in order to meet the trainees’ needs and also remove the needs of systems.

1. Translation Teaching in Iranian Universities

1.1 History of Translation Teaching in Iran

The education of translation at academic level started in 1973 in Tehran as a higher education center titled as ‘College of Translation’ was established to train competent translators. After Revolution (1979) this school was substituted by Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran in 1983. The instruction of this major as a specialized one has continued since that time and spread to some other universities across the country because it has been needed to deal with translation major more academically and systematically as global communication has become more popular and necessary with the advent of the Internet and satellites and Iran has been also so dependent on translation of latest researches and books published in developed counties to advance its science. There are now nine postgraduate and two doctoral programs of translation in this country to prepare good translators and instructors of translation for near and far future.

1.2 Aims of Teaching Translation in Iranian Universities

The educational system in Iran is highly centralized, each level depending to a great extent on the decrees, rules and regulations issued by Ministry of Science, Research and Technology. According to this ministry, aims of holding translation programs as M.A. and PhD. in universities are as what follows:

-To train researches who are willing to conduct research within the domain of translation

-To train qualified instructors for courses of translation

-To train researchers for providing reasonable curriculum materials for translation courses

-To promote instruction of translation courses for trainees

-To separate courses of translation from those of language teaching

-To promote instruction of theories to trainees of translation

-To remove the constant need for specialized translation instructors

-To encourage students of translation to continue their studies in Iran

- To promote translation across the country

Students of translation are also expected to receive training in knowledge management of different disciplines and in problem-spotting and problem-solving skills which they can apply to most text types and disciplines which is held as an advantage in a professional world where translation is considered more as a business and where multidisciplinary translators are highly demanded (see, for instance, Bajo et al. 2001; González Davies & Scott-Tennent 2001; González Davies & Scott-Tennent 2005; Kussmaul 1995; Lörscher 1991, 1992; Orozco 2000; Scott – Tennent & González Davies 2000; Séguinot 1991; Tirkkonen-Condit 2001).

1.3 Courses of M.A. of Translation in Iran

Allameh Tabatabaei University of Tehran was the first one to set up M.A. of translation studies in Iran in 2001 and the following courses were ratified by the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology for this degree.

First Semester
Course Credit
Analysis and Translation of Islamic Texts (Persian into English) 2
Theoretical Foundations of Translation 2
Philosophy of Education 2 2
Applied Linguistics and Translation 2
Translational Equivalence and Lexicology 2
Essay Writing in English 2

(The first three courses will not be counted in the degree but may be required of some students as a prerequisite)        

Second Semester
Course Credit
Translation Criticism 2
Translation Theories 2
Translation Models 2
Translation Workshop 2
Translation Advanced Research Methodologies 2
Sociocultural Studies in Translation 2
Introduction to Principles of Computer 2

Third semester
Course Credit
Translation Quality Assessment 2
Translation Seminar 2
Genealogy of Translation in Iran 2
Persian Literature in the World Literature 2
Applied Literary Criticism (in English Literature) 2

Fourth Semester
Course Credit
Thesis 4

1.4 Courses of PhD of Translation in Iran

PhD of translation studies was established in Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran in 2011 and the following year Isfahan University also got the permit from Ministry of Science, Research and Technology to hold the same doctoral program. It provides advanced training in research methodology of the major and its research areas include: theories of translation, written translation, interpretation and multimedia translation. This program requires all students to pass 36 credits including 18 credits of compulsory and optional courses as well as 18 credits for dissertation as decreed by the ministry.

These courses include:
Course Credit
Research Methods in Translation Studies 2
Computers and Translation 2
Translation from Pragmatic, Textological, and CDA Perspective 2
Culture, Ideology and Translation 2
Critical Analysis of Modern Translation Theories 2
Translator Training Methodology 2

Optional Courses

1 . Written Translation
Course Credit
Terminology and Lexicography 2
Poetics of Translation 2
Translation Criticism: Theory and Practice 2

2. Interpretation
Course Credit
Interpreting Theories 2
Research Models in Interpreting 2
Interpreting Training Methodology 2

3. Multimedia Translation
Course Credit
Multimedia Translation 2
Research Methods in Multimedia Translation 2
Multimedia Translation Training Methodology 2

Compensatory Courses
Course Credit
Advanced Research and Translation 2
Translation Theories 2
Advanced Evaluation and Translation 2

1.5 Challenges of teaching translation in Iranian universities

At the POSI6 meeting which was held in London in 1998, it became clear that different countries favor different approaches to translation training. In some, it is conceived as an undergraduate degree and in others, especially in mainly English-speaking countries, it exists mainly as a postgraduate degree. In Iran translation is now being taught at all levels including B.A. and M.A. and PhD, but still there are some academics who believe that translation is just a sub-branch of linguistics and needs no professional education since one needs just some dictionaries to embark upon the task of translation.

This major also suffers from lack of specialized university instructors of translation. There are still some professors who have studied other majors of English such as Literature and Teaching or Linguistics but now are engaged in translation teaching due to their own interest or their misconception that translation instruction is an easy task or they may have been forced by the heads of their faculties to do so. Most of such instructors lack the necessary expertise to teach translation courses and just resort to ‘read and translate’ approach and know nothing special about current translation theories whereas such theories are gaining more validity day by day as they have been proved to shed light on translation act and help translators deliver better renderings, but there is still a ray of hope since this challenge is being increasingly resolved as students who have finished M.A. or PhD of translation studies are being employed in universities.

Most professors of Iranian universities that teach translation courses of M.A. also believe that there are too many various courses for this degree and it is now the time to make these courses focus upon specialized subjects and prepare each student of M.A. of translation to gain the specialty of just one subject such as translation of literary or journalistic texts.

There are also lots of students who complain about overabundance of theories in M.A. courses and believe that theories of translation should be also accompanied by practice of it as they are actually intertwined, while current theories of translation are explained separately and being distant from translation act itself.

2. Translation Teaching in Spanish Universities

2.1 History of Translation Teaching in Spain

According to Davies (2004), in the 1970s and 80s Translation Studies was just taught in three Spanish universities: the Autonoma in Barcelona, Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, and Granada. However, as she has stated, these programs were not full degrees, but three-year diplomas. This situation has changed much since 1991 when Translation Studies became licenses. There are now nineteen Translation degrees, as well as eleven postgraduate and nine doctoral programs. An Association of Spanish University Centers and Departments of Translation and Interpreting was also set up in 1993 to co-ordinate all these centers and help promote academic translation activities. The association, which is not dependent on the Ministry of Education of Spain, meets at least once every year to deal with specific issues such as designing new programs. The success of the faculties has also contributed to the creation of professional associations in Catalonia, Granada and Las Palmas.

Indeed, translation in Spain started as an option within philology, the only license that involved a foreign language. However, different factors made translation studies more popular, mainly the access it offered to a broader range of languages, its professional orientation, more jobs it might lead to compared to philology and the fact that Spain is one of the countries with the highest output of translations per year, not only into Spanish but also into the other languages spoken in the country. In 2012 about 26% of all publications in Spain were translations, a percentage that has not changed much from 1994. These translations also include translations between the languages spoken in Spain which creates an expanding market.

2.2 Aims of Teaching Translation in Spanish Universities

The ministry of Education of Spain has issued the following aims and purposes for teaching translation in universities:

a. to train new researchers,

b. to encourage research teams,

c. to train new teachers and,

d. to ensure professional, scientific, technical and artistic development.

But the aims of teaching translation are not all decreed by the Ministry of Education of Spain and the Association helps the universities devise their own aims and curricula, unlike Iranian state universities that are totally dependent on the Ministry. For example, University of Pompeu Fabra which is a university in Barcelona, Catalonia and was awarded the distinction of International Excellence Campus by the Spanish Ministry of Education in 2010 and is widely considered to be one of the best universities in Spain holds M.A. courses of translation and aims to achieve the following purposes:

- To train specialists in translation studies based on their previous degree course (academic and research training)

- To train specialized translators and interpreters who are proficient in at least two foreign languages (professional training).      

2.3 Courses of M.A. of Translation in Spain

University of Pompeu Fabra intends to reinforce the following specialties: Translatology, Translation of specialized texts (legal/economic, scientific/technical and humanities/literary), Specialized interpretation and translation

Teaching load of the course types also includes what follows:

Introduction to research: It is compulsory for students to take 20 corresponding to the master's degree final project credits and 10 research methodology credits.

Advanced academic training: It is compulsory to take 10 master's degree final project credits, 10 methodology credits and a further 10 practical credits.

Professional specialization: It is compulsory to take 19 internship credits, 6 master's degree final project credits (internship report) and 5 methodology credits.

Its curriculum also includes what follows: Translation research methodology, Translation practice methodology, Translation theory, Linguistic analysis and translation, Translation tools, Specialized discourse and translation, Specialized translation: scientific and technical, legal and economic translation, Humanistic and literary translation, Audiovisual Translation, Interpretation.

In the professional specialization course type, students must take 20 internship credits, which are done in companies and institutions with which the University has arranged collaboration agreements.

2.4 Courses of PhD of Translation in Spain

The Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona is one of the Spanish universities that holds doctoral programs of translation titled as ‘Translation and Intercultural Studies’ and provides advanced training in research methodology of this major in English. Its research areas include: intercultural theory, translation theory, translation technology, localization, translation history, interpreting, audiovisual translation, training methodology. It has been awarded the "Mención de Calidad" (Distinction of Quality) from the Spanish Ministry of Education from 2003 to 2011 and it is organized by Intercultural Studies Group of the Rovira i Virgili University of Tarragona and Anthony Pym is its program director. The courses that students are required to pass are as what follows:




Research Techniques in Translation Studies Basic readings in Translation Studies


Communicating research in English


Principles of empirical research in Translation Studies


Theory and techniques of translation analysis Contemporary theories of translation


Sociocultural transfer analysis


Functionalist translation analysis


Applied research methodologies Translation processes and new technologies


Research on interpreting


Research on translator training


Professional guidance Core curriculum course


Tutored research work Minor dissertation and research design


Total ECTS


The completion of a European PhD also requires that the student spend a minimum of three months at a research center in another European country. In order to facilitate this, agreements are being arranged between the Tarragona program and a series of research centers. These agreements envisage student exchanges for three-month periods and the joint development of online learning materials .The agreements are not limited to Europe, since there is no reason to limit good ideas to specific places. Initial agreements have so far been signed with the following institutions:

School of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies (FASK), Universität Mainz in Germersheim, Germany

Interpreter and Translator Training Center, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary

Institute of Translation and Interpreting, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic

Centre for Translation and Interpreting, University of Turku, Finland

School of languages and Linguistics, University of Western Sydney, Australia

Research Centre for Translation, Communication and Cultures (CETRA), Leuven, Belgium

Centre for Translation and Comparative Cultural Studies, University of Warwick, United Kingdom.

Research Centre for Translation, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Centre for Translation, Hong Kong Baptist University.

2.5 Challenges of Teaching Translation in Spanish Universities

In Spain in 1991 a decree changed translation diplomas into licenses as a result of, as Beeby puts it (1996: 119), "arduous negotiations between Barcelona, Granada, Las Palmas and the Ministry of Education". But there were some academic considerations involved: the prevalent view of translation and interpreting studies as being non-academic and not reasonable for a university framework, and the disagreement of philology departments which predicted a drop-off in student numbers. Established professional associations of translators and interpreters were also opposed, the licenses were viewed as potential sources of market competitors. On the other hand, extending diplomas studies by a year would also amount to an admission that translation and interpreting were subjects suitable for academic studies; the move also created a new environment for teaching jobs. The university reforms provided the opportunity to adjust to a world more and more dependent on technology, and to young people used to communicative ways of learning.

But ironically, professional translators did not qualify for the new teaching posts, because university teachers in Spain need to have a PhD qualification and also pass a public exam and there were no translation and interpreting graduates until 1995. One solution to this problem was to contract translators with a university degree as associate teachers and, mainly, philology PhD holders who were also part-time translators. This mix of staff is the norm in translation departments in Spain, which can place translation students and their teachers at cross purposes, because their expectations as to what university studies imply are different. Philology-oriented teachers wish to include more linguistics and literature courses in the curriculum, whereas the more professionally oriented students wish for more practice and not too much theory.


As it was indicated Iranian and Spanish universities have had some similar aims and challenges. Spanish universities suffered from lack of recognition of translation as an academic major and also specialized translation teachers. The association of translation and interpretation and turning translation diplomas to licenses were also strongly opposed because they could be a threat to competitive market of other majors. Iranian universities also have faced the problem of lack of specialized and trained instructors of translation and translation major has not been recognized as an academic field of study which merits special attention. Moreover, M.A. of translation studies in Iran is not still focused on specialized fields such as translation of literary or journalistic texts. There are also some students who complain about no connection between theory and practice of translation as M.A. courses are mostly related to theories. There is also a need for making students more familiar with recent translation tools.

Spanish universities have broad connections with other universities and have formed researches networks with lots of universities in some continents and have designed internships and made contracts with various companies to give the students the necessary skills and knowledge to find their place in the market, while in Iran such programs and plans have not been put to practice.

Also Spanish universities are decreed by the Ministry of Education to achieve some specific purposes but they have the freedom to set up their own curricula and courses in consultation with the Association, while Iranian universities are completely dependent on the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology and must follow their instructions to design courses and curricula, but generally it seems that both Iranian and Spanish universities have adopted similar courses for M.A. and PhD of translation and seek similar aims.

Generally speaking, in postgraduate and PhD courses the students’ aims are almost evident: they register for more specialization in one or more subjects that they have followed, to fill the gaps left by the previous degrees, to remove the new professional needs, to update their knowledge in the field, to redirect their careers or maybe to gain entry into a better profession. Therefore, postgraduate and PhD courses are intended to improve understanding of these contents: Language work, subject matter, translation skills, resourcing skills, computer skills, and a special emphasis on professional skills. So all universities throughout the world should pay careful attention to these needs and try to provide necessary courses and curricula and equipment.


Bajo, T., Padilla, P., Muñoz, R., Padilla, F., Gómez, C., Puerta, C., Gonzalvo, P., & Macizo, P. (2001). “Comprehension and memory processes in translation and interpreting”. Quaderns. Revista de Traducció, 6, 27–31.

Beeby, A. (1996). “Barcelona: Licenciatura en traducción e interpretación”. The Translator, 2 (1), 113–126.

González Davies, M. (2004). “Undergraduate and postgraduate translation degrees: Aims and expectations”. In Kirsten Malmkjær, Translation in Undergraduate Degree Programmes, Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

González Davies, M., Scott-Tennent, C.,& Rodríguez, F. (2001). ”Training in the Application of Translation Strategies for Undergraduate Scientific Translation Students”. Meta, 46 (4), 737–744.

González Davies, M. & Scott-Tennent, C. (2005). “A problem-solving and student-centred approach to the translation of cultural references”. Meta, 50 (1). Special Issue: Enseignement de la traduction dans le monde.

Kussmaul, P. (1995). Training the Translator. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Lörscher,W. (1991). Translation Performance, Translation Process, and Translation Strategies. A Psycholinguistic Investigation. Tübingen: Narr.

Lörscher, W. (1992). “Process-oriented research into translation and its implications for translation teaching”. Interface, Journal for Applied Linguistics, 6 (2), 105–117.

Scott-Tennent, C. & Gonzalez Davies, M. (2000). “Translation Strategies and Translation Solutions: Design of a didactic prototype and empirical study of results”. In A. Beeby, D. Ensinger, & M. Presas (Eds.), Investigating Translation (pp. 107–117). Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Séguinot, C. (1991). “A Study of Student Translation Strategies”. In S. Tirkkonen-Condit Ed.), Empirical Research in Translation and Intercultural Studies (pp. 79–88). Tübingen: Gunter Narr.

Tirkkonen-Condit, S. (2001). “Metaphors in Translation Processes and Products”, Quaderns. Revista de Traducció, 6, 11–15.

Published - July 2013

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