LETRAC - Language Engineering for Translation Curricula

Belinda Maia, Ph.D.,
Universidade do Porto,
Faculdade de Letras,
Apartado 55038,
4150 Porto, Portugal.

This paper will present the proposals and the findings to date of the project LETRAC - Language Engineering for Translation Curricula. This project (LE4-8324), which is programmed to last 15 months starting from January, 1998, is funded by the European Commission, DG XIII, within the Telematics Application Programme of the Fourth Framework. The partners are:

IAI - Institut der Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Angewandten Informationsforschung e.V, Saarbrücken, Germany, Project coordinator
Universität des Saarlandes, Saarbrücken, Germany
Universität Mainz, FASK, Mainz, Germany
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal
Ionian University, Corfu, Greece
Aarhus Business School, Aarhus, Denmark
C.I.U.T.I. - Conférence Internationale Permanente d'Instituts Universitaires de Traducteurs et Interprètes
EC-Translation Service, Brussels and Luxemburg

The LETRAC Concerted Action is an initiative aiming at establishing a common basis for the elaboration and inclusion of LE (language engineering) components in BSc and MSc translator curricula. The work consists of the joint analysis of the already existing parts of university curricula and of the requirements formulated by employers of translators (public authorities and industrial companies) with the aim of significantly improving and actualising these curricula.

The first step has been to collect the respective elements from the participating universities as well as from CIUTI members and these elements are being compared, classified and analysed taking into account different legislation and cultural backgrounds. When one examines the translation curricula of those European institutions of higher education which prepare translators, it soon becomes clear that they vary considerably in their professed attitudes to the role of language engineering and even information technology. Some universities have long been involved in research programmes related to machine translation and other forms of LE (e.g. Saarbruecken and UMIST), others include little beyond an introduction to computers and word-processing in their curricula and some not even that.

It must also be added that where some do have the subjects on the curriculum and are well-equipped technologically, it is still possible for trainee translators and their translation teachers to avoid using this technology, for reasons connected to the overall organisation of their institutions. Others, on the contrary, are able to introduce the use of technology into the classroom, even though little provision has been made for this by the curriculum. Much depends on the institution's ability to provide technology and the teachers' ability to use it.

It must also be remembered that, although there are institutions which have a long tradition in preparing translators and interpreters, many courses have come into being over little more than the last ten years in response partly to demand, and partly to the need of traditional modern language departments to diversify the 'products' they offer the market. The curricula for these courses are therefore often heavily weighted towards the traditional needs of such institutions rather than to the real needs of the market.

The LETRAC members have also investigated the needs formulated by translation professionals and associations and the working situation at the participating Commission Services (represented by the Department of Language Co-ordination) and the resulting user needs. It would appear the role of technology is advancing at such a pace in the translation market that, even with the best will in the world, it is hard for the curricula of higher education to keep pace. As anyone involved will know, changing curricula, particularly in state universities, can take quite a long time.

This phase of examining the position of the universities and of the market is nearly complete and it will be possible to report fully on the results at the conference.

Using these findings, LETRAC will next try to define standard elements related to LE and prepare a feasibility report on the integration of these elements into different translator curricula, taking into account the local givens in terms of environment, cultural background, structures, personnel and facilities (hardware). So far, care has been taken to define between Language Engineering and Information Technology, although it is recognised that, thanks to the fast evolution of this area, it is becoming increasingly difficult to draw a dividing line between them. However, it is now clear that the sounder the knowledge the translator has of technology, the better his/her prospects for competing professionally. Students are already arriving at university equipped to do word-processing, and use the Internet and e-mail. It is now up to higher education to offer them access to and training in the use and preparation of terminological databases, translation memories and machine translation, and to involve them actively in further research in these areas.

At the time of conference, LETRAC will be in the phase of preparing its recommendations as to how changes in curricula can be realistically implemented, given the variety of situations in which universities find themselves and the different demands of the international and local markets.

One other objective of LETRAC is to widely disseminate and promote its findings within the relevant circles via the CIUTI channel and by organising and participating in events specifically devoted to already working and future translators. It is also hoped that by discussing its objectives at events such as the ACO-HUM conference, it will be possible to exchange views and acquire relevant feedback from others in the same or similar fields.