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How Your Company Wins by Providing Translation Internships (Research Findings)

By: Oleksandr Bondarenko & Evgeniy Muzychenko (Translatel) - Translatel

21 December 2015

Students represent the language industry's future. It is imperative that the next generation be trained and prepared to tackle the challenges of modern day localization and translation. The team at Translatel outlines the shocking gap that exists between what academics and companies see as key competencies for translators, and offers a solution to help bridge the divide: internships.


Part I: Closing the Chasm from Student to Professional
Oleksandr Bondarenko, CEO Translatel

Both academics and professionals in the translation industry have mapped out what they deem to be the necessary skills for translation students. The problem is, these maps do not follow the same path. Research shows the key competencies identified by the two parties diverge drastically, leading to a chasm between what students are taught and what skills translation companies actually need future employees to have.

As the CEO of a translation company with 17 years in the translation business, I interact with new translators all the time. And as a professor at our local university in Ukraine, I have firsthand experience with translator training. I interact with both groups and see both sides of the coin.

I always intuitively felt that something was wrong with translator training. Dealing with translation department graduates on a regular basis made me strongly doubt their professional competence. There seemed to be a gap between what was being taught in universities and the skills that I needed my employees to have as professional translators. I began studying this gap to investigate why it was occurring. My 15 years of experience in the translation and contrastive studies field led to the scientific approbation of my vague suspicion.

In conducting my research, I preferred to leave the talking to the experts: 48 university translation teachers from 21 universities, and 117 translation industry representatives—including 49 translation company representatives from 35 companies and 68 experienced freelancers. Practically all university representatives and the majority of industry experts were from Ukraine. I asked the aforementioned colleagues to fill in a questionnaire to ascertain what professionals and academics deemed the most important qualities in translation professionals. Would their perspectives align, or differ? I wanted to find out.

Both parties were asked to evaluate 43 investigated competencies, ranking their professional relevance for translators from 1 (least important) to 5 (most important). The questionnaire was partially based on the European Master in Translation (EMT) list of competencies for professional translators. It should be noted that the whole competency system was thoroughly reconsidered. The EMT list of competencies was presented in the form of taxonomy that works perfectly if you see a translator as an ideal concept. My system of competencies was designed to be more industry-oriented, replicating the real translation process with all the stages involved.

All questionnaire participants were asked the same question about three sets of competencies, “Which of the following competencies should a modern translator possess?”

From the point of view of industry representatives, an employee’s most valuable characteristics are their job-related skills, as well as experience in other fields. As it turned out, these particular competencies are highly underestimated by the academy.

Potential employers are quite modest in their requirements of linguistic competencies: what is needed most is the ability to compile glossaries and termbases, translate from a second language, and customize the text. Industry representatives felt that to be a success, a translator must also possess specific tech-related competencies: using CATs, text processing and DTP operation tools. These are the skills appreciated and paid for. Ironically, these competencies are the ones academia values least.

The university representatives claimed that their graduates should possess all types of linguistic competencies—which is true, of course, but not crucial from the industry angle. The unexpectedly high rating by academics for the most exotic tech-consuming competencies flabbergasted me. A suspicion crept into my mind about the psychological reasons for this. Teachers will be teachers; Sometimes preferring to stay on the conservative side, sometimes trying to be on the high horse in every possible situation. Their purely speculative ratings of competencies flagrantly clash with a relatively modest evaluation of the same competencies by industry representatives.

Academics also gave knee-jerk answers in their pitching of a diploma’s significance. A diploma itself is regarded by scholars as a performance bond, so the results are somewhat predictable. Sadly, translation companies have not been able to appreciate a diploma status in the same way.

In the long run, my subjective belief that translators are not trained properly was proven quite spectacularly by the results of the questionnaire. The two groups of respondents had completely different beliefs regarding the competencies important for a modern translator.

These results lead to many conclusions. And one of the biggest, most glaring ones is that academia does not train translators the way their future employers need them to be trained.

But there is a solution. The key success factor I see is a team play of the two main stakeholders—academia and industry. This is definitely one of the most fruitful ways to adjust the training process to industry demands. The team play can take many practical forms, including round tables, master classes of industry gurus, and other proven activities.

Also, a supervised student internship—as a mutually beneficial cooperation between universities and translation companies—seems to be one of the best practices to give students a chance to succeed post-graduation. However, an internship cannot be haphazard. A structured program for interns allows the student to grow, and also levies many benefits for the internship provider. Our organization has spent several years honing our internship offerings. In Part II of this article, we describe the steps to internship success for both the company and the student.


Part II: Meaningful Internships for You and For Students—An 8-Step Roadmap
Evgeniy Muzychenko, Translatel

The yawning gap between what the translation industry needs and what academia can provide is damaging to the future of our industry. At Translatel we believe that the remedy, or at least a mitigation for the problem, can be found in internships.

We propose a simple and straightforward 8-step roadmap to help you conduct a meaningful internship at your agency with little efforts from your side, but many long-term benefits for you, for the student, and for the industry as a whole.

Step 1. Signing of Non-Disclosure Agreement: At your office students will deal with lots of sensitive information. A signed NDA can formally secure your sensitive information, prevent sharing of the tests among students, provide a solid basis for your legal safety and ensure peace of mind. So first of all we suggest getting all interns that will deal with your information to sign an NDA .

Step 2. Zero Test: After Step 1, candidate interns take a so-called Zero Test, meaning that they translate a short extract of around 300 words on a general topic. It helps to conduct a preliminary assessment of the linguistic and analytic skills of your future interns, and choose the best ones. At this stage no quality inspection is applied: you need only general subjective feedback from a staff member who checks the test.

Step 3. Introductory Briefing: This is the most time-consuming stage. A manager or whoever you may find appropriate for the task conducts a briefing with students, explaining company structure, how different staff roles are connected, how translation quality is checked, QA model, etc. Then the manager provides the new interns with corporate style guides, trainings and other instructions, explaining their purpose. Lastly, during the briefing you can refresh the students’ knowledge of the CAT tool they will use.

At Translatel we tend to give our interns texts from a single long-term project for the whole internship period. The project is not a live one—everything was already translated by our staff some time ago, so we don’t risk our reputation. Such an approach helps track students’ progress as they deal with the same terminology, linguistic patterns, Translation Memories, etc. That is why, besides our corporate Style Guides, we provide the interns with the Style Guide for the project they will translate. They will study these materials within the first few days of their internship.

Step 4. Reading of Translation: At this stage we give the students quite a large amount of materials that were already translated by professional translators. Students read them and compare source and target, trying to catch all the nuances. This helps them learn the linguistic patterns specific for the project, the basic terminology and stylistic aspects. This stage should take 3 to 5 days of the internship.

Step 5. Translation with Key: At this stage interns begin to translate. We do not give them real tasks from clients, only the source files that have already been translated by our regular linguists (the files we provide the students do not contain the translation). When the translation is ready, interns get the Key—that is, the files translated by the staff, to compare both variants. Such approach demands little participation from your stuff: students do everything themselves. They can analyze their mistakes to avoid repeating them in future. The Translation with Key stage should take around 5 weeks.

Step 6. True-to-Life Translation: Interns continue to translate jobs that were already done by the team. The difference from the previous step is that now students do not have the Key, they don’t compare their translation by themselves. Instead it’s done by a quality manager, reviser or another in-house translator. The main point here is feedback. It can be in any form, written or oral; you can use a quality check form as well. In other words, at this stage students should get professional feedback on their work. True-to-Life Translation should be conducted for another week or two.

Step 7. Final Test: On the final days of internship we pick a short extract from the project line that the students worked with, and use it for final testing. At this point we apply the real quality check process, fill in a feedback form and get an exact grade for the quality.

Step 8. Assessment of the Final Test: A Quality Manager checks the final test and fills in the feedback form. This way students get a real grade or score, like the one they would get if they sent their work to a client, and some helpful feedback. At this stage, interns can experience the real arbitration process, which a necessary part of any translator’s professional life, and comment on the errors they do not agree with.

The chart below shows the control points, which require your staff participation. These are Zero Test stage, True-to-Life Translation stage and Assessment of the Final Test stage.

If you are planning to conduct internships at your company you are welcome to use this process, which is simple and does not require much time and effort from your side, but is hugely beneficial for students to gain a real-life perspective on the industry. Equipped with a vision of how a translation company operates, students will be more adept at identifying important skills during their future academic endeavors.

Internships are usually seen only as a compliance sieve for rising translators. We claim that internships are a translation company’s endurance test and an efficient way to successfully meet the demands of language services industry.

There are some definite reasons for a proper organized internship, apart from pure recruiting and quantitative changes:

  1. Social responsibility — a company’s success marker (being generous enough to take care of novices).
  2. Competitive environment within the company (it really motivates the staff when young interns breathe down their necks).
  3. Personal enhancement of company staff (being a mentor is inspiring and responsible).

Translatel takes a multifaceted approach to internships in our company. An intern can act as a translator, manager, proofreader, quality assurance manager, etc. This strategy helps prevent withdrawal of an applicant from the language services industry, and accommodate the interns with the most suitable positions in the industry.

It should be noted that this methodology is efficient not only for the students on an internship, but also for inside qualification courses.

Improve your business, and enhance the quality of the translation industry as a whole, by developing internships!

Please see the webinar How Your Company Wins by Providing Translation Internships to learn more.