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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access January 30, 2023

Beliefs on translation speed among students. A case study

  • Rafik Jamoussi EMAIL logo , Aladdin Al Zahran and Kais A. Kadhim
From the journal Open Linguistics


Novice translation graduates are often found to be slow translators. The fact that this deficiency is usually rectified through professional experience implies that initial performance issues are the outcome of a complex interplay of factors, which do not involve intrinsic abilities. Based on insights from cognitively oriented research on students’ beliefs about language learning and the impact these beliefs have on students’ performance, the present study posits that the beliefs students have towards the question of translation speed represent one of the factors that fashion their productivity. Targeting graduates from the English Language and Translation programme at a private university in an Arab Gulf State, a mixed method approach, including a survey and a semi-structured interview, was adopted to explore the beliefs students have towards the question of speed and to identify the sources of these beliefs in their training programme. Analysis reveals that productivity awareness among the investigated population is almost non-existent and points at the predominantly product-oriented approach that characterises their learning experience as the main source of this condition. This article argues that improving students’ awareness of productivity requirements is not just a case of integrating timed activities, but calls for the adoption of multi-layered process-oriented training principles and practices at the level of delivery, feedback, and assessment criteria.

1 Introduction

Translation productivity, often expressed in terms of translation speed or the number of translated words per hour/day, represents one of the aspects that contribute to the success of translators in their workplace. Yet, fresh translation graduates are rarely found to be ready for the job (Al-Batineh and Bilali 2017, Biel 2011, 162, Kiraly 2005, Rodríguez de Céspedes 2017), and translation speed is among the skills which novice translators are usually lacking. This condition is typically regarded as normal given that the translation speed and accuracy of fresh graduates usually pick up after they join a professional environment (Bowker and McBride 2017, Hvelplund 2016).

The acceptance of this state of affairs transpires in various ways in the literature on translator training. For instance, accounts of (multi-)componential competence frameworks[1] usually maintain that sub-competences are restructured and mutually consolidated as a consequence of exposure to new professional situations (Massey 2005, 627). Within a social constructivist approach to translator training (Kiraly 2000), the maturing process the translator goes through is manifest in the concept of community of practice whereby the trainees transition from a classroom community of practice to a professional community of practice through real-life or highly simulated work environments (González-Davies and Enríquez-Raído 2016).

Yet, despite these theoretical considerations, the typical perception and conceptualisation of graduate performance as an initial condition that is meant to improve through professional experience is being challenged as employers are becoming increasingly demanding on graduate employment readiness, and Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are coming under mounting pressure to integrate aspects of training that are traditionally left to the workplace (Jamoussi and Al Zahran 2021, Rodríguez de Céspedes 2017, 4). The growing debate among employers and educationists over the question of employability represents the epitome of this pressure (see, for instance, the ITT 2017, 11 (2–3) special issue dedicated to employability). From a phase in a natural process of professional growth, the issue of limited performance of fresh graduates has come to be considered from this perspective as a competence gap.

In such a context, translation speed and the stages and the manner in which it is expected to develop among translation trainees have become questions that require re-examination. However, it is interesting to note that, as Bowker argues, “in the translation pedagogy literature, the ability to translate quickly usually receives little more than passing mention as something to be developed through experience” (Bowker 2016, 23, see also Bowker and McBride 2017). Among pedagogical approaches to translator training, Social Constructivism is particularly propitious for harbouring a focus on translation speed, as it natively focuses on the development of professional skills through the adoption of professionally realistic, interactive, student-focused, and practice-oriented activities (Biel 2011, 164, Kiraly 2005, 1103). However, within this approach, one finds that the focus on translation speed, per se, is often tangential and remains a spinoff of the overarching approach that aims primarily at providing trainees with a real-life experience of translation tasks. The mention by Kiraly that real-world factors include time pressure (Kiraly 2005, 1103) represents an exception that confirms the rule, a passing mention, as Bowker argues.

In fact, even the employability debate seldom addresses the question of translation speed sensu stricto. References to time management in the literature (see, for instance, Álvarez-Álvarez and Arnáiz-Uzquiza 2017), though extant, are usually meant to encompass not just the translation process but all project management stages. More often than not, discussions of employability hinge around adapting training so that it addresses emerging needs in a changing market, such as marketing skills, financial know-how, and self-motivation (Álvarez-Álvarez and Arnáiz-Uzquiza 2017, Rodríguez de Céspedes 2017, 2).

However, research focusing on speed in translation is not totally missing. Process-oriented investigations, typically using controlled experimental methods, such as eye-tracking (Sharmin et al. 2008) and keystroke logging (Muñoz Martín 2009), explore different facets of this question. One direction research has taken is to investigate the effects time pressure has on the cognitive processes involved in translation, and ultimately on translation output (Liparini Campos 2015, Jensen and Jakobsen 2000). Arguably, the effect of time pressure on translation and translation speed could be considered as two sides of the same coin. However, this strand of research takes a different path, which, though focusing on the topic of speed, has different intents and research questions.

Other studies provide a more direct focus on the question of productivity through the investigation of the construct of automaticity. Automatic and non-automatic cognitive processes have for a long time attracted the attention of researchers in different fields, such as psychology, social cognition, and learning (Hvelplund 2016, Moors and Houwers 2006), where automaticity is usually defined as the ability to perform processes more quickly and efficiently as a consequence of extended practice (de Jong and Perfetti 2011, Segalowitz 2003, Tavakoli 2019). Automaticity is a well-established field of inquiry within a cognitive approach to second language acquisition and has come to represent a key element in the description and investigation of the fluency construct (Tavakoli 2019; see also Segalowitz 2003 for a review of the different paths research has taken).

The focus on automaticity as an aspect of the translation process is more recent, and the amount of attention it has received is still minimal compared to what is witnessed in other fields (Deckert 2019). Topics addressed here may vary, but they all share a common premise; that differences in the performance of established and novice translators are to a large extent to be accounted for in terms of automatised and non-automatised processes and that automaticity is acquired through practice and experience.

Studies within this perspective attempt to contribute to a better understanding of the cognitive mechanisms involved, as in translational decision-making (Deckert 2019), high and low production speeds in relation to professionalism (Hvelplund 2016, Qassem 2020), and the balance between automaticity and cognitive control (Togato et al. 2022). As such, these studies are quite often theoretical (Jiménez-Crespo 2012, 58), and it is only occasionally that they explicitly address pedagogical implications (see, for instance, Qassem 2020, 2022).

The aforementioned review reveals that the focus on inculcating more efficient translation time management and faster translation habits is rarely addressed in pedagogically oriented discussions. The work of Bowker (2016), Bowker and McBride (2017) and the cognitively oriented work of Qassem (2020, 2022) represent isolated attempts that directly investigate ways to improve translation productivity. Among her conclusions, Bowker suggests that the introduction of timed activities has the potential to trigger the development of new skills among students (2016). Bowker and McBride equally argue that speed building exercises could have different formats other than timed translation tasks, such as precis writing, selecting the most appropriate alternative from among a list, and identifying errors in a text (2017). As for Qassem (2020, 2022), a focus on translation stages, such as reading, drafting, and revision, represents a key to time management improvements.

The line of thought adopted in the present project takes its lead from the view that learning is about constructing one’s own interpretation of what is being taught (Vygotsky and Cole 1978). Within this framework, beliefs, the “psychologically held understandings, premises, or propositions about the world that are felt to be true” (Richardson 2003, 2, see also Pajares 1992), represent an element of major importance. Beliefs form over time among students. They derive from the students’ learning experience and are hence directly influenced by such factors as programme design and delivery (Kamiya 2018). Thus acquired, these constructs become critical to how students apprehend and respond to what they are studying (Richardson 2003, 4). Conversely, these beliefs shape the learning process and the teaching outcome (Han 2017, Horwitz 1988). When they are positive, beliefs enable learning. When negative, they can impede it. It follows that the task of attempting to make students meet learning outcomes is arguably a factor not only of “training in behaviours” (Richardson 2003, 16), that is, the planned activities within a syllabus (see also Han 2017, Horwitz 1988, Wesely 2012) but also of “a consideration of the beliefs of the participants” (Richardson 2003, 16).

In the present study, we contend that the concept of beliefs offers a perspective into the discussion of translation speed that is likely to yield important insights. Transposing the construct of beliefs to our topic, we uphold that students’ behaviour in terms of translation speed is the outcome of different factors, of which their beliefs on the topic represent an important element. These beliefs represent a conceptualisation construct that conditions the students’ perception of productivity and time management. More specifically, it is hypothesised that slow translation performance, which is commonly observed among graduates, is to a certain extent the expression of beliefs they develop over their years of formal training under the influence of the design and delivery of their programme. Consequently, an attempt to improve translation speed needs to address not only the aspect of behaviour, along the lines drawn in Bowker (2016), Bowker and McBride (2017), and Qassem (2020, 2022), but also that of beliefs which trainees hold about speed in their translation performance.

It is from this perspective that the present project aims to explore graduates’ perception of translation speed and the factors impacting this perception, including the teachers’ own beliefs (Kamiya 2018). Knowledge of this condition may inform the way a pedagogical treatment to the issue of slow translation speed is to be developed and therefore enhance the chances of success of this endeavour.

This article describes an investigation into beliefs on translation speed involving graduate students from the English Language and Translation programme at Sohar University (Oman) and four of their teachers. The research questions can be formulated as follows:

  1. What are the students’ beliefs about productivity?

  2. What aspects of the curriculum contribute to students’ beliefs about productivity?

2 Methodology

To answer the two research questions, an approach that combines quantitative and qualitative methods was used. For the quantitative side of the investigation, an online 25-item questionnaire was developed with the aim of providing an insight into students’ beliefs about the question of translation speed and productivity (Research Question 1). This questionnaire targeted graduate students of the English Language and Translation programme at Sohar University. This target population is fairly homogeneous. Virtually all students are Omani, have Arabic as their first language, and study English as a second language from the beginning of their schooling. They also follow a stereotypical educational path, joining the university programme after they finish their primary and secondary education.

Following demographic data questions, the questionnaire was organised into four areas where the question of speed is of particular relevance: (1) the students’ self-awareness in relation to speed, (2) speed and the perception of quality, (3) the integration of speed in training and assessment, and (4) speed and professionalism. The questionnaire items and the four subdivisions into which they fall are the outcomes of several development stages. An initial investigation of the literature (cf. Horwitz 1987, 1988, Pajares 1992, Richardson 2003) made it possible to decompose the construct into components that could be examined independently (Bradburn et al. 2004, DeVellis 2017). Subsequently, an initial pool of candidate items was generated through brainstorming among teachers based on their experience with students. This stage equally took a lead from Horwitz’s Beliefs About Language Learning Inventory (BALLI) tool developed to ‘determine the prevalence of certain common beliefs about language learning among typical groups of language learners’ (Horwitz 1988, 284. See also Horwitz 1987).[2] The next step is finalising the formulation and categorisation of the scale items. The final version of the scale was also the outcome of pilot testing among sample participants to eliminate redundancy and ambiguity, improve wording, and dry run the analysis (Dörnyei and Csizér 2012, 79). A five-point Likert scale was used, the most common response format in instruments investigating attitudes (DeVellis 2017, 121). To further ensure validity and reliability, the questionnaire items were phrased in both English and Arabic. In addition, expert opinion was sought from two professionals in the field of translator training in order to iron out lingering instances of ambiguity.

Adopting a self-selection sampling technique (Saunders et al. 2012), the instrument was made available online and graduates from the latest cohorts were invited to complete it. Snowball sampling (Dörnyei and Csizér 2012, 80) was also used as participants were encouraged to forward the survey link to other alumni they were in touch with.

The aim of the qualitative side of the investigation was to address the second research question on the sources of students’ beliefs about translation speed and productivity. Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were thought to be the most adequate tool to gain insight into classroom practices and dynamics necessary to answer this question. Interviews were conducted with four instructors who were all directly involved in the teaching of translation practice courses in the translation programme in question. The questions in these interviews focused on course design and objectives, classroom practices, and feedback types (see the Appendix for the full list of interview questions).

Both the questionnaire and the interview questions were screened and approved by the university’s Ethics and Biosafety Committee. Consent was obtained from all participants in the project.

3 Results and interim discussions

This section reports on the major findings of the investigation. It is organised into two sections, one for the student survey and a second for the interviews with the teachers. An interim discussion concludes each of these sections, paving the way for a subsequent general discussion in Section 4.

3.1 The student questionnaire (research question 1)

The survey was made available online in August 2021. Of a total of 74 responses, 5 had to be eliminated as these were submitted by respondents who belonged to other higher education institutions. Close-ended data were quantitatively analysed using predominantly descriptive statistics, such as frequencies, means, and standard deviation. Data gathered from this section indicated that the respondents belonged in their majority to the last two cohorts with 28% for 2021 and 33% for 2020. For the question on professional experience, 59% of the respondents reported that they had no experience at all. The remaining respondents had an experience ranging between a few weeks (15%), a few months (6%), or more than a year (20%). This professional experience consisted of work placement (54.5%), part-time jobs (24.2%), or full-time jobs (21.2%). These respondents with professional experience served in almost equal proportions in translation offices (36.3%), in companies (30.3%), or as freelancers (33.3%).

The remaining items of the questionnaire are organised into four different foci. This section of the data set consisted of 14 items and had a standardised Cronbach’s alpha reliability coefficient of 0.702, which is within the “acceptable” range.[3]

3.1.1 Speed and the students

This section aimed to establish a preliminary assessment of the extent to which students generally paid attention to and handled time while translating. Results for this section are presented in Table 1 and Figure 1.

Table 1

Speed and the students

Statement N X ¯ SD
1. When doing a translation homework, I usually pay attention to the amount of time I spend on the text. 69 3.635 1.054
2. In my years of study, I have not considered the time it takes to finish a translation as an important aspect. 69 3.014 1.438
3. I usually manage to finish my practice translation exams before the exam duration is over. 69 3.514 1.316
4. I believe that my translation speed is good enough. 69 3.24 1.074

N: number of responses to the statement; X : ¯ mean; SD: standard deviation.

Figure 1 
                     Speed and the students. This figure provides the results of responses to the four items focusing on the students’ handling of time in their translation activities.
Figure 1

Speed and the students. This figure provides the results of responses to the four items focusing on the students’ handling of time in their translation activities.

Some awareness of time was traceable in responses to the first two statements. However, divergence in responses was noticeable, as can be gathered from standard deviations, showing that students’ awareness of time whether when specifically doing their homework activities (Statement 1) or in more general terms (Statement 2) was far from widespread.

Students generally reported that they were able to complete their translation practice exams on time (Statement 3), although the percentage of respondents who reported being challenged with time was not negligible (27.54%). The responses from this statement had a moderate positive correlation with responses for Statement 4 addressing self-awareness and self-evaluation as concerns productivity (correlation coefficient r = 0.562). Here, it was found that a substantial number of students considered that their translation speed was good enough (39.12%), although the percentage of those who believed that their speed was not sufficient remained important (23.18%).

Interestingly, among those students who reported not being always able to finish their practice translation exams within the allocated time, it was found that some still believed that their translation speed was satisfactory. This finding reveals a displacement of the causes for not finishing on time from the students’ own performance to other external factors and may represent a hurdle in the attempt to inculcate a more-speed-aware handling of translation (see Section 4).

3.1.2 Speed and the perception of quality

The four statements in this second set were designed to fathom beliefs around translation speed in relation to the aspect of quality. The results of this section are provided in Table 2 and Figure 2.

Table 2

Speed and the perception of quality

Statement N X ¯ SD
5. As a student, I must focus on the quality of my translation rather than on my translation speed. 69 4.486 0.91
6. If I am asked to translate faster, this will have a negative effect on the quality of my translation. 69 4.068 0.911
7. If I spend more time on a translation, I feel that I am taking my translation seriously. 69 4.162 1.02
8. If I finish a translation exam before the other students, I worry that my translation may not be good. 69 2.797 1.26

N: number of responses to the statement; X : ¯ mean; SD: standard deviation.

Figure 2 
                     Speed and the perception of quality. This figure provides the summary of responses to statements on the relation between speed in translation and the criterion of quality.
Figure 2

Speed and the perception of quality. This figure provides the summary of responses to statements on the relation between speed in translation and the criterion of quality.

As shown in Table 2, the students’ responses to statements 5–7 have high mean scores and a greater degree of uniformity. Responses to statement 5 revealed that the students considered that producing a quality translation was more important than completing the task quickly (82.6%). Beyond prioritising quality over speed, the large number of responses favouring quality shows a perceptible tendency to consider quality as the only valid target of a translation task. Responses to Statement 6 further confirmed that, for the students, providing a quality translation requires time (75.36%). This reveals one of the students’ self-perceived vulnerabilities vis-à-vis their translation performance, namely, their need for time.[4] It is also important to note here that this belief positions quality and speed as mutually exclusive goals. Responses to Statement 7 added another facet to the relationship between speed and quality as they showed that students considered the time spent on a task a sign of assiduity on their part (78.26%). Responses to this statement consolidate the emerging negative perception of speed and the idea that speed gets in the way of adequate translation, which should be considered the ultimate objective of a translation task. There is no perception of the necessity of a trade-off between the quality of a translation and the time it takes to produce it.

Responses to Statement 8 were not as uniform as the previous ones in this set. Nonetheless, they reveal that among an important percentage of students (over 30%), the perception of speed was relative, a function of the performance of the whole group in which the respondents evolved.

3.1.3 Integration of speed in training and assessment

In this third set of statements, the focus is on attitudes towards the inclusion of an element of speed in translation training and assessment. Results are provided in Table 3 and Figure 3.

Table 3

Speed in relation to assessment and training

Statement N X ¯ SD
9. Students’ translation should be assessed based on translation quality only, not translation speed. 69 4.122 1.084
10. Before graduation, students must first focus on developing their language. 69 4.743 0.62
11. Translation speed will naturally come with experience after graduation. 69 4.676 0.664

N: number of responses to the statement; X : ¯ mean; SD: standard deviation.

Figure 3 
                     Speed in relation to assessment and training.
Figure 3

Speed in relation to assessment and training.

As was the case in set two, the responses were characterised by a high degree of uniformity with high mean scores and small standard deviations. Results also tallied with those from the previous two sets. Thus, parallel to not considering speed as a priority in the translation performance, respondents here disagreed in their majority with including speed as one of the assessment criteria (Statement 9). Statement 10, “Before graduation, students must first focus on developing their language” acquired the highest mean score in the whole questionnaire. The attention to language skills and language accuracy that emerged in responses to this statement may be regarded as the main concern in the minds of the students when they responded to the statement on translation quality in the previous set. Agreement with the idea expressed in Statement 11 that speed naturally comes with experience after graduation (91.3%) unequivocally provided the ultimate component of this perception of speed as being of no immediate concern for students.

The responses in this set parallel the responses to the question of when, if at all, students believe a component focusing on speed can be incorporated. Here, almost 19% of the respondents were found to totally disagree with this incorporation, while the majority of the others preferred leaving this introduction until later stages in the programme, such as year 3 (24.64%) or year 4 (27.54%) of their 4-year programme.

3.1.4 Speed and professionalism

The last set of statements addressed translation speed as an aspect of professional performance. Results for this section are provided in Table 4 and Figures 4 and 5.

Table 4

Speed and professionalism

Statement N X ¯ SD
12. Translating quickly is important for the professional translator. 69 4.257 0.811
13. Being able to translate faster is one of the traits of a good translator. 69 3.932 0.997
14. In your opinion, which of speed or accuracy is more important for a professional translator? 69 4.378 0.886

N: number of responses to the statement; X : ¯ mean; SD: standard deviation.

Figure 4 
                     Importance of speed in a professional translation setting.
Figure 4

Importance of speed in a professional translation setting.

Figure 5 
                     Responses to Statement 14 “In your opinion, which of speed or accuracy is more important for a professional translator?”.
Figure 5

Responses to Statement 14 “In your opinion, which of speed or accuracy is more important for a professional translator?”.

Responses within this set showed high agreement scores. Statements 12 and 13 had a moderate positive correlation (correlation coefficient r = 0.608), and both showed that students overwhelmingly agreed with considering speed in translation not only as an important aspect for professional translators but also as one of their defining traits. These results are found to align with the belief identified in the previous set that the question of speed does not occupy centre stage in the minds of the trainees as it is believed to belong to the professional realm rather than the training context.

However, when asked to identify priorities for the professional context, respondents clearly put accuracy first (Figure 5) with only a small percentage (14.49%) indicating that speed and accuracy were equally important. This, added to the fact that more than 72% of the respondents indicated that they did not know the number of translated words per hour norm, confirms the limited awareness of questions of speed and productivity.

In summary, and as an answer to the first research question, “What are the students’ beliefs about productivity?,” the overall findings show a population that lacks awareness of the dimensions of time and translation productivity. The identified beliefs about the question of speed can be summarised as follows:

  1. time is necessary to produce accurate translations,

  2. the number one objective during training is to improve language skills,

  3. students should not be assessed on speed,

  4. the introduction of speed should be left until the latest stages of training, if at all,

  5. speed is primarily a matter of experience,

  6. speed only concerns professional translators,

  7. even within a professional context, accuracy and quality prevail over productivity.

As argued in the literature (Han 2017, Horwitz 1987, 1988, Richardson 2003), beliefs are critical to the way students interact with what they study and can affect the learning process and its outcomes. Given the beliefs the surveyed students have about translation speed and productivity, it becomes clear that they are ill prepared to embrace speed as a key facet of the translation process, or to come to terms with speed as an aspect they must cultivate.

3.2 Teacher interviews (research question 2)

The interviews were loosely organised into sections, all of which were meant to collect data to answer the second research question: “What aspects of the curriculum contribute to students’ beliefs about productivity?.” The four participants involved are identified as Interviewees I, II, III, and IV. Interviewees were asked to respond to the questions insofar as these were related to their translation practice courses. The interviews started with introductory fact-finding questions on the existence of an explicit focus on speed performance in course and programme objectives. This was followed by a discussion of the themes of assessment, class activities, translation speed and the students, and suggestions for the integration of speed in the curriculum. The data collected from these interviews were coded and categorised using thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006). The categorisation was discussed and agreed upon between the authors and the analysis focused particularly on the similarities and differences in participant perspectives, and the identification of unanticipated insights (Braun and Clarke 2006, 97).

  1. Inbuilt focus on productivity

    With Course Learning Outcomes (CLOs) representing the observable knowledge, skills, and attitudes which students should acquire upon completing a course, they offer a clear indication of the general orientation a course is following. On the question of whether their CLOs expressed a focus on translation speed and productivity, the four interviewees admitted that this focus did not exist. The practical translation courses in question did not include activities that were designed specifically to enhance productivity among students. To account for this situation, Interviewee II emphasised the fact that in his course the focus was mainly on activities that were meant to improve “language aspects” and “translation skills.”

    Interviewee IV provided a more nuanced response arguing that although aspects of productivity were not explicitly mentioned in CLOs, they were still “implied” as one of his CLOs stipulated that the course was intended to help students “translate to professional standards.” The same interviewee further argued that these “professional standards” were the subject of multiple class discussions where “I explain that generally speaking in the industry, a professional translator should be able to finish 250 words per hour.” He further mentioned that his class activity tasks were usually timed and that “I keep reminding them explicitly that a good translation is a translation that is finished in a specific time” and “I keep reminding them that translations have deadlines in a professional context.”

  2. Taking training conditions into account

    Class assessment activities are timed by nature. It is from this perspective that they assume a particular significance for an investigation of the handling of speed and productivity in translation. The question posed in this respect was about the criteria used to determine the length of translation examination texts. The responses converged on the idea that the length of the exam text was based on the teachers’ “appreciation” of what students were believed to be capable of achieving, of “our estimate of what students can do” (Interviewee III). This appreciation is an extrapolation based on “our experience with them” (Interviewee I) throughout class activities and takes into account the number of difficulties requiring the use of external resources such as dictionaries, as well as where the course is located within the programme.

    Interviewee III argued that professional standards expecting an output of 250 words/hour represented the ultimate target but added that it was unreasonable to expect this level from the students. In this sense, Interviewee IV insisted on the need to take into account the fact that the resources available to students in an invigilated exam context were not comparable to those available to professional translators. Therefore, he mentioned that for determining the length of the examination text, “I figured out a balance that is confirmed by experience.”

    A comment made by Interviewee III that the exam length ‘must suit all students’ is of particular significance as it implies that extrapolations from classroom behaviour are often meant to identify a critical exam length that manages to reasonably accommodate all students without being overly generous. Added to the absence of a focus on speed in CLOs, this element further confirms that assessment criteria are focused on language and translation methodologies and do not include parameters that take productivity into consideration.

  3. The text is but an instrument

    This focus involves a number of components relative to the selection of texts for practice activities and the particulars of class interaction. There was a consensus among the interviewees on the principle that the texts selected for class activities had to feature, among other criteria, pertinent elements for class discussion (see below). In the words of Interviewee IV, the text “has to contain some problems that could be discussed in the translation.”

    The way the text is handled in class influences students’ perception of the translation activity. To the questions of whether they deemed it necessary to finish the translation of a text before moving to another and when they felt it was time to move to a new text, interviewees generally converged on the idea that the text only had importance in so far as it involved points worth discussing – points which in fact favoured the very selection of the text for class activity. From this perspective, finishing the text was not considered an end in itself or a necessity. In this respect, Interviewee II indicated that he usually oriented discussions towards “areas which I believe students need to tackle. Other parts of the text may not be interesting” and added that he rarely finished a text in class. Interviewee IV had this to say: “After the interesting elements of the text are exhausted, we say enough.” Once the text was considered exhausted for class discussion, the students were usually asked to finalise the rest of the translation at home, with further feedback to be provided in subsequent classes.

    As concerns typical classroom activities and feedback on students’ translations, the interviewees converged on starting each text with pre-translation questions that fathom aspects of the text as a whole in terms of topic, genre, domain, etc. The translation phase consisted of consecutive loops, each starting with taking a translation suggestion from a student, analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the translation unit provided, and concluding with one or more alternative renderings.[5] The discussions usually covered different linguistic and extralinguistic aspects, including topics such as context, culture, ideology, sociology, terminology, and translation techniques. The interviewees agreed that these foci could all be accommodated under the umbrella term of accuracy, whether it is accuracy of the message conveyed or accuracy of the language used, although Interviewer IV preferred to widen the framework to accommodate the element of balance between accessibility and faithfulness.

  4. The issue of language proficiency

    The interviewees agreed that productivity was an important professional skill, but they reckoned that the programme graduates were not ready to handle workplace time constraints. An exception was made by Interviewee IV for the best achievers. According to him, these students could be considered to have reached an adequate enough level enabling them to potentially acquire professional productivity standards at one point in their future career. However, this was contingent on these graduates receiving the necessary amount of exposure and experience.

    Different reasons were invoked to explain this lack of readiness, such as a shaky self-confidence which makes students spend considerable amounts of time consulting resources, or the individual students’ level of commitment to their studies. However, the main explanation the interviewees converged on was that the students’ language proficiency constituted a major stumbling block. According to Interviewee IV, “language is key.” Given the situation with language proficiency, the focus on productivity is not prioritised. Interviewees agreed that the way their courses were designed and managed was not specifically conducive to an awareness of time and ultimately to an improvement in productivity. Interviewee II argued that “throughout the whole semester, the focus is on language and translation skills. We don’t have time to think about productivity.”

    Two of the interviewees, while equally agreeing that students were disadvantaged due to language proficiency issues, argued that productivity was, in fact, being addressed, albeit indirectly, through working on language and translation skills, scheduling class activities into strictly timed slots, and repeatedly and explicitly emphasising the significance of productivity as a professional skill in class discussions (see also Section 4).

  5. Using timed activities

    All interviewees agreed with the idea of integrating a focus on translation speed as a discrete objective of the programme, but with some provisos. The students could only benefit from this focus once their language proficiency issues were sorted, and consequently, this focus had to be situated at a later stage in the programme.

    Regarding the implementation of this integration, the responses converged on the use of timed activities as a way to maintain constant pressure on the students during their performance. More specific suggestions included drills, i.e., repetitive practice on difficulties of the same types, training on MTPE (Machine Translation Post-Editing), and the use of CAT tools.[6] In terms of mode, extracurricular activities were suggested that would involve more homogeneous student groups.

    Interviewee IV informed that he was already implementing a type of timed activities by assigning class tasks with clearly stated time frames. The interviewee added that since the main target was to put some pressure on the students, there were no penalties for not finishing on time. In fact, these time limits were not strictly observed, and the activities usually ended up taking more time than originally announced.

Overall, the data obtained from the interviews reveal clear points of convergence between student beliefs and curriculum design and delivery orientations. As class time is never enough for practice, it is typical for instructors to put emphasis on some segments of the text at hand and neglect others. As a corollary to this, there is no particular insistence on finishing the translation of the text and consequently no perceptible emphasis on the time it takes to do so. The approach adopted here is similar to the practices in place in almost all other translation programmes, as Bowker argues when she maintains that “the conventional classroom scenario is free of time pressure constraints” (2016, 23). This practice is helpful as it allows the teacher to maximise benefit and increase the number of relevant points dealt with in class. The downside, however, is that when (1) the production of a finalised translation of the full text does not represent an objective per se and when (2) the text is regularly considered just a pretext for the discussion of accuracy issues of different types, the students’ perceptions of the text as a meaningful unit and of the time it takes to complete its translation naturally wane. In fact, the time management reported by students in homework activities, with a hesitant perception of the notion of time, seems to indicate that at least some of them are re-enacting this classroom behaviour.

In this analytical translation class, feedback given to students on the translations they suggest focuses almost exclusively on aspects of accuracy, that is, on ways to improve the quality of their translation output. There is no trace, for instance, of discussions of the time it took to translate a segment and suggestions to improve on this. The nature of this feedback is thought to be the source of the students’ belief that the primary target before graduation is to improve language skills and, to a lesser extent, translation skills (in the sense of techniques applied to the text). In fact, this belief is so strong that the students gave accuracy the priority over productivity even in professional contexts, when, in fact, better awareness of the connection between speed and productivity aspects in these settings would have yielded responses favouring a trade-off between accuracy and speed.

Finally, assessment criteria do not cover productivity, in what represents another commonplace in translator training (Angelone 2019, 181). Together with the usually generous exam durations, this fact explains the perceived satisfaction of the students with their own translation speed. The particular responses of some students who reported being satisfied with their translation speed despite failing to finish exams within the allocated time are particularly intriguing and are thought to reflect the belief, at least among this section of the student population, that translation exam time constraints are but an annoying feature that is specific to the nature of all examinations and have no bearing on their own performance.

4 General discussion

Speed and accuracy are arguably two of the most immediate aspects defining a translator’s work. However, they belong to two different paradigms. While accuracy is a quality that describes the product, speed is a manifestation of the translation process. A product-oriented approach to translation is characteristically devoted to the analytical scrutiny of textual and semantic features. Conversely, a process-oriented approach addresses the cognitive processes that lead to the generation of the output and includes such questions as the general sequence of actions completed (Gile 1994) and task completion strategies (Dam-Jensen and Heine 2009, 12).

The setup of the translation programme under investigation is typically product oriented, as transpires in the type of class activities provided, feedback given to the students on their translations, assessments, and marking criteria. Such attention to the product aims to raise the awareness of students about different aspects of text structure and translation, and ultimately to improve their expertise in this respect. However, this scrutiny disembodies the text and decontextualises the translation process as it removes the time brackets framing a translation job, making the translation task atemporal. Consequently, for the students participating in the present project, the diagnosed lack of awareness of the aspects of speed and performance is considered a natural outcome of the almost exclusive focus on the translation product that characterises their learning experience.

The interviewees, though plainly expressing their support for bridging the speed gap in their training, remained characteristically product oriented in their suggestions. Two interviewees reported having unambiguously engaged with class discussions and reminders on facts relative to productivity expectations in professional settings. However, close to no trace of this input was found in students’ feedback. A feasible explanation for the fact that this reference to time-related aspects did not inculcate a permanent enough awareness of time constraints is believed to be that these discussions were negated by the predominantly product-focused context in which they occurred.

The same logic arguably applies to the sustained use of timed activities, which the interviewees recommended as a way to enhance translation speed and productivity, aligning in so doing with suggestions from the literature (see Bowker 2016 and Bowker and McBride 2017). Some interviewees reported that they were already administering this type of activity. However, we believe that this formalised speed training had limited effect as it was not underpinned by process-oriented feedback on the methodologies followed by the student- and process-oriented assessment criteria that give credit to enhanced productivity (Gile 2009).

This product orientation is not specific to the investigated programme but represents a predominant approach in translator training (Angelone 2012, 42). As such, the study findings highlight the need for a general exploration of best practices to integrate a process-oriented focus. A comprehensive depiction of such a focus falls outside the scope of the present project. However, what needs to be highlighted is that this approach encroaches on all aspects of the course, including types of activities, types of feedback given to the students, and assessment criteria.

This study has potential limitations. As a case study, the project is confined to one programme. A broader investigation involving other comparable translation programmes is needed to corroborate the link between product orientation and attitude to productivity aspects and enhance the significance of the line of thought adopted in the study. One more limitation is that we did not include a student language proficiency variable, as indicated by a benchmark test such as IELTS. The availability of such variable could contribute to a more detailed examination by establishing the influence the students’ level of automaticity has on their perception of performance.

Both points mentioned earlier represent aspects for further investigation. One more recommendation is to explore, both theoretically and empirically, pathways to enhance productivity awareness among students.

5 Conclusions

The present study is premised on the idea that the students’ actual translation speed is the outcome of different factors of which their perception of productivity and time management represent important elements. We set out to investigate the beliefs that translation students have about questions of translation speed and to trace out the sources of these attitudes in their translation programme. The findings of the student survey revealed an obvious tendency to prioritise aspects of accuracy and correctness that eclipsed any consideration of productivity issues. Within this construct, students typically held the view that (1) their purpose in the translation programme was to develop their language skills, (2) these skills had the priority over considerations of productivity, even in professional contexts, and (3) translation exam time constraints were only related to general exam conditions, not to their own translating performance. Data collected in interviews revealed that students’ beliefs dovetailed with the experience they had in their courses, in terms of class interaction, text handling, and assessment criteria. These findings clearly suggest that programme setup and course delivery dynamics had a direct impact on the beliefs that students had about their translation speed.

The discussion emphasised that these results and the conditions that lead to them are not specific to the investigated programme. Rather, they are the natural outcome of an approach to translation training that is common to many, if not most, translation programmes, and that focuses on the translation product and leaves little room for the handling of process-related aspects.

A final conclusion reached in the investigation was that tasks aiming to cultivate a more constructive awareness of translation speed among students need to be rooted in a process-oriented perspective. Adding a formal focus on speed in the form of timed activities, as some of the interviewees suggested, remains palliative in the best case if these activities are not supported by additional measures at the levels of delivery, feedback, and assessment criteria.


We would like here to thank the colleagues who provided their valuable feedback during the development stages of the data collection instrument. We also thank the teachers who generously spared some of their precious time to participate in the interviews and those of our students who completed the survey. Finally, we would like to thank the reviewers who, through their painstaking scrutiny of the manuscript and constructive comments, helped improve on the original submission.

  1. Conflict of interest: The authors state no conflict of interest.

  2. Data availability statement: The datasets generated and analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author upon request.


List of Interview Questions

  1. Do your PLOs involve an expression of time awareness or productivity?

  2. In the practical translation course(s) you teach, do your CLOs express a focus on time awareness or productivity?

  3. Given that assessments are timed activities, on what basis do you decide on the length of the translation exam text in relation to exam duration?

  4. Do your exam length calculations rely on professional standards or on what you believe students should be able to achieve at a particular stage in their training?

  5. Do your students receive any training that targets this aspect?

  6. Do you proceed by text or by aspect focusing on samples to illustrate and exemplify specific features?

  7. Do you find it important to finish and finalise the translation of a text before you move on to the next one, or do you just select salient points/passages?

  8. How does a typical practical translation class evolve?

  9. What do you focus on in a typical translation class?

    1. Grammar, sentence structure, …

    2. Word selection, vocabulary, collocations, …

    3. Style, …

  10. In a typical practical translation session, what is the tenor of your feedback to the students?

  11. Do you think that the way the translation class is organised/conducted is conducive to an improved activity or, at least, to an awareness of productivity? (Or is it at odds with it?)

  12. Do you consider productivity as an important aspect of the professional translator’s profile?

  13. Do you believe that our graduates are market-ready in terms of productivity?

  14. How do you explain the students’ slow performance?

  15. Should a focus on productivity be integrated into training, or do you believe that it falls outside the responsibilities of the training institution?

  16. Do you think that the focus on speed is something that can be added to the curriculum?

  17. How can a focus on training be integrated into the programme/course?

  18. Are timed activities enough?

  19. What other activities can enhance productivity?

  20. Can you think of an aspect that may represent a hurdle in the rolling out of a focus on speed? (Administrative/student attitude/fears, …)


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Received: 2021-12-25
Revised: 2022-12-28
Accepted: 2023-01-03
Published Online: 2023-01-30

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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