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Translation and Interpreting Education and Training: Student Voices

Volume 6 (1) ~ May 2014

ISSN # 2150-5772 – This article is the intellectual property of the authors and CIT. If you wish to use this article in your teaching or in another format, please credit the authors and the CIT International Journal of Interpreter Education.


Translation and Interpreting Education and Training: Student Voices

Yongjun Mo & Sandra Hale[1]
University of New South Wales

Correspondence to: s.hale@unsw.edu.au

 

 

Introduction

The Australian Context

Demand for interpreters and translators, especially in community settings, has been very high in multicultural and multilingual Australia since the early 1950s (see Ozolins, 1991, for a historical overview). The high demand, especially for community interpreters and translators,[2] led to the establishment of a national accreditation body, the National Accreditation Authority for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI) in 1977, translation and interpreting (T&I) degree programs in the 1980s, and a national professional association, the Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators (AUSIT) in 1987 (see Hale, 2004).

In Australia, two types of tertiary institutions offer NAATI-approved T&I programs: the vocational education and training (VET) sector institutions, which include colleges of technical and further education (TAFE) as well as private colleges; and higher education (HE) institutions, which include universities. Originally, all courses concentrated exclusively on community interpreting and translation, with conference interpreting added to the suite of university courses in more recent years. Most formal T&I programs are in New South Wales (NSW), the Australian state with the largest population; NSW also has the highest number of non-English speakers (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). NAATI-approved courses must comply with the NAATI guidelines on course content, contact hours, and final examinations as stipulated in its “Guide to Approval of Courses in Translating and Interpreting” (http://www.naati.com.au/approved_aust_courses.html) for initial approval, maintenance of approval, amendments, and reapproval. Nevertheless, although they all follow the same general guidelines, T&I programs vary in length of teaching period, curriculum design, and content.

It is almost universal practice for public service agencies in Australia to expect translators and interpreters to be accredited by NAATI at the professional level for available languages,[3] but participation in formal T&I education and training programs of any kind prior to gaining NAATI accreditation is not compulsory. Therefore, there are two pathways to accreditation: via the completion of a NAATI-approved course/program of study, which includes assessment of T&I competence throughout a 1- to 3-year program, or by taking a one-time examination, lasting between 1 and 3 hours, prepared and administered by NAATI. As a result of the varied pathways, practitioners who have achieved the same level of NAATI accreditation, with the same language combination, may have very different academic backgrounds, with some practitioners having only a secondary-school level of education and others having completed postgraduate (including graduate diploma, master’s, and PhD) degrees in T&I.

NAATI recently commissioned a review of its testing and accreditation practices, the full report of which can be found on its website (http://www.naati.com.au/PDF/INT/INTFinalReport.pdf). The first of 17 recommendations in the report states that “all candidates complete compulsory education and training in order to be eligible to sit for the accreditation examinations, in accordance with the new suggested model” (Hale et al., 2012, p. 7). The recommendation is supported by the findings of a national survey, which formed part of the above-mentioned independent review. However, the debate about the usefulness of T&I education and training was revivedin a subsequent NAATI-conducted consultation.[4] Over the years, some untrained practitioners have argued on the AUSIT e-bulletin that T&I education and training is unnecessary, supporting the idea that interpreters and translators are “born” rather than “made” (see Kruger & Dunning, 2009; Mackintosh, 1999, for an opposite view). Comments on the same e-bulletin have suggested that educators have a vested interest in promoting education and training and therefore cannot be trusted to be impartial in their arguments. This is one good reason for more independent evaluations of the effectiveness and usefulness of education and training for interpreters and translators.

The Value and Effectiveness of T&I Education and Training

Much has been written in support of education and training for interpreters and translators and on different pedagogical approaches and formats (see, e.g., Angelelli, 2006; Berk-Seligson, 1990; Cambridge, 1999; Hale, 2007; Mackintosh, 1999; Sawyer, 2006; Slayter, 2006). In the academic world, the debate is not about whether interpreters and translators should be trained or not; that is generally accepted. The debate focuses more on the approaches that should be used to achieve the most effective results. Sawyer (2006, p. 11) argued that effective training must incorporate all the areas of “knowledge, skills, and abilities” that interpreters will need to perform adequately. In relation to the goal of achieving such a task, Roy (2000, p. 1) commented that the main question posed by all educators associated with professional courses is “how best to teach students a body of knowledge, as well as a professional skill, that adequately meets entry-level requirements.” Most educators are confronted with the difficulty of achieving their ultimate goal amid time limitations, lack of resources, and inconsistent student ability levels (see Hale, 2007, for a discussion on challenges faced by educators). Similarly, there are different types of courses, in terms of duration, content, and educational level, that will inevitably deliver different results. All of these variables must be considered when assessing the effectiveness of education and training.

One of the most salient debates surrounding education and training has been whether T&I students should be “trained” to become practitioners by other practitioners, using the “master–apprentice” approach (see Pöchhacker, 2010, for a full discussion on the debate), or whether they should receive a more academically oriented approach to education (Sawyer, 2004), where the practice is informed by the theory. Another related debate has been the extent to which T&I education should be evidence based, informed by the results of applied research rather than based only on personal experience (Angelelli, 2006; Gile, 1990; Hale, 2007; Shlesinger, 2009). Angelelli (2006), for example, lamented that the curricula of courses that teach medical interpreting in the United States narrowly focus on technical skills and rarely include the results of research. Similarly, Hale (2007) argued for cross-fertilization among research, training, and practice.

It is important to note that T&I educators are always trying to improve their methods and many scholars have suggested improvements on pedagogy and curriculum design based on their own teaching experience (e.g., Kearns, 2008; Koskinen, 2012; Lederer, 2007; Rico, 2010). However, less has been written about students’ or graduates’ views about the usefulness of the education and training they have received (Li, 2000, 2002; Takeda, 2010). Even fewer studies have analyzed the effects of education and training on performance as compared with untrained practitioners (see Chacón, 2005, for one example). Erika Gonzalez’s (2013) recent doctoral thesis tried to fill this gap by comparing the attitudes, theoretical knowledge, and technical performance of trained and untrained community interpreters in NSW Australia. She found differences not only among trained and untrained interpreters, but also among those who received a VET and those who received a university education. It appears that the type of education received can play a role in determining the performance outcome for interpreters.

Although most educators routinely seek feedback from their students on each subject they teach at the end of each semester, such feedback is rarely made public and therefore not shared with other educators. Takeda (2010) argued that “in order to improve their teaching practices, interpreting teachers should be encouraged to pay close attention to students’ needs, expectations, wishes, concerns and opinions regarding their learning experience” (p. 39). It seems to us that a combination of approaches should be used to assess pedagogical effectiveness. This project has concentrated on eliciting feedback only from students and graduates.

 

Students and Graduates’ Feedback on Their Education and Training

The few studies that have looked at student and graduate satisfaction with their education and training have used a similar methodology, which includes surveys and individual interviews. Li (2000) conducted a study of the level of graduate satisfaction with regard to a 3-year program in translation in Hong Kong, which also included some subjects in interpreting. One question asked graduates to indicate their perceptions of how well the training reflected translation work in real life. Although none chose the answers very well orwell, 85.6% of graduates assessed their translation training to be adequate (38.1%) or somewhat adequate (47.6%), with only 14.3% indicating that their training did not reflect the reality very well. Hale (2011) conducted a study of Australian spoken and signed language interpreting practitioners, asking them to rate the usefulness of the training they had received. All respondents but one (98.3%) considered their formal training to be useful in order to practice effectively as a community interpreter, a much more positive response compared to the Hong Kong study.

Li (2002) conducted another study of Chinese–English translation students in Hong Kong, asking them about their motivation for choosing the course and their satisfaction with it. Of note, only 17% of the respondents said that their motivation for choosing the course was to become translators. A high percentage of students (62.9%) considered that practical subjects were more helpful than theoretical subjects, and most thought specialized subjects were the most helpful in developing their skills. Such feedback is important for educators to ensure that any theoretical subject they teach is clearly relevant to improving specific practical skills and applying interpreting and translation knowledge and techniques in the real world. Indeed, the debate about the link between theory and practice is not new (see, e.g., the discussion in Chesterman & Wagner, 2004); nevertheless, it is important for educators to continue to reinforce the importance of teaching only relevant theories or of making their relevance clear to the practice.

Another type of course that has been delivered in Australia for T&I training purposes is the non-language-specific short, informal training course. Student feedback for such courses is normally positive (Hale & Ozolins, in press; Slatyer, 2006). However, the actual performance outcomes of such non-language-specific short courses are yet to be determined, with limited data collected regarding program exit competencies and successful future work performance. Hale and Ozolins (in press) found that the candidates of a short 40-hour course, run in English only, were very positive in their feedback. The students were asked to comment on what they considered could improve the course, and unsurprisingly, most said they needed more practice in their chosen language combination. They undertook two different types of assessment linked with their training program.The first was a test on the contextual, theoretical, and ethical knowledge acquired during the course, based on the lectures delivered by the course trainers in English. The second form of assessment was a bilingual interpreting test run and assessed externally by NAATI. The results indicated that the students performed very well in the first assessment task, obtaining an average result of 88%. However, they did not do so well in the second assessment task, with only four out of 14 students passing the external NAATI examination with the minimum pass mark of 70%. This result suggests that more time in interpreter training programs is needed to develop languagespecific interpreting skills, in order for students to successfully pass such an examination.

It must be noted also that, regardless of a course’s length, it will always be impossible to teach students everything they need to know in order to be successful interpreters and translators.An effective course will equip students with the tools and strategies they can use in the future in order to continue to develop their knowledge and skills outside of the classroom, and to be lifelong reflective practitioners.

The Study

The primary objective of the study was to investigate the effectiveness of a sample of Australian T&I training programs from the students’ perspective, aiming to answer the following research questions:

  1. Are there any major differences between the various types of T&I training programs sampled in terms of curriculum design?
  2. How do the current students perceive the effectiveness of these programs in preparing them for T&I work?
  3. What aspects of education and training programs do students find most helpful, and least helpful?

Methodology

The study[5]employed a mixed-methods research design, combining elements of both qualitative and quantitative approaches, consisting of three steps: (a) curriculum analysis, (b) online survey, and (c) follow-up interviews. The first step consisted of an analysis of the online descriptions of the different curricula, which was used to inform the design of the questionnaire. The results of the questionnaire were then used to design the questions for the follow-up interviews. The semistructured interviews also gave interviewees the opportunity to elaborate on their answers and clarify their points of view.

Desk Research: Curriculum Analysis

The five institutions selected for curriculum analysis included two from the VET sector and three from the HE sector. These institutions were selected based on the NAATI list of approved courses. At the time of data collection, there were only six approved institutions in the state of NSW, which were the three universities and one TAFE college selected for the study, and two private VET colleges. One of the private colleges was excluded because we were not given access to the required information, which made data collection impossible. The VET sector institutions were Petersham TAFE, a state-government-funded institution, and the Sydney Institute of Interpreting and Translation (SIIT), a privately funded college. The universities were the only three in NSW that offer NAATI-approved programs: the University of New South Wales (UNSW), the University of Western Sydney (UWS), and Macquarie University (MU).

Fifteen programs from those five institutions were then confirmed by the list of approved courses from NAATI (at the time of May 2012). Two Australian Sign Language (Auslan)–English interpreting programs were eliminated from the list. This was due to a number of reasons: the Auslan programs were offered at only one institution; our expertise is only in spoken language interpreting; and we also considered that there would be differences that could make comparisons difficult (see Napier, 2006, for an overview of Auslan–English interpreting programs at MU). Therefore, the curriculum analysis included 13 programs in total, with program qualification awards ranging from diploma level (lower than an undergraduate bachelor’s degree) to master’s degree programs.

All the course descriptions and other information on the programs were gathered via the Internet. Full lists of core units and elective units were collected and compared.[6] The units were categorized according to the content suggested by their title. The items were first compared across the VET and HE sectors, followed by a comparison within each subgroup.

Method: Survey and Interviews

A survey was designed and administered online via the KeySurvey software. The survey was in the form of a questionnaire, which elicited demographic information from respondents, then, via a set of Likert scales, gathered data on students’ levels of agreement with a number of statements regarding the programs’ curriculum design, content delivery, usefulness to future career, and other aspects. At the end of the questionnaire, participants were asked to leave suggestions for program improvement and to offer any other comments.

The questionnaire was piloted with a small group of T&I graduates (10 students from one university and one private college) to test the questionnaire design. Changes were implemented based on the results of the pilot, after which the link to the online questionnaire was sent to the program coordinators in the five institutions, along with a “call for participants” poster for distribution to students via their internal systems or posted in a public area in their institution. As a result of this snowball sampling approach, the response rate cannot be calculated, because the size of the sample is unknown. The study received the approval of the UNSW Human Ethics Committee (#12015).

Nonprobability sampling on the basis of accessibility was necessary, and although the snowball technique was applied, the self-selecting respondents naturally fit into quotas that match the current T&I student population in Australian institutions, where the majority of program participants are Chinese-speaking students. At the end of the questionnaire, respondents were asked to contact the researchers if they wished to participate in a follow-up interview. Interviews were recorded with the interviewees’ consent and later transcribed. The transcripts were then used to conduct a thematic content analysis.

Participants

Fifty-five survey respondents completed the questionnaire, with 51 valid responses received. The majority of respondents (74%) were Chinese–English students, with only 13 respondents representing Korean-, Spanish-, French-, Japanese-, and Arabic-speaking students (see Figure 1).

Thirty-eight (68%) survey respondents were HE students, 11 (20%) were VET private college students and six (10%) were VET TAFE students. From the HE sector, 34 (62%) were master’s degree program students. Slightly over half (55%) specialized in translation only, 40% specialized in both T&I, and the remaining 5% specialized in interpreting only, as can be seen in Table 1.

Five respondents volunteered to participate in further interviews, and each participant was interviewed by the first author for approximately 30 minutes. The five interviewees were students from the same university and all in their first semester, but they were affiliated with two different programs. Two were male and three were female. One of them was studying part time. Two were international students; the other three were Australian citizens.

Figure 1. Language other than English (LOTE) background of respondents.

Language Other Than English of Participants

 

Table 1. Demographics of the online survey participants.

 

Question Response percent Response total
Q1. In which type of institution are you enrolled?    
University 69.09% 38
TAFE (VET) 10.91% 6
Private college (VET) 20.00% 11
Q2. In which program/courses are you enrolled?    
Diploma 7.27% 4
Advanced diploma 20.00% 11
Bachelor of arts (T&I) 0.00% 0
Graduate certificate 5.45% 3
Graduate diploma 5.45% 3
Master’s degree 61.82% 34
Other 0.00% 0
Q3. In what semester are you?    
1st 52.73% 29
2nd 34.55% 19
3rd 12.73% 7
Other 0.00% 0
Q4. What are you specializing in?    
Translation 54.55% 30
Interpreting 5.45% 3
Both 40.00% 22

Results and Discussion

Comparison of the Curriculum

The13 T&I programs that were included in the analysis appear below in Table 2. The information was collected from online handbooks or official websites of each institution as of May 2012. As the table shows, only one university offered an undergraduate bachelor degree in T&I, the other universities offered postgraduate programs, and the VET-sector colleges only offered diplomas, which are qualifications beneath undergraduate degree level. Table 2 further compares the courses by accreditation type and level, and the varieties of approved languages. Our analysis showed that universities offered more language combinations than the two VET institutions. For example, UNSW offered up to eight language combinations (Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, Russian, and Spanish) whereas SIIT only recruited Chinese speakers. However, Petersham TAFE had up to five language combinations (Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese), subject toresources and demand. Chinese (Mandarin and/or Cantonese) was the most popular LOTE in these T&I programs; it was the only language available in all 13 programs.

Table 2: Institution, programs, accreditation, and language combinations.

Institution Course Accreditation type and level Approved language(s)
Macquarie University Postgraduate Diploma in Translating and Interpreting Professional Interpreter and Professional Translator (both directions) Chinese (translation only), French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (interpreting only), Spanish
Master of Translating and Interpreting Professional Interpreter and Professional Translator (both directions) Chinese (translation only), French, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (interpreting only), Spanish
University of New South Wales Master of Arts in Interpreting and Translation Studies (MAITS) Professional Translator (both directions) Chinese, French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish
Master of Arts (Extension) in Interpreting and Translation Studies (MA Extension) Professional Interpreter and Professional Translator (both directions) Chinese (translation only), French, German, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin (Iiterpreting only), Russian, Spanish
University of Western Sydney Graduate Diploma in Translation Professional Translator (both directions) Arabic, Chinese (translation only), Japanese, Spanish
Graduate Diploma in Interpreting Professional Interpreter Arabic, Japanese, Mandarin (interpreting only), Spanish
Bachelor of Arts in Interpreting and Translation Professional Interpreter and Professional Translator (both directions) Arabic, Chinese (translation only), Japanese, Mandarin (interpreting only), Spanish
Master of Interpreting and Translation Professional Interpreter and Professional Translator (both directions) Arabic, Chinese (translation only), Japanese, Mandarin (interpreting only), Spanish
Sydney Institute of Interpreting and Translating (SIIT) Advanced Diploma of Translating Professional Translator (both directions) Chinese
Advanced Diploma of Interpreting Professional Interpreter Mandarin
Diploma of Interpreting Paraprofessional Interpreter Mandarin
Petersham College – Sydney Institute TAFE NSW (Petersham TAFE) Diploma of Translating and Interpreting Paraprofessional interpreter Korean
Advanced Diploma of Interpreting Professional Interpreter Mandarin, Korean

 

Although all NAATI-approved programs must comply with NAATI’s guidelines, there is some flexibility permitted, which leads to the differences across programs. Each institution also must comply with its own institutional requirements. Institutions in the VET sector, which follows a competency-based teaching system, must also comply with the requirements of government-endorsed training packages. These packages prescribe the core units of competency and provide a list of elective units. Compared to the three universities studied,the VET institutionshad less flexibility with regard to curriculum design.

The curriculum analysis found strong similarities across the three universities and noticeable differences between the university and the VET programs, which supported Gonzalez’s (2013) results. The universities divided their programs into three major areas: (a)interpreting and translation theory and practice,(b)language and discourse, and (c)research. Under the first theme, all universities had specializations in both interpreting and translation (in legal, medical, community, business, and conference interpreting and in technical, specialized, and community translation, as well as translation technologies and subtitling). In most cases, each subject was self-contained and covered the many theoretical and practical aspects of the specialization, including issues that relate to professional and ethical obligations, setting-specific knowledge, as well as technical skills such as modes of interpreting. In relation to the second strand, the universities offered subjects in discourse analysis, pragmatics, and cross-cultural communication, as well as linguistics and language studies. Some universities offered research-methods subjects and a dissertation as part of their NAATI-approved programs, whereas others offered such research components as part of their other T&I programs that were not approved by NAATI.

Essentially, the universities offered the type of content suggested by Angelelli (2006), which includes the “development of skills in at least six different areas: cognitive processing, interpersonal, linguistic, professional, setting-specific and socio-cultural” (p. 25). The VET courses, on the other hand, concentrated almost exclusively on specific competencies that need to be acquired in order to work as either a translator or interpreter and divided them into separate units of competence. These included units of competence with titles such as “prepare to translate,” “maintain effective management practices,” and “analyze texts to be translated.” This is due to the different nature of training packages in the VET sector as compared to HE curricula, which highlights the general inherent differences between universities and VET institutions in Australia. Universities have traditionally offered academically oriented courses whereas the VET sector has traditionally offered vocational/practice-oriented courses. The major noticeable difference between the HE and VET programs is the absence of discrete units in the VET program that deal specifically with the theories of interpreting and translation and in relation to T&I research. Apart from this, however, it seems that very similar content is taught by all institutions, but presented in different ways.

In addition to the regular subjects/units, all NAATI-approved programs require students to complete 75 hours of field practice for translation or interpreting. The practicum component was generally similar across all institutions in that they required students to do field observations, such as going to court to observe legal interpreters, or to obtain practical work experience such as doing free translations for community groups or nongovernmental organizations. Some institutions organized simulated practice with law or medical students of the same university, in the way of moot court exercises, for example. Some organized formal placements in T&I agencies or with companies that require T&I services during their business day. Some institutions set up virtual agencies and required students to undertake practice not only as interpreters and translators, but also as project managers, editors, and business owners. Petersham TAFE, for example, had an elective subject relevant to small business management called Monitor and Manage Small Business Operations.

One major difference found was the length of the programs. The analysis showed that course duration differed according to type of program and whether it covered both translation and interpreting, or just one or the other. The duration of programs ranged from 6 months full time for VET diplomas in either Interpreting or Translation to 1.5 years for a master of arts in both Interpreting and Translation at university level.

The Importance of the Program Descriptions to Potential Students

One of the survey questions was “Why did you choose this program?” Of interest, half of the respondents chose the option “course/program description.” This response points to the importance of institutions’ promotional materials about their programs. Moreover, one third of the respondents (34.55%) indicated that they received their information from the institution’s website.

A major concern of the students when they were selecting a program was its reputation, with 12 of 55 students making this claim. The rest of the respondents provided various answers to this question, naming factors such as price (2/55), teaching staff (2/55), location (1/55), availability of certain LOTE courses (e.g., Korean, 1/55), qualification awarded (2/55), personal interest (2/55), out-of-business-hour class time (1/55), permanent residency in Australia (1/55), and “for a better future career” (1/55). However, in response to “How did you learn about the course/program?”, more than half (29, or 52.73%) admitted that it was a “recommendation by the educational agent” that in turn led them to choose the program they chose. In other words, the course/program descriptions were not always the main source of information.

Student Evaluations of the Programs

The questionnaire consisted of a set of Likert scales via which students ranked their agreement with a number of statements about T&I program content and delivery. Overall, participants responded to the statements in a positive way (see Table 3 below). On a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 was the best score, the average ranking overall given to T&I programs was 3.5 out of 5. Most statements had percentages of positive feedback well above 50%, except for the last two statement about the usefulness of the practicum component and about whether the program met with all their expectations, which fell just under 50%.

 

Table 3: Responses to Likert scales.

 

Statement (1)Strongly disagree (2)Disagree (3)Neutral (4)Agree (5)Strongly agree
  1. The course/program has a good blend of practical and theoretical components.
0.00% 7.27% 23.64% 63.64% 5.46%
  1. The applications of the theory are clearly articulated and implemented in the practical components.
0.00% 10.91% 23.64% 54.55% 10.91%
  1. The course/program has provided me with a solid theoretical foundation on which to make practical judgments.
0.00% 9.09% 14.55% 52.73% 23.64%
  1. The course/program has provided me with adequate skills development to perform as professional interpreter/translator.
0.00% 9.09% 21.82% 58.18% 10.91%
  1. The course/program has provided me with a thorough understanding of the consequences of my interpreting/translation choices.
0.00% 3.64% 14.55% 61.82% 20.00%
  1. The course/program has provided me with a deep understanding of professional ethical obligations.
0.00% 3.64% 14.55% 54.55% 27.27%
  1. The course/program has provided me with all the knowledge and skills I need to start practicing as a professional interpreter/translator.
0.00% 18.18% 21.82% 54.55% 5.46%
  1. The course/program has taught me about the results of research and their applications to interpreting and translation practice.
1.82% 16.36% 27.27% 52.73% 1.82%
  1. The course has provided me with the tools to continue to acquire skills and knowledge after I graduate.
1.82% 9.09% 14.55% 60.00% 14.55%
  1. The practicum component of the course was very useful.
1.82% 10.91% 30.91% 42.09% 7.27%
  1. The course/program met all my expectations.
5.46% 14.55% 30.91% 45.46% 3.64%

 

Table 4 presents the statements in order of agreement. According to this survey, the programs were very successful (receiving over 80% agreement) at providing students with a thorough understanding of their ethical obligations and of the consequences of their choices. The next most positive responses, receiving over 70% agreement, were those that related to students receiving a solid theoretical basis that can be applied to the practice, and the necessary tools to continue to develop skills after graduation. With over 60% agreement from the students, it seems that students perceive that the programs provide them with the necessary theoretical knowledge and practical skills to perform their professional duties and tasks as professional practitioners. Less agreement was found for the statement that the application of research to practice was clearly articulated. This is probably because of the lack of any such opportunities in the VET sector courses. The least positive statements related to the usefulness of the practicum component and about the programs meeting all the students’ expectations. These two received under 50% agreement. We speculate that the difficulty in finding adequate practicum placements for all language combinations may have contributed to the lower level of satisfaction with this component. However, with regard to the last statement, just over half of the respondents had higher expectations than what the programs were able to deliver. This is not uncommon for staff and students alike, who recognize that the duration of time is never enough to cover the many aspects of interpreting and translation that could be addressed in a course if more time were available (for example, note the views of educators presented in Hale, 2007). Nevertheless, the high degree of agreement with the statement about students being equipped with the tools to continue to develop their knowledge and skills after graduation is an important finding that can potentially counteract the limitations of any program.

All in all, the very positive results attest to the usefulness and effectiveness of T&I education and training in Sydney, Australia. These results corroborate those found in a previous study of Australian interpreters in which 98.3% stated that they considered their formal training useful for “effective practice as community interpreter” (Hale, 2011, p. 238). This is further supported by a recent survey of Australian practitioners, interpreter and translator agencies, educators, and NAATI examiners, in which 81.3% indicated that training should be compulsory for interpreters before becoming accredited by NAATI and 72% stated the same for translation (Hale et al., 2012). This finding is particularly important in view of the fact that currently any type of training is completely voluntary in Australia, leading to practitioners with the same level of NAATI accreditation having very different educational backgrounds.

 

Table 4 : Collapsed responses: Agree versus disagree in order of agreement.

Statement Disagree % Neutral % Agree %
The course/program has provided me with a thorough understanding of the consequences of my interpreting/translation choices. 3.64 14.55 81.82
The course/program has provided me with a deep understanding of professional ethical obligations. 3.64 14.55 81.82
The course/program has provided me with a solid theoretical foundation on which to make practical judgments. 9.09 14.55 76.37
The course has provided me with the tools to continue to acquire skills and knowledge after I graduate. 10.91 14.55 74.55
The course/program has a good blend of practical and theoretical components. 7.27 23.64 69.1
The course/program has provided me with adequate skills development to perform as professional interpreter/translator. 9.09 21.82 69.09
The applications of the theory are clearly articulated and implemented in the practical components 10.91 23.64 65.46
The course/program has provided me with all the knowledge and skills I need to start practicing as a professional interpreter/translator. 18.18 21.82 60.01
The course/program has taught me about the results of research and their applications to interpreting and translation practice. 18.18 27.27 54.55
The practicum component of the course was very useful. 12.73 30.91 49.36
The course/program met all my expectations. 20.01 30.91 49.1

The students’ concerns were reflected in the open-ended answers and the face-to-face interviews with five university students. The results from these two sources showed consistency. First, students requested more practice or practical components, even though our analysis found that all the curricula already put reasonable weight on the practical components. Students tended to consider that practice was more important than theory, particularly if they were required to learn theory that was not directly linked or applied to the practice. This corroborates Li’s (2002) study, in which students stated that they preferred practice over theory. Moreover, students also mentioned the practicum and requested better management of these kinds of units. Second, students valued prompt and constructive feedback from trainers. However, they made it clear that not all educators were the same, praising some very highly and complaining bitterly about others. Third, students commented that they would like to have a larger pool of elective subjects available to them. When asked for their opinions on language enhancement within the T&I programs, all the interviewees reported being confident about their own language proficiency while admitting they felt there were major problems with some of their fellow students; however, none of them were firm advocates of a language enhancement unit, because they were suspicious about the results a short language enhancement unit could possibly achieve. Instead, they all agreed that students should have a high level of bilingual skills when commencing the program and then seek out their own additional ways of enhancing and maintaining their bilingual competence.

Conclusion

With this research study,we aimed to shed further light on the usefulness of T&I education and training viewed from the students’ perspective. After a content analysis of 13 NAATI-approved T&I programs in Sydney, NSW, we set out to collect direct feedback from the current students of those programs. Students in the selected T&I programs were invited to participate in an online survey followed by face-to-face interviews.. We acknowledge the limitations of this study, which concerned a small number of programs in only one city in Australia. However, because Australia is a pioneer in community interpreting education and training, with Sydney the location of the oldest and most established courses, we believe the results of our analysis can be useful to inform education and training in other areas, and in particular with regard to community interpreting. Despite the relatively small number of respondents, the research questions were addressed by the findings of the study. First, the similarities and differences between higher education programs and VET courses were highlighted in the curriculum analysis. Although Australia has a national accreditation system, it does not have a national pre-accreditation education or training requirement, and aspiring practitioners can choose to obtain accreditationvia three pathways: by sitting a NAATI examination, by completing a vocational diploma, or by completing undergraduate or postgraduate degree programs. Gonzalez’s (2013) study identified differences in knowledge, skills, and performance among three groups of community interpreters who had followed each of these three pathways. The results of our study shed further light on the reasons for such different outcomes, which may arise from the different curricula offered by universities and VET-sector courses. Our results showed that both types of programs had practical units and units on the code of ethics and related matters; however, the VET programs did not include theoretical and research-related units in their curricula. The university students interviewed all agreed that theory was important; however, they all expressed the need for increasing the proportion of practice time in the curriculum. This is not an unusual desire from students and educators alike. However, it is one that is unlikely to be satisfied in light of increasing budgetary constraints. For this reason, educators must explore alternative methods to provide more opportunities for practice without the need to increase face-to-face classroom hours. Improving the practicum component by offering students more opportunities to practice under a mentoring system with professionals could be one way of addressing this issue.

One interesting finding, which is somewhat peripheral to the programs themselves and often disregarded, was the importance potential students placed on the information found on official websites and on the advice of their educational agents. Such information and advice was crucial in their decision making about which program to choose. Program administrators must pay attention to the way they present their course information via their websites, because it can affect not only the number of students they recruit, but also the way future students form expectations about their programs.

The most important finding from this study, however, was the general support for T&I education and training. Overall, students found formal T&I education and training very useful and indeed necessary. None stated that they thought they had wasted their time and should have sat for the NAATI examination directly without undertaking any education and training. On the contrary, all respondents asserted that they would have wanted more time dedicated to education and training as they became more conscious of the complexities of the knowledge and skills required to become successful T&I practitioners.

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Endnotes

[1]Correspondence to: s.hale@unsw.edu.au

[2]Community interpreting and translation in Australia is referred to as public service interpreting and translation in Europe. See Hale (2007) for a detailed definition of the term.

[3] See naati.com.au for a list of languages in which accreditation is available.

[4] NAATI has recently posted a report of the consultations conducted by NAATI itself on the INT report. This can be found on their website (naati.com.au) as a discussion paper.

[5]The study was part of the first author’s research project for her Graduate Diploma of Arts in Research, which was supervised by the second author.

[6]Note that programs can change subject titles/content and course information gathered at the time of the study may no longer be current.