Navigating Translator Training

For at least 15 years now, innovations in translation technology have come fast and furious. University translator training programs have struggled to keep pace while striking the right balance between tools-based curriculum and traditional methodology. Not an easy task when no clear winner has yet emerged in the debate swirling around the rôle of tools in both the curriculum and the workplace. The result: recent university graduates find themselves navigating the swift waters of their professional reality in boats that, often, are far from seaworthy.

Once a year, I teach Réalités professionnelles (professional realities) at Université de Montreal, a course is designed to prepare translation students for the demands of the workplace as either freelancers or salaried employees. Every year about this time, I review and update my class notes and presentations so that they reflect all the changes that have occurred since the last time I gave the course. Every year, I also survey my students to get a sense of how they imagine their working lives will be once they graduate.

The results of the survey reveal that, despite the changes in the professional environment, the students’ post-graduation expectations change very little from one year to the next.

In 2012, Isabella Massardo, a colleague who splits her time between Amsterdam and Rome, invited me to write an article for The Big Wave, a web-based, peer-reviewed multilingual quarterly specializing in language technology. The online journal was published in Italy by Squid; Isabella was the Editor in Chief.

I decided to write an article about the challenges of translator training in a context of entrenched perceptions and systemic obstacles to change, and the impact of not addressing those challenges on graduates of university translation programs. The Big Wave published “Navigating the Absurd” in July 2012. You can read a slightly modified version on or on Google Drive.

Since then, The Big Wave has ceased publication. Still, now and again, people ask to see it since it is listed (with a dead link) on my LinkedIn profile (the link is now fixed).

Republishing the article after so many years seemed ludicrous. But then, as I reread it, I realized that very little has changed since I wrote it.

And, that worries me. A lot.


  1. Karryn Nagel

    Thank you for posting this. As a community college student who plans to go into German translation, this is very helpful. As a matter of fact, as I research bachelor’s programs for my undergraduate work, I’m so disappointed in the choices in America for translation-based language study. I believe there is only one degree in the whole country, in Ohio! Kent State University. Everything else is at the Masters Level.


      You’re welcome, Karryn, and I appreciate your feedback. Yes, I understand that translation programs in the States are hard to find. Have you considered studying abroad. Germany might be a very attractive option both in terms of curriculum and cost. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *