Reflection is a key element of progression at any stage of a translator’s career. Evidence for this, if needed, can be seen in the continuing professional development (CPD) requirements for professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Linguists, which require evidence of not only attendance at events, but also of actual reflection on the process of learning. So I was very interested in a paper at the recent Portsmouth Translation Conference on how students can use self-reflection to negotiate their transition from translation students to professionals.
Janet Fraser, from the University of Westminster*, began by pointing out that, as a result of the diverse and changing role of the translator today, new translators need to think carefully about where they “fit in” to the profession and negotiate their entry accordingly.
How does one become a member of a profession, and what is a “professional”?
Based on prior studies carried out in this area, Fraser suggested that as a general rule, members of a profession tend to demonstrate a high degree of competence and expertise, but have substantial autonomy in how this is exercised. They are also characterised by freedom from supervision and a relatively high regard in society. Integrity is also a requirement within a profession, combined with a certain amount of peer regulation, often through professional bodies. Sound familiar? I’m sure I’m not the only freelance translator who thinks so.
In terms of education, professionalism also generally (although not always) implies someone with a BA or postgraduate degree. However, formal study really is just the tip of the iceberg within a profession, as true professional skills are acquired through long-term practice. Ultimately, professionalism requires a higher level of thinking skills than those developed through formal education. It requires individuals to continuously think about what they observe, to assess the shared body of knowledge, and to then apply this to themselves and their practice. So for those of you who thought graduation was the end, think again…
Another interesting point made by Fraser was that freelance translators are generally considered by labour researchers to be very successful examples of portfolio workers, not least because their careers tend to follow a process of personal development, as opposed to being a simple hierarchical series of jobs.
How can the student translator acquire these higher order thinking skills?
Fraser proposes self reflection as a means of developing the thinking skills that characterise a professional. She asserted that self-reflection doesn’t have to be new age or touchy-feely. It’s a well established process of making a public body of knowledge your own and ensuring that you don’t just have an experience, you also make sense of it and learn from it. Fraser also discussed some of the barriers to self-reflection, along with suggestions on how to overcome them. She also mentioned further useful references in this area, for example by Jennifer Moon.
All in all, in felt this was a very informative talk, relevant to both newcomers and more experienced translators alike.
* Full disclosure!
28.11.07: edited for clarity