Ethics Should Be Incorporated into Translation Programs, Studies Show

Ethics in Translation

Within Translation Studies, ethics is the “subfield that aims to understand what is good and bad, right and wrong in translatorial praxis.”

Kaisa Koskinen, Full Professor of Translation Studies and Head of Languages Unit at Tampere University and Nike K. Pokorn, Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Ljubljana, noted as much in their article in the Routledge Handbook of Translation and Ethics.

Translation ethics (or translator ethics) refers to the set of accepted principles according to which translation should be done, and hence the norms governing what translations should be like,” according to Andrew Chesterman, Professor Emeritus of Multilingual Communication at the University of Helsinki.

Ethical guidance is typically contained in professional codes of ethics for individual translators or translation companies. Such best practices are “useful for encouraging ‘good’ decisions and to signal trustworthy and professional behavior within the industry,” said Joss Moorkens, Associate Professor at Dublin City University.

Major Ethical Concerns

As translation technology becomes increasingly widespread and progressively more embedded in the translation profession and society at large, questions about ethics and technology use have gained more attention. Thus, the associated body of literature has grown, as noted by Lynne Bowker in her article Translation Technology and Ethics.

According to Wen Ren, Professor in Translation and Interpreting Studies at Beijing Foreign Studies University and Mingyue Yin, Lecturer at Sichuan University, the major ethical concerns in machine / AI translation / interpreting are

  • confidentiality and intellectual property rights issues in data collection and software design;
  • accountability for inaccuracy of machine- or AI-produced interpretations; and
  • ethical issues arising from human machine or AI interaction.
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Teaching Ethics

Today, there are voices calling for increased attention to ethics in translation education. However, “it is unclear how extensively ethical issues are being addressed in translation technology courses,” said Bowker in a 2020 publication.

According to Georgios Floros, Associate Professor at the University of Cyprus, not all training institutions touch upon ethical issues in their curricula, and thus they do not shape ethical behavior at all. “As a result, students find themselves sometimes unprepared for the real world,” he explained.

In his article Ethics in Translator and Interpreter Education, Floros focused on the pedagogical aspect of ethics within academic and professional training institutions; more specifically, how to teach ethics to future translators and interpreters. “This […] is perhaps as challenging as the theoretical debate on ethics itself,” he said. 

The interplay between academia and the translation and interpreting industry is extremely important, Floros noted. In addition, the integration into courses of examples from the real world will “provide education that is as comprehensive as possible.”

To that end, the use of authentic texts and case studies from real-life situations, as well as the application of collaborative learning — where the teacher acts as a moderator rather than an authority figure — are required.

Similarly, Mona Baker, Affiliate Professor, University of Oslo, and Carol Maier, Professor Emerita of Spanish and Translation Studies at Kent State University, proposed three suggestions on how to conduct training in ethics.

  1. Provide students with theoretical tools (e.g., deontological ethics) so they learn to reason critically about the implications of decisions made by themselves or others.
  2. Enable students to identify a range of potential strategies that they might use in ethically complex situations.
  3. Develop a set of pedagogical tools (e.g., classroom debates, writing critical essays, role play) to create an environment in which students can learn to make ethical decisions.

Ethical Decision-Making: A Valuable Skill

Nowadays, there also seems to be widespread consensus that cultivating reasoning skills is the best pedagogical approach for ethics training. These skills enable students to think critically about the nature of the ethical problem as well as the possible consequences of a variety of possible courses of action before they decide how to proceed.

As Moorkens highlighted in a recent article published on the European Master’s in Translation Network blog, there is a growing interest in transversal skills. These are interdisciplinary skills that are applicable in a wide variety of situations and settings and include critical and innovative thinking, interpersonal, and intrapersonal skills, among others.

“At Dublin City University, we have developed a set of learning outcomes for such skills, including ethical decision-making,” Moorkens said. Moreover, the European Masters in Translation Network is currently revisiting the Translation Competence Framework and “the inclusion of ethics is an important consideration.”

“It is […] important that translation graduates, as future decision makers, are prepared to consider the ethical aspects and impacts of their decisions based on readings on theoretical and applied ethics alongside their translation and technical competences,” Moorkens explained.

“Ethical decision-making is not only good for the sustainability of the industry (and our programmes), but it is also a valuable skill that can be applied in other industries and situations as graduates move through their careers in an increasingly dynamic work environment,” he concluded.