Posts in PhD project

TREC: The Next Generation

junio 10th, 2013 Posted by blog, empirical research, methods, PhD project, TransWorld Airy Lines No Comment yet

The international research network “Translation Research Empiricism Cognition” (TREC) convened in Barcelona for a regular meeting on July 4-5 2013. This time we also held a previous seminar 

on empirical and experimental research in  translation, where PhD students presented their ongoing work. These are, in alphabetical order, some of the stars of TREC’s next generation:
José Jorge Amigo Extremera (PETRA, ULPGC) talked about “Fitting culture into Translation Process Research”, where he summarized his project to develop operationalizations of culture and knowledge for empirical and experimental research, drawing form social and situated cognition approaches.
Mariceli Aquino (LETRA, UFMG) presented “A relevance-theoretic study of processing effort in post-editing tasks: an analysis of German modal particles  “. She will be using Translog and Tobii T60 to study post-editions of the MT output of text excerpts from a corpus of articles from Deutsche Welle.
Claudine Borg (Aston University) is working on an in-depth case study of post-drafting self-revision of the translation a novel from French into Maltese through think-aloud, translator observation, interviews, analysis of drafts and ST-TT comparison drawing on corpus-based techniques.
Luis Miguel Castillo (PACTE, UAB) contributed with “Acceptability and the acquisition of translation competence: preliminary results”, where he described his goal of tracing the evolution of translation quality throughout the process of the acquisition of translation competence.
Norma Fonseca (LETRA, UFMG) draws from Krings (2001) to distinguish temporal, technical and cognitive aspects of effortful processing during task execution and builds on Alves & Gonçalves (2013) to study cognitive effort during monolingual post-editing processes using key logging, screen recordings, and guided written protocols.
Andrea Hunziker Heeb (ZHAW) struck a vital chord by focusing on ethical issues that may arise with professional translators as research participants. She used a general academic self-evaluation checklist and a code of good practice in research to frame her presentation, which fostered a lively discussion.

Andrea Hunziker Heeb and Annina Meyer (ZHAW) presented the design, the methods and the hypotheses of a research project focused on ergonomic issues associated with software settings, equipment, and/or physical conditions that might impede the  efficiency of translation by slowing down decision-making and other cognitive processes during translation.

Arlene Koglin (LETRA, UFMG)  presented her project “Processing effort and cognitive effects trade-off in metaphor post-editing.“ Arlene is using eye tracking, key logging and retrospective protocols to gather data, and Relevance Theory as a referential framework.
Minna Kumpulainen (University of Eastern Finland) presented an overview of the use of pauses as potential cognitive indicators in translation process research, where she centered on pause length and their correlation with process segment boundaries.
Gisela Massana Roselló (PACTE, UAB) presented the design and some methodological issues of her research project on the acquisition of translation competence in trainees who have Portuguese as their second foreign language. Language typological proximity between Portuguese and Spanish is a major concern in this project.
Christopher Mellinger (KETRA, Kent State University) is well advanced in his PhD research  project on how cognitive effort is distributed during the translation task, which he is analyzing through the pause contour of  applied cognitive effort when using a translation memory to translate. He presented some preliminary findings on how the use of TMs and specific fuzzy match features affect the translation process in Spanish-to-English translation professionals with 4–7 years of experience.
Ana Muñoz Miquel (GENTT, UJI) presented her ongoing work on medical translator’s profiles, where she combines the cognitive notion of translators’ competence with a sociological survey of medical translators self-image and a pedagogical perspective on the needs of medical translator trainees.
Christian Olalla Soler (PACTE, UAB)  will be using screen recording, translations and questionanaires to study the acquisition of translators’ cultural  competence by Spanish trainee students with German as their second foregin language, from the perspective of PACTE’s (2003) translation competence model.
Raphael Sannholm (Stockholm University) presented the results of his MA thesis, which checked whether  different text types give rise to different foci in the cognitive processes during translation within a fairly homogenous group of participants, and also outlined his future PhD project on on automaticity in the cognitive processes in translation.
Karina Szpak’s (LETRA, UFMG) research project applies the relevance-theoretical concepts of conceptually and procedurally encoded information to study eye fixations, time spent, and attention units to identify instances of processing effort in translation.

Investigating Expertise in Interpreting

abril 12th, 2012 Posted by bibliographical data, blog, expertise, interpreting, PhD project, The expert's perspective No Comment yet

I ended my last blog post on the expertise approach by saying that using the expertise approach to study interpreting will require some more development of the different constructs. I was talking about how to operationalize Ericsson’s and Smith’s three step general method for investigating expert performance. The first step says that the researcher should start with “a detailed analysis of the investigated domain and the skills necessary for experts in that domain and a systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill”.

As far as I know, there is no exhaustive analysis of the skills necessary for experts in the domain of interpreting, but there are several proposals of lists or typologies. And all of us involved in interpreting can come up with longer or shorter lists. In fact just think about the description of what you need to start interpreting school:

  • – Perfect command in most domains of your mother tongue and at least perfect understanding of the foreign languages you work from.
  • – Ability to adapt quickly from one situation to the other.
  • – Ability to grasp quickly, conclude and anticipate next step.
  • – Ability to quickly formulate in another language what you have just heard in one language.
  • – Ability to listen and speak simultaneously (at least if you work with simultaneous interpreting).

This is by no means an exhaustive list it just gives an idea of what we have to deal with, when analyzing the skills necessary for experts. Another tricky thing is that a person can very well master these skills without having the ability to interpret, let alone become an expert interpreter. I know many people who have perfect native levels in two languages who are not interpreters, but neither would or could interpret. Maybe you do too.

Expert research is a fairly active field in interpreting and translation, but I only think we have begun to map the cognitive processes for the specific skill. One hypothesis is that experts’ working memory would be better developed than other performers. This has been investigated by for instance Minhua Liu. Liu found that experienced interpreters had a more efficient allocation of working memory than less experienced interpreters, by the way, you can find a very interesting talk that Dr. Liu gave at the Monterey Institute of International Studies here.

Anticipation is also a field presumably of importance of interpreters. A volume by Chernov (edited by Setton and Hild) is dedicted to anticipation and Bartlomiejczyk recently returned to the understanding of anticipation.

Another interesting way to investigate expertise is to look at how experienced interpreters (and possibly experts) deal with situations compared to less experienced interpreters or novices. Then we have already jumped to step two of Ericsson’s list, namely, “detailed analysis of the performance within the frames of general cognitive theory; identification of the systematic process and their link to the structure of the task and the behaviour of the performers”.

As I’m impatient by nature, I did what other’s have done before me – I jumped to step two. I have looked at what experienced interpreters do when they encounter problems compared to novice interpreters. I am by no means the first one to do this either. I have very much followed the work of Adelina Hild who developed a classification of which processing problems interpreters experienced and how they dealt with them (i.e. which strategies they used to deal with the problems occurred). For example, let’s say that an interpreter did not hear a particular word. What happens? Does s/he omit that word or even the whole sentence? Or does s/he invent something else? Or does s/he infer from the context what was lost?

It may come as no surprise that both for me and for Hild, experienced interpreters encounter fewer problems and have more strategies at hand to deal with them. In the example above, the experienced interpreter would most likely be able to infer from the context the word that was not heard, whereas the novice would most likely omit at least the word maybe the sentence.

By looking at what really experienced interpreters do and don’t compared to less experienced interpreters we may approach those necessary skills for our domain. For instance, the experienced interpreters I looked at encountered processing problems much less than the novices. Considering that they were very experienced it’s not surprising, but what’s interesting is that when they encountered a problem they had more strategies to choose from. Novice interpreters often choose to omit parts of the message, and when they did not omit they accepted a lower standard of the utterance or quite simply invented something. Experienced interpreters preferred to generalize in difficult situations, they could also choose to summarize or restructure the utterance. They did of course omit or accept a lower standard as well, but much less so than the novices. So, it looks like one skill interpreting experts have is mastery of a wide range of interpreting strategies in order to convey the message.

My space is once again up, but I’ll continue to pursue the expertise approach in my next post. And let’s see then if we can look at the third point in the list: “presentation of the superior performance through the used cognitive processes and how they were acquired and the structure of the relevant domain knowledge”.

Authors referred to:

Chernov, Gelij V. 2004. Inference and anticipation in simultaneous interpreting: a probability-prediction model. Amsterdam and Philadelphia. John Benjamins.

Bartlomiejczyk, Magdalena. 2008. “Anticipation: a controversial interpreting strategy”, In B. Lewandowska-Toamsczyk and Thelen, M. (eds.) Translation and Meaning 8.Maastricht: Zuyd University

Ericsson, K.A. 2000. “Expertise in Interpreting: An Expert-performance Perspective”.Interpreting: International Journal of Research and Practice in Interpreting. 5:2.187–220.

Ivanova (Hild), A. 1999. Discourse Processing During Simultaneous Interpreting: An Expertise Approach. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Cambridge.

Liu, M. 2001. Expertise in Simultaneous Interpreting: A Working Memory Analysis. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, the University of Texas at Austin.


by Elisabet Tiselius

Excellence in Interpreting

octubre 7th, 2011 Posted by bibliographical data, blog, expertise, interpreting, PhD project, The expert's perspective No Comment yet

Fresh out of interpreting school, I was lucky to start working with very experienced colleagues. Although I considered myself lucky working with them it was also a daunting experience in many respects. Naturally, I was filled with respects for these linguistic wizards with all their experience and flair. Most of them were also amazingly skilled in interpreting. I spent months, maybe even years listening, taking notes and trying to copy them. I think that I was also intimidated by the old interpreter teacher saying that “it takes at least five years to become a full-fledged interpreter”.

Years later I was struggling to start a career in research. As I was outlining my project, I came back to my early interpreting experiences and felt that I wanted to explore what made those interpreters so skillful. At this point my supervisor pointed me in the direction of the expertise approach. The expertise approach came from psychology became popular in interpreting studies in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Barbara Moser-Mercer invited expertise guru, Karl Anders Ericsson to the Ascona workshops. Unfortunately, this was before my time and my understanding of expertise comes from the readings I have done in the subject.

The expertise approach in short says that very skilled performers (experts) share the same approach to their skill regardless of field. So Wimbledon-winners, Grand Masters of Chess, top Surgeons or even taxi-driver champions use the same way to develop their skill. Psychology researchers have studied high performers of different field and made several conclusions as to what is unique in their personality or approach or learning tricks. So what do they have in common?

Well, first of all they have been practicing and performing a lot, at least 10 years or 10 000 hours. But experience is a weak predictor, since you can play tennis for twenty-five years without winning Wimbledon or you can be a passionate chess player without being anywhere close to Grand Mastery. So there is something more to this than just experience.
The top performers also seem to have access to expert knowledge in times of need. Researchers saw that on routine tasks top performers would make a fairly average performance, and may even be outscored by less experienced subjects. However, when performing more difficult tasks they would excel.
Research into expertise also saw that practice was important, and top performers practiced differently than others. Their practice was deliberate. They were not just practicing; they were present in their practice. They practiced with clear goals and were open to feedback from their colleagues.
And lastly, just as one swallow does not a summer make – one single outstanding performance does not and expert make. Experts are regular top performers. They keep their performance on a regular high level.
The expertise approach seems to lend itself easily to investigate excellence in interpreting. There are some adaptation difficulties though. Interpreting is ephemeral in its nature, both because it is the spoken word, which fades quickly, but also because high quality or excellence is not easily graded. There is no ranking of interpreters; high quality in interpreting is context dependent. What is highly appreciated in one context may be utterly, totally wrong in another. Ericsson and his colleague Jacqui Smith have a three step general method for investigating expert performance. The steps consists of 1) a detailed analysis of the investigated domain and the skills necessary for experts in that domain, systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill, 2) Detailed analysis of the performance within the frames of general cognitive theory; identification of the systematic process and their link to the structure of the task and the behaviour of the performers, and 3) Presentation of the superior performance through the used cognitive processes and how they were acquired and the structure of the relevant domain knowledge.
Now, this blog post is approaching its end, and the discussion on how to operationalize these different steps will have to be dealt with next time. But just take step one and think about it for a moment; “systematic mapping of cognitive processes for the specific skill”. I know at least three mental models of interpreting, and the necessary cognitive processes are regularly the centre of discussions in Interpreting Studies, what are they and how do we study them. So clearly, using the expertise approach will require some more thinking.

Further reading

Ericsson, K.A. & J. Smith, eds. 1991. Toward a General Theory of Expertise: Prospects and Limits. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ericsson, K.A., N. Charness, P.J. Feltovich & R.R. Hoffman, eds. 2006. The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ericsson, K. Anders 2010. “Expertise in interpreting”. @ Gregory M. Shreve & Erik Angelone, eds. Translation and Cognition. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 231–262.


by Elisabet Tiselius

Writing an exposé

abril 26th, 2011 Posted by aims, blog, exposé, hypotheses, methods, PhD project, state of the art, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

Once you have found your doctoral advisor, you can start writing the exposé, i.e., a summary of your first thoughts on the PhD project. Depending on the country or even the university you are in, you may need to present it and have it approved by a committee, or else you may want to send it to some important scholar to convince her to become your supervisor. In any case, it will

be very useful to you, to clarify your ideas. You should always bear in mind that what you are going to put down in your exposé are just preliminary notions. Also, before you get into this jungle, there is something you should be aware of:
There is no explicit model for an exposé
[sudden drum banging in the dark]
Of course, that does not mean there is no structure at all. There is simply considerable variation, depending on the norms, traditions, etc., of the place you are in. In Europe, you may ask your advisor or university department for detailed information, but do not expect there will be something like the great Writing Lab at Purdue. At least, not in every university (but see Toronto’s and Victoria’s, though). Do not give up hope if you are given no information or just a couple of vague hints on this topic. Take it as your first quest for the holy grail.
Although there are no black-on-white rules on the contents and structure of an exposé, at least there seems to be some kind of consensus regarding the need to include at least the following sections:
project topic
state of the art
Other points, such as a sketch of the dissertation structure, work plan, and so on, is usually optional, or a specific requirement of your institution. Let us have a closer look on these points.

Project topic
You need a concise working title for your project. If somewhat obscure, you may explain the meaning of the title in your introduction. To avoid extra work, it is always a good idea to draft the introduction at the end, so you already know which information you need to summarize.

State of the art
Here you should concentrate on the following questions:
Which related topics have been investigated until now?
Which points or aspects have not been researched (enough) and are therefore desiderata?

Aim(s) - The question is… Why?
In this section you will spell out your project aims, the reasons to embark on such a project, what you expect from it. Generally, scientific aims tend to focus on verifying or falsifying hypotheses or they attempt to find some answers to clearly stated problems. You could consider other possible aims regarding your project (e.g., practical or didactic ones).

Hypotheses/Problems – The question is… What?
Since you are aiming to find answers to your stated hypothesis or problems, you need to make them clear from the beginning by explaining what you have found out on the topic and what led you to your conclusions.

Method(s) – The question is… How?
Your aims and objects of study define the methods applied. There are mainly two scientific methods of which one would be applied to your project:

You conclude general theoretical rules on the basis of empirical observations. For example, translation experiment results show that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators; now you would have to establish some rules, theories or hypotheses on these observations.

You would propose a theory or hypothesis first and then investigate it empirically, e.g., you would state that there are differences in problem-solving between professional and non-professional translators and then verify or falsify this statement based on the results of an empirical experiment.
If you want to do empirical research, you should specify your materials. In cognitive translatology, this would concern, for example, subjects, source text(s), experimental environment, data collection tools and methods (e.g. key logging, questionnaires, eye-tracking, to name a few).

At the end of your exposé, you should give complete information on every source you cited in your proposal. More often than not there are strict norms and requisites for the bibliography. You may complain about it, but that is the way it is: hating bibliography norms seems to be part of being a scholar, so you are getting closer!

Further reading
Chesterman, A. (2001). Empirical research methods in Translation Studies. Erikoiskielet ja käännösteoria (VAKKI-symposiumi XX), 27, 9-22.
Jääskeläinen, R. & Tirkkonen-Condit, S. (1991). Automatised processes in professional vs. non-professional translation: A think-aloud protocol study. In S. Tirkkonen-Condit (Ed.): Empirical Research in Translation and Intercultural Studies. Tübingen: Narr, 89-109.
Neunzig, W. (2002). Estudios empíricos en traducción: apuntes metodológicos. In F. Alves (Ed.): O proceso de traducão. Cadernos de Traducão, 10, 75-96.
Nünning, A. & Sommer, R. (Eds.) (2007). Handbuch Promotion – Forschung – Förderung – Finanzen. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Nussbaum, M. A. (2010). How To Write a (Thesis/Dissertation) Proposal. URL:
Pries, L. (2007). Wie schreibe ich ein Exposé? URL:
Research Proposal Guide. URL:

Starting a PhD project on Cognitive Translatology

abril 14th, 2011 Posted by blog, doctoral advisor, exposé, PhD project, The sorcerer's apprentice No Comment yet

As in any project, there is one urgent question to be answered on starting a PhD project as well: Where do I start? This is what I found when planning to do a doctorate, particularly regarding Cognitive Translatology.

Looking for a doctoral advisor

When you set to start a PhD project on

Cognitive Translatology, you should be aware of the fact that, however young the discipline of Translation Studies (as a supercategory of Cognitive Translatology) may seem, there are already quite a few people investigating in this field all over the world. This is not necessarily a disadvantage, because once you have found your advisor and a project to work on, you become a member of this translation researchers’ community. So when it comes to looking for an advisor in this field, you will probably have to expand your search crossing national borders.

So your starting point is, you should start doing some research on who is actually investigating in Cognitive Translatology (e.g., individual researchers or research groups). When you have listed a few names, you can start by contacting them, explaining what you are aiming to do, and asking them for help.

During or after the doctoral advisor search
Once you have started looking for a doctoral advisor (or even if you already found one), you should start limiting and defining the topic you would like to delve into in your PhD project. I know, Cognitive Translatology is still a quite complex field. This is the time for you to do three things mainly:

1. Answer yourself some basic questions regarding your own focus of interest (e.g., if you prefer theory or practice; which specific field(s) you are interested in (e.g., translators’ expertise, problem solving, decision-making, translation quality assessment, error categorization, to name a few)).
2. Read, and nothing but read to familiarize yourself with the topic(s) in question and the state of the art. You get relevant literature searching, for example, your University’s library catalogue and the Internet (additionally, you could also ask your advisor in case you have already found one, but never forget that it is your work and the literature you will be given has to be considered just the basis for further reading). While reading, keep an eye out for possible connections with your own future work, such as any lack of or in theoretical models, desiderata, etc.

3. Outline your first thoughts (on the basis of 1 and 2) concerning at least your work topic, aim(s), hypotheses, method(s) and problems. In Cognitive Translatology you will probably find a lot more empirical work than in other areas of Translation Studies, but this does neither mean there is nothing left to investigate empirically nor that there is nothing interesting to say about translation theory. In any case, you will need both, practice and theory, for your work. At this stage, it would be of some help but it not essential to count on an advisor, to get some advice where necessary.
Writing an exposé
Usually, in most countries the next step to take is writing an exposé, which contains your ideas on the PhD project. The exposé helps you structure and formulate these ideas more clearly. In the beginning, it works as some kind of project guidelines both for you and for your advisor, but it will be modified throughout the process times and again. And that is normal.
After these three steps, there begins the real journey. Good luck!
Further reading
Chesterman, A. (2001). Empirical research methods in Translation Studies. Erikoiskielet ja käännösteoria (VAKKI-symposiumi XX), 27, 9-22.
Davis, D. (2001): PhD Thesis Research: Where Do I Start? URL:
Eco, U. (2001). Experiences in Translation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Nünning, A. & Sommer, R. (Eds.) (2007). Handbuch Promotion – Forschung – Förderung – Finanzen. Stuttgart: Metzler.
Nussbaum, M. A. (2010). How To Write a (Thesis/Dissertation) Proposal. URL: PhD Starter – How to start a PhD. URL:
Pries, L. (2007). Wie schreibe ich ein Exposé? URL: Proposal Guide. URL:

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