In recent years, the issue of the importance of ethics in interpreters/translators training programs has become more and more discussed and many universities abroad have actually already introduced it. However, in Kazakhstan very little attention is given to ethical problems one faces as a professional, instead students are equipped with basic skills and knowledge on carrying out interpretation/translation assignments. The very article focuses on the course of ethics for future professionals and discusses how it could be incorporated into a curriculum, the significance of it as well as suggest activities and tools to be used.
Key words: translation studies curriculum, course on ethics in Kazakhstan, business ethics, code of ethics for translators/interpreters.
Translation and Interpretation activity is a field full of ethical challenges. Many professionals are puzzled with questions, like “Should I translate a text word-for-word or change the meaning?” “Should I inform my client about factual inaccuracies in the source text?” “How should I act if my employer asked me not to interpret some parts of his/her speech?” Although undervalued in the past, the ethics has reached considerable importance within the field and has attracted the attention of scholars in recent years, with the ethics now being incorporated in encyclopaedias and handbooks, such as Handbook of Translation Studies, vol. 1, Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, The Translator and is even included in the curriculums in some countries. However, in Kazakhstan ethics still does not take an important part of training programs, it is typically addressed as a small part of an optional module on broader themes such as introduction into professional activity courses, cross-cultural communication and etc. Teaching professional ethics is often limited to the principles of confidentiality, an obligation to render the message conveyed fully without omissions or unnecessary additions, professional manners and others but fails to include real life cases one may face in his/her professional activity.
However, many researchers have already for a long time advocated another way of teaching ethics. As Mona Baker suggests in her article, university trainers should go away from making students simply “follow professional codes of ethics unquestioningly” [2,2011,p.2], as these codes cannot be tailored for specific situations one may encounter. Instead, learners should be equipped with tools and skills to deal with such dilemmas. Moreover, as stated further today there is “an increased emphasis on ‘accountability’, now a key word in all professions” [2, 2011, p.3], so future professionals should be taught to hold responsibility for their actions and understand that their decisions may lead to certain consequences. Like Tymoczko [4,p.316–17] and Baker, argued that translators’ professional ethics cannot be guided by theoretical, universal statements that are presented haphazardly across the curriculum and focused only on deontological issues. Instead, ethical issues need to be situated, and their complex and collective nature must be revealed. The classroom activities should be designed in the way as to allow students to speculate on different ethical implications of certain actions themselves “rather than telling them what is right or wrong per se” [2,2011,p.4] as making a moral decision in a professional activity does not mean a blind obedience to the codes (as this way students may be not prepared for the situations slightly different than those presented by them), but assessing them critically and staying personally integral and responsible.
Professional ethics for future interpreters and translators course
With this in mind, we have created a Professional ethics for future interpreters and translators course as a part of Master program research work on ethics of translators/interpreters in Kazakhstan held in KAZGUU University in Astana. The first part of the research paper contains the survey carried among professionals in the field, professors at Translation studies department and senior students/graduates. The survey was held to collect data on how well professionals are aware of codes of ethics regulating the activity of translators/interpreters worldwide and their opinions on some ethical challenges and concluded that while experienced translators dealt with the dilemmas presented in a consistent and detailed manner, students and graduates struggled making decisions. Therefore, the need for creating a special course seemed to be high. All the information gathered during the course of study, like opinions of professional interpreters, real-life cases of ethical challenges were to be used in creating a course.
A lot of translation studies scholars have already incorporated ethics in their curriculums and shared their experience in scientific journals: for instance, Kristina Abdallah in her article about empowering micro-entrepreneur translators in production networks , Clare Donovan  about the place of ethics in conference interpreter training or training courses for court or community interpreters when the issue of ethics is unquestionable. However, as in Kazakhstan translators training program does not prepare specifically conference interpreters or community interpreters, but rather focus on equipping students with general skills in translation and interpretation, the course should meet these requirements and be smoothly introduced in the curriculum.
The course is aimed at enabling translation students to identify the ethical issues as they arise in particular circumstances, to analyze how these issues should shape their actions and developing skills to defend a professional opinion and views in their future activity and be able to take ethical decisions. Very often, it is hard for students to understand ethics fully as they do not have enough experience and have not faced such situations before, so even very clear ethical decisions made by professionals may be unclear to learners and need to be spelled out for them. Therefore, it is important that the work on ethics be well-designed with one type of task being connected and subordinate to the next one to ensure a gradual skill acquisition. The course consists of 15 academic hours (1 credit) and covers all the main ethical principles of professional activity (confidentiality, accuracy, competence, accountability, clarity of role boundaries etc.) The activities presented have to cover all levels of cognitive learning, i.e knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, evaluation (according to Bloom’s taxonomy). Therefore, the first task is usually to work in groups familiarizing themselves with a particular part (for example, the issue of impartiality) of codes of ethics (ATA, AUSIT, FIT, Этический кодекс переводчика (РФ) and then comparing different descriptions of this point (the first and second levels of learning). Alternatively, students can be given articles exemplifying one of the parts of this code to be discussed in class. Later, as a rule, to apply (the level of application) the obtained knowledge in practice, students are offered real life cases (specific to Kazakhstani setting) and asked to solve them (using case study as a method for teaching ethics was chosen by the majority of respondents of the survey mentioned above). To illustrate, students are to decide whether they should share their personal opinion if their foreign client asks what they think on a local company the client is negotiating with. At this stage, they are given the ethical questions which require quite predictable answers and decisions which are not very challenging to make to attract students’ attention and keep them motivated to increase their knowledge and skills further. The cases are mostly taken from the survey results; another source of such cases is a website www.translation-ethics.ru dedicated at promoting Code of Ethics in Russia among professionals and Translation Studies students. The part “Practice” of this website discusses real-life cases (presented by real translators and interpreters) as well as provides solutions made up by experts. Another effective classroom activity (which could be used as a home assignment as well) would be to write critical essays [2,2011, p.6] on the topics connected with the ethical point being discussed, for instance, “Is an interpreter allowed to express his/her personal opinion on the subject of discussion” or “Is it ethical to take sides if you are asked to”. Students should use the materials and knowledge gained during in-class discussions, as well as visit online translation forums to complete this task. After checking the work, some ideas and solutions could be discussed in class. Similarly, students could start an online forum discussion as well, using platform (like the Moodle virtual learning environment used by K.Abdallah in her research) or write a learning diary which could show how their opinions alter during the course and to see how they have grown professionally in the end. Analytical level is covered by debates and further classroom discussion. Students are presented the challenging situation which needs to be examined from different perspectives, i.e an interpreter/translator and translation agency, an interpreter/translator and his/her colleague, an interpreter/translator, a client and a translation agency. A prime example is a situation (presented in Code of Ethics forum on Facebook and also raised by some respondents of the survey) when an interpreter works with a client through a translation agency later this client asks interpreter’s personal contacts. On the one hand, this is an unfair attitude towards the agency as it took time to find the client and organize all working conditions. On the other hand, interpreters are free in providing their services in whatever form they prefer and for clients the cost may be lower if they work with the interpreter directly. Representing each side of the arguments, students come up with different unexpected ideas, like “If this agency is reliable and can be considered a long-term partner, an interpreter will unlikely damage his/her image in front of this agency” or that “if the client is regular as well, he/she will still keep working through this agency”. Interestingly, the solutions that seemed to be the only feasible in the beginning turn out to be not viable at all by the end, so students can see how they develop as professionals and how developed their ideas become. A prime example is a question on whether or not translators should accept assignments at a low rate if he/she is experiencing financial difficulties at the moment: immediate positive answer in the beginning of the discussion changes by the end with students talking about possible negative consequences of accepting such offers on translation field in general. In the course of such activation the last learning level of evaluation gradually enters the classroom as well. Such debates allow learners to consider the needs of each side, take ethical decisions and become more responsible and mature in their future professional activity. However, a trainer should moderate such discussions not to turn them into unnecessary rhetoric and prevent students from being sidetracked to another topic. Another activity that could conclude the whole preparation might be a role play as a part of a simulated scenario in the classroom (Mona Baker,2011). This would allow students to see life-like situations and collect all skills gained in previous activities in one bigger professional experience.
To avoid difficulties and ensure smooth transition to the professional activity, Translation Studies students should be taught how to deal with ethical dilemmas that may occur in their future professional activity. However, in Kazakhstan translation training programs do not focus on the importance of ethics in the curriculum (although this topic is of high importance, as students full of theoretical knowledge very often hesitate when facing ethical challenges). Therefore, as a part of Master degree research paper we have created a course on ethics for future interpreters and translators taking into account problems specific to Kazakhstani setting and real life cases shared by experienced professionals. It covers all the main ethical points (mentioned in all codes of ethics existing worldwide) as well as provides students with activities through which they could form necessary professional skills to deal with ethical challenges. The course will hopefully be introduced in the curriculum and bring benefits to newcomers in the field
- Abdallah, Kristiina (2011) Towards Empowerment, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, 5:1, 129–154.
- Baker, Mona (2011) ‘Ethics in Interpreter & Translator Training Critical Perspectives’, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer 5(1), 2011, 1–14. — (2006) Translation and Conflict: A Narrative Account, New York & London: Routledge.
- Donovan, Clare (2011) Ethics in the Teaching of Conference Interpreting, The Interpreter and Translator Trainer, 5:1, 109–128
- Tymoczko, Maria (2000) ‘Translation and Political Engagement: Activism, Social Change and the Role of Translation in Geopolitical Shifts’, The Translator 6(1): 23–47.
- ATA (American Translators Association). 2010. American Translators Association code of ethics and professional practice. Available online: http://www.atanet.org/aboutus/ code_of_professional_conduct.php (Accessed 13 March 2013).
- AUSIT (Australian Institute of Interpreters and Translators). 2012. AUSIT code of ethics and code of conduct. http://ausit.org/AUSIT/Documents/Code_Of_ Ethics_Full.pdf (Accessed 13 March 2013).
- International Federation of Translators (FIT). (1994). Translator’s Charter. Retrieved September 05, 2015, from http://www.fit-ift.org/?p=251
- Этический кодекс переводчика.2012. http://translation-ethics.ru/code/