Publications The Teaching of Translation in Moroccan Universities
The Teaching of Translation in Moroccan Universities PDF Print E-mail

The Teaching of Translation in Moroccan Universities

    Ahmed Alaoui Certified Translator

Institut Supérieur de Traduction à Rabat


    The learning outcomes of teaching translation in English departments at Moroccan universities have hardly been the subject of serious debate among translation teachers and researchers alike. While some trainers tacitly believe that the course is taught simply because it has been part of the English BA curriculum since the inception of the university in Morocco, others claim that the course trains students to pursue a professional career in translation. The thesis of this paper is that the Translation class in Moroccan universities, as it stands, can only have academic rather than professional goals.


In both the old and new systems of Moroccan university studies, the course of Translation constitutes an important component in the English BA program. However, the objectives of this course have either been misunderstood or difficult to achieve. Virtually all English departments’ course descriptions state that the aim of the course is to introduce students to translation theory and train them to translate from Arabic into English and vice versa. There is a wide consensus among teachers of translation that the training falls short of its expectations. This article aims at outlining new, more realistic and explicit roadmap for the course of translation at the Moroccan university.

The thesis of this paper is that the Translation course at the university is and should be academic rather than professional (Colina 2002). Hence it ought to be geared to improving students’ language skills, for the reasons outlined below. Section 1 outlines the pedagogical conditions that characterize the teaching of translation in Morocco, namely the profile of teachers, teaching methodology, teaching materials and testing. Section 2 provides a sketch of the objectives of teaching translation for academic purposes, as well as the relevant methodology to do so. Section 3 presents the profile of establishments in charge of teaching translation as a professional craft.

  1. Diagnosis

1.1. Trainers

Not many teachers of translation in Moroccan universities have received proper training in translation. They are holders of post graduate degrees in English literature or linguistics from Moroccan or Anglo Saxon universities. Any teacher in the department of English who shows interest in teaching Translation may be assigned the course. There are no requirements whatsoever. Hence, the trainers are at best merely interested rather than specialized in translation.

The absence of continuous training programs for university translation teachers has contributed to the current status quo. Teachers may very well take personal initiatives and train themselves. However, their efforts can hardly come to fruition. This is because they are overworked and they teach various courses, including a hybrid of language courses and content courses at various levels. A cogent evidence of this fact is that not a single department of English in Morocco has published a book on translation or even an in-house manual for students, to my knowledge. Further, no department of English engages in a serious translation project of any kind at the national or international levels.

This brief description of the profile of university teachers of translation implies that they cannot be required to teach the craft of translation. However, as long as all teachers in English departments are supposed to teach language courses, those who are aware of what is practically possible and theoretically advisable in translation teaching would be able to teach translation as an academic subject, along the lines proposed in Section 2 below.

    1. Teaching material and methodology

In all pedagogical practices, be it professional or academic, instructional material is closely linked with, and should reflect the training objectives. This amounts to saying that the learning outcomes which the course intends to endow the students with determine the teaching materials. The least that can be said about the objective of the translation course in Moroccan universities is that it is not clear enough. As a teacher of translation, I cannot tell whether students are trained

  • to become professional translators,
  • to be able to translate texts, if so what type of texts and why?
  • to understand and apply translation models,
  • to become interpreters,
  • to become project managers at translation agencies,
  • to become localizers,
  • or simply to pass the end-of-Semester test, and never look back on the training.

The adequacy of the training content heavily depends on the clarity of the relevant teaching objectives (Delisle, 1981). As long as these learning outcomes are fuzzy, both the teaching material and teaching methodology can be anything but systematic or purposeful.

The current methodology of teaching translation in Moroccan universities can be seen along the following lines. Teachers select their own materials, individually, with little or no coordination. In as much as there are no clear benchmarks for this training, teachers would not even bother to motivate the choice of the very texts they bring to the classroom. The texts that teachers use are either translated before hand or taken from sources which offer translated texts, ready for use by the teacher. Hence the interaction in the classroom is based on the tell - me - what - I- have –in–mind approach. Students grapple with a trial–and-error task, trying to guess what the teacher has in mind, or on their lecture notes. They end up studying texts and the translation thereof, but learning virtually very little about the craft of translation. Students’ performance in translation tests also indicates that they hardly upgrade their language proficiency. As a result, some students get frustrated because they are dissatisfied with the aimless exercise of the course, while others develop the misconception that this is what translation is all about.

    1. Testing

As a consequence of the profile of trainers, nature of teaching materials and methodology, testing involves the translation of a text from English into French and/or vice versa. This classical testing approach indicates that students have not been subject to any well-graded skill building. The evaluation of these tests is highly subjective. In my experience of more than twenty years, I have realized that there is a widespread consensus among teachers of translation that students’ performance is markedly poor. Teachers end up correcting language mistakes rather than translation errors.

It is wise to point out that lack of clarity of the Translation course objectives is a corollary of a wider sphere of fuzziness that characterizes university studies in Morocco. The recent university Reform has been initiated so as to produce graduates with marketable skills; however, course objectives, trainers, teaching methods, teaching materials, staff recruitment policy, teaching aids and student enrolment policy clearly indicate that we are still flogging the same dead horse.

It emerges from this short exposition that the university in Morocco can by no means train professional translators through the course of translation because of the following reasons:

  • The teachers have not received any formal training in translation, nor are they professional translators, fully aware of the requirements of the translation market.
  • The content and teaching methodology are ad hoc because the learning outcomes (objectives) are not clear to the teacher and student alike.
  • Evaluation can only be inadequate as long as the objectives, content and methodology are deficient.

Therefore, there is a pressing need to redefine the objective of the university translation course, and spell out its teaching method as clearly as possible, on the understanding that translation is taught at English departments for primarily academic rather than professional purposes. Only by doing so can we capitalize on the prospective progress to be achieved in the academic years to come.

  1. A modest roadmap

Virtually all definitions of translation praxis take this discipline to be both a science and craft. Newmark (1988 a, 7) describes translation as "a craft consisting of the attempt to replace a written message and/or statement in one language by the same message and/or statement in another language." Since Moroccan students are learners of English as a foreign language, translation teachers should be aware that they are teaching two different things: English language and the craft of translation. They should be fully aware that these are two different animals, on the one hand, and they should give precedence to teaching language through translation, on the other. Put differently, since translation at the university, like any other discipline, is academic rather than professional, most pedagogical energy should be invested in upgrading students’ proficiency in English. Teaching the craft of translation should, at least at this point, be left to specialized establishments, where training is professional rather than academic.

In the light of the current situation in Moroccan universities, I propose three objectives for the course of Translation. These are presented below, along with their learning outcomes:

2.1. Upgrading English proficiency

The first objective of the Translation course is to enable students to be better readers and better writers; that is better communicators. Let us explain this objective. The most important requirement of translating is to understand the content of the source text, and to render its meaning in an appropriate style in the target language. The teacher then has to have a clear set of goals as outlined below (Alaoui, in press):

Goal 1: To teach students to read and write using more advanced techniques than they have been exposed to in Reading and Writing courses.


  1. Reading

    1. The teacher selects a set of texts, literary, technical, political and legal, for students to be exposed to different text types and analyse their linguistic features during the translation process.

    " Learning outcome: – Develop the cultural bilingual back-

    ground through intensive reading


            – Develop advanced reading skills

b) After scan reading the text in the classroom, students work in small groups to determine the source of the text, audience, text type and its style (register).

        " Learning outcome: – Develop motivation

      – Encourage students to be active rather

      than passive

c) Students then determine the main idea, the structure of ideas

and the overall message of the passage.

      "Learning outcome: –Develop the awareness in students that

        meaning is determined by context.

d) The teacher then explains any idiomatic expressions or rhetorical devices in the text and invites students to ask any question as to the meaning of the passage. If the topic is entirely new to students, the teacher should provide enough information for the student to feel comfortable with reading process.

" Learning outcome: Raise to students’ consciousness that

meaning can be literal, figurative,

idiomatic or inferred

II. Writing

    1. The teacher divides the text into translation segments (usually sentences). Then he /she asks students to underline the words for which they cannot provide the corresponding lexical item in the target language. This should be done off –hand rather than by looking up words in a bilingual dictionary. That is, students should not bring their dictionaries to the classroom. Using dictionaries during contact hours is simply a waste of precious time. Students should be encouraged to use their paper and electronic dictionaries at home or at the library. After the students present their proposals, the teacher should explain why certain suggestions are accepted while others are not.

    " Learning outcome: Encourage students to check their

    vocabulary stock in two languages,


          especially English


          - Make students aware that the use of


          lexis is determined by context.

b) Students are requested to translate the segment. They work in twos,

and when they finish they exchange their translations and discuss their choices.


      c) Students are invited to read their versions. The teacher encourages students to listen carefully and ask the speaker to repeat his/her translation if it is not heard clearly. Students should be encouraged to defend their choices against criticism, on the basis of the translation lectures they have been exposed to.

  1. The teacher writes a version of the translation on the board, giving students the impression and it is their own production. This would build in students a sense of self-confidence, so as they could engage in the process of writing more often.
  2. Students are given a similar text to repeat the tasks above as a homework, which the teacher reviews at the beginning of the following contact session.

The ultimate learning outcome of this approach is to make students aware that they should express themselves clearly so that others would understand them clearly. That is, they should always aim at understanding the meaning of a text and reproducing its message as naturally as possible. The translation teacher should hence expect their students to produce rhetorically acceptable passages. This can only be achieved if students are made aware that translation is part of the process of language learning, rather than the result thereof. It is this goal that constitute the crux of the whole business of teaching translation at the university.

Let us now turn to exposing two other goals of teaching translation at the university, though they are less important than Goal 1.

Goal 2: Consolidation of the linguistic principles used to analyse language, which students have learnt, or are concurrently learning, in other linguistics courses.

Now that the students have translated the passage, they have two texts before their eyes. The teacher should encourage students to analyse the text in terms of equivalence. Assuming that students have been exposed to linguistics courses, the translation course represents an opportunity for them to apply linguistics notions to analyse texts in terms of morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics and stylistics. A contrastive analysis of the source and target texts would enable students to (a) apply what they have learnt in linguistics courses, (b) defend their translation and (c) develop the metalanguage to comment on written translation passages.

Goal 3: To help students shake off misconceptions about translation.

There are various misconceptions about the translation business at Moroccan universities. To my mind, one of the major goals of the translation class in English departments would be help students shake off these misconceptions, which are summarized below:

Misconception 1

While the Translation class is a natural place to start a career in translation, students should not expect to become translators by the end of a couple of semesters. To study translation with the intention to have a career in the profession, students should envision developing the following profile, which requires far much more time and hard work (Gerding 2000).

    • Love of languages,
    • Sound linguistic training in a least two languages,
    • Know ledge covering a wide range of human culture,
    • High reading comprehension competence and permanent interest in reading,
    • Adequate use of translation procedures and strategies,
    • Adequate handling of documentation sources,
    • Fluency in using computational facilities (especially touch-typing)
    • Ability to use translation management software tools such as Wordfast, Trados and Déjà vu,
    • Sense of creativity and perseverance,
    • Accuracy, patience and devotion,
    • Capacity to develop team work,
    • Improvement capacity and constant interest in life–long learning.

Misconception 2

A translator is not born! Three elements guarantee success in translation: practice, practice, and practice. The more students read, the larger their vocabulary stock becomes. The more problems they encounter, the more insights they gain into the mechanics of translation. The more they translate, the more they discover about their strengths and weaknesses.

Misconception 3

Training for a career in translation can only be achieved at a specialized institution of translation (Azizinezhad 2006, Wang 2000). In Morocco, there are only two such institutions. King Fahd School of Translation in Tangiers, which is a public institution, and Institut Superieur de Traduction in Rabat, a private institution. Here are some features of the latter.

  1. Students

    The maximum number of students in each class is 14. The policy of Institut Superieur de Traduction in Rabat hinges on personalised training. For students to get the required attention so as to achieve progress, their number should be restricted. Students are also tested for their proficiency in English, Arabic and French before they ae granted access.

  1. Trainers

The teachers are professional translators, practicing interpreters and university linguists. The philosophy of the Institute is based on a pedagogical approach that maximizes practice and minimizes theoretical stuff. Practitioner teachers help students benefit from their experience (Nord 1997). That is, students needn’t wait to encounter translation problems when they start practicing. Rather, they are presented to them directly by professional translators during both contact hours and office hours. This is corroborated by the hands –on experience that he Institute offers. That is the Institute offers free services of translation and interpreting to non-government organizations and encourage its student to get their feet wet in these services. Hence, by the end of their training, students will have gained considerable experience in translation and interpreting.

  1. Training program

    A specialized institution which also provides translation services to the Moroccan market, Institut Supérieur de Traduction in Rabat offers a training program that builds in student–translators all and only the skills required for technical and professional translation at the national and international levels. The institute trains student-translators along for tracks:

a) Linguistic skills (a set of courses in linguistics that equip students with the tools needed to analyze language)

b) Thematic skills (a set of courses that acquaint students with the fields involved in translating documents, such as finance, international law, management, international institutions …)

c) Translation/Interpreting skills (a set of courses that develop in students the various techniques and strategies of translation)

d) Technical and professional skills (a set of courses that enable

students to use computational facilities and software translation

management programs as well as to communicate in professional

settings). The training program can be found at .

Misconception 4

A graduate program in Translation can only be academic rather than professional, as long as the university pedagogical and technical conditions are still the same.

The recent University Reform in Morocco has encouraged Departments of English to establish and run graduate programs to “relate university training to the socio-economic context of individual universities.” A scrutiny of this move would take us too far afield. Suffice it to note that in the absence of the conditions stated above to train translators, the English departments which opted for running a Master’s degree program in Translation would better invest their energy in their natural objective, namely teaching translation for academic purposes. This is because, once again, technical and professional translation requires the mastery of special skills, and the capacity to acquire such skills quickly and convincingly. Neither the former nor the latter have ever been taught at the Moroccan university.

Concluding remarks

It stands to reason that in all fields of human experience, there are primary and secondary or auxiliary professionals. For instance, in the field of music, the primary professionals are the composers and singers. The primary professionals in visual arts are the painters and sculptors. The critics, historians, teachers and theoreticians are auxiliary professionals in these areas. By the same token, the primary professionals in the field of translation are confirmed translators and interpreters. They are in a better position to help student-translators practice using CAT tools, get experience with problem solving, administrative management, workflow management, negotiation, dealing with customers, meeting deadlines, handling financial issues and balancing finished work, among other tasks, for them to be operational even before engaging in their carers in the market.

It emerges from this discussion that both undergraduate and graduate courses of translation in Moroccan universities should make their objectives clearly explicit, so as to enlighten students and teachers alike. The ambiguous standing objectives should by no means be allowed to mislead teachers and students into believing that the training is professional. This would have two negative consequences. On the one hand, it derails the training from its natural academic objective (Bell 1994). On the other hand, if teachers and students buy it, it can only produce poor translators. A word of caution is in order here. Training professional translators with low standards is a serious business. Translation errors on the job may very well lead to disasters. In chemical texts they can cause fatal poisoning or terrible explosion. In legal translation they can unlawfully make a defendant lose a crazily expensive law-suit. In aeronautics they may bring a plane down from the sky on people’s heads. The poor performance of an interpreter can spoil the proceedings of a whole international conference. The university in Morocco has never dealt with such nasty realities, but they are very real!

It should be noted that the university, at least at this point, can by no means provide professional translator training, because of the following reasons:

  • Few university teachers have the required profile to train translators. Since they have not themselves received any training in technical professional translation, and they are not practitioners of the profession, there is no way they can bring the cow home.
  • The university is an open –access institution, hence the quantity and standard of students would certainly hinder delivering adequate training.
  • The university is not endowed with the technical infrastructure to train translators. While the university provide blackboards and chalk, the learning environment of translator training should be equipped with a computer laboratory, audio–visual materials, translation software management tools and electronic interpreting tools.

    For these immediate reasons, I have suggested reviewing the objectives of teaching translation at Moroccan universities. It is far much better to achieve realistic learning outcomes for the university translation course than to continue hand waving.


    Alaoui, A. (in press) Basics in Translation. Publications of Institut

    Supérieur de Traduction. Top Press: Rabat

    Azizinezhad, M. (2006) Is translation teachable? Translation Journal. Volume 10 # 2.

    Colina, S. (2003) Translation Teaching: from Research to theClassroom. New York: McGraw Hill.  

    Gerding-Salas, C. (2000) Teaching Translation: problems and solutions. Translation Journal # 4 pp. 1-11.

    Gross, J. (1998) Translators and teachers: who pecks on whom.

    Paper presented to ATA Conference in Washington D.C.

    Newmark (1988 a) A Textbook of Translating. Hertfordshire:Prentice Hall.

    Nord, C. (1997) Translating as a Purposeful Activity: FunctionalistApproaches Explained. Manchester: St. Jerome.

    Wang, L. (2000) Innovations in translation training. Chinese Translators Journal # 5 pp. 346- 36.