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Ensuring Students’ Success: A Guide for Translation Lecturers

Ken De Wachter on how to help your students by building bridges from academia to the industry.

Ensuring Students’ Success: A Helpful Guide for Translation Lecturers

Ken De Wachter is a technology consultant and trainer whose audience ranges from international enterprises to university students. Ken teaches a module on translation technology at the KU Leuven in Belgium. He can capitalize on hands-on practice with different aspects of multilingual communication. Unique about Ken’s approach is his close cooperation with external companies to make his trainings as close to the industry as possible.

“I’ve never been a big fan of the ivory tower or abstract academic research. As a student, my favorite teachers were those who knew the industry, who used real texts with real problems. I’ve seen teachers preach for hours about the right style and register of a technical document. They had long slide decks with tables and figures, which bored students to death. They gave homework to their students too: read this manual and write a paper on the use of modal verbs. Students spent hours on it and learned little. Those frustrations made me take an alternative approach,” he says. “I find hands-on vocational training to be the best way to engage students. Let them write and translate texts themselves. Have them compare their output with that of other students and offer alternatives. That way, they’ll learn a lot more.”

It is passion and close contact with his clients and collaborators that enables Ken to provide students with such training:

“I started teaching because I liked it. First as a KU Leuven staff member, but when business grew, I started ‘Flynxo’, my own tiny-scale company. The name actually comes from the Dutch phrase ‘flink zo!’, which is a colloquial way to say ‘well done’. I say it to my children all the time, and during workshops as well. Being able to encourage and motivate translators is important, so I figured I might as well make it my company name. It reflects that I want to know my customers and remember the people I trained.”

Both Internships and Smaller Projects are the Way

Inspired by his story and approach, we asked Ken to share a few tips for teachers who would like to follow his footsteps and provide their students with valuable market experience. These are the tips he provided us with:

  • Internships are great tools, but they need to be win-win-win. 1) The student needs to learn about the real translation industry, 2) the company needs fresh insights and potential colleagues, and 3) the university needs to validate whether the internship is relevant. You can’t just send students to a company and forget about them for the duration of the internship. You need to stay in contact with the student and the company and ask for feedback. And do something with the feedback you receive, of course.
  • Teachers should reach out to companies and come up with small-scale projects for students. It could be as simple as a termbase or cleaning up a translation memory. For the student, this could be the first step towards an internship or even a job.
  • Universities should hire more consultants for open workshops and crash courses. Not just for students, but also for teachers, and even external participants. I recently gave a workshop about terminology with students, teachers, and freelance translators. It was a wonderful mix and all of us learned from each other.
  • You shouldn’t teach translation without actively translating. I am well aware that teachers have busy calendars and aren’t exactly waiting for yet another assignment. But still, I believe that you become a better teacher and researcher if you actively work in the industry, or at least have extensive experience. Universities should encourage teachers to translate, even if it means less time for academic research…

To launch a collaboration like that, you have to know companies that are willing to launch such a project with you. And Ken has a recipe for that, too.

Successful Students and Networking are Key

“It’s easy enough to find companies. Check out the membership of EUATC and ELIA, or just use Google. You can also let students take the initiative. Some of them really know what they want. A couple of years ago, a student had her mind set on an internship in Germany, in a company that localized software. Sure enough, she found exactly what she wanted. Building a network was hard at first, but once word got around, companies approached me because they heard about me, attended one of my workshops, or they had recruited one of my alumni.

“I built my network thanks to our fantastic students. We train some of the best young potentials in Europe. Our students have a masters in translation from a university that is part of EMT and CIUTI. On top of that, they sign up for an extra year in which they receive thorough training in translation technology from professionals (not just academics). And the internship is long (450 hours), so after a month, the intern is as productive as a regular employee.”

Keeping companies close is a matter of networking and trust. Visit their offices and talk to them in person. Have a cup of coffee with them. Offer help with problems. And, crucially, follow up on your students. A good student is the best promotion for your university. The worst promotion is not a ‘bad’ student. It’s a student who needed help but didn’t receive it.”

Flink zo!

In other words, companies are open to collaborating with you and your students. It is just about building positive relationships and rethinking the way you teach. If you go out and show the companies that you are looking for a win-win-win relationship, they are going to appreciate your attitude and help your students grow.

Successful students, then, are the best marketing for you. If a company has a good experience with working with your graduates, they are much more likely to be open to giving tasks or even employing the next ones. And last but not least, they can also become a gateway to finding other opportunities, too.

Spend time with people, show them that you mean it, and you will have no problem creating a network where all parties benefit.