by Diego Mansilla, University of Massachusetts Boston


There is no question that online courses offer advantages to both educational institutions and students. That’s why more and more courses are being offered in this modality, as demonstrated in studies such as Changing Course: Ten years of Tracking Online Education Data in the United States (Allen and Seaman 2013); Characteristics of Exclusively Distance Education Institutions by State: 2011-12 (Ginder and Sykes 2013); and Trends in eLearning: The Impact of eLearning at Community Colleges (Lokken & Mullins 2015).

Many online translation and interpretation courses are currently being offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, both short-term and long-term, and in both certificate and degree programs.

In the case of professional education for translators, virtual instruction matches the environment in which students will later exercise their profession. It is practically impossible to work as a professional translator today without access to online resources. Professional translators consult not only passive sources of information such as dictionaries and glossaries, but also active sources including forums and chats. In fact, the ability to manage virtual resources is a determining factor for achieving success in almost any branch of professional translation. This reality is gradually being recognized by both universities and professional organizations such as the American Translators Association, which has begun to offer its certification exam in an electronic format.

Another characteristic of translation work in today’s environment is the need for interaction with other professionals. Project managers, colleagues, clients, revisers, editors, and other actors make up the universe of direct professional contacts with whom translators must successfully interact in order to achieve success. Translation was traditionally a solitary profession, and in some ways, it continues to be. But in recent years a social and collaborative element has been added to the translator’s work life, due to technological advances and changes to the professional culture. This element includes the use of interactive forums, increased collaboration on projects, and participation in professional associations, interest groups, work teams, the use of shared terminology databases, etc. Of course, these kinds of interactions took place before, but almost all of them are now practiced in the virtual modality, and almost exclusively through the written word.

Online instruction shares many of the characteristics of collaborative professional translation. Like translation in today’s work environment, it presents challenges regarding modes of collaboration and affective responses. Virtual instructors must not only present a well planned and executed class from a pedagogical point of view, but must also be attentive to the socio-affective aspects of learning.

Here are some possible strategies we can use on our online courses that deal with the socio-affective aspect of the course:

  • Course design. While a pedagogically well-designed course can be essential for effective learning, a poorly-designed course can become the main source of student frustration and demotivation. A student-friendly course interface and clear goals in a well-structured course with the careful presentation and organization of materials can help minimize student frustration and keep them motivated. The course must be logically divided by weeks, for example, with each week dedicated to a specific topic.
  • Student help forum. A forum for student questions where class members are encouraged to respond to and assist their classmates can make students feel proud of their ability to help, and more inclined to ask questions when they have them. This allows instructors to concentrate on more difficult issues, allowing class members to help each other with matters that at least some of them understood. It can also become a tool for fomenting student interaction and decreasing the feeling of isolation.
  • Social interaction. According to Lev Vygotsky, social interaction among learners is the primary route to cognitive development. Instructors should find ways to inspire and motivate interaction among students. Students should be instructed to address classmates with respect at all times, especially when expressing an opposing point of view. The instructor’s own interactions with students should model desirable behaviors in an online environment
  • The social presence of the instructor: The virtual “visibility” of the instructor as perceived by learners plays a fundamental role. We can increase our social presence through the use of voice and videos. However, excessive presence and too much top-down interaction can inhibit student input.
  • Clear guidelines for the use of discussion boards should be established from the very beginning, in order for students to learn to “listen” to (read) each other on the online learning platform. For instance, students must read all posts in a discussion forum before posting a comment.
  • This is not only an effective pedagogical practice and a strategy to prevent feelings of isolation in a virtual context; it is also a model for working and sharing information that reflects today’s internet culture.
  • The use of humor. Fun activities help students feel more inclined to participate and generally improve student attitudes towards the course.
  • The use of art. Educators have long used music, painting, and other art forms to enhance learning, but modern technology provides endless new possibilities, allowing students to make emotional connections to course content. The appropriate selection of literary pieces for translation purposes (even in a non-literary translation class) is essential.



The traditional approach to translation pedagogy that emanates from a transmissionist approach is inadequate for dealing with the needs of current students. Affective strategies help class participants, and the virtual context can be used to help motivate them and affect their emotions, beliefs, attitudes, and performance. Under the best of circumstances, the use of these strategies along with the good pedagogic practices will help them not only in learning to translate, but also to prepare themselves for their professional futures on a practical level.

Further Reading

Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing course: Ten years of tracking online education in the United States. United States: Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group. Recuperado de


Alman, S. W., Tomer, C., & Lincoln, M. L. (2012). Designing online learning. Santa Barbara, CA, USA: Libraries Unlimited.


Bourne, J. R., Moore, J. C., & Sloan Consortium. (2005). Elements of quality online education: Engaging communities. Needham, MA: Sloan Consortium.


Cánovas, M. M., González, D. M., & Keim, L. (2009). Acortar distancias: Las TIC en la clase de traducción y de lenguas extranjeras. Barcelona: Octaedro.


Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. USA: Bantam Books.


González Davies, M., Scott-Tennent, C., & F. Rodríguez Torras. (2000). Translation strategies and translation solutions: Design of a teaching prototype and empirical study of its results. En Investigating translation, (Eds. A. Beeby, E. Doris, and M. Presas). Amsterdam: John Benjamins, pp. 107– 116.


González Davies, Maria, Scott-Tennent, C., & Rodríguez Torras, F. (2001). Training in the application of translation strategies for undergraduate scientific translation students. Meta: Journal Des Traducteurs, 46(4), pp. 737-744.


González Davies, M. (2002). Humanising Translation Activities: Tackling a secret practice. Humanising Language Teaching 4(4), Pilgrims. Recuperado de


González Davies, M. (2003). Secuencias: tareas para el aprendizaje interactivo de la traducción especializada. Barcelona: Octaedro-EUB.


González Davies, M. (2004). Multiple voices in the translation classroom: Activities, tasks and projects. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing.


González Davies, M., & Scott-Tennent, C. (2005). A problem-solving and student-centred approach to the translation of cultural references. Meta: Journal Des Traducteurs, 50(1), pp. 160-179.


González-Davies, M. (2006b). Socioconstructivismo, humanismo y plataformas pedagógicas: De la teoría al proyecto auténtico de traducción. En Cánovas, M., González-Davies, M. L. Keim (Eds.), Acortar distancias. Las TIC en la clase de traducción y de lenguas extranjeras (pp. 143-258). Barcelona: Ed. Octaedro.


Kelly, D. (2005). A handbook for translator trainers: a guide to reflective practice. Northampton, MA: St. Jerome Pub.


Kiraly, D. (2000). A social constructivist approach to translator education: Empowerment from theory to practice. Northampton, MA: St. Jerome Pub.


Kiraly, D. (2005). Project-based learning: A case for situated translation. Meta: Journal Des Traducteurs, 50(4), p.1098.


Oxford, R. L. (2011). Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies. Harlow, Great Britain: Pearson Education


Pym, A., Shlesinger, M., & Jettmarova, Z. (2006). Sociocultural aspects of translating and interpreting. Amsterdam, NLD: John Benjamins Publishing Company.


Rutherford, S. (2014). Collaborative learning: Theory, strategies, and educational benefits.


Scott-Tennent, C., & González Davies, M (2008). Effects of specific training on the ability to deal with cultural referents in translation. Meta. Translator’s Journal 53(4), pp. 782–798.


Varney, J. (2009). From hermeneutics to the translation classroom: A social constructivist approach to effective learning. The International Journal for Translation & Interpreting Research, 1(1), 27-43.


Vigotski, L. (2012). Pensamiento y habla. Buenos Aires: Colihue.


Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Washbourne, K. (2009). Manual of Spanish-English translation. Boston: Prentice Hall.


Welk, D. S. (2006). The trainer’s application of Vygotsky’s “Zone of proximal development” to asynchronous online training of faculty facilitators. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 9(4). Recuperado de


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, U.K: Cambridge University Press.