Transatlantic Translations

The Trans-Atlantic project is a loose network of European universities in Finland, Italy, France, Denmark and Belgium working with two universities in the USA. It is a ‘ grassroots network’ which connects technical writing students in the USA with students of translation studies across Europe. In this project students dialogue to communicate on a text, negotiate and mediate the text into an appropriate form for the target audience.


The aim was for atudents of technical writing to have experience in preparing texts for translation and localization and working with translators, and students of translation to gain experience at working with source texts and their authors, most of whom are subject matter experts but not experts in writing.

Main Focus:


Exchange institution(s):

University of Padova

Project website:

Transatlantic translations

Language Configurations:


Language(s) used:


Dominant form of language production:

Writing/reading asynchronous

Target Competences:

Language Comptence
Online Communication Skills


This project can easily be replicated in different languages, with different groups of students.

How long did the project last?

Project length varied for different partners

How was the project organized?

In a network of universities as diverse as this one, exchanges have different time scales and develop in different ways, depending on the classes and universities involved in each particular bi-lateral project. However, all exchanges have the common aim of providing their students with first-hand experience of the process of authoring and translating technical texts.


Usually, the bi-lateral exchanges work in the following way:


Students from the partner universities in the USA (studying degrees in English and Technical Communication) are engaged in the writing of an original set of instructions (for example, for building a connecting wall, cleaning a gun, assembling a bicycle, hitting proper golf shots).

The Americans are then paired with students in one of their European partner universities.

After having shared some information with their partner about their personal and academic backgrounds, the American students send their original texts to their European partners.

The European students (usually Translation Studies undergraduates) then carry out translations of these texts into their native language. They use online communication tools such as wikis, Skype or email to clarify with their American partners certain aspects of the original text and discuss potential cultural problems in the translation.

When the text has been successfully translated and localized for the target culture, the partners then meet in a videoconference for a debriefing and a discussion on the process and results of the project.


Task types:

Translation of a text from English into native language. Writing emails asking for clarification on aspects of text to translate. Reflection on process and discussion via video conference.

How were the students assessed?

Again, this depends on the institutions. In the case of exchanges between Trieste and the USA, the Italian project leader Federica Scarpa requires students to provide a print-out of their email exchange (to check the relevance of the questions they have asked their partner) and to produce a brief report of the project (describing aspects such as work methodology, difficulties encountered and their solutions). Some translations are also selected randomly to be discussed and evaluated in class.

Additional resources:

What worked well?

While the institutions do not appear to have achieved a strong integration of the exchanges into their curricula nor have they achieved a significant impact on their institution, the adaptability of the network has meant that is has continued for over a decade and several thousand students have benefitted from the exchange during this time. The participating coordinators also appear to have benefitted from the activity. For example, BirtheMoustenatÃ…rhusUniversitet, Demark reveals how such an exchange can contribute to the international dimension of an academic’ s career in general: ” &hellip I have benefitted extremely from having these activities. I have been in contact with lots of people. I have had people visiting me, and scholars have visited my university because of these programmes. My students have got lots of connections in the English-speaking world, which might come in handy for them in the future.”

What did students think of the project?

What challenges did you face?

Misalignment of calendars means that for many of the partners exchanges can only take place during a short period of time. Exchanges between Trieste and North Dakota State University, for example, only have a two-week time frame, usually at the end of November, during which documents of around 1500 words have to be discussed and translated. To deal with this limitation, partner teachers draw up a detailed calendar of exchange which details on a week-by-week basis what each partner class should be doing. This helps to make students clear about their responsibilities at each stage of the exchange and ensures that the exchange can be completed on schedule before the term comes to an end. Transatlantic time differences are also a challenge for organizing and running videoconferencing sessions between partner groups.

What did the teachers think of the project?

Federica Scarpa, project coordinator at Trieste, reports that one of the pluses of the exchange is that her students have to learn to deal with both having to translate source texts which are not always well written and technical compatibility problems while working on the exchange. As for the latter, she says that her exchanges often involve ” &hellip technical problems related to fileformats that Italian students &ndash who are students of translation and therefore generally less computer-literate than their US counterparts,who are studying to become technical communicators &ndash have to cope with” . These are the kinds of problems that they will have to face in their future careers as translators.

What kind of institutional support did you receive?

One participant in the project is quite negative about the impact the project has had in her institution: ” My university, I’ m afraid, has not really responded to my work in this regard. Indifference is the word, I’ d say. Some of my colleagues have been interested and supportive, but the university has not. And, I’ m afraid, the decision-makers at our university have not recognised my work in this regard as being valuable. This means that I basically see it as my personal project, and I do not really involve anybody in it anymore.”