115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Translation and the Assessment of Intercultural Competence in Higher Education

Maria Elva Echenique, University of Portland

How can we assess the intercultural competence our students gain in our language courses?  Developments in translation theory invite us to consider the language classroom as a site of cultural mediation where teacher and students are constantly negotiating cultural meanings in order to communicate. The implications of this new perspective for intercultural competence assessment are worth considering.

Proposal: 

One of the effects of globalization that we see in our work environment is the trend towards internationalization, prevalent in most institutions of higher education.  The definition of what internationalization means may be different from place to place, but in the pedagogical realm, there is a consensus that learning objectives related to intercultural competence should be part of what students gain from their higher education.  According to the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) “The call to integrate intercultural knowledge and competence into the heart of education is an imperative born of seeing ourselves as members of a world community, knowing that we share the future with others.” Furthermore, the Intercultural Knowledge and Competence Value Rubric developed by AACU for the assessment of these learning outcomes, defines Intercultural Knowledge and Competence as "a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.”  Based on this definition, the language classroom appears to be the ideal environment in which culture learning happens. As language teachers who hold the notion that language is the vehicle of culture, we are convinced that by teaching students to communicate in a different language, we are giving them the essential tool to interact appropriately with peoples of different cultural backgrounds.

However, beyond asserting the importance of intercultural learning and setting the desired learning outcomes in this area, the question that we face now is that of how can we assess the intercultural competence our students gain in our language courses?  Indirect methods of assessment, such as before-and-after questionnaires, or students’ reflective narratives, commonly used for this purpose seem not to satisfy the requirements for assessing these new intercultural requirements anymore, and university professors feel the pressure to develop direct tools for evaluating this component of the curriculum.  It is in this context that translation came to my mind. In this paper, I propose that translation, understood through the lens of the recently developed theory in the field of translation studies, offers an opportunity to create assessment tools aimed to make culture learning visible in a language classroom.

The evolving conceptualization of the field of translation had led to a view of translators not as mere transferors of words or sentences as units of texts, but as cultural mediators who are responsible for successful intercultural communication. Translation theory scholar M. Snell-Hornby describes this new approach to translation as follows: “an orientation towards cultural transfer instead of linguistic transfer, a view of translation as an act of communication instead of a transcoding process; an orientation towards the function of the target text and the text as ‘an integral part of the world and not as an isolated specimen of language’” (1990: 82).  This new and enhanced definition of translation opens the possibility to think about the language classroom as a site of cultural mediation where teacher and students engaged in language learning are constantly negotiating cultural meanings in order to communicate. The implications of this new perspective for intercultural competence assessment are worth considering.