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News article15 March 202216 min read

Learning by helping: the experience of a pro bono student language service provider

By Gaia Ballerini, research fellow and IN.TRA manager, Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT), University of Bologna, and Caterina Genovese, Alessandra Turato and Annachiara Zabotto, students of the Master's degree in Specialized Translation (DIT) and co-founders of IN.TRA. Translation: IN.TRA team. Revision: Dallas James Hopkins, student of the Master's degree in Specialized Translation (DIT) and IN.TRA member  

Logo of the company IN.TRA

Over the last few years, a group of lecturers headed by Prof. Silvia Bernardini and Prof. Paolo Scampa, of the Department of Interpreting and Translation (DIT) of the University of Bologna, has expressed the urgent need to develop a voluntary student translation initiative focusing on projects having strong social value.

This idea became a reality in March 2021 with the foundation of IN.TRA, the pro bono and student language service provider (LSP) of the DIT. In the following sections, we will describe the educational context in which it is inserted, the objectives, the structure and the steps taken in this first year of the project.

Nel corso degli ultimi anni, in seno alla comunità accademica del Dipartimento di Interpretazione e Traduzione (DIT) dell’Università di Bologna, un gruppo di docenti guidati dalla Prof.ssa Silvia Bernardini e dal Prof. Paolo Scampa ha espresso l’urgenza di sviluppare un’iniziativa di traduzione su base volontaria che ponesse al centro della propria attività la partecipazione attiva di studentesse e studenti a progetti con una forte valenza sociale.

Nel marzo 2021 tale proposta si è concretizzata con la fondazione di IN.TRA, agenzia di servizi linguistici pro bono e studentesca del DIT, della quale analizzeremo, nelle sezioni seguenti, il contesto formativo, gli obiettivi, la struttura e le tappe compiute in questo primo anno di progetto.

Logo of the company IN.TRA

1. The training context in translation didactics

The last twenty years have marked a phase of important development in translation training. Scholars and lecturers have emphasised the need to harmonise teaching practice and standards in an ever-evolving professional world, and it has become increasingly clear that the skills to be developed to enable future translators to enter the translation market profitably require teaching approaches favouring their integrated development.

The combination of academic research, institutional commitment and dialogue with the social partners has led to an intense reflection on the concept of competence and to the flourishing of models in which the competences most closely linked to the profession acquire growing visibility The model elaborated by the EMT (2017), the most recent one, highlights precisely how these competences move from being sub-competences to independent areas.

Thus, alongside linguistic, and cultural competence and translation competence in the strict sense, there is a place for technological competence (relating to the tools of the trade), personal and interpersonal competence (encompassing the ability to work in teams and learn new skills) and competence relating to language service provision (including, for example, client relations and project management) (Scampa, Ballerini e Bernardini 2022).

In this scenario, translation scholars and professors began to realize the limits of an approach based on the mere exercise of translation, guided and corrected in the classroom by the lecturer (defined by Kiraly (2005) as 'who'll take the next sentence approach'), which does not take into account the skills and competences which are fundamental in the translation market and in the translators’ training. Thus, theories and teaching methodologies emerged which stressed the need for a more professionalising approach, which would be attentive to the natural complexity of the translator's professional activity.

The idea was to recreate the translator’s professional reality in the classroom by simulating the activities, standards and interactions of the working environment, or by integrating authentic translation projects in study programmes, thanks to which students would have the opportunity to experience the same standards required by the professional world.

Among the main proposals made are the socio-constructivist approach in translation by Kiraly (2005), the Translation Project Using Translation Tools by Krüger and Serrano Piqueras (2015) at the University of Applied Sciences in Cologne and the methodology promoted by Daniel Gouadec at the Université de Rennes 2. Collaborative learning, authentic translation projects for authentic clients, reproduction of the professional work environment in the classroom, autonomy, sense of responsibility, are the elements characterising them.

In the European context, project-based pedagogy has taken on a central role in translation education thanks to the OTCT (Optimising Translator Training through Collaborative Technical Translation) and INSTB (International Network of Simulated Translation Bureaus) projects developed between 2014 and 2016, both aimed at facilitating the integration of professional practices in translator training, the former through the simulation of collaborative translation projects, and the latter through the creation of simulated translation agencies.

1.1. Translation service-learning

Before moving on to a more specific discussion of IN.TRA, it is necessary to add a further didactic element concerning an approach that has not yet been fully explored in translation didactics but is paramount for this project, the so-called service-learning.

Service-learning (also referred to as community based or community engaged learning) is an innovative pedagogical approach that integrates service or «meaningful» community engagement into the academic curriculum, and offers credits certifying learning from an active involvement in the community and work on a real problem.

Based on a process of reflection on the practical experience of civic engagement in the community and on experiential learning strategies, service-learning teaches civic responsibility and key citizenship skills (communicating, collaborating, planning, problem solving, achieving and interpreting information, gaining self-awareness, learning to learn) and strengthens communities, fosters solidarity, social responsibility and civic action.

Although service to and in the community is 'voluntary', service-learning is not a voluntary activity. While sharing the element of gratuitousness, the activity carried out, in a two-way exchange of knowledge and skills, benefits both parties involved, i.e., community and students. Therefore, quite differently from voluntary activities in which the focus is placed exclusively on the service and its recipient, in this case the student approaches the other party involved, the community.

Developed in the United States in the 1980s, and now expanding in Italy thanks also to projects such as Europe Engage ( and UNICORN (, service-learning aims to meet the needs identified jointly by students and the community by inviting students to apply the theoretical and practical knowledge acquired in the classroom directly in the field, in a multidisciplinary meeting.

As for the service-learning fields of application, experiences in translation education remain limited, even in the United States, where it originated and developed. Yet the voluntary and unpaid commitment of professional translators and trainees in the non-profit and not-for-profit sector is strong and can be interpreted as a sign of a natural spirit of civic commitment for the translator. Besides, the civic citizenship skills that service-learning aims to develop in students are also reflected in translator's training. Problem-solving, self-assessment and planning skills are also required of future translators in the professional world (see 1).

In this context, it was decided to investigate the impact of service-learning application on the provision of language services by bringing together the theories and teaching practices of collaborative translation projects in a single, innovative service-learning approach, thus creating a more translation-oriented service-learning in which civic education and students' curricular training are in fruitful harmony.

The elective course 'Service-learning Laboratory' was launched for students of the Master's degree in Specialized Translation out of this will and need in March 2021.

2. Service-learning Laboratory: the course and the foundation of IN.TRA

The 'Service-learning Laboratory' was created with a virtuous aim: the foundation of a pro bono language service provider (LSP).

Managed autonomously by students under the supervision of professors, senior lecturers and tutors of the degree course, this LSP is aimed mainly, but not exclusively, at nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations, and the interactions generated by this collaboration lead to an important development of the key citizenship skills of participants.

The idea behind this project is that service-learning and translator training can be integrated and balanced. The evaluation takes place at two separate times and takes different forms in keeping with the service-learning principles and objectives of the course. Therefore, as far as service-learning is concerned, at the beginning of the course a precise thinking on the skills, principles and standards of this approach is proposed to create the necessary conditions for the activities that will follow with social and personal awareness, and in compliance with the service-learning standards.

Picture of a screen on a stage with the logo of IN.TRA on it

With regard to training for the profession, the course introduces an autonomous and collaborative learning mode in which all the competences gained in the individual modules of the Master's degree in Specialized Translation are deployed in an integrated manner to achieve a socially relevant goal.

As in an authentic LSP, students form a team divided into four working groups (project management, translation and revision, terminology, external communication) and are responsible for all phases and aspects of the service delivery, from identifying the client, choosing the tasks to be performed, defining quality assurance methods, and devising communication strategies. While these decisions involve all participants, everyone can gain different and specific experiences within each working group and understand which roles are most suitable for them. In fact, students take on different roles during the project, dealing with different competences and skills, as well as with different problems and issues.

Although the meetings are based on the foundation and management of a pro bono language service provider, 'Service-learning Laboratory' is still framed as a university course, making it necessary to evaluate the students' activities. The evaluation takes place at two separate times and takes different forms in keeping with the service-learning principles and the objectives of the course. In a formative perspective, students are asked, at the end of each meeting, to reflect critically on civic engagement and personal growth, entrusting their ideas to writing a personal diary. In a summative perspective, the community involved participates in the evaluation by answering a specific questionnaire, while the students introduce a portfolio of their activities, focusing on the civic and professional skills they have acquired.

Although the creation of the language service provider required intense planning and development work, the students succeeded in founding IN.TRA – Inclusive Translation for Community Engagement, meeting after meeting, with a great spirit of collaboration and cooperation.

3. The first year of IN.TRA: a word with the founders

IN.TRA is a pro bono language service provider set up in March 2021 by seven students attending the first and second year of the Master's degree in Specialized Translation (Department of Interpreting and Translation), namely Elisa Maria Billone, Marialucia D’Arcangelo, Marian Fabbri, Caterina Genovese, Lisa Porretti, Alessandra Turato and Annachiara Zabotto, who have fully taken on the role of founding members.

Service-learning plays a fundamental role within the LSP as active citizenship skills are developed through the language services offered. Change can be created, indeed, through words that change and IN.TRA aims to generate change by giving a voice to the voiceless and translating it into more than seven languages to cross borders and reach as many communities as possible.

In this regard, it is necessary to emphasise the concept of community and, above all, to explain how it is considered by the LSP itself. The community IN.TRA has chosen to address is a global community that, as previously stated, does not only cross territorial but also linguistic, cultural, social and economic borders. It is also a community that could be defined as 'multidimensional' because it does not only develop in a spatial dimension, i.e., through the physical and presential interaction of its members, but also embraces the new virtual dimension, which allows it to reach anyone who needs the services offered by the LSP and to respond instantly to appeals launched in emergency situations.

IN.TRA vision is to actively work together to break down barriers of all kinds and to build bridges that contribute to a truly global community. Instead, the mission is to put the team's skills at the service of deserving national and international nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations, i.e., bodies that share the same values on which the LSP is founded and that, through their work, seek to raise awareness on issues of fundamental importance like, for example, the environmental and climate crisis and the protection of children's rights in emergency situations.

Just as with collaborative projects, there is an exchange of skills and knowledge between the participants in the project. In fact, the skills the co-founders have are not static, but dynamic and constantly evolving and each founder is, indeed, called to get involved, to gain as much new knowledge as possible and, above all, to share their knowledge with the students who decide to embark on this path as well. This multidirectional exchange is the IN.TRA cornerstone, an essential element of the LSP that empowers the virtuous circle.

Initially, the 'Service-learning Laboratory' course consisted of a one-and-a-half-hour lesson per week, but it was clear, from the very first meetings, that this project had an impact on the participants that went far beyond university credits. Driven by the enthusiasm of such a tangible and, at the same time, ambitious objective, the founders identified the first two fundamental steps to be taken: it was first necessary to have a well-defined identity to offer their services to any client and make themselves known as an LSP. Aware of the fact that ideas and the language industry have different timing and rhythms from those of a university course, it was decided to create a chat group as the main channel of communication to discuss, share opinions and assign tasks immediately and independently of class time.

The choice of name IN.TRA – Inclusive Translation for Community Engagement reflects the sense of ‘within a community’ and the will to make the linguistic services offered available to anyone in need of a voice to continue to exercise active citizenship, acting as a bridge, a thread linking one end of the world to another, one community to another. This is the vision that IN.TRA wants to tell through its logo, a nucleus from which many coloured lines depart, all different, and connecting to other dots in the distance.

Medium and long-term objectives were defined in parallel with the naming and branding process like the creation of an official e-mail address, the definition of the type of community to which to propose as a collaborator and the identification of the buyer person, i.e., the target to be reached through the creation of a social profile.

The clients with whom to collaborate were identified as all those nonprofit, not-for-profit and NGO organisations whose work was in line with IN.TRA's mission: working to break down any type of barrier (linguistic, social, economic) that hinders the access of disadvantaged communities to exercising their fundamental rights. At present, the LSP works mainly with organisations committed respectively to guaranteeing the right to education for children in contexts of war or exploitation and the enforcement of the UN Convention on the rights of the child which aims to protect the rights of children in various spheres, an example being the area of environmental justice.

With the growth of the LSP and the increase in the workload by its clients, it became necessary to divide the tasks in order not only to organise them, but also to acquire and exchange expertise among the members. Four working groups were identified:

  • Translation and revision
  • Social media management
  • Project management
  • Terminology

All members of the LSP fill the roles of translators and proof-readers based on the requests, while only the founders have filled the other positions as of today. However, as new students join, even the other working groups will open their doors to new members.

The Social Media Managers created the LSP's Instagram page and manage its content and social communication.

The Project Managers oversee organising the workflow, starting with the communication with the client, and then creating project folders and work list files, as well as finding a collaborative CAT Tool to meet the LSP's needs.

On the other hand, the Terminology department creates glossaries per client with the most important terminology, any style guides based on client feedback and files to be aligned for TMs.

As already mentioned, dynamism and evolution are the cornerstones of this project and this LSP, therefore the working groups were conceived with a collaborative and knowledge dissemination, reciprocity between the LSP and its members in mind: the students learn as much as possible from one another, each one making their skills and abilities available, sharing experiences and knowledge, and acting as mentors for the others. Once they have learned the dynamics and the main tasks, the team members are then asked to change their working group so they can maximise the exchange of knowledge.

Regarding the company's social media presence, an Instagram account has been set up ( ) to follow clients and, at the same time, reach out to the students attending the Department of Interpreting and Translation in Forlì in order to bring the student community closer to the company. Thanks to this communication strategy, it was possible to expand the pool of collaborators who were asked to pass a selection process that included sending their CV and a motivational letter, an interview, and a translation test in the working languages of each candidate.

The LSP is continuing to grow even thanks to the service-learning course promoted by the Department, in which students taking part can contribute actively to IN.TRA's development by expanding its pool of clients, consolidating its organisational structure and online presence, and implementing the LSP's terminology resources from translated material.

In addition to these typical activities, IN.TRA has recently partnered with Russisti per la pace to participate in their student-based initiative, joining other students from the Department who have decided to offer their linguistic and translational skills to the communities who have been affected by the invasion of Ukraine.

IN.TRA quickly mobilised to support the burgeoning initiative, participating in the formation of a team of student volunteers from the Specialized Translation and Interpreting Master's degree as well as from the three-year programme in Intercultural and Linguistic Mediation. Students from all three programmes reached out to help satisfy the need for translations, interpreting and linguistic mediation from and into Russian and Ukrainian for non-profit associations and NGOs operating within Italy as well as in the crisis areas. The social media management team decided to prepare for the expected rush of requests by posting on the group's Instagram profile, helping to build awareness in the community as well as increase the number of volunteers. In the two days after posting, IN.TRA was flooded with offers from professional translators and interpreters who had graduated from the Department themselves and wanted to take part in this initiative.

To keep up with the initiative created by Russisti per la pace and to stay updated about IN.TRA’s activities, follow us on Instagram (, or send an email to intra [dot] infoatdipintra [dot] it (intra[dot]info[at]dipintra[dot]it).


Kiraly, Donald (2005) “Project-Based Learning: A Case for Situated Translation”, Meta: journal des traducteurs/ Meta: Translators' Journal, 50, no 4: 1098–111.

Krüger, Ralf, and Jésus Serrano Piqueras (2015) “Situated Translation in the Translation Classroom” in Current Trends in Translation Teaching and Learning E, 2: 5–30, URL: (accessed 11 March 2022)

Scampa, Paolo, Ballerini, Gaia and Bernardini, Silvia (2022) “La formazione in traduzione fra competenze, professione e civismo. Alcune riflessioni sul service-learning”, inTRAlinea, Vol. 24, (accessed 14 March 2022).


Publication date
15 March 2022
  • French
  • English
  • Italian
EMT Category
  • Pedagogical initiatives
  • Professional experience/employability
  • Translation competences