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News article12 December 2022Directorate-General for Translation7 min read

Debunking the myth of ivory towers. How multilingual institutions enhance translator education at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków

By Krzysztof Łoboda, Jagiellonian University in Kraków

Flags of the European Union
Image: Vecteezy

The purpose of this article is to share our experience gained while running a course on translation for multilingual institutions as part of the 2-year MA-level programme at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland, which belongs to the EMT network. The course in question is one of the three tracks of specialisation in translation studies to be chosen by our students in their final semester of MA studies. This provides them with an excellent opportunity to practise and further develop their skills and competences gained in the preceding courses. The institutional translation module can thus prove an effective tool in a more holistic education of prospective translators.

Translating for international multilingual institutions may not be the most obvious choice for a translation course. Finding the students interested in the subject and selecting the relevant material could be a challenging task for many reasons. First, there is the media-fuelled underlying stereotypical image of institutions as hermetic and inaccessible 'ivory towers' (Politico 1998). Thus, students might assume that the course would entail boring and tedious translation of administrative texts. From the teacher’s point of view, a potential challenge may at first be the selection of course content. A teacher trainer without much experience might either be unsure where to look for the appropriate texts or, with some text types and institutional websites, might indeed feel inundated by the amount of material.

Institutional translation as a subdiscipline in Translation Studies

Translation and intercultural communication in multilingual institutions have been researched for at least several decades. The last 20 years saw a significant increase in the number of research publications, especially in the EU context. The prime example is an ethnographic study of EU translations by Koskinen (2008) or a corpus-based study of the relation between national and supranational regulations (Biel 2014). Recent studies include collective monographs edited by Prieto Ramos (2017) and Svoboda et al. (2017) which focus on translation quality.

Such comprehensive literature on the subject can provide a good theoretical framework for a course in institutional translation. Combined with appropriate classroom exercises and home assignments, it is quite easy to obtain the right combination of theory and practice. Moreover, by incrementally changing the level of difficulty of texts and the skillset required to complete the tasks, we are able to provide a more holistic environment for developing the set of competences listed in the revised EMT framework (2022) in the respective areas such as language and culture, translation, technology, service provision as well as personal and interpersonal competence.

The institutional translation course: scope, materials and exercises

If the course is one of the final subjects to be covered in a translation programme, as in the case of the Jagiellonian University, the previous courses can be used as a sort of ‘meta scaffolding’ for a more holistic education. In other words, we are able to help students become better professionals and build more complex skills which should prove helpful in their future working environment.

The course included material taken from a number of multilingual institutions: the Publications Office of the European Union, European Commission and European Parliament, selected EU agencies, and an agency of the United Nations – World Intellectual Property Organization and the Polish Patent Office. The materials should ideally be recent and attractive so that students could relate to them and consider them valid and stimulating. They might include:

  1. self-testing, assessment and reflection – trying one’s strength at the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) tests such as verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning tasks;
  2. proofreading tasks based on the materials taken from the EU Publications Office and WIPO;
  3. interviews with main EU politicians (such as the President of the European Commission or President of the European Council) or speeches about issues at hand or directed to heads of state or governments (e.g. Brexit or the current situation in Ukraine and actions taken at the EU level);
  4. AVT publicity material such as promotional videos with a Commissioner (e.g. promoting intermodal transport, Mobility Week, combating climate climate) – which could enable students to try their best at translating subtitles using professional grade AVT software;
  5. instructional part (series of mini lectures or reading assignments, e.g. about the units and organisations which ensure translation service provision for various EU bodies and institutions);
  6. translation tasks combined with instructional material (descriptions of the main EU bodies) which can be carried out in a CAT tool environment and combined with gamification techniques to ensure competition.

The above list includes just a few examples of the course contents and exercises, which should ideally be interlinked and should draw on some of the skills and competencies which students have already developed. It is also worth having expert assistance at your disposal. A bonus at the end of the course was the visit of a professional from the Polish Department of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Translation. The expert gave an open lecture on the quality assurance tools and procedures and invited the students to apply for an internship in the DGT.

The students’ views and opinions

At the end of the course the students were asked to provide their opinions about the course and to reflect on the lessons learnt. First of all, the participants enjoyed the variety of course tasks: ‘We could test our skills in translating articles, patents, and audiovisual content, as well as in post-editing machine-translated output’ (S3). They also enjoyed the novelty of the course: ‘I learned a lot of new and enriching things. In just one semester, we covered a range of different topics’ (S3).

Besides, the students appreciated the wealth of electronic resources, guidelines and databases available to institutional translators: 'That is universal to all target languages in the process of translating institutional texts, thus, I’ll certainly access the sources of information covered during the course, when translating from or into Polish/English/Italian’ (S2). Some of them enjoyed terminological issues: ‘We’ve looked closer at the structure of a patent document that is meant to describe an invention, comprising claims and drawings or embodiments of the invention, and tried to translate one of such documents. Moreover, some important terms in this context were introduced and explained, e.g., trade mark, industrial design, utility model, etc.’(S3).

The interactive aspect was also noted: ‘I am glad that we were able to translate many texts (…), and then analyse the translations together and exchange opinions. I also really enjoyed the exercises in proofreading and evaluating translations. I believe that these types of skills will be useful in the future’ (S8). The institutional translation course also enabled the students to practise and integrate the translator’s competences, but it also made them realise which skills they were missing. After a proofreading exercise, one of the students noted: “I think that such a task should have been introduced much earlier in other classes, because it teaches us to pay close attention to any details and shows us what mistakes are the most common which may result in learning to avoid those mistakes’ (S1).

During the course the students had an opportunity to do the test for linguistic administrators (AD5) and practice the skills and subcompetencies listed by EPSO such as critical thinking, analysing and creative problem-solving, decision-making and getting results, information management (digital and data literacy), self-management, working together, learning as a skill, etc.

The expert’s open lecture was regarded as a ‘fascinating culmination of the course’ (S3). Some of the students expressly recommended the institutional translation track: ‘I liked the course a lot and it would not be an exaggeration to say that it was one of my favourites’ (S1). They also repeatedly stressed that the course proved ‘an extremely practical and valuable experience’ (S4).

Concluding remarks

We believe the institutional translation course can prove a springboard to becoming a (better) linguist, legal translator, AVT professional, proofreader, to name just a few possible roles. We have shared these ideas and remarks of the Jagiellonian University students, hoping they will be found valuable by our colleagues from other EMT programmes.


EMT Board. 2022. European Master’s in Translation Competence Framework 2022. Brussels: European Commission. Available at: (Accessed on 30th Nov. 2022)

Politico Europe. 1998. “Still Living in Ivory Towers”. POLITICO. 22.04.1998. Brussels: Axel Springer SE. (Accessed on 30th Nov. 2022).

Koskinen, Kaisa. 2008. Translating Institutions: An Ethnographic Study of EU Translation. Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Prieto Ramos, Fernando, ed. 2017. Institutional Translation for International Governance: Enhancing Quality in Multilingual Legal Communication. London: Bloomsbury.

Biel, Łucja. 2014. Lost in the Eurofog. The Textual Fit of Translated Law. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang.

Svoboda, Tomáš, Łucja Biel, and Krzysztof Łoboda, eds. 2017. Quality aspects in institutional translation. Berlin: Language Science Press.


Publication date
12 December 2022
Directorate-General for Translation
  • English
EMT Category
  • Pedagogical initiatives
  • Translation competences