Translation and Emotions: Keys for Effective Online Instruction and Collaboration

Emotional aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place.

Today, it’s nearly impossible to think about producing a high-quality professional translation without access to online resources, both passive (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, and reference material) and interactive (e.g., discussion forums, chat rooms, and professional groups). It’s increasingly common for translation professionals to conduct their work remotely and collaboratively. This makes it completely natural and effective for future translators to be trained in surroundings similar to those in which they will practice their profession. This trend is reflected in the growth of online translator training programs, the demand for which is expected to increase. However, with the rise of online training options, there’s a concern that we’re losing a key element that’s important to a future translator’s success: fostering relationships through direct human contact.

Interaction with project managers, colleagues, clients, reviewers, editors, and other professionals, who form part of the constellation of direct professional contacts of any translator, is a crucial aspect of the translation trade. A translator’s professional success depends to a great extent on the quality of these relationships. At the same time, interaction is also an integral part of any learning process, and positive relationships with the instructor and other students are fundamental to learning.1 For many students, not having enough direct contact with instructors and peers is among the biggest challenges of online training. But how do we compensate for the lack of direct human interaction in online training courses?

There’s a growing awareness of the essential role that emotions play in many cognitive processes, including the two that are central for successful completion of translation tasks: decision-making and problem-solving.2 Affective aspects in learning processes have been considered (at best) of secondary importance, but they’re essential for any learning to take place. In addition, “emotions and teamwork have as much relevance for effective learning as the development of mental skills and individualized study.”3 As mentioned previously, since virtual classes lack physical presence and interaction, feelings of isolation and frustration on the part of students are a frequent problem.

As educators, we should look for didactic strategies in the socio-affective domain to create an environment that helps students avoid negative emotions, not only in terms of the relationship of the student with the study material, but also in terms of collaboration with fellow students and the instructor. Here I’ll discuss possible ways of effectively using social and affective strategies that we’ve studied and implemented in our own instruction within the Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. We hope that other translation instructors can incorporate these strategies in their virtual classrooms successfully. These strategies are also transferable to a professional virtual work environment.

Creating Communicative Proximity

Socio-affective strategies involve stimulating learning through establishing a level of empathy between the student and instructor. This can be done in a variety of ways.

Enhancing the Instructor’s Social Presence: For students to feel the instructor’s presence, the instructor has to be “visible,” which in a virtual environment usually requires some type of action. Technology allows the instructor to create what Rebecca DiVerniero (a lecturer in the Communication Studies Department at Christopher Newport University) and Angela Hosek (the director of Emerson College’s Communication 100 program) call “a dialogical atmosphere.”4 Three ways in which computer-mediated communication can help develop this atmosphere include:

  • Increased effectiveness in day-to-day communication. The availability of electronic media allows the instructor to respond and initiate conversations quickly and regularly.
  • An increased perception of the instructor’s availability on the part of the students. Communication outside the traditional schedule of a face-to-face course creates a sensation of constant attention and contact.
  • Increased opportunities for shy students, who might not feel comfortable in an open classroom forum, to speak to the instructor and ask questions or express doubts.

An instructor might also choose to create their own social presence by:

  • Focusing discussions on specific problems. Donald Kiraly, who taught in the School of Applied Linguistics and Cultural Studies at Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz in Germany, calls this appropriation interpretation and reformulation of students’ ideas.5
  • Including additional information from external sources.6
  • Scheduling synchronous activities (virtual meetings).

Students in synchronous courses usually rate the instructor’s presence higher. Synchronous virtual meetings also emphasize the existence and identity of the group and its members in a more tangible way. In many cases, these meetings are the only opportunity for students to have a real-time conversation with their classmates and the instructor. Therefore, they play a prominent role in the socio-affective well-being of the class. However, students who are unable to participate in a real-time meeting (due to time zone differences, work, or family responsibilities, etc.) can feel left out. Therefore, it’s important to organize synchronous meetings at different times to give everyone the possibility to participate in the discussion at least once.

Creating Communicative Proximity: Research in the field of communication provides ways for the instructor to create a sense of psychological closeness or communicative proximity in a virtual classroom by means of physical and verbal behaviors that reduce the psychological and physical distance between individuals. In a traditional classroom environment, physical behaviors include eye contact, smiling, and leaning in during conversations with students. Students who notice such behavior on the part of their instructor tend to report feeling more motivated and perceive their instructor as more reliable.7 In order to create such proximity in a virtual class, the instructor can use:

  • Video recordings so as to include the gestural components of language, such as the feeling of a direct gaze. Such an effect can be achieved by filming the instructor in an informal environment while they look directly at the camera. A smile and open gestures can also shorten the psychological distance between the instructor and students.
  • Voice recordings, since being able to hear the instructor’s voice makes students feel more connected and helps to humanize the virtual learning experience.8 Recordings reinforce the presence of an instructor in a virtual classroom. Podcasts can also be very effective in a virtual course, as they help reduce students’ feelings of isolation and promote a social presence.
  • More visual elements such as colors, images, and photographs of the instructor in an academic environment that emphasize their expressiveness, accessibility, and dedication.

Building a Shared Community of Practice

Discussion Forums: Online discussion forums help reduce students’ sense of isolation and provide a space for sharing achievements, fears, and frustrations about the course in general or about a particular activity, thus creating a sense of community. For the forum to become the center of the community of practice, instructors might:

  • Provide specific guidelines on the use of the forum, such as instructions to:
    • Address others by name.
    • Justify their opinions and expand general statements.
    • Always treat others with respect, especially when expressing an opposing opinion.
    • Remember that in an online course, relationships with others are built through language, so the details of the communication in the forums must be handled carefully.
    • Quote or reference other students’ ideas.
    • Read all the comments before adding one’s own so as to contribute positively to the discussion and avoid the repetition of ideas already expressed.
  • Build discussions around students’ own interests, concerns, and experiences.
  • Recognize and reinforce student contributions, identify areas of agreement and disagreement, and seek a way to achieve consensus, learning, and understanding.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the discussion process.9

Instructors themselves must model the form of communication desired in the forum. They should emphasize that their opinion isn’t the only correct one. This will encourage students to offer their own opinions and not just try to guess the answer that the instructor wants to hear.

Peer Review: Peer review and mentoring activities are very effective in improving both group dynamics and each student’s translation strategies and techniques. They allow students to reflect on their own translation process, learn different ways to solve translation problems, participate in the creation of shared knowledge, and as a result, create a community of practice.10

For the peer review to be effective, it’s recommended that the instructor:

  • Explains the benefits of peer review and feedback to students;
  • Provides students with an adapted version of the ATA Certification Program’s Framework for Standardized Error Marking as a basis for peer evaluation.11 This practice will help them reflect on the process and product of their own (and others’) translation work. At the same time, it will bring learning closer to the standards of professional translation.

Promoting Productive Collaboration

Instructor’s Role: The instructor is essential in the creation of a productive, satisfactory, and genuine collaboration for students in a virtual class. The instructor should monitor and evaluate the collaborative processes used and provide help, advice, and tools.12 To promote effective collaboration, it’s suggested that the instructor:

  • Create the work groups carefully. It’s preferable to organize small groups (three to four students), taking into account the primary variables in student background (such as dominant language, specific areas of prior knowledge, and expertise with technology).
  • Create fixed roles within the group. It’s advisable for each participant to perform in a fixed role and assume responsibilities within the group. A prior discussion of such roles can help avoid social laziness, or the situation in which some students let others do the work. If this is noticed, the instructor can make “a diplomatic intervention.”13
  • Prior to the activity, teach students the essential rules for effective collaborative work and follow up on students’ success in collaboration after each group activity.14 Many humorous videos on collaboration practices and teamwork that can be found on YouTube could help foster a more effective team-member effort.
  • Set clear instructions regarding deadlines and the work to be completed.

Positive Interdependence: As Juan Antonio Prieto-Velasco and Adrián Fuentes-Luque, of the Department of Philology and Translation at the Universidad Pablo de Olavide in Spain, note, the two main potential problems in collaborative class activities are a lack of participation by some members and the excessive control of group dynamics by participants with dominant personalities.15 To prevent such behaviors, positive interdependence and shared responsibility should be created using the following techniques:

  • Students should receive a group reward for their work, which creates reward interdependence. Students may receive a shared grade in at least one of the aspects of collaborative work.
  • Create resource interdependence in which each student depends on the others to fill in their own knowledge gaps. For example, weekly readings can become shared readings. Each student in the group reads part of the material on the selected topics and shares what they’ve learned.
  • Create roles for the work process. For example, one group might be required to depend on another to complete the assignment as a whole, with some students translating and others editing.
  • Include anonymous peer evaluation in which each student evaluates the work of the other members, as well as the effectiveness of the group’s work in general, indicating both strengths and areas for improvement.

Establishing a Socio-Affective Domain Is Key

In the virtual classroom, effective management of the socio-affective domain is essential for both the learning process and the translation process. The socio-affective strategies discussed here help optimize the instructor’s effectiveness and prepare students for the workplace by:

  • Creating a sense of the instructor’s communicative proximity and social presence to encourage students’ ability to relax and become fully engaged.
  • Creating a community of practice by using discussion forums and peer review, both for effective learning and to reduce stress and tension.
  • Establishing situated learning to generate interest and connection with the future professional activity.
  1. Vygotsky, Lev. Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes (Harvard University Press, 1978).
  2. Rojo, Ana. “The Role of Emotions,” In J. W. Schwieter and A. Ferreira (Editors), The Handbook of Translation and Cognition (John Wiley & Sons, 2017), 382. See also: Oxford, Rebecca. Teaching and Researching Language Learning Strategies (Pearson, 2011).
  3. González Davies, M. “Socioconstructivismo,humanismo y plataformas pedagógicas: De la teoría al proyecto auténtico de traducción,” In M. Cánovas, M. González Davies, and L. Keim (Editors), Acortar distancias. Las TIC en la clase de traducción y de lenguas extranjeras (October 2010), 144.
  4. DiVerniero, Rebecca, and Angela Hosek. “Students’ Perceptions and Communicative Management of Instructors’ Online Self–Disclosure,” Communication Quarterly (August 2011), 429–430.
  5. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 79.
  6. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24,
  7. Mottet, Timothy, and Virginia Richmond. “An Inductive Analysis of Verbal Immediacy: Alternative Conceptualization of Relational Verbal Approach/Avoidance Strategies,” Communication Quarterly (January 1998), 25–40, See also: Schrodt, Paul, Paul Witt, Paul Turman, Scott Myers, Matthew Barton, and Kodiane Jernberg. “Instructor Credibility as a Mediator of Instructors’ Prosocial Communication Behaviors and Students’ Learning Outcomes,” Communication Education (July 2009), 350–371,
  8. Bolliger, Doris, Supawan Supanakorn, and Christine Boggs. “Impact of Podcasting on Student Motivation in the Online Learning Environment,” Computers and Education (September 2010), 720,
  9. Baker, Credence. “The Impact of Instructor Immediacy and Presence for Online Student Affective Learning, Cognition, and Motivation,” Journal of Educators Online (January 2010), 23–24,
  10. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 111.
  11. ATA Certification Program Framework for Standardized Error Marking,
  12. Jahng, Namsook. “Collaboration Indices for Monitoring Potential Problems in Online Small Groups,” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (Winter 2013), 2,
  13. Kiraly, Donald. A Social Constructivist Approach to Translator Education: Empowerment from Theory to Practice (St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 117.
  14. Huertas-Barros, Else. “Collaborative Learning in the Translation Classroom: Preliminary Survey Results,” JoSTrans: The Journal of Specialised Translation (July 2011), 42–60,
  15. Prieto-Velasco, Juan, and Adrián Fuentes-Luque. “A Collaborative Multimodal Working Environment for the Development of Instrumental and Professional Competences of Student Translators: An Innovative Teaching Experience,” The Interpreter and Translator Trainer (April 2016).

Diego Mansilla, CT teaches advanced translation courses and is the director of the Spanish>English Translation Certificate program at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He is also a professional translator with over 20 years of experience. He is a member of the board of directors of the New England Translators Association. An ATA-certified English>Spanish translator, he is a grader for ATA’s English>Spanish certification exam. Contact:

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