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Making Global Connections

May 10, 2017

Lost in translation? Not the case for students enrolled in Professor Ann Hill Duin’s course WRIT 4562: International Professional Communication and students enrolled in Brandi Fuglsby’s and Laura Pigozzi’s sections of WRIT 3562: Technical and Professional Communication. As a part of the Trans-Atlantic & Pacific Project (TAPP), students in the University of Minnesota work digitally with translation students from the University of Trieste in Italy, led by Professor Giuseppe Palumbo. Through this collaboration, students are able to gain experience being a part of a global team, as well as develop skills to identify the cultural and social impacts of writing.

Professor Palumbo advises that different audiences require different approaches to writing, which is even more true when language and cultural barriers are crossed. The content of a text may have to be adapted to the background and expectations of the target audience. The same is true of the way the text is written—its style. For instance, the user-friendliness cherished by some cultures in instructional texts may turn out to be unsuitable in other cultures where, say, a higher degree of formality is expected. While drawing attention to these differences, TAPP also enables students to focus on their similarities with peers from distant parts of the world. During the collaboration, students may find that they share with each other more than they assumed, such as their familiarity with social media or their preference for materials combining text with visuals.

Throughout the course of the spring 2017 semester, University of Minnesota students in all three courses drafted a set of instructions intended for a North American audience; these instructions ranged from making a graph in Excel, introducing a puppy into your home, and preparing cocktails. Further, they were displayed in a variety of mediums, including websites, videos, and brochures. After drafting the instructions, the University of Minnesota students also performed usability testing. Then, they sent their instructions to students from the University of Trieste, who translated the documents into Italian.

Comma ci, comma ça

In the US, we often adhere to the notion that “technical writing and communication is prominent, and we think about translation later,” states Professor Duin. However, that is not the case in other parts of the world—in Italy, they think of translation first. Fuglsby recalls a challenge her students faced regarding the issue of commas: “The Italian student, following word for word their [University of Minnesota student’s] instructions, could not get the Excel graph to work… and then they realized there were punctuation differences between cultures, and that certainly impacted the outcome of the instructions.” A student who worked on this set of instructions elaborated, “This occurrence really made me look at the importance of knowing a lot about who your audience is and their customs.”

As the world becomes more globalized, the need for technical writing and communication students to have multilingual capacities becomes more essential, as highlighted throughout the course of this project.  “There is so much more that the translators have to do that didn’t even occur to me. I definitely have a new outlook and respect for the process,” revealed a student previously involved in Duin’s course. A student in Palumbo’s course at the University of Trieste echoed this sentiment, commenting how “as a translator it may happen that you have weird and unexpected texts to translate.”

In addition, several of the students in WRIT 3562: Technical and Professional Communication are from outside of the Department of Writing Studies, but nonetheless gained experience of global communication, which they can take and apply to their respected fields. “I will be able to use everything that I have learned from completion of these projects in my future career as a pharmacist,” highlighted one of Fuglsby’s students, explaining “I have the potential to work with many patients who have different backgrounds and cultures from my own, and I can apply the lessons I have learned through my correspondence with [Italian partner] to still make sure they are receiving the proper treatment for their condition.”

Learning by doing

Many students mention interest in the area of global communication, but few get the opportunity to actually participate in it while they are in school. Duin emphasizes, “You can read about it and talk about it, but it makes much more sense to actually do it. As a result of this experience, students can put on their resume ‘I have been part of a global team.” Duin’s student concurred, “I can say that I learned a lot from this exercise. It helped highlight the many intricacies and paradoxes that exist in communicating internationally—something I doubt I could have mentally grasped without having felt the very real reactions I had over the course of the project.”

One University of Trieste student stated, “Collaborating with other people can be enriching, interesting, fascinating, fun, and challenging at the same time.” Professor Palumbo explains, “In psychology, it’s been suggested that interpersonal interaction, active discussion of reasons behind decisions, and a proactive role in conflict resolution strategies and management are essential for successful virtual long-term teamwork.” This international partnership allows students to experience the subtle—yet complex—nature of intricacies that are a part of international communication, giving students a head start if and when they embark on global communication in their future.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.