Corps de l’article


In the last decades, Edmonton, a mid-sized Canadian city, has witnessed a rapid increase and diversification of its newcomer[1] population. In 2011, 27% of Edmontonians reported having a mother tongue other than English or French, Canada’s official languages at the federal level. The most commonly reported non-official languages were Chinese, Tagalog (Filipino), Punjabi, and Spanish. In the five years prior to 2011, Edmonton received 49,930 immigrants, roughly half of whom came from the Philippines, India, China, Pakistan, and the United States. Ethnic groups from Africa, and Latin America experienced the greatest growth from 2006 to 2011, and, more recently, the numbers of Iraqi and Syrian refugees have increased significantly (ECF/ESPC, 2016). The 2016 census showed a similar trend, as almost a quarter of Edmontonians stated their native language was different from the official languages (French or English) (Government of Canada). Over half of these speakers used this non-official language in the home.

Many newcomers face language barriers in accessing programs and services and their successful settlement often depends on support offered by institutions and government (Mahmoudi, 1992; Derwing et al., 2005-2006; Vineberg, 2012). Among the initiatives that the City of Edmonton (COE) undertook in recent years to make basic information more widely available to newcomers was the creation of the Newcomer’s Guide to Edmonton (NGE) and its translation into 7 languages in 2016. The NGE, designed to help newcomers settle in Edmonton, includes basic information under the following headings: About Edmonton, Working Together for You, Finding Information, Settling in Edmonton, Moving Around Edmonton, Living in Edmonton, Learning in Edmonton, Working in Edmonton, Staying Healthy in Edmonton, Staying Safe in Edmonton, Enjoying Edmonton, and Municipal Government. The development of the original English-language version[2] involved multiple stakeholders, including settlement workers, English language instructors, cultural brokers,[3] and newcomers themselves. Acknowledging the diverse linguistic backgrounds of newcomers, a one-year initiative was launched in 2016 to translate the guide into Amharic, Arabic, French,[4] Mandarin, Punjabi, Somali, and Spanish.[5]

With the recent publication of the NGE and the stakeholders and participants still around, the opportunity to research this translation project was undertaken in order to generate recommendations on translation for stakeholders in government, the nonprofit sector, and communities at large. Through this research project,[6] we were able to delve into the material and cultural challenges that a team of community translators and reviewers faced in the task of translating material for use by their own local communities. Based on Gabriel González Núñez’s translation policy categories (2016) exploring “management, beliefs, and practices,” we conducted online surveys and individual interviews[7] to examine the material challenges that the NGE community translators faced and the techniques and knowledge employed to cope with challenges in translating. Through this process, we learned about the strategies and know-how that translators, project managers, and other stakeholders involved developed in response to those challenges. Their praxis provides an interesting case study of culturally and materially situated community translation in Canada at the municipal level.

1. The Material Turn in Translation Studies and Community Translation

As the guest editors of this special issue of TTR suggest in their Introduction, in response to the material turn in many other fields, Translation Studies has increasingly focused its attention on the study of material cultures. A similar focus on materiality can be readily perceived in the case of the NGE we examined, perhaps most significantly in the conceptualization of community translation as a materially, socially, and culturally situated, not product, but rather practice. The key term here is “situated,” which points to how translation practice is anchored to concrete material and local conditions.[8] “Situated,” to our mind, suggests more strongly a sense of material conditions as well as embeddedness within specific linguistic and geographical communities (of newcomers), both of which are relevant to our discussion of community translation below. In other words, the material, social, and cultural situatedness may include things such as the translators’ degree of training and the local contexts (communities) in which they operate. It is in that sense that both the material turn and community translation can productively interact. In this discussion, the concept of community translation must be examined.

Minako O’Hagan (2011) notes that the term “community translation” has been fraught with ambiguity. Because of its association with the well-established field of community interpreting in Translation Studies, “community translation” has been used by some authors to refer to “the written translation of public information for an immigrant population” (ibid., p. 11).[9] While community interpreting has become more professionalized in some countries like Australia, Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (Taibi, 2014, p. 53), it still often employs (like many community translation practices do), “untrained individuals” or non-professionals[10] (Antonini et al., 2017; Wadensjö, 2009). The involvement of non-professionals is also prominent in a wide range of collaborative “translation practices […] unfolding on the Internet,” a phenomenon that O’Hagan notes is also known as “community translation,” with “community” understood as being online and tied to the specific context of Web 2.0 (2011, p. 12). These practices, this scholar points out, do not always involve untrained volunteers given that professional translators may also volunteer to undertake this type of online work (ibid., p. 13). In this paper we take the position that any translator, professional or not, can act as a community translator when she or he translates for a community setting, whether online or not.

Beyond questions of professional or online status, community translation is also seen by some as a practice that seeks to address material and power imbalances in society by ensuring the rights of all individuals and communities to public information and services (Taibi and Ozolins, 2016). In that vein, scholars probe how community translation deals with issues that are specific to the local context, namely, diversity of readerships (Burke, 2018), linguistic disparity, and cultural differences between newcomers and host community (Gawn, 1988; Snell-Hornby, 1995; Campbell, 2005). On the basis of such discussions, in this study we see community translation as a locally inflected practice[11] performed by local community translators whose aim is to facilitate communication between the City of Edmonton (regarding access to public services) and newcomers who may lack proficiency in one of the official languages, namely, English[12] (Taibi and Ozolins, 2016, pp. 7-8).

Returning to the issue of the material turn, Karin Littau’s article “Translation and the Materiality of Communication” (2016) sparked a lively discussion in the ‘Forum’ section of the journal Translation Studies over the year 2016-2017. Though Littau does not discuss community translation per se, some parts of her argument can clearly relate to the local and material aspects that emerge in community translation. For instance, Littau notes that “there is something deeply skewed about the discursivization of culture, if it leads to the abandonment of asking questions about its material, physical or physiological substrata” (2016, p. 84). Community translation is closely connected to its physical context, as community translators are embedded within specific cultural and material conditions. Furthermore, Littau remarks that translators form “part of a material, medial and technologized ecology that shapes every aspect of mind” (ibid., p. 84) and that paying attention to “the role of ‘material agency’ in translation [also involves considering] ‘how translations are carried through societies over time by particular groups’” (ibid., p. 88). These aspects clearly stand out in the case of the community translators in our study as well. Community translators, many of them newcomers themselves, have experienced similar material circumstances to the ones their target audiences face, and this shapes their perception and approach to translation. With this in mind, we explored to what extent community translators paid special attention to specific details (register, for instance) when translating for particular cultural and linguistic communities that they themselves may have been or are members of.

Regarding these matters, the literature on community translation is still scant, because it has typically been envisioned either as a result-oriented practice addressing urgent social needs (e.g., medical and legal) or as a “subordinate” or non-professional practice lacking the rigor and quality of its professional counterpart.[13] Nonetheless, the way the NGE was translated afforded us the potential to explore alternative conceptions of community translation. For example, community translation can be conceived as a constructive intercultural praxis (Habermas, 1984; 1989; Venuti, 1996) with the potential to empower linguistic minorities to participate in the broader social conversation by being entrusted to translate material for their own consumption. Ultimately, our goal is to show that translation can play a significant social, political, and even economic role in how multicultural cities like Edmonton can be managed as part of well-conceived translation practices or a language policy (Telles de Vasconcelos Souza, 2018). A case in point is the work of Reine Meylaerts (2018) on the translation policy implemented in the highly diverse City of Antwerp, Belgium. Here Meylaerts highlights the essential role that translation plays in overcoming language barriers which may prevent the full participation of linguistic minorities in their host society.[14] “[T]ranslation policy,” she argues, “can act as an instrument for social justice in its inclusion of minorities” (Meylaerts, 2011b).

2. Theoretical and Methodological Approaches

Hélène Buzelin (2007a, 2007b) developed an inquiry-based method inspired by Bruno Latour’s anthropology (1989, 1991, 2002), which she used to investigate translation practices in publishing houses in Montreal. This method focused on the translation production process as opposed to the end result or the target audience. Janet Fraser (1993, 1999) has also noted that translation studies research has tended to take a product-based approach, arguing that research on community translation might benefit from a focus on process and empirical data gathered through oral interviews of the practitioners. Our study was designed with such principles in mind. Consequently, an ethnographic approach was employed that paid particular attention to the community translators’ and other agents’ experiences, practices, or know-how (de Certeau, 1990, 1994).

Our choice of an ethnographic or process-based approach led us to consider if pre-existing formalized translation policies or practices may have influenced translators and other agents in the case of the translation of the NGE.[15] Translation policy, as defined by Meylaerts, involves “a set of legal rules that regulate translation in the public domain: in education, in legal affairs, in political institutions, in administration, in the media” (2011a, p. 165). Meylaerts focuses on the European context, where more explicit and developed translation policies and management exist (2011a, 2011b, 2018). Through our research, we were able to determine that no written formalized translation policy exists in Edmonton. As mentioned, we delved into a set of translation policy categories, based on Bernard Spolsky’s (2009) linguistic typology and developed by González Núñez (2016) in his work on cases in the United Kingdom, where explicit or overt translation policies are uncommon. These categories, which include “management, beliefs, and practices” (ibid., p. 92), enabled us to more thoughtfully design surveys and interviews, taking into account the reality of translation practices in Edmonton.

González Núñez defines translation management as “decisions regarding translation made by people who have the authority to decide the use or non-use of translation within a domain” and they may include “attempts to influence not just the choices of the people who actually do the translating but also those of individuals who engage translators and interpreters”; beliefs as ideas “that members of a community hold about issues such as what the value is, or is not, of offering translation in certain contexts for certain groups or to achieve certain ends” and, while often unspoken, can be inferred from practice; and practice as “actual translation practices of a given community,” involving “questions such as what texts get translated, what mode of interpreting is used, into and out of what languages, [and] where it takes place” (2016, p. 92). These three categories interact in complex ways. Such complexity was evident in the responses we obtained to survey questions. In exploring translation practice, we became aware of the material challenges that the NGE community translators and project managers confronted accessing resources. Looking at the practice also allowed us to explore the strategies or know-how they developed to cope with these translation challenges. We organized the discussion of practice into the challenges faced and the strategies developed to cope with those strategies. This methodology also afforded us insight into the working conditions of these translators and reviewers, who at times act as volunteers, have different degrees of training, and serve newcomer communities who may face uncertainty.

The project organizer, project manager, translators, and reviewers were surveyed using specifically designed questionnaires as well as open-ended interviews to investigate translation management, beliefs, and practices. The results of the surveys and interviews were tabulated to compare and contrast answers as well as identify common and recurrent themes. Our study took into consideration the way the translation project of the NGE was organized as teamwork. The team included a project organizer, responsible for the overall management, and a project manager, who hired translators and proofreaders.[16] The project organizer hired third-party reviewers.[17] For each of the 7 target languages, there was a translator, a proofreader, and a third-party reviewer, though some translators changed mid-way through the project. In all, at least 23 team members collaborated on the project. Communication and coordination among the 7-language specific sub-teams were facilitated by the project organizer and project manager. The project organizer liaised between team members and was responsible for the coordination of the entire project.

We began our study with a call for participants to all team members of the project. We successfully recruited 12 participants[18] from a total of 23 team members. The study consisted of two phases: an online survey and a follow-up in-person taped interview. The online surveys were tailored to the specific role of the participant, namely, translator, proofreader, third-party reviewer, project organizer, or project manager. We obtained 12 responses to online surveys (10 from translators and proofreaders, 2 from the project organizer and project manager). We did follow-up in-person interviews with 9 participants: 2 project managers; 3 proofreaders (French, Punjabi, and Spanish); and 4 translators (Chinese, Punjabi, Somali, and Spanish). We were not successful at recruiting any third-party reviewers.

The translator/proofreader online survey was divided into 4 sections and was conducted in English, the common language of the research team and participants. The first section aimed at getting a general profile of each translator/proofreader regarding origin, linguistic expertise, educational background and training, role in the project, and general experience as a translator/interpreter. Section 2 looked to assess working philosophy and beliefs vis-à-vis (socio-political) commitment and ideology as “community” translators/reviewers, and whether this commitment was reflected (or not) in their translation and proofreading practices. Section 3 asked questions about the translation and proofreading process, namely, the collective nature (or not) of the NGE translation process as a distinctive feature, the organization of work, and the proofreading/reviewing procedure adopted. The fourth and final section asked translators and proofreaders to reflect on their translation/proofreading choices and how they mirrored their (socio-political) commitment as well as opinions about the final translation product and its role.

As opposed to the very specific questions in the translator/proofreader online survey, the one tailored to the project organizer and project manager had more open-ended questions in three general areas of inquiry (background, translation process, and personal philosophy). Under “background,” we queried the project organizer and manager (none of whom were translators[19]) about their professional and linguistic experience, their involvement with other translation projects, and their knowledge of any language policies in the context of their work. Regarding the process, managers were asked to: describe the translation process (including recruitment of team members, quality control, visual design); comment on other translation projects as opposed to this one; and discuss target audience, cost, level of usage, and satisfaction with the end-product. Finally, under “personal philosophy,” organizer and manager were invited to self-reflect on their role as organizer or manager of this project, and on the role that they play in Edmonton’s multicultural community.

3. Findings and Discussion

To outline the results of both the online survey and the in-person interviews, we begin with a snapshot of the personal, educational, and professional background of the translators and proofreaders, followed by a brief discussion of similar background details of the project organizer and manager. We go on to discuss the material and cultural challenges that all participants faced as well as the culturally situated responses they developed. Our discussion follows González Núñez’s (2016) categories of “management, beliefs, and practices” which, as mentioned, also guided survey design.

The diversity of languages that the NGE was translated into parallels the diversity of the translators’ countries of origin. In our survey sample of 10 translators and proofreaders,[20] they hailed from: Canada (20%); India (20%); Eritrea (20%); and China, Colombia, Somalia, Sudan (each 10%). Their time in Edmonton varied: less than 5 years (10%); between 5-15 years (30%); more than 15 years (60%). These numbers show that the vast majority had been living for a considerable period in Edmonton, suggesting perhaps being established in their communities. Their languages of expertise included not only the languages that they were commissioned to translate into, but also, in some cases, languages from neighbouring linguistic communities, for instance, Amharic/Tigrinya, Bilen, and Tigre for Amharic translators/proofreaders, and Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, for the Punjabi translators/proofreaders. The Spanish proofreader also had native fluency in Portuguese. The educational background of all translators was fairly high: 20% reported college or technical training; 50%, university degrees; and 30%, a graduate degree. In contrast, formal training in translation was relatively limited: only 10% reported having professional certification; 30% reported some training as part of a degree; 40%, only short-term training (2 weeks to 12 hours); and 10% reported no training, just practical experience, while 10% gave no answer. Their practical experience ranged from 0-5 years (60%) to 5 or more years (40%).[21] This number, in tandem with the time in Edmonton figure, shows that some experienced translators have also been longstanding members of their local community and also suggests that some may have been translating right from their arrival in Edmonton or even before. A notable facet of the translators and proofreaders is that most of their work involved primarily translating into English,[22] rather than into their mother tongue, another possible handicap due to relative unavailability of qualified translators from their mother tongue into English. 70% of respondents translated between 60-100% of the time into English, in contrast to 30% of respondents who translated primarily into other languages.

In terms of training, both the project organizer and project manager were university-educated, with one holding an MA degree. The project manager had 10 years of experience in various roles as a frontline worker, supervisor, and manager, and, although not fluent in any language other than English, she was supervisor at The Family Centre (TFC), an organization providing translation and interpretation services to the community through contractors. The project organizer on the part of the City of Edmonton (COE), had worked for 20 years in international educational exchanges and in the not-for-profit sector serving immigrants and refugees. She worked as Multicultural Liaison, connecting ethnocultural community groups with COE programs. She had some knowledge of Spanish and through her international work was somewhat aware of translation issues.[23] Neither had ever undertaken a project of this size or complexity in terms of the number of languages involved.

4. Management

By looking at aspects of management, we were able to find out not only the details of the translation process, but also the rationale behind them. The project organizer and project manager worked collaboratively to develop a translation process that would include local community translators, more monitoring, and quality control: i.e., “translation and proofreading by TFC, third-party reviewers selected by the COE, and design and correction chapter by chapter” online survey with project manager (Cisneros et al., 2018b). This decision stemmed from second-hand knowledge they had about the previous 2008 NGE translation, which had been outsourced to a professional translation agency in Toronto and which had, in some cases, “missed the mark regarding the target audience.”[24] For this reason, they felt it was important to hire community translators more familiar with the local context. The project organizer first conducted focus groups with key stakeholders (cultural brokers, teachers of English as an Additional Language, and settlement workers, many of whom had been newcomers themselves) and asked them about the NGE “content relevance, gaps, sequencing, design etc.”, which meant revising and simplifying the English version (Cisneros et al., 2019a).

Through TFC, the project manager recruited translators and proofreaders corresponding to the languages the NGE was to be translated into. Individuals from TFC who were interested in becoming translators for this project were asked to submit a resume. According to the project manager, selection was based on “competency in their mother tongue and English, experience in translation and/or interpretation, and related professional experience and/or educational background in a related field” (Cisneros et al., 2018b). Individuals were also chosen based on their availability and who the project manager thought would work well as a team, thus adding a subjective layer to the selection process. Once selected, TFC composed teams of two people, a translator and a proofreader. As an extra measure to ensure quality, the project organizer asked each of the teams to do a test chapter. The chapter was then sent to a third-party reviewer selected by the project organizer through Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op (MCHB) to decide whether they would proceed with that team. The project manager felt that having an additional reviewer helped to raise the level of translation for the project, yet this extra layer was also a new experience for them, as they were not always clear on the expectations and where the final say resided. Together with the project organizer, they ultimately decided it was with their in-house (TFC) translators.

Participants were also surveyed on how the NGE translation project was managed. According to them, TFC functioned as an intermediary as well as the managing organization for the NGE translation project. The translators and proofreaders involved were first contacted by the project manager or other representatives from TFC. While individual in-person meetings were first held to explain the project, it was noted that most of the correspondence was carried out through email. A collective debriefing session/celebration with all participants (managers, translators, proofreaders, reviewers) was held by TFC upon project completion. This celebration and acknowledgement was very meaningful to the participants. The Spanish translator noted in her interview: “It just became a community project […] we translated this thing. Now we can all relate […] having the celebration in the end. That was huge for us… so rewarding” (Cisneros et al., 2018c).

Generally speaking, the participants were very positive about the organization and management of the NGE translation project: (1) Communications were convenient; (2) There were clear deadlines and expectations; (3) There was a strong sense of collectivity. Interestingly, the participants’ responses disagreed regarding general guidelines they had received. For example, the Amharic translator reported that the requirement was for the document to be translated word by word, yet the meaning should be clear.[25] In contrast, according to the French proofreader, literal translation was not what the client was expecting. The Amharic translator also said that the format (spacing, in particular) of the original text should be kept in the translation. Yet, the Spanish translator stated that she was told that format was not a big concern and that The City of Edmonton would take care of the format when they sent the translation off for printing.[26]

5. Beliefs

Answers to surveys and interview questions revealed specific beliefs about the importance of translating community materials as well as perceptions around the role and value of community translators. As Multicultural Liaison for the COE, the project organizer (online survey) envisioned her role as helping to reduce “barriers to equitable access to City of Edmonton policies, programs, services, and information for vulnerable populations” (Cisneros et al., 2018a). The project organizer’s approach to this translation was “very much based on an ideal of inclusive collaboration with stakeholders,” where “true empowerment and community development is not something that can be done ‘for’ communities, but must be done ‘by’ and/or ‘with those communities’” (ibid.). In turn, the project manager saw her role “as being a bridge between the customers and the translators” in order to “ensure that people for whom English is their second language, still have access to everyday services” (Cisneros et al., 2018b). Furthermore, representing TFC, she felt that “customers should trust that the work commissioned is done in a timely and accurate way” given that “translation services are a luxury” (ibid.).[27] While the project manager noted that translation work can easily be contracted out to professional agencies, she felt it was important to have “an agency who understands the work and has built positive and strong relationships with their translators to ensure a higher quality of work” (ibid.). This raised important questions regarding what assumptions organizations or individuals have regarding the quality of translation work outsourced to professionals, i.e., that the work will be professional and accurate, and the need to assess if these assumptions are correct. As noted by the project organizer (interview): “you’re paying for a professional service so you get that back and it’s natural to assume that the final product you get is a professional and accurate product,” but at times they realized “that wasn’t the case and that we spent a lot of money on [a] translation that ultimately couldn’t be used” (Cisneros et al., 2019a). This experience led the project organizer to develop this new translation process from a “culturally sensitive and relevant perspective,” taking into account the “language level and education level” of the target community (ibid.).

Participants were asked questions about their connection and investment in their communities. All 7 translators and proofreaders who participated in the post-survey interview felt that being involved in the translation of community materials into languages other than English was very important to them. For example, participants felt that community translations were “indispensable” (Amharic translator), “very important” (Punjabi translator, Spanish proofreader), and “a great idea” (Spanish translator) (Cisneros et al., 2018-2019a). Their rationale[28] for the need to translate community materials into languages other than English included: (1) Canadian society is a multicultural one and newcomers speak different languages and were raised in different cultures (Punjabi translator, Spanish proofreader); (2) Language barriers exist and newcomers may not have fluency in English (Chinese translator, Punjabi proofreader, project manager); (3) Newcomers need government/welfare/community materials translated (or explained to them) in order to successfully integrate into their new society (Amharic translator, Spanish translator) (ibid.).

The participants were queried about their perception of their role as a community translator. The consensus among the interviewees was that a community translator functions as a mediator that connects communities with government and not-for-profit organizations. In one case, the relationship was characterized as a “bridge” (Chinese translator). Still, there were some differences in their characterization of the community translator’s agency and work ethic. Their responses fell into 3 groups regarding the role of community translators. (1) They function as an independent and objective party or “communicator” acting between communities and organizations (Chinese and Amharic translators). (2) They represent both the community and the organization they are working with (project organizer, and Punjabi and Spanish translators) and have a strong connection to the community they represent (the Spanish translator noted, “it is hard to detach yourself”), but also felt the need to demonstrate a translator’s reliability. (3) The translator should be loyal to the documents they are translating (Spanish proofreader and project manager), and yet they admitted they ultimately represented their employer, TFC (ibid.).

Queried about the distinctiveness of community translators compared with professional “non-community” translators,[29] participants’ responses fell into three groups. (1) Community translators embody a stronger sense of centripetal collectivity than non-community or non-local translators do (project manager, Chinese translator, Spanish translator): “it was more beneficial to have someone who was from the community; you need that local experience” (Spanish translator). While they noted that non-community or non-local translators are very good, they felt that community translators “just kind of have an extra commitment.”[30] (2) Two interviewees saw very little difference between a non-community or non-local translator and a community translator (Punjabi and Amharic translator), yet both noted that community translators have more affinity with the neighbourhood or the language community they form a part of.[31] (3) Some participants perceived that community translators might have received less formal training than their non-community professional translator counterparts.[32] For example, participants felt that non-community professional translators might be more experienced and much more skilled in translating technical documents (project manager, Chinese translator, Punjabi proofreader) (ibid.).

6. Practice: Material and Cultural Challenges

When examining the individual practice of translators and managers, a number of material and cultural challenges became evident. These included: the size of the project, doing group work, an underestimation of the completion time and cost, a lack of a written policy document or guidelines, different degrees of linguistic competence (of project organizer, project manager, translators and reviewers), specific terminology and cultural difference, and linguistic variation. These challenges, however, presented an opportunity for creative solutions.

Regarding size, the project manager noted in her online survey that the NGE was the largest translation project they had undertaken: “Having multiple teams of translators working on the project at different rates, levels and with various languages was challenging” (Cisneros et al., 2018b). Monitoring the work posed challenges but using a tracking program helped. Monitoring also revealed communication issues between translators and reviewers. At times translators and project managers had difficulty getting reliable responses from third-party reviewers.[33]

Reflecting on their experience working in groups, all the participants, with the exception of two translators (Amharic and Chinese), revealed that they had not worked collaboratively before. The majority were used to working alone as independent (freelance) translators or reviewers. Working in this more collaborative fashion forced many to rethink their notions about translation as a solitary profession. This experience also encouraged them to work together and bring up doubts or disagreements. The project organizer noted an initial need for facilitation to ensure translators and proofreaders worked comfortably with outside third-party reviewers (something new to them), instead of contacting the project manager, who didn’t know any of the target translation languages. The translators and proofreaders, however, could contact the project organizer if they had questions regarding the original intent or meaning of the English text.

In the course of the translation, some translators or proofreaders had to be replaced due to translation issues[34] or family emergencies. Consequently, some final versions ended up with an inconsistent style. One translator commented that the final Table of Contents did not sound like it was translated by a native speaker and was inconsistent with the contents in the rest of the guide. The translator doubted whether the entire final version had been reviewed, a task they would have been happy to take on for purposes of consistency.[35]

In retrospect, the project organizer felt they might have tried to initially “coordinate a bigger meeting with all the teams at the start of the project” to clarify expectations and build relationships between teams, as most communications for the project occurred mainly through email and/or phone: “I think more face-to-face meetings may have helped people to work more cohesively in some cases” (ibid.). The Chinese translator also suggested that group meetings could have taken place after each chapter so team members could share the challenges they encountered and solutions/strategies employed. These strategies or “things to look out for,” they noted, could then be used in each subsequent chapter (Cisneros et al., 2019b).

At the end of the project, the project organizer, project manager, and most of the translators and proofreaders remarked that, had they known the real amount of time it would take to complete the project, they would have charged more, as this work was something they completed on top of their regular work. The Spanish proofreader noted that busy schedules resulted in email being the main form of communication with the translator (Cisneros et al., 2018e). Some teams also did not use the same proofreading/correction platforms to track changes, which created extra work. Translators also had to do extra proofreading/corrections after the final translation was completed because the design program inadvertently eliminated important elements in the text.[36]

The lack of a written translation policy or guidelines had a varying impact on the practice of translators and managers. None of the interviewees knew if the City of Edmonton had any kind of written translation policy, but, interestingly, 2 participants (the Spanish and Chinese translators) assumed there was a written “policy” or “guidelines,” which had just not been made available to them.[37] The project organizer noted that while there was no formalized written translation policy, they felt it was advantageous to have “the flexibility to manage the project in a way we thought would be most effective as well as more affordable” (Cisneros et al., 2019a). The project organizer observed that “hiring a professional translator[38] doesn’t necessarily guarantee you the results you want for material that is for local use,” (ibid.) which highlights the importance of using local community translators in this process. This flexible approach was also praised by the project manager:

We had to develop our own practices and figure out what was going to work best and change things if we needed to […] so I think in some ways it was maybe a little bit more freedom […] and we could use it as a learning opportunity, which I definitely think it was.

Cisneros et al., 2018b

Linguistic competence also raised issues, as the project organizer and project manager were not translators themselves or had fluency in languages other than English, and yet were tasked with developing a translation process that would ensure quality control. For some languages (particularly Chinese and Amharic), there were more instances of disagreement between the translator and the third-party reviewer because one of the two parties did not perceive the other as having the same level of bilingual competence, or because the target language itself has variations. There was no consensus among participants if all parties had the same level of bilingual competence. Among the 7 translators and proofreaders interviewed, 3 (Amharic translator, Spanish proofreader, Punjabi proofreader) were quite positive, believing that each member in the group had the same level of bilingual competence. The rest held the opposite view.[39]

The translators and proofreaders were also not always in agreement about word choices and terminology. Translators and proofreaders spoke about the difficulty in translating terms or expressions which did not have an exact equivalent in the target language or a corresponding concept in the target culture. Examples include: “spring forward”/“fall back”, “daylight saving time,” and “bus transfer” (Punjabi); “senior,” “snow,” and “orchestra” (Amharic); “neighbourhood watch” and “windchill” (Chinese). Some translators struggled with translating Canadian First Nations terminology, while the Spanish translator noted the term “college” varies across Spanish-speaking countries with different educational systems. Similarly, LRT (Light Rail Transit) is called “tubo in Argentina, “metro in Mexico, while in other places it doesn’t exist. Likewise, what regional variant to use in Spanish was debated: for example, “canales de bicicleta was changed to “carriles de bicicleta,” as it was deemed more accessible to the target audience. All of these examples point not only to the cultural specificity of the source text, but also to the challenges of transferring such cultural specificity effectively to the different target linguistic communities.

Linguistic variation produced issues that the Chinese, Punjabi, and Spanish translators were particularly aware of. In the case of Spanish, the translator suggested the project organizer hire a third-party reviewer from a Spanish American country in order to ensure a Spanish that would be more accessible to the local target audience. This introduces the important question of who the intended target audience was and, in this case, what Spanish variant would be most appropriate to the Edmonton context. Assumptions were also made by the translator, proofreader, third-party reviewer, and project manager (who did not speak the language) regarding what variant of Spanish would be best to use (e.g., debating the problematic distinction between Peninsular vs. Latin American Spanish) and what “formal” Spanish meant to them. While the Spanish translator noted that historically the Spanish-speaking community in Edmonton was Chilean, recent Spanish-speaking newcomers are not, so she appreciated that the third-party reviewer had a Venezuelan[40] background.[41]

7. Practice: Culturally Situated Strategies

The many challenges managers, translators, and proofreaders faced in their practice were met with surprisingly creative culturally situated strategies. These included creating a process for quality control and employing a number of tools and techniques to cope with the difficulties. A test chapter, external third-party reviewers, and a tracking tool enabled the project organizer and manager to make informed decisions as to what teams might work best together and produce a higher quality product in a timely fashion. Two teams were dismantled based on this process. The project manager noted that: “there was one situation where the third-party reviewer was uncomfortable with the translation and tried to be diplomatic without saying outright that the translation was poor, but they were not prepared to speak directly to the translator as the whole thing needed to be redone”[42] (Cisneros et al., 2018b). In this case the project manager replaced that translator with positive results.

Translators and proofreaders, according to our online survey, also made use of both online and print resources such as: parallel texts or research on Wikipedia (Spanish); print (Punjabi-English) and online bilingual dictionaries (French-English); online resources, databases, and concordances (e.g.,,,,, Termium Plus, Google Translate); spellcheck in Microsoft Word (only used by the Spanish team because traditional spelling check programs were not compatible with a lot of the other languages) (Cisneros et al., 2018-2019b). Translators and proofreaders also consulted with members from their target community. The Spanish translator noted in an interview: “I asked a couple of family members and friends from other Latin American countries about specific terms/challenging expressions. I also asked one of my relatives to read my work to see if it was easy to understand” (Cisneros et al., 2018c). The Punjabi proofreader noted that “because a lot of people are reading this, I involved some of the community members from our side because I work at the radio station, I do talk shows” (Cisneros et al., 2019c). She also consulted with the Punjabi Writers’ Association, a journalist from India, and a Punjabi professor from the community. The Chinese translator discussed the challenge of translating “windchill” and, after consulting with a family member, re-wrote the entire relevant section (Cisneros et al., 2019b). This strategy of consulting local community members for their input on materials ultimately destined for their own use highlights community translation as a culturally situated strategy.

The project organizer, the project manager, and some translators/proofreaders also had the opportunity to take a 12-hour Community Translation course at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Extension with Odile Cisneros (project’s Principal Investigator). The course empowered them by making explicit the tacit beliefs embedded in their own translation practice. It also reconfirmed the project organizer’s decision to work with community translators: “My confidence was boosted in hearing [the community translators] in that course, that they knew what they were talking about [in technical terms] in regards to translation” and that “they were members of the communities as well” (Cisneros et al., 2019a). That is, they were familiar with the diversity of readerships, linguistic disparities, and cultural differences within their own newcomer and host communities.


The translation of the NGE presents an interesting case study on the use of community translation by a Canadian municipality with no formalized or written translation policy.[43] The project was unprecedented for Edmonton, not only because the NGE was the largest public-service document translated by the city, but also because of the number of languages it was translated into, the resources deployed, and the people involved (i.e., more than 23). The guide was translated into 7 languages; the team included a project organizer, a project manager, translators, proofreaders, and reviewers; and had a budget of almost CAN$50,000. While no formalized (or written) translation policy or guidelines were available to aid in the translation of the NGE, the project organizer and the project manager showcased their flexibility and know-how in organizing a materially and culturally situated framework for carrying out a community translation practice that also expressed concerns for the quality of the final product. Among these practices were the use of professional-like quality control checks, such as doing a first test chapter and employing an extra level of review through third-party reviewers (external to TFC) alongside proofreaders (who acted as translation reviewers) (internal to TFC). These choices were aimed at raising the level of translation and targeting it specifically to the local communities, all practices which ultimately benefit newcomers.[44]

Vis-à-vis the role of translation in language policy, the authors of this study would like to suggest that in order to enhance the practice of community translation, there is a need to continue to educate municipal administrators and community translators on best translation practices: i.e., to continue to develop workshops and create practical resources for their use, and to acknowledge the importance of the work that they do (their role as cultural brokers and the value of first-hand knowledge of the local context and communities they are translating for).

The translation of the NGE can also help to counter notions of translation as an activity that can only be performed by professionals, regardless of their knowledge of the local context or target audience. It highlights the social worth of community translation, understood as a valuable intercultural process designed to help communities incorporate their own knowledge while initiating a fruitful dialogue with the host community. Involving the local community in the translation process[45] might also encourage the City to engage with other community translation participatory or collaborative practices (such as crowdsourcing) already used in the field of translation (Désilets and van der Meer, 2011; Jiménez-Crespo, 2017).[46] As noted by Meylaerts (2011b, 2018), there is an intimate connection between translation practices and issues pertaining to language rights, linguistic justice, and social inclusion in democratic societies. Pérez-González and Susam-Saraeva (2012) also note that non-professional translators (and interpreters) should no longer be seen as a less desirable or less expensive alternative to their professional counterparts, in that this group of people encompasses a wide range of participants who should be allowed to contribute to new forms of civic engagement. By employing and empowering local community translators (with varying degrees of professionalization) to make appropriate choices when translating material for local use, the translation of the NGE is an example of translation as a materially and culturally situated practice that can inspire similar initiatives in other Canadian cities or other multilingual contexts.