“Practical phonetics” course in teaching “translation studies” major students

The profession of translator is becoming more and more popular at present. Many school graduates enroll in universities to train in Translation Studies. Nowadays this profession is considered prestigious and perspective. Knowing a language opens ways to foreign countries, whether it would be a fellowship program or a business trip. In the latter case people often use the assistance of an interpreter. In order to perceive a foreign speech it is necessary to have special listening and speaking skills. In the process of oral bilingual translation the interpreter should listen to a speech, simultaneously process information in

his head and then represent this information in another language. According to the State Obligatory Educational Standard of the Republic of Kazakhstan, for the purpose of teaching a student of Translation Studies to this type of translation the “Oral Translation Practice” discipline is included into the curriculum. [8] The course includes teaching different types of interpreting: conversation bilingual interpretation, sequential interpretation, paragraph-phrase interpretation, speech interpretation. [8] Generally the “Oral Translation Practice” is included into an educational course of the fourth year of the undergraduate program “Translation Studies” Major. The course contains 3 credits (135 hours). In accordance with “Oral Translation Practice” discipline standard study program, designed by the teachers of Kazakh Ablai-Khan University of International Relations and World Languages, the interpreter should have such skills as:

  • perception of source text taking into account individual features of a speech presenter;
  • carrying out fast sequential interlanguage transmission with the translation rate equal to a speaking rate of speaker;
  • fast switching from one language to another (in terms of text perception and reproduction);
  • presenting statements with the right intonation according to the target language standards [2, p. 385].

According to the “Oral Translation Practice” discipline standard study program, the course prerequisites, i.e. disciplines containing knowledge, abilities and skills necessary to learn “Oral Translation Practice” are:

Translation Theory, Modern Kazakh/Russian Language Theory and Practice, General-Professional Foreign Language, Literary Translation Practice, Written Translation Practice, Regional Geography [2, p. 385]. These disciplines help student in acquiring theoretical and practical bases of translation, intercultural communication and translator’s speech competence, general notion about the country of a language under study. The main background for learning “Oral Translation Practice” course should include such skill as perception of speech in conditions of hindrances (street noise, music, talking people) or clear sound (without any noise). Such skill may be acquired when training “Practical Phonetics” discipline. Practical phonetics includes learning language structure, sounds and their functions, training a correct pronunciation and intonation. Practical phonetics represents one of the practical courses composing the cycle of disciplines for preparation of second year “Translation Studies” students [8].

One of the most important tools in the preparation of “Translation Studies” students is auding, which is included into the course of Practical Phonetics. According to T.A. Dmitrenko; “… auding should be on the level of communicative competence formulation, i.e.:

  • the ability to understand literarycolloquial speech of native speaker in the daily conversation situations;
  • the ability to understand the content of audio text in the conditions of indirect message perception ( radio, TV set);
  • texts, perceived aurally, should be authentic [3, p. 10].

The auding for graduate students should include the following tasks: solving such communicative problems as full and exact comprehension (for adequate response to information), receiving significant information” [3, p. 11].

The main principle for successive auding is a foreign language text comprehension.

R.L. Minyar-Beloruchev describes different levels of text comprehension in his work “How to Become Interpreter?” [5, p. 93] According to R.L. Minyar-Beloruchev, the lowest level is fragmentary, when recipient (a listener) understands only separate words, wordgroups (fragment); higher level is the level of general comprehension of the text. In this case it is understood what text is about (about the trip to the Crimea, about the harvest in the Altay, etc). The third level is detailed, when students understand particular facts (details) as, for example: color of the singer’s dress, military rank of an officer who saved people during the fire, etc. The forth level is critical, concerning not only text (what has been said) but subtext (the purpose of the information) too [5, p. 94]. In order to convey the precise meaning the interpreter should have a critical level of text comprehension.

Jack C. Richards, educator and the famous scientist in the sphere of applied linguistics, distinguished two different kinds of processes involved in understanding spoken discourse: bottom-up and top-down processing [6, p. 9]. Bottom-up processing refers to using the incoming input as the basis for understanding the message. Comprehension begins with the received data that is analyzed as successive levels of organization – sounds, words, clauses, sentences, texts – until meaning is derived. Comprehension is viewed as a process of decoding. The listener’s lexical and grammatical competence in a language provides the basis for bottom-up processing. The input is scanned for familiar words, and grammatical knowledge is used to work out the relationship between elements of sentences. Learners need a large vocabulary and a good working knowledge of sentence structure to process texts bottom-up. Many traditional classroom listening activities focus primarily on bottom-up processing, with exercises such a dictation, close listening, the use of multiplechoice questions after a text, and similar activities that require close and detailed recognition, and processing of the input. It is assumed that everything the listener needs to understand is contained in the input. Top-down processing refers to the use of background knowledge in understanding the meaning of a message whereas bottom-up processing goes from language to meaning, top-down processing goes from meaning to language. The background knowledge required for top-down processing may be previous knowledge about the topic of discourse, situational or contextual knowledge, or knowledge in the form of “schemata” or “scripts” – plans about the overall structure of events and the relationships between them. [6, p. 9].

In “Theory of Translation” textbook, Sdobnikov marked that the reception of original message by the interpreter for the next transmission of it in the transliterated form to the receiver results in perception and comprehension of oral speech (auding). [7, page 305] The problem of auding results in the problem of oral speech understanding. Comparison of original messages with translations showed that the majority of nonconformance is generated by auding peculiarities. The origins of perversions when auding in the sequential translation are:

  1. unknown and unfamiliar words;
  2. precise words (for e.g. numerals);
  3. low distinguishing abilities to some phonemes recognition (when auding text in a foreign language) [7, p. 306].

V.V. Sdobnikov points out additional difficulties of auding. There are situations when main notional sentence parts remain without translation (deletion of main sentence, subordinate clause, subject). Thus, there are two main reasons for deletion and mistakes when auding [7, p. 307]:

  1. The deviance of speaker’s speech tempo (deceleration or acceleration). If the deceleration is too strong it complicates the perception of speech. The case is that sound complexes of words and sentences activate dynamic structure of notions in the cortex of brain hemispheres. If the interval between words is too long then side associations arise in the consciousness. These associations impede the right combination of notions. If the intervals between words are too short then distinction of meanings becomes difficult.
  2. Incorrect attention allocation when auding. Attention is used to concentrate on new and unknown things. Incorrect attention allocation is possible even when auding of native speech [7, p. 308].

Thus, “Practical Phonetics” course has a special role in the educational program of students of “Translation Studies” specialty. The learning of this course forms listening skills in students that is important for foreign speech perception, and forms correct pronunciation skills which are necessary for information reproduction. Having analyzed the State Obligatory Educational Standard of the Republic of Kazakhstan it became clear that “Practical Phonetics” discipline is not included in obligatory learning component, but included in optional component, i.e. university gives the list of disciplines to students for choosing [8, p. 5]. Consequently “Practical Phonetics” discipline may not be included into educational program that may affect detrimentally on the learning of “Oral Translation Practice” discipline and professional translating activity of the graduate. In the State Obligatory Educational Standard of the Republic of Kazakhstan the following requirement to “Translation Studies” graduate student is pointed out: “The graduate should be able to use foreign language as a mode of communication and know all the types of speech activity realizing oral and written forms of communication (speaking, listening, reading, writing) in the situations of official and nonofficial communicating” [8, p. 5]. In this requirement it should be noticed such lines as “know all the types of speech activity… (speaking, listening)…” As was said above these skills are being acquired when learning of “Practical Phonetics” discipline. If this discipline is not included into the list of disciplines which are obligatory for learning then how student of “Translation Studies” major will get basic knowledge for learning “Oral Translation Practice” discipline? It follows that “Practical Phonetics” discipline should be included as an obligatory component for learning of not only second year students but first year students too. Graduate student of “Translation Studies” specialty gets basis skills for auding during two years of practical phonetics learning.

The course of “Practical Phonetics” discipline may be divided into several stages. The first stage is preparatory. This is a remedial course on which the pronunciation is training. In his English language textbook V.D. Arakin marked that “while working on the remedial course it is recommended to begin every lesson with gymnastics of organs of speech. This gymnastics involves voiceless motional exercises for tongue, lips and etc. Lessons 6 and 7 suppose the involvement of voice and phonetic exercises by means of words composed by learnt vowels and consonants” [1, p. 5]. These exercises help prepare articulatory organs for foreign words’ pronunciation. The phonetic structure of the English language differs from the Russian language phonetic structure; consequently, the position of articulatory organs of Russophones differs from articulatory organs of Anglophones. That is why teachers often face difficulties when teaching students to correct pronunciation of the words. The second stage is transcribing texts.

Texts for transcription may be given from books (as a visual perception) and by means of auding (aural perception). The second case is more complicated but has more benefits, because in this type of exercises the correctness of aural speech perception is being checked and correct word pronunciation is being remembered visually as well as aurally.

The third stage is intonation perception. The importance of intonation learning is marked by V.V. Sdobnikov in his “Theory of Translation”: “Intonation has a great meaning in the sequential translation, especially in productive speech. Sometimes it is observed the non-conformity of logical figure of intonation with speech meaning content in the passive speech. In usual conditions intonation makes it possible to define the position of central idea of message – in principal clause or in subordinate clause. Intonations points out the completion or incompleteness of statement, its categoricalness, certainty or uncertainty. Intonation transmits emotionallyvolitional tone of the speech” [7, p. 296]. Thus, an interpreter faces a problem of intonation transmitting when interpreting. That is why the “Practical Phonetics” course includes exercises on perception of intonation that develop both listening skills and speaking skills in students of “Translation Studies” major.

The fourth stage includes auding with different types of assignments:

  • auding with omission of words or sentences. A text is being listened two or three times, then students perform such assignments as to mention all the numerals, adjectives, nouns or proper nouns from the text. Performing such an assignment is forming skills of fragmentary text comprehension that was mentioned above.
  • tests in auding text, true or false statements from the text. These assignments are forming skills of detailed text comprehension, i.e. student understands and remembers not only the context of the text, but text details as well. For example: street, where the main character lived; the time of the day when a particular event was happened, etc.
  • listening and retelling the text on the source language or on the target language. The main goal for student is to convey the precise meaning of a text.
  • listening clear text or text with hindrances. It is important to note that listening text with hindrances should be done on the last stage of teaching auding because this assignment is quite complicated and the correct text comprehension in such conditions is possible after training clear text listening.

Teachers can use not only texts from audio CD disks which are attached to text-

books but also different fragments from audio books popular among young people (for e.g.series of audio books about Harry Potter which were written by J.K. Rowling). Also, documentary, educational, classical video films can be used for training the perception of English speech by students. Systematic listening of foreign speech will develop speech hearing in students and will help adapt to foreign speech sounding. Teacher should motivate students to listen to audio recordings or watching of films at the starting period, i.e. it is necessary to perform such a material that would be interesting from one hand and useful from the other hand.

Thus, “Practical Phonetics” course trains not only skills of correct English pronunciation and intonation, but develops speech hearing which is important for proper interpretation of the received speech signal. Also, it develops necessary articulatory and intonation skills for adequate encoding of interpreter’s speech in foreign language. The amount of hours given for learning this course should be increased; otherwise a student of “Translation Studies” will not obtain the skills mentioned above. Practical phonetics should be introduced in the learning process from the first year and lasts till the second year of learning. The scope of tasks should include:

  • exercises on transcribing of texts – it will help a student to remember the pronunciation of words visually;
  • exercises on pronunciation of words – to train pronunciation skills of a student;
  • auding – to train student’s hearing of foreign speech.

All these exercises will prepare a student of “Translation Studies” major for his future professional activity. Also, Practical

Phonetics should be included into the list of obligatory disciplines for “Translation Studies” specialty. If it remains on the list of optional disciplines it may not be included into the educational course year by year that will involve the insufficient training of graduate students of “Translation Studies” major for interpreting.



  1. Arakin, V.D. (1973). Practical Course of English Language. 1st year. Moscow: VLADOS.
  2. Davletova, G.R., Kulmahanova, N.M., Zhumagulova, B.S., Turgazina, E.O. (2007). “Oral Translation Practice” Discipline Sample Bachelor Program for 050207 “Translation Studies”. Almaty: Kazakh Ablai Khan University of International Relations and World Languages.
  3. Dmitrenko, T.A. (2009). The Methodic of English Language Teaching in University: Education Guidance. Moscow: Moscow Economic-Linguistic Institute.
  4. http://v-science.ru/view/215745/.
  5. Minyar-Beloruchev, R.K. (1999). How to Become Interpreter? – Moscow: “Gotika”.
  6. Richards, J.C. (2008). Teaching Listening and Speaking From Theory to Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  7. Sdobnikov, V.V., Petrova, O.V. (2006). Theory of Translation. Moscow: “VostokZapad”.
  8. State Obligatory Educational Standard of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Higher Professional Education “Bachelor program”, 050207 “Translation Studies” specialty. GOSO RK 3.08.277-2006. (2006). Astana: Ministry of Education and Science of the Republic of Kazakhstan.
Year: 2013
City: Almaty
Category: Philology