Cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems

December 19, 2016 11:27 am

The objective of the papers is to draw a panorama of the study of cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems, as well as to draw the perspectives of the research.

cognitive-strategies-for-the-resolution-of-translation-problems-olga-jeczmykWe consider that translation strategies can be of internal support (cognitive type) and of external support (by the use of resources of documentation of all type), and we focus our interest on the first of these two types. Our interest is to analyse cognitive translation strategies employed in the resolution of translation problems in written translation.

At the beginning, researches in Translation Studies were based mostly on the product with a particular interest in the translated text as object of study. A few decades ago, investigations were redirected towards human translators, investigating the cognitive processes and the skills required to translate properly, proposing theoretical models and experimental research. However, there are still no rigorous empirical studies for cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems during the translation process.

In our communication, we will present how the concept of strategy in other disciplines and in Translation Studies has been analysed. Finally, we will draw the perspectives of the research.

  1. Analysis of the notion of strategy in disciplines related to Translation Studies

The notion of strategy has been studied in disciplines such as Cognitive psychology, Language didactics, Psycholinguistics and Pedagogy.

In general, we find a wide nomenclature and large terminological differences with regard to the denomination and classification of strategies:


  • In Cognitive psychology there is a division of (1) strategies for problem resolution and (2) learning strategies. According to Mayer (1981) the used denomination is: heuristic methods and procedures.
  • In Language didactics there are problem-resolution strategies for second language learning. Oxford (1990) is the author who proposed the more complete definition and a classification. She defines strategies such as: “Strategies are specific actions taken by the learner to make easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferrable new situations.” (Oxford 1990: 8). The author proposes the following classification: (1) direct strategies (cognitive, memory and compensation) and (2) indirect strategies (metacognitive, affective and social), (Oxford 1990: 16-21). The definitions of strategies of others authors serve as a complement to Oxford’s proposals (1990). Strategies are called: techniques, mechanisms, processes, thoughts, actions, plans, operations, behaviours, steps, etc.
  • In Psycholinguistics there is no definition or no exclusive classification for strategies, this is why we find the same type of problem-resolution strategies for second language learning as in Language didactics.
  • In Pedagogy strategies are related to Cognitive psychology since this latter science also studies the processes of learning. There is a distinction between (1) teaching strategies and (2) learning strategies.

All the studied disciplines have a wide terminological nomenclature regarding the denomination of strategies: heuristic methods, procedures, ducts, thoughts, specific actions, behaviours, steps, techniques, decision-making processes, activities or mental operations, conscious and intentional activities, flexible and adaptive procedures, joint procedures of steps or skills, etc. Strategies vary based on the analysis of each author and discipline that are studied. It is important to highlight the distinction of: (1) problem-solving strategies; (2) learning strategies and (3) teaching strategies.

  1. Analysis of the notion of strategy in Translation Studies

From Honig and Kussmaul (1982) and, over the last three decades, the study of translation strategies has been acquiring greater importance thanks to several empirical studies, such as Krings (1986), Séguinot (1991) or Gregorio Cano (2014) among others. There are also authors like Hurtado Albir (1996, 2001 and 2015) with no empirical studies, but she makes a proposal of definition, denomination and classification of the notion of strategy with several examples in order to clarify the existing confusion around this concept.

2.1. Denominations

In Translation Studies there are different terminological denominations for the notion of strategy such as: heuristic methods, procedures, techniques of translation, translation strategies, principles of translation, standards, principles, mental process, mechanisms, etc. Despite the great information regarding translation and cognitive strategies employed in the resolution of translation problems there is a terminological confusion and some different classifications.


2.2. Definitions

Krings (1986: 268) defines strategies as   “potentially conscious plans for solving a translation problem” and he is based on the authors Færch and Kasper (1983). Séguinot (1991: 82) proposes the following definition “strategies is a term which has been used to refer to both conscious and unconscious procedures, to both overt tactics and mental processes”. Lörscher is based on Krings (1986) and Færch and Kasper (1983) but he has his own definition “a translation strategy is a potentially conscious procedure for the solution of a problem which an individual is faced with when translating a text segment from one language to another” (1991: 76).  In these three definitions we note that Krings (1986) talks about “potentially conscious plans” and Séguinot (1991) and Lörscher (1991) are using the term of “procedure” in order to define strategies.

Jääskeläinen (1993: 116) proposes her own definition for strategies: “a set of (loosely formulated) rules or principles which a translator uses to reach the goals determined by the translating situation in the most effective way”. The author focuses on “guidelines” or “principles” used by the translator not on “procedures”.

Lachat Leal (2003: 344) defines strategies as “el proceso mental que permite al traductor alcanzar la representación del texto traducido a partir de la representación del texto original“. So the author uses the term “process”.

Gregorio Cano (2014: 82) proposes the term “mechanisms” affirming that “la estrategia de traducción es aquel mecanismo que el traductor ha de poner en marcha para resolver un problema de traducción determinado”.

As noted in some of the analysed studies, in many cases, the notion of strategy is confused with the notions of technique and method. This is due to the lack of a general consensus that serves as a reference point for authors and other studies. Hurtado Albir (1996, 2001) aims to put order in this terminological confusion and to clearly define the differences between method, strategy and technique proposing the following definitions:


2.3. Classifications

Not all the authors we studied propose a classification of the notion of strategy. Only Krings (1986), Lörscher (1991) and Jääskeläinen (1993) do so.

Krings (1986) classifies strategies in five categories with one subcategory as (1) comprehension strategies, (2) recovery strategies (with the subcategory of semantically related resources), (3) monitoring strategies, (4) decision-making strategies and, finally, (5) reduction strategies.

Lörscher (1991) distinguishes two phases in the translation process: (1) strategic and (2) non-strategic phase.

On the other hand, Jääskeläinen talks about (1) global and (2) local strategies.

Vinay and Darbelnet (1958) and Hurtado Albir (1996, 2001 and 2015) make a proposal based on their own experience.

2.4. Empirical studies carried out

There are some limitations in experimental design in several of the authors who have done empirical studies such as:

  • The selection of small and hardly representative samples
  • The limitations to the use of the TAPs as the technique of data collection since they do not give access to unconscious processes and create artificial situations.
  • The use of inadequate data collection instruments.

On the other hand, problem-solving strategies still need to be analysed.

  1. Research perspectives

We believe that the results of a more detailed research on cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems will lead to a best practice for professional translation and for a better training for translators. In this sense, there are two types of research challenges:

  • Progress in conceptual clarification, clearly distinguishing the notion of strategy of other related notions and establishing links with research in related disciplines.
  • Carrying out experimental-empiric research by using large and representative samples of professional translators and translation students with technical and varied instruments (recordings of the translator process, questionnaires, interviews, etc.); this will allow collecting reliable data on cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems and for the acquisition process.

This research will allow us to clarify cognitive strategies for the resolution of translation problems.


To read the paper, please click on: Estrategias cognitivas para la resolución de problemas de traducción.


Olga Jeczmyk

Communication and Terminology Trainee, Translator, Interpreter, Proofreader and Social Media Manager. Olga holds a degree in Translation and Interpreting from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, she is specialized in Economics and Legal Translation with “FR” as her B language and “EN” as her C language. She spent her Erasmus in Paris and Rome. She received her Masters in Linguistic and Cultural Mediation from the Università La Sapienza in Rome and concluded a simultaneous interpreting internship in the FAO. She currently studies Translation Studies and Intercultural Studies at the Universitat Autònoma in Barcelona as PhD candidate. She analyses the cognitive strategies in the resolution of translation problems in writing translation. She speaks Polish, Spanish, Catalan, English, French and Italian. You can read her blog at and follow her on Twitter at @OlgaJeNo.


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