Interview with Francisca Padilla


Francisca Padilla holds a Bachelor Degree in Psychology and a PhD inFrancisca Padilla Experimental Psychology and Behavioural Neurosciences from the University of Granada. She began teaching at the Psychology Faculty in 1995 and became an associate Professor in 2008.

She is interested in different ways to improve and optimize cognitive processes by training or as a consequence of a range of heterogeneous activities, professional or non/professional. For that reason, she started studying the case of simultaneous language interpreters and expert knowledge representation.


Her doctoral thesis revolves around the work of interpreters. How did this interest in Translation and Interpretation Studies arise?

I was at the beginning of my researcher training, we were planning what was going to be my “tesina”, equivalent to a current Final Master´s Degree, and it was going to be about bilingualism. My advisors, Phd Bajo and Phd Cañas, were contacted by an interpretation teacher to carry out her research into cognitive processes in simultaneous professional interpretation. From a cognitive point of view, the professional interpreter case seemed really interesting to us. Starting from the demanding task that is the professional activity; continuing through the academic formation in the classroom at the Faculty of Translation and Interpretation of the University of Granada and culminating in the intense training students undertake at the end of their graduation to pass the final exams, all of it is very interesting for a cognitive psychologist. In fact, during several decades, members of the research group headed by PhD Bajo, which I belong to, have conducted some studies into different aspects of translation and interpretation.

Do Cognitive Sciences distinguish between general and specialised knowledge? 

Cognitive Psychology includes studies about general and specialized knowledge and what characterizes the latter. These pieces of research focus on different topics, for example, how it is acquired, how it is used by experts and non-experts, how difficult its acquisition is, how that acquisition can be facilitated and so one. Therefore, both kinds of knowledge have aroused interest and in my opinion, the interest in specialized knowledge will grow. We live in an increasingly specialized world where that knowledge must not only be acquired during the academic formation, but also transferred to society in general and to other experts in the same or different domains. Additionally, in a global and multilingual world, this exchange often takes place between different languages. For all these reasons, more and more researchers will become interested in the similarities and differences between both types of knowledge.

Is the experimental psycholinguistic methodology applicable to terminological study? What can experimental Psychology provide?

Yes, it is, undoubtedly. The specific methodology of Experimental Psychology can be useful to study specialized and technical terms as can be used to study other general words and concepts. Regarding the contributions, in my opinion, all disciplines with the same object of study can contribute to each other. In the specific case of Terminology and Experimental Psychology, each one brings its own knowledge. Additionally, each one brings a set of questions which can have had different relevance to each discipline. One question, as a priority in one of them, can have inspired many works but may not have aroused significant interest in the other one. However, it would be really fruitful to address that issue from a different theoretical and methodological perspective, and then to assess the convergence of results from both perspectives.

Experimental Cognitive Psychology brings to terminology studies an experimental approach and focuses on the knowledge of the expert and its representation in the mind and memory of the expert more than on the products of this expert knowledge as could be seen in texts or discourses. 

“We live in an increasingly specialized world where that knowledge must not only be acquired during the academic formation, but also transferred to society in general and to other experts in the same or different domains”

When did you decide to put the terminology under the magnifying glass?

I was interested in the different sources of difficulty for professional interpreters and translators from the beginning of my career. I initially focused on their cognitive processes and training, then I turned my attention to the specificity and specialization of the subjects that they most needed to communicate during their professional activity. My first study about Terminology was conducted jointly with Professor Castro whose Translation first year students at the University of Granada became involved as participants. More recently, after several years teaching Social Sciences Research Methodology and Research Design for postgraduate students of Interpreting and Translation, a new chance to go deeper in this field has come up. A student of those two research courses, whose adviser was Phd Faber, wanted to incorporate the methods of the Experimental Psychology into her thesis about Terminology (and you know it very well, because you were it (smiling)). I recognize your proposal for that collaboration renewed my interest in specialized knowledge representation. 

Do you know the terminology base of the EU IATE? To what point of view does the IATE structure approach the mental representation approach to cognitive knowledge?

My understanding is that the IATE has been formed from many other previous databases, most of which were based on the corpus methodology. It has expanded and developed with the experience and contributions of the professionals who use it. To my knowledge, there are no many empirical studies which directly compare the knowledge organization extracted from corpus methodology, with a long tradition in Terminology discipline, and the organization extracted from expert knowledge, more like in Cognitive Psychology.  This kind of studies are even scarcer for the IATE database, and for that reason, it is a little premature to provide an accurate response to your question. In my opinion, it would be really interesting to conduct more studies to detect the similarities and differences between them, thereby enabling an answer to be based on strong empirical evidence.

What studies do you now have in your hands? Are they related to terminology?

I am developing several lines of research at the moment, one of them is effectively focused on Terminology. We are carrying out studies that start from a specific terminology proposal and we try to contrast it with the experimental methodology that we have already mentioned previously. In short, we first analyze the architecture of representation of a specific terminology proposal in a domain. Then we include that information in the design of well-tested experimental tasks that evaluate the knowledge that experts have. Finally, we measure the validity of that architecture based on how well well-documented behavioural effects are reproduced in Cognitive Psychology versus a different theoretical architecture or a theory about non-expert knowledge.

What prospects for future collaboration do you see for experimental Psychology and Terminology?

As a cognitive psychologist interested in the representation of knowledge, I feel that I have already gone some way towards expressing my views regarding this question. I am sure there are multiple forms of collaborations and mutual enrichment. Each discipline can find partial answers in the other discipline. Additionally, both can collaborate to obtain more global and solid answers to similar or common questions since they share the same study issue. Furthermore, as a result of this collaboration, new research inspiring questions can come up and this is fundamental to the advancement of scientific knowledge.

Written by Dr. Olga Koreneva

Olga hold a Bachelor’s Degree and a Master’s Degree in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Granada, is member of the LexiCon terminology research group of this university, has been working as professional linguists and terminologists for many years and has completed a traineeship in TermCoord during 2018. Olga finished her PhD in 2017 with a thesis in Cognitive Terminology and Psychoterminology (with the codirector PhD Francisca Padilla) and her working languages are Russian, German, Spanish, English, Italian and Portuguese. Now she is working as associated professor in the Pablo de Olavide University/Seville (Spain).