Interview with Marija Omazić: “New generations of students are more digitally literate and more mobile”
After several years of successful cooperation, we decided to learn more about Marija Omazić, full professor at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Osijek and the chair of the master’s programme in translation at the Department of English. She shared with us the joys of working with students and the details about many projects she was involved in.
We have been cooperating for many years now, and we are glad that we finally have an opportunity to do an interview with you and introduce your work to our readers. We would like to hear more about your professional life. You are a university professor, but you also work as an interpreter, which leads us to the conclusion that you have managed to successfully bring those two worlds together.
I have been working at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of Osijek since 1995. I am the chair of the master’s programme in translation at the Department of English. I also often work as an interpreter, which allows me to successfully bring together the two careers, the one of an academic and the one of a professional translator, which my students are quick to recognize. They enjoy real-life translation tasks and actual work the most, and they particularly appreciate specific examples and advice coming from the professional experience.
Can you tell us about some projects of which you were involved in? Maybe one that made you particularly proud and that introduced changes at your university, town or community?
I have participated in several scientific projects for the Ministry of Science and the large collaborative FP7 project MIME. However, I am particularly proud of setting up a completely new university programme in translation and introducing a master’s programme in translation at the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Osijek as a part of the Bologna Process higher education reform, including all of the activities that brought this programme to the level at which it is today.
The faculty also invested considerable financial resources in the acquisition of equipment for interpreting, licences for translation tools for professors and students, computer equipment and the professional development of teachers. The programme teachers used to work as full-time translators themselves, and they are all still actively involved in translation or interpreting, which definitely has a positive effect on the quality of our classes.
You mentioned the collaborative FP7 project MIME (Mobility and Inclusion in Multilingual Europe). What are the most important lessons you learned while working on this project and how did it benefit you? What is WP7 DATE and what is it focused on?
MIME is a research and innovation FP7 project focused on multilingualism in Europe and financed by the European Commission. It lasted for fifty-four months and ended on 31 August 2018. Twenty universities from sixteen European countries were involved. Through an innovative multidisciplinary approach, the project provided systematic recommendations relevant for the language policy and the identification of language policies and strategies which most efficiently connect and bring together “mobility” and “inclusion” in society.
The basic recommendations of the project are summarized in The MIME Vademecum (free PDF version can be downloaded at: http://www.mime-project.org/vademecum/). The publication includes a chapter dedicated to translation, language technologies and alternative strategies for bridging the “multilingual gap”. Vademecum gives answers to seventy-two specific questions, such as whether machine translation will replace translators, who should/can work as a translator or an interpreter, which translation services are required for migrants, whether a language such as Esperanto could become a lingua franca and many others.
My task in this project was to lead the work package WP7 DATE (Dissemination, Awareness, Training, Exchange). I organized a network of external stakeholders and included them in regular meetings with the project consortium, where the needs of everyone working in the field were determined and attempted to be met. I also organized two postgraduate schools, in Osijek and in Zagreb, for the postgraduate students working on the project and other students.
Universities face a number of limitations regarding long-term procedures for changing university programmes, limited total student workload, finances, acquisition of equipment and tools, as well as continuous professional development of teachers.
What does your typical work week look like? We have collaborated on projects such as the Summer School, Elia Exchange, etc., and we have always enjoyed your quick and positive reactions, openness to cooperation and willingness to introduce new things.
At the university, we are all aware of the fact that the language industry is developing much quicker than universities can follow. Universities face a number of limitations regarding long-term procedures for changing university programmes, limited total student workload, finances, acquisition of equipment and tools, as well as continuous professional development of teachers.
We are aware of those limitations and we are trying to be present and active and keep up with the language industry through quick reactions, securing additional outside financing through the EU projects, continuously participating in seminars, workshops and summer schools, regularly making changes to the university programmes and maintaining contact with translation agencies and associations.
For example, we take part in the Visiting Translator Scheme of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation on a regular basis, and as a part of it, their translators hold guest lectures for us. We also organize field classes for students and we take them to the Translating Europe Forum, which is held in Brussels every year.
We also visit the Croatian department of the Directorate-General for Translation in Brussels. We are a part of the Elia Exchange network and we also organized a series of guest lectures by the Association of Court Interpreters and Translators, Croatian Society of Conference Interpreters, various translating agencies, renowned Croatian translators and our alumni. The programme also has a Facebook page, where we communicate with our students and the public on a regular basis.
No work week is the same as the previous one, but it always includes a combination of holding lectures, translating, doing scientific research, professional development, travelling and communicating with the translators community. Even my vacation is never just a vacation. For example, this year I spent a part of it participating in the summer school of terminology TermNet and preparing for an exam to become a certified terminologist. Last year, a part of my vacation was spent on finishing a large student translation project, the translation of the book Inside Book Publishing into Croatian.
We are also interested in your work with students and your observations. Have you noticed any differences between the students of previous generations and the millennials? What can the new generations teach you?
Ten generations of students have finished the university programme so far, but there are definitely differences between the first and the current generation. This is especially so because the labour market has changed significantly and mobility has improved since Croatia joined the European Union, so students today are much more aware of the possibilities and the limitations of working as a translator. Besides, students today are far more digitally literate than ten years ago, which makes it easier for them to adapt to contemporary language technologies and master them. They are often even slightly faster at it than professors.
We try to keep them occupied by continuously introducing new content; for example, starting this fall, we will have two new classes available: The Basics of Terminology and Language Technologies, which will significantly improve the skills the students acquire during their studies. New generations are also bolder, so it has become common for them to spend a part of their studies or complete their internships abroad as a part of the Erasmus+ or CEEPUS programmes.
What are the strong and the weak points of corpus linguistics in Croatia in your opinion? To what extent is the public aware of that field and what is being done to keep Croatian corpora up-to-date? Which resources are used to build Croatian corpora?
Only a limited number of linguists in Croatia specialize in corpus linguistics, and there are much fewer investments in language infrastructure than there are in other countries and for larger languages. Because of that, language technologies for the Croatian language are somewhat behind and do not offer all the possibilities that exist for languages such as English or German. I would like to point out the Croatian National Corpus, a representative, balanced corpus containing texts dating to 1990 and onward, containing thirty million tokens, as a good example.
The web corpus hrWaC is also very useful. It was automatically collected from the .hr top-level domain and currently contains more than two billion tokens (v.2.1), and therefore does not only contain standardized language. The corpus is built into the SketchEngine tool, which we use when working with students for purposes such as searching corpora, automatic term extraction, creation of new corpora and so on.
What are your plans for the future? Are there any wishes or ambitions you have not yet managed to fulfil?
To keep developing the university programme and to include it in the European network of university programmes in translation, EMT (European Master’s in Translation), to work on improving the status of translation as a vocation and to maintain connections with external stakeholders in order to have a better understanding of their needs and to educate competent translators.
I would therefore like to thank Ciklopea for its highly appreciated cooperation, especially the interesting guest lectures and education workshops, successfully organized summer schools for translation students and all the energy invested into bringing the Elia Exchange programme to Croatia.