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Workshop One: Heritage Translation End-Users

Updated: Jul 15, 2021


This was the first workshop in a series of events organised by the RSE-funded research network on ‘Translating Scotland’s Heritage’ which is co-led by Sharon Deane-Cox (University of Strathclyde) and Rebecca Bailey (Historic Environment Scotland). Translation, in this context, is understood broadly as an umbrella term that includes translation between languages, sign language interpretation, audio description and heritage interpretation. The network has been established in an effort to bring together individuals and organisations with an interest in heritage translation so that they can identify shared challenges and best practices, as well as collaborative opportunities and solutions, all with a view to enhancing accessibility to Scotland’s heritage. During an earlier scoping session (March 2019), it emerged that there was a significant knowledge gap around how visitors are using and responding to the translated material on offer across Scotland’s heritage sites. And so, the workshop set out to proactively and collectively address the theme of ‘Heritage translation end-users: expectations and responses’. The participants’ willingness to engage with the research presentations and the structured discussions yielded important and thought-provoking insights into the current state of affairs and future directions in heritage translation and accessibility, as summarised in the sections below.

Heritage translation end-users: a research perspective

The aim of the three research presentations was to offer participants a better idea of how heritage translation has been explored from a Translation Studies perspective in the hope that this would illuminate themes and issues that cross-cut heritage translation in an applied sense.

Current trends and issues & TripAdvisor case study (Sharon Deane-Cox, University of Strathclyde)

Sharon’s presentation aimed at providing an overview of key issues & gaps in existing literature; this was followed by a brief case study that attempted to address the gap in our understanding of how visitors (in this case, French) are responding to translation provision:

· Tourism translation has been heavily criticised due to a perceived lack of quality that can be attributed to the underestimation of the skill required and a lack of specialised training

o Gap: insufficient research into tourism translation that is done well, i.e. best practice is not being captured

· Numerous studies argue that tourist texts (especially museum texts) should be adapted to the target language audience and that meeting cultural expectations takes precedence over linguistic accuracy

o Gap: limited consideration of situations in which cultural gap should be emphasised rather than reduced

· Museum translation should take the interplay between text, object and space into account as meaning is not created by words alone

o Gap: many more case studies needed to better understand the implications of this multimodal approach for translation practice and reception

· Memorial museum audio guide translation has the potential to impact the generation of empathy and how a visitor responds emotionally and ethically to the past on display

o Gap: as above, research not grounded in empirical studies of visitor response

· Museums are positioned as sites of power that control the source language narratives and the provision of translated narratives; that control is lost, however, when it comes to the content of the translations that can alter e.g. the presentation of national identity

o Gap: How might heritage translation commissioners evaluate the translation product its (mis)alignment with their agendas?

Content analysis of TripAdvisor reviews:

· Revealed that the majority of reviews focused on audio guides (as opposed to written material) and were generally positive in terms of their instructive content and the immersive experience they afforded

· Doune Castle reviews suggested that:

o French visitors expect an audio guide in their own language

o German and Spanish visitors had a positive experience of the English version, including the voices used (Sam Heughan and Terry Jones)

· More research is needed into how a visitor’s level of English competence might impact their experience; the ensuing discussion of this point flagged up the fact that visitor engagement with English material can also be explored from a generational angle.

VisitScotland website translation (Pauline Côme, University of Strathclyde)

Pauline’s presentation drew on her case study on the French translation of sections of the VisitScotland website in order to demonstrate how translation decisions might influence the way a French visitor uses and responds to the content:

§ Two different translation approaches can be discerned on the website: human translation is used for general pages (e.g. articles about Scottish culture and history), and machine translation is used for listings pages for attractions registered on the corporate website

§ There are also different conventions around the use of tourism discourse in English and French: the former tends to emphasize ideas of escapism and discovery, to include practical details and to be informal in style, while the latter tends to privilege cultural and historical information and to be more formal in style

§ The human website translator(s) retain the original emphasis on expressive (as opposed to informative) and informal language use; although this may not necessarily meet French visitor expectations regarding the style of French tourism texts, it is nevertheless likely that the romantic imagery and the friendly tone does resonate with their expectations of Scotland

§ There is some inconsistency in terms of how cultural references are dealt with in human translation since additional information is not always provided, despite the potential for this to be helpful

§ Problems with spelling, grammar and syntax are difficult to avoid entirely in human translation, although factual errors occasionally make their way in too

§ An analysis of machine translation errors shows how Scots words, words with more than one meaning and prepositions in particular all pose significant challenges to the intelligibility of the translation, while mistakes in the original don’t help either

§ On balance, human translation emerges as more successful, although machine translation could be improved through the use of style guides and/or post-editing procedures.

Pauline's presentation is available below

ComeP_VisitScotland website_case study
Download PDF • 180KB

Edinburgh Castle for Chinese visitors (Michelle Min-Hsiu Liao, Heriot-Watt University)

Michelle’s presentation offered insights into her pioneering study on visitor responses to the English and Chines audio guide offerings at Edinburgh Castle. This is an important step forwards in translation research as it (i) is premised on empirical data; (ii) incorporates a multimodal angle; and (iii) provides examples of good practice. The following issues emerged from the presentation and the discussion:

· Scots: the English language audio guide incorporated Scots words to construct a Scottish experience; however, it is impossible to reconstruct this same linguistic signposting and sense of exoticism in Chinese (keeping the Scots words would be meaningless or confusing), and the result is that Chinese visitors often described the castle in more general terms as ‘British’. In other words, the emphasis on Scottish identity is lost.

· Compensation: alternative devices (such as the use of traditional music) could be used to reinforce a more Scottish experience; however, the from the perspective of a Chinese visitor, Britain could be deemed exotic enough already without the additional Scottish scaffolding

· Translation decisions: if working with a single translator, there is more scope to discuss in detail how to approach these challenges; otherwise, the importance of a detailed translation brief cannot be underestimated

· Accent: there seemed to be some debate amongst English-speaking visitors as to the authenticity of the Scottish voice used on the audio guide

· (In)formality: similarly, there was a lack of consensus from Chinese visitors as to how formal the audio guide text was, with some suggesting that the subject itself made it formal (not the tone or how they were addressed), while others suggested the background music made it informal

· Multimodal interaction: the opportunity is there for Chinese visitors to gain additional information from visual material (e.g. images of highland dress), although there are no written text panels in Chinese. Those visitors who are proficient in English made no comment on the English written text, while those who are not were understandably reticent to engage with the source language material. Since there is limited audio content for the indoor parts of the castle, Chinese visitors are thus restricted in the amount of information they receive

· Theoretical approach: The construction of meaning in a given place depends on a combination of the social actors involved (profile of participants), the interaction order (motivation to visit) and the visual and audio semiotics

· Methodological challenges: organising and facilitating participation is a time-consuming affair, and the tracking technology used, while innovative, can be unreliable.

Structured group discussions

The second part of the workshop saw participants divided into two groups for a more general discussion that was structured around (but not limited to) three questions. Thinking around each question was prompted by short responses from several of the workshop participants who generously and productively shared their own insights. The summary below has attempted to capture the main threads of this rich discussion.

Q1: What is our current sense of what visitors need and want from translated, interpreted, audio-described etc. material?

Response from John Hays (Deaf History Scotland): Deaf visitors appreciate information that is presented in plain English and visuals that can be comprehended in one gaze. Technology can be used to enhance access, including the use of handheld devices with video inserts and QR codes. Ultimately, the quality of the Deaf visitor experience depends on the standard of both the guides and the quality of the sign language interpreting, and there is also scope to improve that experience by building in more opportunity for tactile engagement and by improving access to re-enactments.

Discussion points:

· There is a sense that foreign visitors want to have a more ‘magical’, ‘romantic’ etc. Scottish experience and therefore expect to feel a sense of alienation. This contrasts notably with the expectations of Deaf visitors who want an inclusive heritage experience through which they are able to recognize themselves and learn, as opposed to feeling marginalised, and this aligns with the expectations of other minority groups as well

· Effective interpersonal communication emerged as an important aspect in terms of conveying passion, providing role models for Deaf visitors and gaining a deeper understanding of visitor needs, all of which can lead to enhanced quality of engagement

· It was also noted that, if visitor response is surveyed only in English, this restricts the breadth and depth of perspectives that can be collected and analysed

· There was a keenness to deliver more immersive, multisensory experiences for visitors if money was no object

· It was further acknowledged that there are any number of individual differences within audience groups in terms of what people want.

Q2. What scope is there to share and repurpose resources across visitor groups and where would visitor-specific content need to be created?

Response from Sally Gall (Historic Environment Scotland): The Interpretation Unit tend to write for English, adult, non-specialist audiences in the first instance; then comes the creation of targeted resources that are audience-specific, including the provision of British Sign Language (BSL) and foreign language audio guides and printed material. There is scope to apply the processes adopted in this second stage across different audience groups in that the BSL model could be adapted for audio description, and the content of the family backpacks could be adapted for visitors with autism. A further option to enhance accessibility is to minimize verbal language use and increase visual elements, as has been done in Edinburgh Castle’s Argyle Tower. It is important to bear in mind that all procedures need to be operationally sustainable in terms of budgets and staffing.

Response from Elodie Milne (The Language Room): Translators frequently adopt localization (cultural accommodation) strategies so that the information included in visitor material is presented in ways that are familiar and usable to the reader; for example, units of measurement will be converted from imperial to metric. One particular constraint with which translators are often confronted is that of space. Translations tend to be longer than their originals and it can prove challenging to fit the text into the fixed dimensions of e.g. a PDF document. Such constraints shed important light on the relationship between the client and translator: if lines of communication are good and trust has been established, the translator will find it easier to resolve translation challenges. In turn, the value of a detailed translation brief that comes directly from the client (as opposed to administrative staff more removed from the project) was underscored.

Discussion points:

· The delivery of quality, visitor-specific written translation could be supported through better client education, i.e. by raising awareness of the information that can usefully be included in a translation brief and by ensuring that lines of communication remain open. Attention was drawn to the Translation: getting it right guide from the Institute of Translation and Interpreting as a general starting point, although the idea of creating a more detailed translation brief template for heritage translation was well-received and could be actioned through the research network

· Significant value was placed on the documentation and sharing of good practice across the heritage sector, especially in relation to the HES BSL plan that is being developed and Gaelic language plans that could be disseminated to smaller organisations. At the same time, though, it was recognized that best practice could also be shared more widely with the tourism industry since many of the themes and issues will resonate there too

· There is a need to encourage and train Deaf people as tour leaders, especially those who have a good level of English along with a passion for and solid grounding in history. Apprenticeships and scholarships might be two pathways to enabling that training

· Providing layered levels of interpretation goes some way to engaging visitors who want to have full access to the jargon of heritage discourse and others who don’t, although the initial challenge of ascertaining what needs to be said still persists

· It was widely agreed that, despite the cost-effectiveness of digital resources, there was no substitution for the personal touch; an individual’s ability to adapt to and accommodate visitor needs contrasts markedly with the static nature of the written text that offers little opportunity for interaction.

Q3: How can we best advocate for enhanced translation and accessibility services across heritage sites in Scotland?

Response from Prof Graham Turner (Heriot-Watt University): The question invites the consideration of a set of more specific questions, as follows. To whom is our advocacy directed? Should advocacy be premised on a top-down approach for more systemic change, or on a bottom-up approach that starts at a grassroots level with the enthusiasts? Does advocacy simply mean getting more money? What kind of leverage might be obtained from progress reports into, for example, the BSL (Scotland) Act 2015? Do we have sufficient base-line information for advocacy yet?

Discussion points:

· A strong case was made for the benefits of working together in more joined-up and effective ways. This would allow the sharing of resources and funding, encourage the development and delivery of training programmes, and could be facilitated through collaborations with umbrella organisations such as the British Deaf Association and Museums Galleries Scotland. Similarly, there is scope to forge connections with the tourism industry more widely to enable, e.g. Deaf visitors to engage more fully with aspects of Scottish heritage such as fishing and golf, and to bring on board bodies such as VisitScotland and the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions

· Once again, the benefits of disseminating best practice came strongly to the fore; public bodies and other heritage institutions could usefully lead by example, create precedents, promote guidelines and models for heritage access based on the knowledge they have acquired, and, ultimately, be open about their success stories

· The collation of feedback (written, on camera, through focus groups and networks, and from grassroots stakeholders) was highlighted as a valuable step and could work for advocacy as a way of demonstrating the positives of enhanced access

· Emphasis was placed on ensuring that audiences are involved in decisions about access from the point of conception as there is little merit in implementing change that is unwanted

· The relative merits of using International Sign Language at heritage sites were addressed. On one hand, this could be a cost-effective measure that would attract and provide access for a wide range of international visitors. On the other, the exclusive use of ISL is to be avoided as this risks excluding local British sign language users

· A range of concrete measures to push forward translation and accessibility services were suggested: use a logo to show availability sign language interpreting services; invite frontline staff to share their ideas on how to improve; provide basic language training for staff so they can greet visitors in their own language; increase translation and interpreting provision by encouraging language students to volunteer at sites; offset staffing restrictions by encouraging foreign students to volunteer at Edinburgh Castle where they can deliver a more personalized experience; leverage the VisitScotland Quality Assurance scheme that awards marks on inclusivity for use of foreign languages and alternative access to sites.


The workshop clearly demonstrated the value of exchanging ideas from different critical perspectives, while realizing its aims of facilitating new connections between people and ideas and proposing ways forwards in heritage translation and accessibility. The organisers are grateful to all participants for their ideas, enthusiasm and collaborative spirit, and we are also very appreciative of the efforts of the BSL interpreters who allowed the insights and discussions to develop. We hope that this summary will allow you to share the workshop’s themes, suggestions and future activities (see below) with colleagues and other interested parties, and we also hope that we will be able to continue our productive exchanges in the very near future. If you have any pilot studies, projects or other ideas that you would like to develop in conjunction with the research network, then please do not hesitate to contact Sharon (

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