Faculty Spotlight

Published October 3, 2022

Dr. Giulia Togato

In Fall 2020, Dr. Giulia Togato joined the faculty of the Translation Studies Program at CSULB. Since then, she has played an important role in growing the program and training future translators and interpreters on our campus. Recently, we asked her a few questions about herself and her research interests. You will find our exchange below. Enjoy!

Photo of Giulia Togato
Dr. Giulia Togato


I was born in a charming coastal city in southern Italy, Taranto, also known as the “City of the two seas” and the capital of the ancient Magna Grecia, located in the stunning region of Apulia. Believe me, Apulia is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  

I had the privilege of studying Translation, Interpreting, and Intercultural Mediation in Forlì, at the University of Bologna, one of the world’s best schools for translators and interpreters. There, I was awarded an Erasmus scholarship that allowed me to land in Spain, namely Granada, where I lived for 15 years. Granada (and all Andalusia) is the place that has my heart; to me, its embrujo is the closest experience to the feeling of “sublime”. There I worked as a professional translator and consecutive interpreter and I completed a Master of Arts in Translation and Interpreting, a Master of Science in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, a PhD in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience and I served as a postdoctoral researcher within the M&L research group (at CIMCYC), of which I am still a member. Granada gave me the learning opportunities that I always dreamt about. I am deeply thankful for the valuable support and collegiality that I received both from my PhD advisors and colleagues. They made all the difference, as professionals and human beings. After my postdoc, I worked at the Pennsylvania State University (State College) for 3.5 years; there, I taught Translation, Spanish, Italian and Spanish psycholinguistics courses. Now I have the pleasure of serving my students here at CSULB, and I am honored for this unique opportunity. I am proudly part of a genuinely inclusive institution whose mission based on diversity, compassion and curiosity totally overlaps with mine. Moreover, living in California is a privilege for the senses: it is a paradise for people who, like me, are passionate about warm weather, wildlife, nature, and cultural kaleidoscopes.

My area of research is psycholinguistics, with a specific focus on the cognitive exploration of translation and bilingualism. Simply, I merged my passions: languages, translation, and psychology.

The importance of translation studies (TS) and translation theory (TT) for translation practice (TP) is still too often underestimated on the market, unfortunately. In the past, some sort of disconnection between TS and TP has contributed to the proliferation of inconvenient misconceptions, such as the one that every untrained bilingual can professionally translate.

Theoretical knowledge (in turn derived from a rigorous, replicated observation of translation practice), has contributed to improve many aspects of TP: translation studies have been fundamental to track recurrent patterns in translation practice; this meticulous observation has allowed to establish principles and norms to tackle not just the product of translation, by improving its quality, but also the process, by making it more efficient. The problem has been (and partly still is) that TS is (relatively) new as an independent discipline; in other words, it is possible that there has not been enough time for its foundational tenets to penetrate pop culture. Paradoxically, I have met translators who believe that TS is not necessary for TP. These are cases of professionals who probably learned the hard way, i.e., through a trial-and-error process that helped them to develop a personal theory of translation. However, this is a very time-consuming process and not the most effective way for our students to acquire translation competence1 (the basis of their future translation expertise).2

If handled properly, translation theory is practice relevant (for similar arguments, see Pym, 2014).3 Of course, our students will need a few years of consistent, deliberate practice during and after their training at CSULB to become expert translators: in other words, throughout their professional career they will have to undergo a perpetual trial-and-error learning process to flexibly solve new translation problems, repair, and tune their performance over time to obtain further knowledge and grow as professionals. However, if we teach them translation theory, their establishment of task-relevant schemata and their internalization process of translation routines will be more effective; that is, the acquisition of domain specific knowledge will contribute to how efficiently they will be able to solve (translation) problems in the future.4 In fact, to solve translation problems, a translator needs foundational, domain specific knowledge (i.e., translation competence, critically enriched by TT) and very specific skills linked to domain-specific problem-solving activities (translation expertise, critically acquired through TP).

Although sometimes students tend to see few benefits in the study of TT, as some scholars would say, “to translate without a theory is to translate blind”5 (these readings are particularly useful to understand the debate about the importance of TT for TP).

TS and related interdisciplinary approaches offer the conceptual architecture on which we base and refine our choices as professional translators, and plenty of arguments to justify those choices to our clients. In other words, “knowledge is power”, and TS is an ace up the sleeve of professional translators. TT enables future professional translators to provide an informed service “backed by science” whose quality will be very hard to confute by potential criticism. Importantly, scholars whose investigation is based on hypothesis testing will insist on the idea that tested informed practices vs. untested prescriptive or speculative approaches in translation are two very different things.

1 PACTE. (2002). Una investigación empírico-experimental sobre la adquisición de la competencia traductora. In A. Alcina & S. Gamero (Eds.), La traducción científico-técnica y la terminología en la sociedad de la información (pp. 125-138). Castellón: Universidad Jaime I.

2 Shreve, G. (2002). Knowing translation: Cognitive and experiential aspects of translation expertise from the perspective of expertise studies. In A. Riccardi (Ed.), Translation studies: Perspectives on an emerging discipline (pp. 150-171). Cambridge: CUP.

3 Pym, A. (2014). Exploring Translation Theories. Oxon: Routledge.

4 Holyoak, K.J. (1991). Symbolic connectionism: toward a third generation theories of expertise. In K.A. Ericsson & J. Smith (Eds.), Toward a general theory of expertise (pp. 301-336). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

5 Chesterman, A. (2000). Memes of Translation. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins; Chesterman, A., & Wagner, E. (2010). Can Theory Help Translators? A dialogue between the ivory tower and the wordface (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315760445.


One piece of advice that I always give to my students is to build their professional practice on a thorough understanding of translation theory. Students or translators at early stages of their career might think that translation theory is not as exciting as translation practice. However, as I mentioned earlier, the quality of their service as professional translators will be impacted by their familiarity with TS, and students usually realize how important TT is only after they start translating real texts for the real market. That is the moment I usually hear back from them (of course, it is always my pleasure to help!).

Another piece of advice that I always give is to identify the field(s) that they are passionate about. They will be working in that specific domain for many years, so it is important that they like what they are translating. Motivation will possibly boost learning performance, hence translation quality and efficiency. Last but not the least, I also tell my students that it is extremely important that they take into consideration critical factors such as wages and job opportunities as a function of geography, language combination and fields of specialization, and that they continue to consolidate their entrepreneurial spirit, project management skills and soft skills through deliberate practice after they graduate. All this is fundamental to keep them competitive in the multilingual and intercultural market.

Overall, I am fascinated by the understanding of how bilinguals and translators diverge (or converge) from the cognitive point of view due to their specific uses of their second language. I ask research questions that are related to the selection, training and evaluation of translators. For example, is it true that professional translators, compared to untrained bilinguals, vary in how they handle their languages and the cognitive regulation of resources due to consistent practice in their domain? Are there skills that are specific to translation expertise that cannot be detected in untrained bilinguals? How is the ease with which translators handle linguistic materials between languages reflected at a more general cognitive level? Right now, these are “hot topics” in research, and they continue to attract the attention of many scholars. The research community working on these questions is particularly active, the debate is always alive and enriched by many new ideas and insights. Working in this multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research line is very exciting. My research pivots around four main topics in the psycholinguistics of translation and bilingualism. These topics are intertwined and merged in my investigations: automaticity and cognitive control in bilingual and translation expertise, the impact of motor processing on the use of the first and second language in translators and bilinguals, figurative language processing in bilingualism and translation, and emotional processing in the first and second language of bilinguals and translators. My research is experimental and follows the norms of the scientific method, considering translation expertise as a particular case of expertise in general.6 However, I am mindful of more naturalistic approaches since in my opinion they do offer useful intuitions/insights to embark on new (in my case, experimental) investigation opportunities: “All knowledge is connected to all other knowledge. The fun is making the connections” (Arthur Aufderheide).

6 Sirén, S. & K. Hakkrarainen. (2002). The cognitive concept of expertise applied to expertise in Translation. Across Languages and Cultures, 3 (1), 71-82. https://doi.org/10.1556/Acr.3.2002.1.5.

A thorough answer to this question would take many pages. However, overall cognitive regulation is defined as the regulation of cognition (thoughts, beliefs, affects) toward the attainment of goals7 in different contexts and while performing different tasks. The translation task requires a huge amount of cognitive resources to maintain the speed and efficiency throughout the process.8 Regarding cognitive regulation in translation, the main idea is that for the translation task to develop smoothly, the translator should be able to handle efficiently, through several sub-tasks, the allocation of (a limited amount of) cognitive resources. Therefore, an effective cognitive regulation in translation would include, for instance, the ability to focus attention on new, unexpected stimuli, keep these elements in mind while processing earlier elements, and flexibly adapt experiential representations to unexpected elements; it would also include, for example, the ability to ignore irrelevant information and dismiss distracting thoughts; possibly, all this might be enhanced when as many sub-components as possible of the translation task have been automatized and are less attention consuming.9

As an illustration, when the translator is highly proficient in the two working languages, language processing will require fewer cognitive resources and the ability to execute the higher-level processes required by the translation task (e.g., monitoring the simultaneity of the comprehension and production processes, control of interference, cross-sentence integration of information;10 but also, control over emotional aspects of the task) will be enhanced.

There are specific sub-skills that are considered essential to "save" cognitive resources and guarantee the speed and efficiency of the translation process: a) the ability to modulate the co-activation of the source language (SL) and the target language (TL), avoiding translation errors and / or episodes of interference;11 b) the ability to retrieve translation equivalents quickly and efficiently.12

7 Schunk, D., & DiBenedetto, M.  Cognitive Regulation. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved from https://oxfordre.com/education/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264093.001.0001/acrefore-9780190264093-e-886.

8 Christoffels, I., de Groot, A., & Waldorp, L. J. (2003). Basic skills in a complex task: A graphical model relating memory and lexical retrieval to simultaneous interpreting. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, 6(3), 201–211. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1366728903001135.

9 De Groot, A. M. (2000). A Complex-skill Approach to Translation. In S., Tirkkonen-Condit, & R., Jääskeläinen, (Eds.), Tapping and mapping the processes of translation and interpreting: Outlooks on empirical research, 37, 53-68. Amsterdam / Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

10 Same as note 9.

11 Grosjean, F. (2013). Bilingual and monolingual language modes in Chapelle, C. (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; MacWhinney, B. (2017). Entrenchment in second-language learning. In H.-J. Schmid (Ed.), Entrenchment and the psychology of language learning: How we reorganize and adapt linguistic knowledge (pp. 343–366). American Psychological Association; De Gruyter Mouton. https://doi.org/10.1037/15969-016; Ruiz, C., Paredes, N., Macizo, P., & Bajo, M.T. (2008). Activation of lexical and syntactic target language properties in translation. Acta Psychologica 128, 490-500. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.actpsy.2007.08.004.

12 Christoffels, I., de Groot, A., & Kroll, J. (2006). Memory and language skills in simultaneous interpreters: The role of expertise and language proficiency. Journal of Memory and Language, 54(3), 324–345. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2005.12.004.



This is a very interesting question, whose answer is complex and extensive. Not all translation scholars might agree on this point. For those interested in this topic this book is a great reading.

Regarding the connection between the two disciplines from an epistemological point of view, cognitive science became the main reference discipline for TS research in the late ‘80s, above all in the realm of concepts and theories.13 Interestingly some time ago, some scholars14 pointed out that it is not enough to encourage interpreters and translators to carry out empirical research, since they might not be trained in experimental design and statistical analysis; at the same time, pure experimental researchers might make mistakes linked to the observation of translation practice, due to their lack of consistent experience in translation activity. The only reasonable solution, hence, seems to adopt an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach.15

There is a straightforward link between Cognitive Science and Translation Studies (this recent book strongly helps me support this statement). Human language is a human behavior that is dependent upon brain activity and, consequently, every task involving language(s), such as translation, can be studied from the point of view of cognition. Indeed, cognition is fundamental to understand the phenomenon of translation since it has been shown, as mentioned earlier, that the ability to translate is related to the regulation of specific cognitive mechanisms. This made us understand that, for example, it is possible to raise a bilingual child, but not a translator.

Additional contributions of cognitive research to translation studies allowed to empirically support the idea that the ability to translate professionally and untrained bilingualism are two different things, and that translation ability is susceptible of training (it is not an innate ability). Cognitive science has also helped TS nurture the idea that translation goes beyond text comparison; it has provided very valuable tools to observe, analyze and explain the “making of” translations, targeting the cognitive mechanisms that allow people to perform the task quickly and efficiently. Here the main point is that once we identify those mechanisms, we can understand them and possibly boost their efficiency as a function of specific environments, to optimize performance through more informed training practices.

Therefore, only a) exploring the functioning of the cognitive processes underlying efficiency in translation performance, b) taking into account the impact of behavior on the environment and vice versa, and c) adopting a consistent interdisciplinary approach as proposed by the general systems theory,16 recurring patterns of data will plausibly be detected and used to guide training programs in translation towards the consistent and gradual improvement of performance and, overall, the profession.

Over the last three decades, the link between the two disciplines has attracted the interest of numerous scholars and encouraged many collaborations, to such an extent that the interdisciplinary approaches that sit right at the intersection between Translation Studies and Cognitive Science are now the most promising.

13 Gile, D. (2015). The contributions of cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics to conference interpreting. In A. Ferreira & J.W. Schwieter (Eds.), Psycholinguistic and cognitive inquiries into translation and interpreting (pp. 3-16). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

14 Dillinger, M. (1994). Comprehension during interpreting: What do interpreters know that bilinguals don’t? In S. Lambert, Moser, B. (Eds.), Bridging the Gap: Empirical Research in Simultaneous Interpretation (pp. 155-190). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins; See also author at note 13.

15 Same as note 14.

16 Bertalanffy, L. V. (1975). Perspectives on general systems theory. New York: Brazilier.