Nikki kindly invited Claire Harmer, Katharine Mears, Felicity Pearce, Paula Pitkethly and Sandra Young to write a guest blog post on our experiences at Westminster University. Since we studied there in 2010-2011, in this post we have tried to indicate any major changes that have taken place on the course, but if you would like further information about the current programmes on offer, please visit the Westminster University website or contact Alexa Alfer, the university’s Translation Studies Programme Director (A.Alfer01@westminster.ac.uk).
Each of us have taken a specific aspect of the course to expand on, hoping to give anyone thinking about taking the plunge into the world of translation and interpreting an insight into the programme and the lecturers, to see if Westminster offers the right course for them.
As the name suggests, one of the attractions of the MA in Technical and Specialised Translation (now renamed MA in Specialised Translation) was the opportunity to be introduced to specialist texts of the nature you are expected to handle in a professional context. This was a big draw for me as I was keen to take a practical translation course that would prove directly relevant to my future career in translation. On the institutional side, these specialist texts covered international and government institutions, as well as economics and finance, business, law, tourism and creative texts. On the technical side, they covered medicine and fields such as construction, wind energy and energy recovery.
Gaining experience of translating texts across a variety of fields was undoubtedly a great help when it came to deciding in which areas to specialise as a freelance translator, as I had already developed a feel for the areas I enjoyed. We were also encouraged to create subject-specific glossaries during the MA, many of which I still refer to in my translation work today!
The teaching staff included full and part-time lecturers, all of whom had professional expertise in particular translation specialisms. This enabled them to draw directly on their own “real-life” experience when teaching the subject matter, which in my opinion offered a huge advantage. Many of the texts we translated were in fact texts that our teachers had worked on in a professional capacity, ensuring confidentiality was maintained of course!
Katharine is a freelance translator based in St Albans, England. She translates from French and Spanish into English, specialising in international development, human rights, finance and corporate communications.
The Real World
As already mentioned, one of the most reassuring and confidence-boosting aspects of the course was having teachers who were also working as translators. Apart from giving us a taste of many different and highly specific areas, they were also able to show us how to efficiently research vocabulary and cross-check possible terms through various sources, from conventional and online dictionaries to forums and using the internet to search for the term in the target language in professional and/or published contexts.
Another great advantage was that they were able to candidly share anecdotes of real-life situations that they had encountered during their time working as a translator, such as negotiating with clients and agencies, building a professional reputation, any mistakes they had made and the contingency measures they found necessary. As with most things in life, one of the strongest messages was that good communication is always key. These elements were very helpful in terms of starting to build a toolkit, as it were, before we went jumping off into the deep end!
Felicity translates from Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan and French into English and her specialisms include human rights, humanitarian law, international development, contracts and bathrooms, among others.
One of the optional modules I took was called Developing Professionalism. As the name would suggest, this course was designed to prepare the professional translator for the big harsh world of freelance translation, as well as offering many alternative options.
What the course covered:
- Writing a CV
- Designing a website
- Investigating market trends
- Invoicing software
- Pricing your work
- Software to increase productivity
- TM software
- Professional associations
- Social media presence and blogging
- Professional Indemnity Insurance
Besides these really practical topics, what I found most useful was the fact that the course was punctuated with truly inspirational speakers. These included Shelley Nix, then coordinator of the ITI’s Medical and Pharmaceutical network, Anne Lafeber, staff translator at the United Nations, Carmen de Labra, staff translator at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Translation (DGT), representatives from various language service providers and successful freelance translators.
In addition, the course opened up opportunities for students to visit the English department of the European Parliament’s Directorate for Translation in Luxembourg, and I was offered informal unpaid traineeships at the DGT in Brussels and at the UN’s English Translation and Text Processing Unit in Vienna as a result of the course.
Finally, this course tied in really well with the practical, hands-on nature of the MA in Technical and Specialised Translation, which it was a part of. And in the end, it helped me reaffirm my decision to become a freelance translator.
Paula is a qualified language teacher and a member of the Chartered Institute of Linguists (MCIL), and translates from Portuguese, Spanish, French and German into English. Her specialisms include education, official certificates and diplomas, legal and pharmaceutical translation.
Part Two by Claire Harmer and Sandra Young is on the MA Project and Interpreting.
Please also see the MA Translation and Interpreting Courses page for links to details of programmes available in Europe and more reviews.