This article will give you an idea of what getting the Diploma in Translation from the Chartered Institute of Linguists cost me and what return I have enjoyed on my investment, in order to help you anticipate what your own costs and returns might be if you are considering signing up for the exams in January to obtain this post-graduate qualification (the deadline for sign-ups is 31 August).
If you have read my article about My DipTrans Experience then you may have figured out for yourself that the initial price of sitting the three papers and the centre fee, let’s say about £650, can increase somewhat if you fail a paper or two and have to resit. Paying to sit the exam is no guarantee of passing. To avoid wasting your money, I recommend you make an honest assessment of your risk of failing.
That sounds awfully negative and, of course, there is nothing to say you will definitely fail the first time around. However, the majority of candidates do not manage to pass all three papers first time and I have spoken to many translators who failed all of them on their first go. If you pass one or two, then you get a unit certificate and then have five years to pass the remaining papers to get the full qualification. I know people who resat and resat and never got that elusive pass. The pass rate varies between language combinations and paper, but I have seen figures of around 30-40%, often dropping as low as 20% in the Spanish to English combination, which is my area of specialisation.
In 2007, I signed up for the DipTrans without much thought: it was cheaper than doing an MA and I assumed it would be easier and faster to get as well. Have you ever heard the expression “assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ ”? I took an online preparatory course, which cost about £1,000 at that time. In January 2008, I did all three papers, which today costs approximately £650, including centre fee. That year, the results came in late, in the summer, when I was shocked and distressed to discover I had failed paper 2.
In January 2009, I was living in Spain and working as an English teacher (note: not a professional translator). I had to haul myself and my suitcase full of dictionaries up to Madrid. There were some major computer problems and I knew the translation I produced was poor. All I came away with that time was a cold. Cost of resit, centre fee, AVE to Madrid and teaching cover at work: let’s say a conservative £500 (and it would have been more if it had been a paper 1 resit).
After that miserable experience, I put the exam to one side for a few years: I was frustrated at having failed twice and had other fish to fry with my MAs. By mid-2009, I had also found I was able to transition from teaching English to becoming a full-time freelance translator without the qualification. This was the result of the DipTrans letter of credit (now unit certificates) I had received from the Chartered Institute for passing the first two papers in 2008, and because of the growing number of completed MA modules and amount of professional experience on my CV. However, I could not let the five-year resit period expire without having one more go. I pumped in some more cash and went back to Cardiff in 2012, where I finally got my pass. Based on today’s prices, my total estimated cost of getting the DipTrans qualification, including the preparatory course, but not including the cost of my time, is about £2,500, a far leap from the initial £650.
Is the qualification worth that much money, time and stress? Well, all I can say is that I am glad I have it and would consider doing it again if I wanted to introduce another language combination into my professional offering. The Diploma in Translation is internationally recognised, certified proof of your translation abilities. It is a post-graduate qualification that provides undeniable evidence that you can translate to a professional standard and, at least in theory, you can get it through just one day of exams.
If you are an experienced translator without any language or translation qualifications, and not interested in investing the time, effort and money required to obtain a translation MA, then this may be a good option for you. If you have the level to pass the exams, the DipTrans will provide you with a relatively fast route to getting some translation-specific certification to put on your CV, a sure path to more and better-paid work.
If, on the other hand, you have little or no professional translation experience, then I would take some time to develop your skills first and/or do an MA. The DipTrans is a qualification obtained through exam and not a course; consequently, it does not have any content to help you improve as a translator. It is something you invest in, with the ultimate goal of making more money. Like all investments, it is advisable to assess your risk of coming away with nothing before jumping in feet (and wallet) first.
Translator’s Studio is currently offering a Spanish-to-English DipTrans preparation course, written and tutored by Gwenydd Jones. It is designed to offer translators an extra dimension when they are preparing for the DipTrans. Beyond doing past papers and obtaining detailed feedback, trainees are given self-study manuals to help them begin to delve into the world of translation theory and start to analyse their own translation process. They are encouraged to interact on the Google Community and supported by well-planned Skype tutorials. This way, even if things go wrong on exam day, they will still have improved as translators and have a much better understanding of what they can do and where they need to improve. This is why the course has also proven a popular option for translators seeking continuing professional development or an idea of what to expect if they decided to take a step further and do an MA.
Gwenydd Jones is a Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer. After starting out as an English-language teacher in Seville in 2003, her career evolved towards the world of translation. Along the way, she picked up two MAs, the first in Translation Studies and the second in Legal Translation, and passed the DipTrans (CIOL). A full-time freelancer since 2009, Gwenydd draws on her professional, academic and linguistic experience to assist other translators and translation students in their professional development. She offers plenty of tips in her blog at her Translator’s Studio.