What a difference an MA makes: the MAATS at Leeds


I graduated from Leeds’ Centre for Translation Studies in 2012, having taken the MAATS (MA in Applied Translation Studies) Masters.

I was somewhat atypical in my cohort as I had already completed a year working as an intern translator in a small (or pocket-sized) agency in Castres, Southern France. As such I was already well accustomed to translating huge amounts of text, translating to deadlines, and working on my own as well as with editors and proofreaders. I continued to work freelance as a translator for my former employer throughout my Masters, which did help me to keep some perspective on my studies.

Since graduating with my MA in hand, I have gone on to work at Google, more freelancing, and am currently an Account Manager at Wordbank, a London-based marketing translation agency. I think the fact of having a Masters helped me win these roles (and keep them!) for sure. But has what I learned at Leeds made any difference? Here are some great things about the MAATS course at Leeds (they also offer interpreting, audiovisual translation, and PGDips which I am not able to comment on, really).

  1. The CAT tools. During my time at Leeds we had 4 hours per week of training on CAT tools and project workflows. I am fairly sure I learned how to use some tools that I will never touch again. Before I started the course I had been using Wordfast as part of internship and was comfortable with TM technology as a concept. But I had not looked at Trados, Passolo, Across, Star, DejaVu or any of the other tools we tried (some possibly forgotten in the mists of time – forgive me, I graduated 3 years ago). Being able to walk into my current job and confidently state that I knew how SDL Studio worked was a boon. Likewise, being able to choose, as a freelancer, which tool was best for me based not on market popularity but on hands-on experience, was great. We really had the time to use the tools ourselves, not only for translation, but glossary setup, alignment, and so forth.
  2. The ‘add-ons’. I am a nerd at heart. I love learning for learning’s sake and I also love learning when it enhances my application of knowledge I already possess. At Leeds I was able to take an ‘Intro to Audiovisual Translation’, in which we learned the basics of subtitling, and ‘Intro to Interpreting’ which confirmed my suspicion that I am a frustrated interpreter in a translator’s (now Account Manager’s) body. Both have been extremely useful as an Account Manager, when advising clients looking to purchase these services (the only other person in my current company who knows as much about subtitling as me used to work for a subtitling agency).
  3. Professionalisation talks. We had visitors come to talk to us every Wednesday about their roles in the translation and interpreting industry. From freelancers to PMs, a representative from the ITI, to a guy who worked for Nickelodeon, it widened my mind to other jobs one could do in translation. When I was at university and decided I quite enjoyed the translation classes that were a part of my French degree, I had immediately assumed this meant I should be a translator and set about applying for Masters and acquiring work experience. However in my life since graduating I have realised that my ambitions and social preferences aren’t conducive to a life as a solitary freelance translator. I thought about what those professionals said at Leeds and I realised that just because I didn’t want to translate pharmaceutical marketing texts all day long alone in my house, didn’t mean I couldn’t work in localisation. Ultimately it was this awareness that pushed me to apply for my PM and AM roles, and I’m very glad I did.

If there are any failings of the MAATS course, I would say that they are as follows:

We got limited project management training. If there is one thing I have found from the people I have met in my jobs since leaving Leeds, it is that most of the people who work in (halfway decent) translation agencies are qualified in languages but not in PM. Project management, good or bad, is the machinery behind the watch face of localisation.

It’s also incredibly relevant for someone wishing to embark on a career as a freelancer. While we did complete one or two projects working in teams and took it in turns to be the PM, we didn’t really learn any of the principles of PMing before the exercise started. This, plus some basic business knowledge (how to keep accounts and do your taxes when you’re freelance, where to look for clients, what you’ll need as a basic setup at home) etc., would have been really useful as well and would have made starting out solo a bit less daunting.

Finally, it has to be said that Leeds graduates are everywhere. I’ve met them in a couple of jobs and several industry events. The course is recognised as being a good one as is the university. It was a great place to live and study, the campus is large and well-equipped. The students in my cohort keep in touch and exchange advice, tips, and references about translation work, which is really nice. I think most of my peers have gone on to work in something related to translation.

Rachel Ball

Rachel is a French to English translator formerly specialising in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, now an Account Manager in a London-based agency.

Please see the MA Translation and Interpreting Courses page for more reviews and details of programmes available in Europe.

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