Translation MA Courses at the University of Leeds: Four Graduates Sum Up Their Experience

In this week’s guest post four former MA students at the University of Leeds give details about the courses they studied and how getting the MA degree has helped shape their career.

Please see the postgraduate web pages of the Centre for Translation Studies (CTS) for details on the MA and Diploma courses that can be followed at Leeds.

This post is part of the ongoing MA review series on this blog. If you would like to take part and write a review of your MA, you’ll find more information and a complete list of all past guest posts here. This list includes another review of the MA at Leeds by Rachel Ball.


CSwanwickRoa lowres

Carmen: We looked at the latest versions of SDL Trados Studio, memoQ, Deja Vu X, OmegaT and Passolo, which gave us a good idea of the CAT tool market and helped us to work out which features we liked and which was our favourite tool. We also got great discounts on some of the tools at the end of the year.

Carmen Swanwick-Roa graduated from the Leeds MA in 2013 and has since set up as a freelance translator specialising in medical translation and international development. Since 2014, she has also worked as a part-time tutor at the University of Leeds’ Centre for Translation Studies.

Eloise: We used subtitling software (Isis or Swift) for two of our three core audiovisual translation modules, but I also took an optional module for MAAVTS (MA in Audiovisual Translation Studies) and MACITS (MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies) students, which focused on CAT tools (“Computers and the Translator”) to ensure that I was familiar with the technology used in traditional translation. By the end of it, I felt able to use the basic features of Trados Studio and Wordfast quite competently. We also had a practical and theoretical introduction to machine translation during Computers and the Translator, and we tried out Dragon NaturallySpeaking (voice recognition software) in one of our compulsory modules.

Fiona: We came into contact with a wide variety of CAT tools which was a very feet-first introduction into translation technology. We were encouraged to explore the tools and to discover which tools’ features we liked best. My experience with Trados during this time was definitely beneficial when I started my Fellowship at the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), as it was one thing they didn’t have to train me in.


EloiseEloise: The CTS (Centre for Translation Studies) puts on a series of professionalisation talks every year. In my year, speakers included a subtitler at MTV, a senior member of the ITI and a conference interpreter who, if I remember correctly, was making waves interpreting in the sports industry.

Eloise Horsey has spent time working on her language skills in Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Luxembourg. She has been translating full-time since January 2014 and occasionally takes on editing or subtitling projects. For more details on her services please see her LinkedIn profile and contact her on Twitter.

Fiona: The professionalisation talks introduced me to some of the many different paths available to me following on from the MA programme, and I was able to narrow down where I wanted to end up by listening to the experiences of others.

Moreover, to give the MA students web-writing skills, as well as contribute to the translation, subtitling and interpreting community, too, the vast majority of the talks are summarised and published on the CTS website for everyone to access and gain a broader view of the many facets of the Language Services Industry:

Course design

Carmen: It was quite difficult to apply the translation theory we learned to our practical translation classes. However, I think that the Methods and Approaches module now has seminars as well as lectures and is a full-year module, and I imagine this helps with the comprehension of some of the more difficult concepts.

Fiona: It was the practical nature of the course that attracted me, but I was also very happy that it included a module of translation theory. Although not everyone agrees, I think this combination of practical and theoretical education is likely to result in a more well-rounded professional. It was also wonderful to receive the practical input of professional translators, along with the linguistic guidance of translation academics.

F_McLauchlan (2)Fiona McLauchlan holds a BA in German and Spanish and an MA in German and Spanish Applied Translation Studies from the University of Leeds. Towards the end of her MA course she successfully applied for a Fellowship at the World Intellectual Property Organisation, where she spent six months receiving individual mentoring in translating patent abstracts from both German and Spanish into English. The Organisation is now her main client. For more details, please see her LinkedIn profile.

Dan: As I had not studied languages or translation beforehand, the theory side of the course was extremely useful for me. It helped me to gain a better grasp of the role of the translator and the multitude of theories and schools of thought which underpin it. Although there was a great deal to take on board, this understanding coupled with the broad and varied practical element provided me with a very solid foundation for what I do now.

Eloise: If you want to study subtitling in the UK, there’s not a huge amount of choice, but Leeds was my first choice primarily because the MAAVTS course seemed the most practical. Also it was quite clear that the course offered enough traditional translation modules to keep my career options open – I knew I wouldn’t be restricted to just subtitling.

Had there been an option that enabled us to escape writing essays on translation theory, I would definitely have taken that option, but I have actually applied the basics of that theory on countless occasions in my career so far, as both a project manager and a translator, so it has been quite useful to have a grounding in it.

Translation and language skills

Carmen: It was really useful to have working freelance translators teaching parts of the specialised translation module. We often spent about 10 minutes each class asking about more practical issues like: what kind of texts are clients likely to send us? How long does it take to translate 1000 words? Do you really use CAT tools or is it all a lie?

Eloise: The specialised translation modules helped me to work out which text types I enjoy translating and which I don’t. I used one of my assessed translations as a sample when I started freelancing, too.

Subtitles usually need to be as short as possible, so my training in that area imbued me with a love of cutting out unnecessary words and trying to express ideas in the shortest way possible. It’s useful to be able to write concisely because – in English at least – a succinct text has a greater impact on its audience.

I also started to learn Portuguese at Leeds. Following a three-month stint teaching English in Brazil after I’d finished at Leeds and some one-to-one lessons on my return, I added it as a source language, with some encouragement from my former boss, who used to give me Portuguese texts to translate during quiet periods when I was working in-house as a project manager. If I hadn’t been to Leeds and been allowed to take non-translation modules, none of that would ever have happened.

Dan DalesDan: The experience I gained from the specialised translation modules has been absolutely invaluable in my career so far. Having the opportunity to translate from English to Japanese, and have those translations critiqued by my peers as well as marked by the lecturer not only helped me to improve my language ability, but also gave me confidence in my EN-JP translation, which forms a substantial part of my current role. Many of the sessions – both EN-JP and JP-EN – involved a heavy group-work element, which was extremely useful for helping us to identify the strengths and weaknesses in our own work, and form our own translation style.

Dan Dales graduated from the MAATS at Leeds in 2013. Since then he’s been working at Nissan as an interpreter and translator working bi-directionally between English and Japanese. He covers everything from shop floor interpreting to meetings and conferences, at all levels of the company. In terms of translation he mainly does technical documents (manuals, inspection standards etc.) with a good amount of emails and other bits and pieces thrown in.

How has the MA helped in your career?

Carmen: The practical nature of the MAATS course meant that I entered the freelance translation market with a lot of real-world knowledge and skills. I am still using the invoice template I created during a team project (although it has been refined since then) and I have worked with no fewer than three of the CAT tools we studied.

Eloise: Having an MA in translation helped me to stand out when I was looking for my first job in the industry after I got back from Brazil and when I applied – successfully – for a translation traineeship at the European Parliament. Also, although I still felt like a bit of a rookie when I entered the industry, my experience at Leeds gave me the skills and confidence that I needed to make a good start.

Fiona: The range of different text types covered in Specialised Translation helped me to recognise where my strengths and weaknesses lie and I was able to narrow down the field in which I wanted to specialise.

Following the MA at Leeds, I went on to do a Fellowship at the World Intellectual Property organisation, a programme that was only available to Translation MA graduates and a programme that I heard of via the CTS. I am now working remotely for the same organisation and it is safe to say I wouldn’t be in this position without having an MA in Translation Studies.

Dan: One major benefit that I took away from the MA is the confidence that I know what I’m doing. I now have no qualms about ‘educating the client’ or making decisions regarding translations, and feel confident enough to back them up. Although I took the introductory interpreting module largely on a whim, the listening and note-taking skills I picked up from it have come to my rescue in many a meeting or conference (a direction I never saw my career going in).

My job is extremely varied, and often involves translation and interpreting in a range of situations with little or no time to prepare and even less background information. But whatever situation I am faced with I know that I have the tools to get me through it, a large number of which I picked up over the course of my time on the MAATS.

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