Learning to become a translator at the University of Westminster

westminsterAs I sat on a boat to Hvar, Croatia, knowing that I wanted to leave my job and mulling over the options available to me, I had my lightbulb moment: “I know,” I thought, “I’ll go back to university to study for a Masters in translation.”

After returning to the UK, I set about researching my options (part-time vs full-time study, distance learning vs attending lectures and the like), but what was always clear in my mind was that I wanted to become a translator and I wanted to be ready to delve into the profession as soon as I left university. I settled upon the University of Westminster’s MA translation programme as it seemed to me the best and the most practical course out there – and I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s why:

My fellow students

This might seem an unusual place to start, but there was such a variety of people on the course: from those who’d just completed their Bachelor’s degree; to those in their retirement; to people who were looking for a career change, like myself. Most of the translation lectures were spent discussing our translations and it was so helpful to get input from people with all different backgrounds as they made the discussions much more insightful and helpful. Not only did I learn how to improve my translations from lecturers but also from my fellow students.

The lecturers

The majority of the lecturers were also freelance translators, all with their own specialities. They were always relating the translations we did (often ones they had translated professionally with the company details, etc., removed) to how you would tackle them in the “real world”. They’d give advice on resources they used, how they dealt with clients and just general advice on the industry.

Variety of texts

I felt I had the opportunity to translate pretty much every text type imaginable (texts from the EU and UN, contracts, legal texts, medical, geological, energy, technical reports, the list goes on). It is hugely helpful to get to translate such a wide variety of texts as it starts narrowing down the type of texts you like and are good at to help you focus on which speciality or two you might wish to have once you become a translator.

If you don’t want to just study translation but want to know how to become a translator, the University of Westminster is the course for you.

Option modules

You have the chance to choose two modules, all of which deal with aspects of the translation industry apart from translation proper. These are a great opportunity to strengthen your knowledge or skills in other areas you’ll need when working as a translator. These include professional development, editing, CAT tools, Romanian and the EU and the UN. Incidentally, as part of my feedback after the course, I did say that I thought the CAT tools module should become a core module as they’re absolutely indispensable for the translator nowadays, although I’m not sure if it has been made one or not.

The Friday afternoon workshops*

These were optional workshops covering a variety of things, for example, looking into the world of law or medicine and relating it to information and vocabulary a translator might need if they chose to specialise in these areas; visits from workers at the UN or the EU; CV writing workshops and a visit to the Old Bailey to watch a court case. These workshops were probably my favourite part of the course. Although they weren’t dealing with translation, I found them hugely insightful and interesting.

*Disclaimer: I can’t guarantee that they always take place on a Friday afternoon.

Trip to the EU

There is the opportunity to visit the DGT at the EU (get application forms in quickly as the spaces tend to get snapped up within a day or two). I was lucky enough to get a place and had a fantastic day in Brussels learning all about translating for the EU both as an in-house and freelance translator, speaking to the English-native EU translators, and finding out about the recruitment process.

Business week

This was a really helpful week where there were no lectures proper but a week jam-packed full of talks and workshops, all with the aim of giving you more information and skills on becoming a translator. It included a half-day workshop entitled How to become a freelance translator, talks from both freelancers and in-house translators and workshops on different CAT tools.

It has been really interesting planning this blog post as it’s made me really realise just how much of a good decision it was to choose Westminster’s translation course. I think the sub-headings speak for themselves, this course is not just designed to teach you how to translate, but through all the additional parts of the course, it teaches you how to be a translator, and that surely is what everyone wants from a translation Masters.

catriona-fowlesI currently work part time as an in-house translator for a large international insurance brokers, translating all types of insurance-related documents from German, French and Spanish>English and part time as a freelance translator, based in Gravesend, Kent, specialising in food and drink, marketing and medical. I translate primarily from German and French>English for my freelancing work.

For more details, please see my LinkedIn profile.

This guest post is part of this blog’s series on MA courses in Translation and Interpreting (currently divided into European and Non-European sections). If you have done an MA relatively recently and would be interested in writing about your experience to help future students, then please get in touch. You’ll find more information about writing for this blog and a list of all guest posts here.

Please read this post if you would like to help with me this MA review project.

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