Review of MATI at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies

montereyToday’s guest post is by Deepti Limaye and it’s our second on an MA course outside Europe.

The Middlebury Institute of International Studies (MIIS), formerly known as the Monterey Institute of International Studies, offers four degree programs in translation and interpreting—MAT (Translation), MATI (Translation and Interpretation), MATLM (Translation and Localization Management), and MACI (Conference Interpreting)—in Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, and Spanish. Some Portuguese translation and interpreting classes have also been offered since 2012. I finished the coursework for the MATI program in Spanish in May 2015, and will be graduating in December 2016, after defending my translation thesis.

MIIS offers translation and interpretation training in equal parts

First, I’ll explain how I came to choose MIIS. I researched several universities in North America that offer translation programs and found that MIIS was the only one to offer translation and interpretation training in equal parts. MIIS also appeared to be more vocational than the other schools, with a high employment rate for graduates and a variety of options for internships during the summer term. This was quite important to me, as I wanted to waste no time staring my second career. MIIS advertises in its brochures that most students come to MIIS not directly from undergraduate studies, but rather with at least a year or two of work and/or travel experience. (The non-Asian language programs in particular rarely accept students without “real world” experience.) Having been out of school for 5 years at that point with both work and travel experience under my belt, the idea of having classmates of a similar age, with similar backgrounds and interests, was very appealing. The high cost of tuition (about $32,000 USD per year at the time) initially left me speechless, but I eventually decided that it was better to pay more for a top-notch education with clear prospects than pay a little less—and it really was only marginally less—for a degree that might leave me stranded in academia. I am convinced now that this was the right choice; I have yet to hear of, let alone meet, a working translator or interpreter who has graduated from any of the other schools I researched.

MIIS places great emphasis on consecutive interpreting training

Now, on to the details of the MATI program. During the first semester, MATI students are required to take four hours of translation into English, four hours of translation into the non-English language, two hours of consecutive interpreting into English, and two hours of consecutive interpreting into the non-English language. (MIIS places great emphasis on consecutive interpreting training throughout the two-year program, and as a result its graduates are very skilled and comfortable with it, in contrast to so many interpreters who prefer the relative safety of the booth!) Most students also take the CAT tool elective during this semester.

During the second semester, students take Part II of the four core classes mentioned, as well as two hours of simultaneous interpreting into their native language. Interpreting simultaneously into one’s non-native language is mandatory only for those in the conference interpreting program. However, most MATI students take the class in any case to improve their non-native language skills, as North American interpreters are generally expected to interpret bidirectionally.

A lot of research, preparation, and practice are required prior to attending classes

Students continue with the same classes in the third semester, but the difficulty and workload are exponentially higher than in the second semester. Gone are the very general speeches and texts from first year; now is the time for political speeches from the UN and the Organization of American States, technical speeches from Silicon Valley, and legal and scientific translation. A lot of research, preparation, and practice are required prior to attending classes. During this semester, students are also required to take a class on research on interpreting or research on translation (I believe that these classes have been combined and modified somewhat now). This was the only “academic” class, in the sense that it involved discussions of research methods and articles. In the third semester, it is also possible to begin either the translation or interpreting practicum. The former involves learning more about translation research and then translating a large document in the fourth semester, while the latter involves interpreting regularly for on- and off-campus events (including a chocolate factory tour!) and participating in interpreting workshops. I found this third semester to be the most challenging both in terms of difficulty and amount of work.

Most MATI students from MIIS come for practical rather than theoretical training

Things returned to some semblance of normalcy in the fourth semester, with the six basic classes once again. I also added an optional thesis at this point, a decision that the 2016 version of me, in the throes of trying to finish it, would come to regret. As most MATI students from MIIS come for practical rather than theoretical training, and rarely continue on to doctoral studies, the thesis is optional.

Professors are excellent

What are some of the positives and negatives of the MATI program at MIIS? Let’s start with the positives. First of all, the professors are excellent. They are practising translators and interpreters who incorporate their own work into their teaching. It is not uncommon for students to translate documents previously translated by the profs, or work on speeches they interpreted only the week before. The professors also treat students as future colleagues rather than as subordinates.

Work is comprehensive and demanding

Second, the work is comprehensive and demanding—as it should be at an expensive and prestigious school. This means that MIIS students tend to pass certification exams (ATA, court interpreting, medical interpreting) relatively easily.

Many employers come directly to MIIS to recruit project managers and young translators and interpreters

Third, MIIS’s good name in the T&I world means that many employers come directly to MIIS to recruit project managers and get young translators and interpreters on their rosters. My classmates completed summer internships at the Organization of American States, Stanford Hospital, the United Nations, and in Arizona courts just to name a few options. I had the opportunity to work in Mexico City at the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) for two months following the completion of my coursework.

Students’ speaking and writing skills become exceptionally good

Finally, the fact that students translate and interpret into their non-native language for two years means that their speaking and writing skills are exceptionally good; I feel confident interpreting, writing, and editing in Spanish, which will be extremely important as I begin to target Spanish-speaking direct clients.

MIIS does quite poorly in preparing its students for successful freelance careers

The main weakness of the degree program is that, despite offering frequent resume and interview workshops and readily available one-on-one career counselling, MIIS does quite poorly in preparing its students for successful freelance careers (and most translators and interpreters are freelancers). Important—essential?—topics such as appropriate rates, how to check a client’s reputation, how to target agencies and direct clients, and how to create a website, are never discussed. Unfortunately, the school seems to operate under the premise that once you have a MIIS education, clients will come to you in droves—not true. There certainly are agencies that are quick to sign on MIIS students as translators and editors (hence the high post-graduation employment rate), but they are almost always very low-paying. This isn’t a terrible thing in the short term—I’ve learned a lot in the past year about translation, CAT and other tools, and working well with project managers, a learning curve that a high-paying client would have no patience for. However, now that my thesis is submitted and I am confident in the quality of the services I offer, I am filling in the gaps left by MIIS by following the Success by Rx program (created by a former MIIS grad) and taking Corinne McKay’s course on how to market to direct clients.

Another weakness of the MATI program is that the school is still reluctant to allow the use of CAT tools in the classroom. Given that many agencies require the use of a CAT tool—not to mention that they save you oodles of time—it makes sense for the use of these tools to be incorporated into teaching. Furthermore, CAT tool training at MIIS focuses primarily on the use of WordFast Anywhere and memoQ. While WordFast Anywhere is free and memoQ is delightfully user-friendly, the fact remains that Trados is the agency standard, and should therefore receive more attention at MIIS.

The program is extremely challenging both physically and emotionally

Overall, I am extremely satisfied with my experience at MIIS, and would highly recommend it. Given that I came from a technical background with little formal language study (in either English or Spanish), the MATI program was essential for me, not just for credibility, but to also actually learn the skills required to be a good translator—being bilingual just doesn’t cut it (and as students learn the hard way at MIIS in their first weeks, no one is as bilingual as they think they are!) The program is extremely challenging both physically and emotionally, and not everyone who starts the program finishes; however, when you finish, you are left with a feeling of immense satisfaction and the knowledge that you can handle almost any type of translation or interpreting work that comes your way.

deeptiDeepti Limaye is a mechanical engineer and Spanish-English translator and interpreter based in Canada. She combines her love of language with engineering precision to craft scientific and technical translations of the highest quality.

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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