Towards the end of my undergraduate degree in German and Spanish, I started looking for a masters course in translation. I’ve always been a fan of literature, but I was concerned about narrowing my prospects by choosing a Masters in Literary Translation specifically, so I was looking for a more general course with lots of opportunities to get stuck into literature. The MSc in Translation Studies at the University of Edinburgh seemed perfect.
The course offered an introduction to translation theory and practice in roughly equal measure. In the winter semester’s core module, roughly 25 of us (with three or four part-time students) delved into the major developments of Translation Studies as a discipline, culminating in a 1,000- word translation accompanied by a 2,000-word commentary explaining our translation strategy, which had been based on the theories we’d come across during the semester. Each semester we also took one practical translation module and an optional module.
The practical translation classes saw us split into language groups, where we would be given a short translation to do each week and discuss our work in class. We also submitted three assessed translations across the semester. I took the German module in the first semester – as there were only two of us we were able to tailor the class to what interested us most, and had great discussions with the German lecturers leading the classes. I also audited the Spanish class, who were translating from English to Spanish in the first semester, and joined the class for credit in the second semester, which was on Spanish-English translation. For German we had generally chosen to focus on translating literature, but in Spanish we covered a variety of text types, from a newspaper column to a political manifesto, to an academic text on climate change.
My optional module for the first semester was Translation Technology in the Workplace, which focused on the use of CAT tools such as Trados, MemoQ and Wordfast, and also touched on quoting for jobs as a freelance translator. The culmination of the module mimicked a real translation project – we had to choose a text to translate using a CAT tool, do the translation and write a commentary evaluating our choice of text and the pros and pitfalls of using the software. In the second semester I took Translation and Creativity, which took a more theoretical approach to translation as a creative practice and was assessed by a 4,000-word research based essay – mine was on the effect of translator’s choices on readers’ perceptions of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, but topics varied hugely among my coursemates! We also took an obligatory course in conducting research in preparation for our dissertations.
Classes finished in April, leaving us about three months to work on our dissertations. We could choose between a research-based dissertation and a translation and commentary. I chose to do a translation and commentary, but my topic required quite a lot of theory, and the staff were very willing to adjust the required word counts for each section to whatever suited each of us best. My supervisor was very supportive but let me take the lead, and the department is so small we could have talked to any of the lecturers had our supervisors not been helpful.
Overall, I loved my Masters at Edinburgh, and I wouldn’t have chosen anywhere else. I went into it knowing that it would be mostly research based, but I was happy with the amount of practical advice we got too. The department is small, and the lecturers are incredibly supportive. The staff are very aware that most of the students aren’t familiar with the UK academic system and tailored the classes with that in mind, so I often didn’t find them particularly demanding, but their standards were high when it came to assessed work and I enjoyed having the time to do some freelance translation work alongside the course.
If you have any questions about the MSc at Edinburgh, please get in touch! I’d be happy to help.
Hannah Weatherill graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2015 with an MA in German and Spanish. Her focus was always international literature, and she knew she wanted to help promote this in the UK by becoming a literary translator. She did the MSc in Translation Studies at Edinburgh in 2015-16, and she now works in publishing full time as well as doing freelance commercial translation and editing work. She can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter.