How the MAAVTS at Leeds Changed My Retirement

Today’s MA course review has been written by my fellow ITI Wessex member Sue Fortescue.  For more information on MA courses and links to other reviews, see the European MA and the non-European MA pages on this blog.

Please get in touch if you completed your MA recently and would like to take part in this series. You’ll find more information about writing for this blog here. 

If you would like to help with me this MA review project, please read this post.


I came to translation quite late in life, and was 67 when I started the MA. I spent the first part of my career as an English Language teacher (in Italy, Nepal and the UK) and the second part as an IT Manager (in Belgium and the US).  My first degree was in Italian & French, and I also have an MA in Linguistics & English Language Teaching (from the University of Leeds) and an MSc in Knowledge-Based Systems from Heriot-Watt University.

I retired to the UK in 2011 and spent some time re-familiarising myself with the land of my birth.  Then I began to miss the international atmosphere in which I had spent most of my life so I registered on the MA as a retirement project.  The daughter of a friend had followed the course a couple of years before and was very enthusiastic about it. I followed the course part-time, over two years, and thoroughly enjoyed learning new skills and meeting really interesting people.

The course

There are several translation courses at the University of Leeds.  The MA in Applied Translation Studies focuses on translation of texts, including in-depth practice with a range of CAT tools.  I opted for the MA in Audiovisual Translation Studies (MAAVTS), partly because it was the course followed by my friend’s daughter (!) and partly because early in my career I had enjoyed working in the video department set up by the training division of Barclays Bank.

I had to take the language tests before starting the course, passed both the Italian and French tests and decided to follow both languages for the MA.

I enjoyed all parts of the course, particularly the very practical translation classes, which got my brain working overtime. A bit less enjoyable, but EXTREMELY useful were the practical projects that we did in groups, working with external organisations, using CAT tools, and working to very tight deadlines.  These projects gave us experience in producing quotes and invoices, negotiating with clients, and project management.  They were very stressful but absolutely essential for our preparation to enter the world of translation. I still use, on an almost daily basis, quotes, invoices and ‘Terms & Conditions’ based on those projects.

In the audiovisual part of the course we worked with all the key subtitling tools and also learned about related aspects such as audio description (for the hard-of-hearing) and surtitles (used mostly for operas).


Assessments are conducted via a mix of written exams and ‘take home’ exams for translations, essays for the more theoretical aspects, subtitling tasks for the audiovisual component, and extended translations for the languages followed.

Professionalisation Talks

The University of Leeds is very employment-focussed and has an excellent record of getting graduates into gainful employment – and I really enjoyed the weekly Professionalisation Talks, when language industry professionals came and talked to us about their careers and how we could use our skills after graduation. We had the opportunity to meet these professionals before and after the talks, and many of us were offered employment with those companies.

The University of Leeds

The learning facilities are excellent, especially the new Laidlaw Library! There is a huge range of activities both inside and outside the University.  As a very mature student I particularly enjoyed the opportunity to attend seminars and lectures on every subject under the sun – from the politics of the Arctic regions to life in Dante’s Florence.  I particularly enjoyed the small group that met to discuss poetry in translation.

Although there are many new buildings, the best of the old, such as the iconic Students’ Union building, has been preserved.  Also, I decided to live in a postgraduate student residence, St Mark’s, as a subwarden and was amazed by the luxurious accommodation with ensuite bathrooms and well-equipped kitchens.  A far cry from the rather basic student accommodation of the past!

The City of Leeds

I love Leeds.  It is a really dynamic, multicultural city with something for everyone!

Pastoral Care

As one grows older, life can intervene – and during my first month at the university my father passed away.  As his only child I had to organise the funeral and all the admin that follows a death. During the Easter vacation of my second year I had a rather serious operation. In both cases the pastoral care provided by the University and the Centre for Translation Studies was really excellent. The same caring approach was extended to several other students on the course and is great testimony to the excellent staff.

What did I do next?

I graduated (with Merit!) aged 68 and did not intend to pursue another full-time career – but towards the end of 2014, the Professionalisation talk was given by Andrew Bredenkamp, Chair of Translators without Borders (TWB) – and I was hooked!  I emailed to ask if I could help, was interviewed early in 2015, and was invited to take up the position of Volunteer Manager – and I LOVED it! I have now been appointed TWB Ambassador. My job involves emailing and skyping people all over the world who want to help TWB, giving presentations throughout the UK, and writing articles.  The skills I acquired during my MA course are essential to my work – and for the interesting translations that I do as a freelance translator. I can honestly say that the MA course transformed my retirement.  I wake up each day to a new set of challenges, with the knowledge that I have acquired the skills I need to cope!

Sue Fortescue is a freelance translator of French and Italian into English and an Ambassador of Translators without Borders. Her involvement in the non-profit organisation began in 2015 when she became TWB Volunteer Manager. Since then she has represented TWB at translation events and conferences across the United Kingdom. She also developed and led the TWB Cookbook project to raise funds and awareness. 

For more details and Sue and her services, please see her LinkedIn profile.

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