Review of the Distance-learning MA in Translation at the University of Bristol


This is the Bristol MA’s USP. For a start, it’s entirely based on distance learning. All teaching is on-line: there’s never any need to visit the campus. This is of course invaluable for anyone who has other commitments to juggle, as I did at the time (I graduated in 2015). What’s more, the course can be completed either in one year full-time, or over two to three years part-time, starting in either September or January.


As well as English, you need either Czech, French, German, Italian, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. Translation is always into English, although they’re thinking about offering translation out of English in the future. (There is also a separate MA for Chinese/English only).

How it works

All teaching is done through Blackboard, a straightforward and user-friendly virtual learning environment. The cornerstone is the ‘discussion board’: an on-line forum for each unit. This works like a seminar site, and you can contribute whenever it suits you to do so – obviously within a specified time frame – with regular input and oversight from the tutor.

I found that contributions from fellow students were lively, courteous, and mutually supportive: I can remember only one instance of someone hitting a slightly wrong note, and it was firmly but tactfully handled by the tutor. Reviewing each other’s work, sharing resources and debating strategies in this way was one of the most rewarding aspects of the course.

Course structure: taught modules and dissertation

The taught modules are a combination of mandatory and optional. Applied translation offered an interesting and challenging variety of texts, from journalism to strip cartoons, with a strong emphasis on rigorous analysis, and included a session on proof-reading that made me realise my skills in this area weren’t quite as impeccable as I’d thought…

Two mandatory modules of theory* felt a little heavy. I sometimes feel that it all just comes down to different ways of describing domestication and foreignisation. However, you’re unlikely to get many other opportunities to think about translation strategies in such depth, and I suspect that more of it has become part of my subconscious tool-bag than I realised at the time.

In the specialised translation module, I did commercial and legal translation, neither of which I have pursued since, but I still gained a lot of useful transferable knowledge from the unit.

The translation industry module covered everything from ethics, to rates, to self-marketing. I did the MA before I had started working as a translator, and this unit certainly helped me to hit the ground running. But some of the experienced translators on the course were surprised by how much they learned from it too.

The CAT module enabled us to trial and compare Wordfast and SDL Trados (or another tool of your choice). It was demanding, but the less technologically confident were given plenty of patient encouragement. Those who were already familiar with one tool found it useful to compare with another. I’d love to have done the principles of sub-titling unit, which wasn’t available in my time.

The final dissertation is either a piece of original research or an extended translation accompanied by a detailed prefatory analysis. I chose to translate a detective story, and felt slightly guilty that it was so much fun. I spread the MA over three years, so I had the luxury of time to devote to it: I know that some full-time students found it a struggle to complete over the summer.

 Coursework and Assessment

I found the quality of teaching to be mostly excellent, with committed, stimulating and well-prepared tutors. Tasks, presentations and assignments are submitted on-line and feedback is received both as a group via Blackboard and individually. A willingness to engage with the group forms part of your assessment and you must also produce a reflective ‘learning log’.

There are no exams: all assessment is based on coursework. One-to-one support via Skype or email is also offered, though I never found I needed it except for routine exchanges with my dissertation supervisor.

Final thoughts

There is no doubt that the convenience of distance learning is very attractive, particularly combined with the flexibility of part-time study. The university library has a good selection of e-books and e-journals, and a very helpful librarian attached to the course, but I mostly used the University of Roehampton’s library via the SCONUL system, which allows students to access libraries in other universities.

Roehampton was close to home and I liked getting out of the house and into an actual university environment where I could riffle through real books. And that brings me to the only disadvantage of distance learning: it can feel quite isolated, however much you’re engaged with fellow students on-line. It was certainly stimulating to be part of an international student community contributing so many different perspectives and experiences, but it’s hard to get to know people really well when you can’t look them in the eye (although some of the London-based students did meet up once or twice). I sometimes longed for a good gossip!

To a certain extent, it’s also a bit harder to get to know your tutors, although all the teaching (and admin) staff were friendly and supportive. Later, I attended the one-week ‘Translate in the City’ literary translation course at City University, which brought home to me how much there is to be gained from face-to-face contact. But for me the convenience and flexibility outweighed that issue, and there are other options for networking with fellow translators. The whole experience was extremely rewarding: in fact I can honestly say it was life-changing.

*Only one theory unit is now compulsory. The other is optional.

Emma Mandley is an arts, academic and literary translator from French and Italian to English. Her translation of Le coeur en braille by Pascal Ruter, a novel for older children, was published in 2017 as A Friend in the Dark (Walker Books) and has been nominated for the 2018 Carnegie Award. For more details about Emma, please see her Global Voices profile. You can also follow her on Twitter.

This post is part of the MA review series on this blog. Lists of MAs in Translation and Interpreting are currently divided in EuropeanNon-European and Distance-learning Courses.

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.

2 thoughts on “Review of the Distance-learning MA in Translation at the University of Bristol

  1. Hello, just chipping in as the programme director for the MA in Translation. It’s lovely to hear from Emma! I just wanted to add a small detail to her post for anyone who might be considering this programme for the future: we no longer require students to do two units in translation theory. There’s one compulsory unit, and one optional one.
    Best wishes, Carol

    Liked by 1 person

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