Review of MA Translation Theory & Practice at University College London (2014–2016, taught part-time)

The Careers in Translation and Interpreting Conference in May 2013 at Aston University in Birmingham organised by Routes into Languages inspired me to apply for the MA Translation Theory & Practice at UCL as part of a career change. The application process was straightforward: BA (Hon) results of at least 2:1, IELTS (Academic) result of at least 7.6 and a written personal statement.

Initially I applied for the MSc Specialised Translation (both Scientific, Technical and Medical and Audiovisual Translation), as this would equip me with the practical skills necessary for the industry. However, UCL could not offer me a place on either of these pathways because my mother tongue is Dutch and they could not provide suitable tutors for this programme. This was quite surprising since UCL is one of the few universities in the UK with a Dutch department. They suggested I should apply for the MA Translation Theory & Practice instead and choose non-language specific elective modules from the MSc Audiovisual programme.

The MA Translation Theory & Practice consists of one compulsory module with optional or elective modules and a dissertation. The compulsory module, Translation Studies, lasts throughout the year and is based on The Translation Studies Reader (2012) edited by Lawrence Venuti. The course explores the nature of translation and its significance as a cultural and historical force, putting translation in a wider context. It covers a variety of topics, each presented by a specialist lecturer.

Every week students have to prepare group assignments based on the relevant subject—such as presentations and creative writing—and they have to peer review each other’s work. The assessment involves three essays, spread over the year. The last essay is a topic of one’s own choice. Although this module was quite demanding, the wealth of material and the variety in approach made it altogether an engaging experience.

One of the optional modules of this MA course is Translation Technology, introducing students to CAT tools, machine translation (MT), post-editing (PEMT) and terminology extraction techniques, methodologies for localising software and web content, and how to customise machine translation engines.

The module consisted of both theory and practice. The practical side in particular was very useful as it emulated the ‘real-life’ experience of a translation cycle: from client to project manager to translators. We had access to all the software in the language lab, which was well equipped and accessible at any time for all MA and MSc Translation students. The end project was a collaborative multilingual translation of the collection at the Petrie Museum in London, which involved all the students, each translating into their own mother tongue. This project was a great example of the multilingual world of translation.

Other optional modules are: Advanced Translation (including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Scandinavian languages and Spanish), Translation in History, Corpora for Translation, The Historical and Social Context of Interpreting, The Interaction and Language Management of Interpreting, Translation and the Web and Translating Literary Culture.

I chose Advanced Translation French, focusing on translating French poetry into English, with weekly assignments, which were discussed in tutorials. This was a very challenging module, especially for me as English is not my mother tongue. The assessment was a take home exam, translating a piece of prose and a poem.

Students can choose their elective modules from both the Centre for Multidisciplinary and Intercultural Inquiry (CMII), including comparative literature, Gender & Sexuality Studies, Philosophy, Politics and Economics of Health and Early Modern Studies, and from the MSc Specialised Translation, including Localisation, Accessibility to the Media, Translating for Voiceover and Dubbing, Professional Skills for Translators.

Because my main focus was on the vocational side of the course I chose my elective modules from the MSc Specialised Translation – Audiovisual. I chose Localisation, Accessibility to the Media, and Professional Skills for Translators. These three modules were all very practical and ‘hands-on’, mainly working in small groups in the language lab. Each workshop was divided in half: the first hour for theory and the second hour for practice. The assessment for each module consisted of a project (both theory and practice).

For Localisation we were given a ‘dummy’ website which students had to localise into their own language and culture. The assessment of Accessibility to the Media consisted of a video clip, which had to be made accessible for blind and partially sighted people and deaf and hard-of-hearing people using the specialised subtitling software WinCaps. The Professional Skills for Translators module focussed on the project management side of the profession, explaining the cycle of translation, in-depth proofreading and editing and advice on how to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

Towards the end of the course students could attend talks by professionals from the language industry, including localisation companies, subtitling companies, NGOs, the BBC and the European Commission. These talks were very inspiring and gave valuable practical advice. Most of all, the talks confirmed that the course content was well designed for the language industry.

The course finishes with the dissertation, which consists of 12,000 words either of an annotated translation (in or out of English; maximum 60% translation, minimum 40% introduction and commentary) or of a critical discussion of theoretical, practical or historical aspects of translation.

All in all, I feel this MA course was worthwhile. The level was very high and demanding, but all my tutors were very approachable and supportive, which made the learning experience extremely fulfilling. The fact that shortly after graduating most of my classmates found a position within the language industry shows that this course provides students with all the skills necessary for the profession.

Although the MSc programme is the best choice for students who wish to proceed into the commercial or business translation industry, I am very pleased I handpicked my own programme. The theoretical and philosophical focus and the Advanced Translation module of the MA programme together with the modules from the MSc programme provided the right balance between literary and commercial translation, making it an all-round and wide-ranging experience.

Claudette Sherlock translates from Dutch, German and French into English and from English, German and French into Dutch. After completing an MA Translation Theory & Practice at UCL in 2016, she has been working as a freelance translator specialising in the fields of education, agriculture, health and science.

Having completed ‘Les Cours Florent’, a professional drama course in Paris in 2011, she combines her acting skills with her translation skills by translating and staging New French Writing for the Maison Française in Oxford and is currently involved with a theatre translation project for The Gate Theatre Notting Hill, London. For more information about Claudette, please see her LinkedIn page, her Proz profile or visit her website.

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.

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