After being made redundant in the summer of 2016 from a non-language-based role with the Home Office, I decided that I finally wanted to return to using my languages regularly, rather than merely on holiday or for the occasional rendition. Translation, in particular, had always held an attraction and not just involving Modern Languages, as my Latin A level testifies. Translation had seemed a dream job and more realistic than my other illusion of becoming a professional snooker player.
Having been based in Sheffield since 2002, I was fortunate that there were still vacancies on the popular MA in Translation Studies (worth 180 credits) in the University’s School of Languages and Cultures and I was duly accepted. I was also confident that my languages were still pretty good and my 2.1 from Bradford undoubtedly helped.
During the 16 years since my undergraduate days, the growth of social media and electronic devices in lectures and seminars had developed to such an extent that in my first class, I was surprised to see students photographing lecture slides on their smart phones and tablets. As I frantically scribbled down notes, I thought: “Am I missing a trick here?” However, I soon found myself using this technology too and have never looked back.
As the MA in Translation Studies is a taught course, there were some compulsory modules such as Concepts and Approaches in Translation Studies. This provided an overview of the history of translation and introduced the word-for-word versus sense-for-sense debate, originally mooted by Cicero, and is still a hot potato nearly 2000 years later. Other paradigms such as equivalence, functionalism, foreignization, domestication, componential analysis and Skopos were given generous coverage and, throughout, students were encouraged to always think of translation as not being purely a linguistic transfer, but a cultural one too. Complex, but nonetheless fascinating, translation theories by luminaries such as Nida, Jacobsen, Tytler, Vinay, Darbelnet, Steiner and Schleiermacher were frequently discussed in lively seminars. As assessment (worth 30 credits), I wrote an essay on techniques deployed by translators to effectively convey cultural references in post-colonial literature.
Another challenging, yet extremely valuable, module was Translation Technologies, which taught students to use a variety of CAT tools and format documents for translation as well as developing Translation Memories. This showed me that there is so much more to Microsoft Word with features such as “Track Changes”, “PDF conversion” and “Style Changes” being vital for the translator. The module was assessed by translating an authentic 2000-word tourism brochure about the Peak District, ironically where I often escape at the weekends. Interestingly, the translation itself could be rendered into any language (this class had over 12 different nationalities), but the emphasis was on deciding how to approach the task and the technologies, which CAT tool to use (if any) and how to produce an invoice with realistic pricing. Our reasoning behind decisions made and any issues encountered along the way could be explained in a 3000-word report. Like many students, this module (stimulating though it was) appeared to take up a lot of time and perhaps could have been worth more than the modest 15 credits.
With a view to optional modules, students could tailor their selection to reflect interests, skills or future career aspirations. I took the opportunity to study Advanced FR/EN and ES/EN translation both semesters (60 credits in all), so there was plenty to get my teeth into. All tutors were experienced translators who had previously worked freelance. Texts were authentic and included recipes, blogs, adverts for grooming products, children’s literature, marketing, legal notices, Canadian fishing boat construction and even a painful eye condition called uveitis. Although not generally required in the translation industry, annotations were always encouraged and especially valuable when I opted for the extended translation for my dissertation (worth 60 credits).
As well as Advanced Translation offered in most European languages, Arabic and Chinese were also available. Other modules included Approaches to Translation Genres, Localisation for Linguists, Film Translation of Literary Classics, International Project Management and Concepts and Approaches in Intercultural Communication. Similarly, the University had a concept called Languages for All, which invites students from every faculty to study any European language from scratch, timetable dependant.
Students were persuaded to think about ideas for the dissertation from as early in the course as possible to avoid last-minute panicking in Semester Two. Having luckily avoided a dissertation as an undergraduate (Bradford removed it, so our year out was more chilled than for previous students!), I thought this may put me at a substantial disadvantage. However, there was considerable flexibility and most interests were accommodated by the tutors with plenty of guidance offered. The 0 credit Dissertation Support and Advice module ran throughout both semesters and the vast notion of “Practice informs theory and theory informs practice – discuss in no more than 1000 words” certainly got the grey matter ticking. This assignment showed students how to produce an essay to MA standard.
Many students completed the extended translation option while others submitted subtitling projects, localised specific websites or studied translation concepts of a particular author. I was drawn to football-related fiction by Argentinian Osvaldo Soriano (1943–1997) and translated two of his short stories whilst demonstrating how to effectively domesticate the text to an Anglophone reader.
Throughout the course, I found all tutors approachable, and readily available to bolster confidence and provide much needed caffeine, even at short notice. All assignments were promptly marked with detailed feedback provided on strengths and weaknesses. I would recommend the course to anyone with a passion for translation who is keen to either become a translator or use the MA as a stepping stone to a PhD, as some of my cohorts did. Moreover, the careers facilities can be accessed until three years after graduation, which is handy. Finally, if you think you’re too old to go back to do a course like this after a gap since previous study and think you’re a bit rusty, I had similar reservations, but it is definitely worthwhile. And after all, life begins at 40!
Feel free to drop me a line – a swift reply is guaranteed.
Since completing a BA in French and Spanish (2.1) at Bradford University in 2000, Stephen Dugdale worked in various sectors including legal and insurance-based roles before taking the plunge on an MA in Translation Studies at the University of Sheffield. Now 40, he graduated at Merit level in January 2018 and is currently undertaking the SUFT (Setting Up as a Freelance Translator) organised by ITI (The Institute of Translation and Interpreting), as well as voluntary translation work. He is also an active member of the YTI (Yorkshire Translators and Interpreters), despite being a Lancastrian! Away from languages, he enjoys snooker, collecting autographs, fell walking and appearing on TV quiz shows.
If you would like to help with me this MA review project, please read this post.