Translation begins at 40 after MA from Sheffield

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.

You can connect with Stephen via LinkedIn

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

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9 thoughts on “Translation begins at 40 after MA from Sheffield

  1. An interesting post, thank you, Stephen. What I’m still not clear about, though (as with a number of courses!), is what percentage of the course was actually devoted to honing translation skills, as opposed to theory, CAT use and so on?


    1. Hi Alison. Hope you’re well. Thanks for your message. On the Sheffield MA programme, you could do as much or as little translation as you wanted, although 105 credits were mandatory (Translation Tech, Concepts and Approaches and the dissertation) and 75 credits were optional modules.

      I opted for FR/EN and ES/EN each semester (4 x 15 credits per module = 60 credits) and my extended translation in the dissertation was another 20 credits, so I managed to get 80 credits just on translation and annotations on some of the assessments.

      During each of the 4 translation modules (1 hour a week), each tutor worked differently, but a series of authentic texts were given to students either at the beginning of the class to work on with minimum preparation time. Alternatively, we could work on them at home. There were no actual grammar lessons of course, it being considered that MA students are beyond all that.

      Hope that’s a bit clearer


      Liked by 1 person

  2. Being a translator/interpreter for +20 years now, I learned some things of the trade. I am from Lima, Peru. According to my extensive experience, translation/interpreting jobs require not only “being a translator/interpreter”, but a solid professional/academic background in some area of knowledge, be it technical, legal, literary… No potential client will be willing to spend the usual fees of translators/interpreters unless the subject matter of concern worths it. That is current, leading-edge, state-of-the-art, specialized matters using complex constructions, focused terminology, in relation to specific applications or for specific purposes. This is something lay people tend to ignore, which is understandable. And, by lay people, I include owners/CEOs of companies, managers, executives. I have seen many times (at least in my experience) very poorly rendered translation works and interpretation services even from big companies, performed by translators/interpreters that seem to know nothing of the subject matter they are speaking about, even though they boast of having every certification as required.
    Don’t you think that it should be better for translation/interpretation studies to be regarded as post-graduate studies, MA for example, after having completed an undergraduate career? Of course, a further requirement being to have a strong command of the languages intended.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think there are many routes into translation that depend on people’s circumstances. An undergraduate degree in languages is useful to improve language skills. On the other hand, an undergraduate degree in another subject, followed by work experience and then an MA is, as you say, the best way to translate as an expert in a specific field. Stephen did an undergraduate degree in languages, worked for a few years and then did an MA, which is another route.
      Obviously we cannot be specialists in everything, but often a translation will touch on numerous fields. I think we need good research skills and understanding as well as good writing skills. There are also plenty of courses online that can help improve knowledge of specific topics.
      But one way to address the situation you point out is to specialise. Too many translators agree to translate a wide range of subjects they know nothing about instead of saying “no”.


  3. Thank you for writing this article. I enjoyed it very much because I had a similar experience when I decided to obtain my MA in Translation from the Universidad Nacional in Costa Rica. I went back to study at 50, after 22 years out of this environment. I can tell you that every course was worthwhile. Some were very similar to what you experienced and a must, I believe, is the one on Translation Technologies.

    It is never too late to study; age should not be a limit!

    Liked by 1 person

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