This article by Gwenydd Jones looks at the pros and cons of doing an MA in Translation Studies. It’ll help you think ahead and figure out whether doing an MA is the right choice for you.
With the cost of university study continually rising, you’re probably asking yourself whether doing an MA in translation studies is worth the investment. The answer will depend on your own circumstances and goals, as this article will explain. By the end, you should have a better idea of whether or not doing an MA in translation studies is worth it for you.
You’ve probably found your way to this article by googling to find the pros and cons of doing an MA in translation studies compared to the other options available for training and qualifying as a translator.
Pros and cons are important and I’ll make mention of them below. But I also want to encourage you to think beyond the simple list of the advantages and disadvantages of doing an MA in translation studies. It’s a personal decision: whether or not the MA is worth it for you will depend on your career goals.
A popular piece of career advice is to look at someone who’s doing what you want to do and recreate the path they took to get there (while cutting out the wrong turnings). So, the second part of this article will help you make your decision on whether or not to do an MA in translation studies based on observing successful translators that inspire you.
Part 1: The Pros and Cons of Doing an MA in Translation Studies
In a Group Translation Chat hosted by Sue Fortescue in April 2020, Sue put together a list of pros and cons of doing an MA in translation studies based on our contributions.
Before writing this article, I googled for existing publications on this subject and found a similar list in the post “Is an MA in Translation Worth the Investment?” by Marion Rhodes, published by the Colorado Translator’s Association. If you’re considering the MA, then I’d recommend reading that article as part of your research. To avoid repeating what’s already been published there, below is a quick summary of the conclusions we reached in the chat.
Pros of Doing an MA in Translation Studies
– You get translation practice in a variety of fields with feedback to help you improve. This will also help you build up your portfolio.
– Studying translation theory will make you a more competent translator and increase your confidence when it comes to explaining your translation decisions.
– Some master’s courses include modules that will help you acquire new business skills: marketing, estimating, invoicing and so on.
– You’ll likely get an opportunity to learn about CAT tools, machine translation and other software, perhaps with university discounts if you decide to buy.
– You may get the opportunity to simulate a professional translation project from start to finish.
– Networking will be on the cards, both in person and online, including the possibility of meeting agencies, EU representatives and other potential employers.
– You’ll find intellectual stimulus and feel satisfied with your achievement. The MA gives you status and authority as a certified subject-matter expert.
– Some master’s courses are designed to help you develop a certain translation specialisation.
– You know that, on completion, you’ll have a well-respected university certificate to add to your CV.
Cons of Doing an MA in Translation Studies
– The course might be overly academic with limited time spent on practical translation. This lack of translation practice means that some translators don’t feel confident enough to take on professional translations after they complete their MA.
– Sometimes an MA in translation studies is obtained exclusively through coursework. This lack of exams can make translation agencies distrustful of the abilities of a translator with an MA compared to translators with the CIOL DipTrans (the MA’s main industry competitor, obtained through seven hours of exams). For a comparison of the two qualifications, please see my article “MA in Translation Studies and DipTrans: A Perplexed Translator’s Guide”.
– If you don’t go straight into work in the translation field, you may not get a financial return on your investment.
– The expense of doing the course combined with the possible need for travel, accommodation and books can put a big hole in your bank account. Added to this is the loss of earnings from your day job if you have to forego work to study or attend lectures.
– At some point, you’ll get stressed out as a result of having to fit study, extensive reading and assignments into your weekly routine, particularly if you work full time.
– The significant time commitment will affect other aspects of your life, especially the time you have to spend with your family and friends.
Is it Better to Do an MA Online or in Person?
A side point that came out of the meeting was that Sue Fortescue had done her MA in audiovisual translation studies entirely in person. I, on the other hand, had done my first MA in translation studies entirely online and my second MA in legal translation half online and half in person.
Sue emphasised the networking opportunities afforded by meeting face-to-face. These were further consolidated on her MA through opportunities to meet potential employers who came to present on the course. This included translation agencies and representatives of the European Union. I had a similar experience through the mixed format of my London-based MA in legal translation. In fact, some of the students that I met on that course are friends to this day and one of the contacts I made introduced me to one of my best clients. For these reasons, we both felt that, if you can attend in person, at least for part of the course, that would be a big plus.
However, if studying online is the only option for you, it’s worth asking the university what they do to promote networking. A simple online learning environment may not be enough to enable you to bond with the other students. I did my first MA, in translation studies, in 2008. At that time, all the university gave the students was a forum on their teaching platform. This restricted interaction and I didn’t make any lasting contacts on that MA.
So, there you have an overview of the pros and cons of doing an MA in translation studies. But to get to the crux of the matter, that is, whether it’s worth it for you to do one, I recommend thinking beyond the pros and cons.
Part 2: Where Do You Want To Be in 10 Years’ Time?
At the time of writing, about 10 years after completing my first MA in translation studies, I’m now a freelance translator and translator trainer. I have two MAs, one in translation studies and one in legal translation. I also hold the CIOL DipTrans and am a chartered linguist. The MA in translation studies is a key component in my ability to teach translation. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to write the Spanish-to-English translation courses that I offer or provide the comprehensive feedback that has been key to their success. On top of that, my MA in legal translation allows me to offer translation services in a well-paid niche. But enough about me. Let’s think about you. Do you want to become a translation teacher or not really? Which niche do you want to specialise in?
The First Five Years
It takes a conscientious professional translator about five years of working full-time to become proficient at their trade. Translation skills don’t come naturally. If you want to be a professional translator and do it well then you have to learn how to translate. So, to obtain this proficiency, these five years must have included active research and study.
If a translator completes an MA in translation studies during those first five years, I don’t see how they couldn’t be a better translator for it. But it isn’t the only option for learning how to translate. Translation studies is a relatively new discipline. Traditionally, translators would learn through their own trial and error. They became proficient by meticulously looking up every doubt they encountered and progressively learning on the job. If they were lucky, someone would give them feedback every once in a while. Many translators still learn the trade that way today.
The issue with this approach is that it’s slow and entirely dependent on your own level of dedication. If you aren’t meticulous and you don’t strive to learn on the job then you’ll still be making the same basic mistakes five years down the line. Of course, the MA isn’t the only way to get help. There are increasing numbers of independent translation courses and coaching options on the market. One example is my own professional courses for Spanish-to-English translators. Courses like this can be a great option as long as you’re able to ascertain who your teacher will be and make sure they’ll be invested in helping you achieve your learning goals.
The other key factor that should be part of your plan is specialisation. Without a clear specialisation, you’ll make less and fight harder for work. When up-and-coming translators ask me for advice on this, I often recommend combining an undergraduate or post-graduate degree in the subject you want to specialise in with getting the CIOL Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) and joining a translator’s association. Not only will this combination make you a strong competitor as a translator, it’ll also strengthen your CV with knowledge and skills that you can apply in other industries.
10 Years Later
If you remain a translator for 10 years, by then, you’ll have a consolidated freelance business. This means that you’ll probably be at the point where you can choose your clients and command higher rates. Numerous consolidated freelance translators are highly visible on the Internet as a result of their blogging, social media activity, forum contributions, training courses, coaching and mentoring. Some of these translators have MAs or other translation-related qualifications and some of them don’t.
My Advice to You
My advice to you is to have a good look at them. Look at their profiles and career stories (easy to find on LinkedIn, ProZ.com and their personal websites). Consider the type of work they’re doing and identify whose job you’d like to do. Once you’ve identified a few successful translators that inspire you, look at their qualifications and what else they’ve done to achieve their success. And, in the context of today’s dilemma of whether or not to do an MA in translation studies, see whether they’ve done one or something similar. If they have, consider how important that MA has been in helping them achieve their success.
That’s where you’ll find the answer as to whether or not it’s worth it for you to do an MA in translation studies.
I hope you found this article helpful. If you’re a Spanish-to-English translator and you’d like to try an alternative to the MA, come over to The Translator’s Studio and check out our highly personalised Spanish-to-English translation courses.
If you think an MA in translation studies is the right choice for you, Nikki Graham has published several guest posts on her blog, My Words for a Change, reviewing MA courses in Europe, other parts of the world and also distance-learning programmes.
You might also be interested in reading the results of the Translation Qualifications Survey.
Gwenydd Jones is a freelance Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer and founder of The Translator’s Studio. A chartered linguist, her qualifications include two MAs, the first in translation studies and the second in legal translation, and the CIOL DipTrans post-graduate diploma. Gwenydd draws on her professional, academic and linguistic experience in her translation courses to help other Spanish-to-English translators and translation students in their professional development and DipTrans preparation. Connect with her on LinkedIn.
1st photo by styf22, 2nd photo by Rawpixel both from iStock
If you would like to write a guest post for My Words for a Change, please read this page and get in touch. You can gain an idea of the topics explored on this blog by looking at the categories page.
5 thoughts on “Is it worth it for you to do an MA in Translation Studies?”
What I’m still not sure of is why so many of these courses have to be *Masters* at all. My translation qualification (admittedly, earned last century) was simply a postgraduate diploma (as I think quite a lot of them were back then), and was highly practice-oriented. Yes, I’ll admit to occasionally feeling “blinded by science” when people start discussing translation theory, but apart from that I don’t really feel that I missed out, professionally speaking, by not doing a full MA/MSc – back when I was a student, there was no translation-related subject which fascinated me enough that I would have wanted to write a dissertation on it, and I was perfectly happy just doing the extended translation which the course required instead.
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I’m with you on this. Extended translation practice sounds good enough without all the theory and dissertation (and presumably less money as well!).
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