CPD: What is it? Why should I do it? Which should I do?

Members of translation and interpreting associations will know that a lot of emphasis is placed on CPD (continuing professional development). The ITI (Institute of Translation and Interpreting), which I’m a member of, recommends we log 30 hours of CPD every membership year (in my case from May to April) and issues a certificate when the record is complete.

Given that ongoing training is so important, we discussed our future CPD plans in a hosted session of the Group Translation Chats (GTC), moderated by Jenny Zonneveld, back in February. This is a summary of what we talked about containing many links to CPD you might like to try.

What counts as CPD?

If your association wants you to record your CPD, it should define what is and isn’t acceptable. Because what is CPD for some is not CPD for others.

For many, CPD is anything that helps you to maintain and improve your language and translation skills, to run your business and to give back to the profession (e.g. by mentoring). Some examples are reading books or newspapers, watching films or TV series and listening to podcasts in your source language (classed as self-directed CPD by the ITI).

More formal CPD can include translation or business-related courses, workshops, webinars and conferences (if possible, attending at least one conference per year is advisable to keep abreast of what’s going on in the profession and to network with colleagues).

You could also study for a qualification such as the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans), an MA in Translation and/or Interpreting or to become a MITI (member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting).

Why should I do CPD?

The aim is not to keep your association happy but to learn something useful that will help you to keep and gain clients and earn more money.

CPD is not just about improvement. Depending on what you choose to do, it can encourage you to leave your comfort zone and push past what you thought were your limits. And in these challenging times of falling workloads and pressure on rates, the skills you learn can future-proof your business and allow you to branch into a related area. Despite needing to be specialists rather than generalists, a more varied portfolio and diversifying can be a lifeline should a source of income suddenly dry up.

Sometimes you need to do CPD just to continue doing your job properly or to keep working for a client, by learning how to use a new CAT tool, for example.

It’s also a good idea to do CPD in your target language if you live abroad. Because not only do you need to ensure you’re up-to-date with new terms and/or buzzwords, it’s also scary how many subtle turns of phrase you can lose without practice.

Although the 30 hours of CPD the ITI suggests equates to five days, and some GTC members do their CPD in a block of conferences or long courses, it’s probably a good idea to do little and often, even every day. For some colleagues, 30 hours is the absolute minimum they aim for every year and they allocate 10% of their profit to CPD. They plan their CPD carefully and spend wisely.

Finally, CPD can set you apart from other translators. I list my formal CPD on my website and in my LinkedIn profile and some clients have contacted me specifically for a job because they noticed I’d done relevant courses. Some attendees at the GTC chat said they mentioned their CPD in their CV or when competing for a job.

Which CPD should I do?

The choice of CPD can be overwhelming. Besides decision fatigue (too much choice can kill the choice) and needing to keep to a budget, not all CPD is worthwhile. And you don’t want to find you’ve wasted your time at the end of it and feel you should have done some paid work instead.

Before parting with your money, read the CPD description carefully to make sure it matches your requirements and expectations. Some courses largely comprise video content and may not prove as beneficial as practical assignments reviewed by your trainer.

On the other hand, videos of presentations you can stop, start, rewind and slow down (see the gear feature on YouTube) are often useful. Especially as interesting gems can go by too quickly and some presenters can take too long over introducing themselves and the topic.

Find reviews of the CPD, or failing that, of the trainer. See if the trainer offers anything free so you can get an idea of their approach and whether it will suit you. Choosing a course based on who the trainer is may prevent disappointment if they are someone whose work you admire or feel you can learn a lot from.

Some Facebook groups, such as Standing Up, are good for asking whether courses, webinars, etc., are worth doing.

While conferences are usually great for networking (when they’re not online as so many will be this year), the speakers can be of varying quality. Although you could come away with some nuggets, you might also have to listen to a fair amount of basic content you’ve heard (countless times) before.

Also remember that you’ll have no control over who you end up with for group exercises on courses and workshops. And as with all things in life, who you interact with will colour your experience.

Ultimately, what you choose will depend on where you are in your career. Do you need help with running your business and marketing? Would you like to improve your translation skills? Maybe you’re keen on learning something new or want to specialise in a different area. After many years, I switched from translating technical texts to focusing on tourism and academic papers (social sciences and humanities) and for me this was definitely the right choice.

Some CPD ideas

A number of GTC members are studying or have completed a copywriting course with the College of Media and Publishing. We even have a small accountability group (on Facebook) so we can report back every Friday on what we’ve achieved writing-wise during the past week.

Learning how to copywrite has several benefits besides the potential to add a new income stream. Rewording sentences with a focus on plain English, following a brief and keeping to a set word limit force you to consider your choices carefully. And when you start to think hard about what you’re writing, you learn to express yourself more precisely, which ultimately makes you a better translator.

Attendees at this hosted chat also mentioned copywriting courses in Italian and a professional writing course in Portuguese.

Creative writing courses also help you look at your writing with a critical eye and focus on your use of vocabulary, register and style. One of the chat attendees had been to The Watermill at Posara for writing holidays and found the experience extremely useful.

If you’re interested in becoming a literary translator, or just want to improve your writing, the Bristol Translates Literary Translation Summer School is another good bet (although you might have to wait until next year as some languages have already sold out).

Another summer school is organised by the British Centre for Literary Translation, run by the University of East Anglia. Although applications have now closed for this year, you can apply for 2022 from January.

Participating in a RevClub and/or an Edit Club is another great way to sharpen your writing and translation skills as your colleagues comment on your work. This is especially important if you don’t usually get feedback from your agency or direct clients. Regularly touching base with fellow translators in club sessions can also help you identify potential partners for teamwork should the need arise.

RevClubs and Edit Clubs are very similar with three to four members and regular fortnightly sessions (via Zoom, for example). The main difference is that everyone has the same language pair in the RevClub while in my Edit Club we all translate into English but from different languages.

To improve your specialisms or learn a new one (because you cannot translate a text properly if you don’t understand what it’s about), explore the wide range of MOOCs (massive open online courses) available. Some end clients provide videos or webinars you can watch.

Besides the ideas above, below is a list of the pages on this blog (My Words for a Change) with links to a wide range of CPD possibilities. I hope you find them useful and please comment on this post if you can think of anything else I should add.

1st image by Colin Behrens, 2nd by Arek Sochab and 3rd by ummzakariyya, all from Pixabay

If you’d like to find out more about GTC, please read The Group Translation Chats Story.

4 thoughts on “CPD: What is it? Why should I do it? Which should I do?

  1. Your point about decision fatigue is right on the money. There is simply too much to choose from out there. Very interesting points and many useful links, thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Many of us in the ATA call it Continuing Extortion, and breaking free of it a process of Continuing Emancipation. Also, many of these things are not the idea of translator associations but of Orwellian “managerial” corporations, societies and outfits eager to get their people to run your association for their own advantage. The idea that it is a sin to pay actual translators for the time they lose serving on the board of an association, yet a virtue to throw folding money at middlemen who know how to translate nothing at all–THAT is the height of stupidity, as can be seen by the expense sheets before and after the changeover.


    1. Hi, I’m not a member of the ATA but can understand why CPD can often be viewed as a waste of time. I think it depends on what kind of CPD you do and what you expect to get out of it. It certainly isn’t worth spending money on an activity that will give you no benefits.
      I agree that translators and interpreters should be paid to serve on boards and committees, especially if it takes a large chunk of their time.


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