It is safe to say that I decided to devote my work fully to translation somewhat later than I should have done. But, as the saying goes, better late than never! That said, if I had decided to pursue studies earlier, I would not have gained the wealth of experiences that I am now able to include in my translation toolkit!
I studied BA(Hons) at the University of Bristol in the nineties and followed with a PGCE in Secondary Education. I aimed to become a language teacher, but life took me into hospitality management and, later, into project management and logistics in the European bespoke furniture industry.
I loved the challenges of both careers, but when my youngest son was due to start school in 2018, I knew I wanted to get back to work but that I wanted to work from home. After a serendipitous visit from a school friend, a Switzerland-based freelance translator, I had a lightbulb moment. Languages and informal translation, even interpreting, had always been a part of my work, probably the part I enjoyed most. I wanted languages and, specifically, translation to be the focus of my work, not incidental to it.
Let’s be honest, after completing a four-year undergraduate language degree (and spending the previous 15ish years in education), the last thing you probably want to do is go back into education.
That’s how I felt at least. I had just graduated from the University of Nottingham with a degree in German with Dutch and decided I wanted to be a translator. I started to look for jobs in translation, but it seemed as though they all required an MA, so I did some research into Translation MA courses.
There were two universities I was interested in: Surrey and Manchester. I had no preference, so applied and was accepted to both. Shortly after, my partner received an offer for a job based near Manchester and we decided to relocate together.
One of the challenges many translators face is finding good professional development courses that suit their needs. This is even more challenging if you want to study them in a language other than English or the language spoken in the country where you live.
As an English and Dutch into Italian translator living in Amsterdam, I know the struggle.
Fortunately, the courses by the Italian company CTI – Communication Trend Italia came highly recommended by both fellow university students and renowned experienced translators. They are also recognized by the Italian translator’s association AITI.
It’s not really like me at all. I’m generally a doer, rather than a talker. But when I graduated with my French Studies BA in July 2007, I applied to do a comparative literature masters at UCL the following year and then, when that came around, I deferred another year, then eventually pulled out completely. Then I signed up for the DipTrans preparation course at Westminster, went to a couple of classes, got scared out of my wits at how inexperienced I was, and gave up. Then I just talked about my longing to do a translation MA for years. The problem was, it was never “the right time”.
There never is a “right time” to do an MA in translation
Only, it never is the right time, is it? With that in mind, a decade after graduating, my family encouraged me to just get on with it. I was always happy enough in my previous career, and progressing well, but it was never ‘it’, and it certainly wasn’t a job that would travel well. My husband and I had been talking about relocating for a long time, but, to do that, I would need to retrain for something more flexible.
That’s how I found myself this time last year, at the age of 32, arriving at the University of Surrey for Welcome Week, surrounded by 18-year-olds and being asked, more than once, where certain rooms were – they thought I was one of the tutors.
Surrey was an obvious choice for me for several reasons. The Guildford location suited me, but its primary appeal was that the Centre for Translation Studies was established back in 1982, and their MA course is one of the longest running in the world – which reassured me that they obviously know what they are doing!
Although I was a career changer, the choice to do the course was both a head and a heart decision, and I wanted the course to reflect this. Primarily, I needed the knowledge to set myself up as a professional translator upon completion, but I also wanted to just enjoy using my languages again after such a hiatus. The mandatory modules on the business aspects of the translation profession, on translation technologies (focusing on CAT tools), as well as specialised translation practice with an experienced translator certainly satisfied my first requirement, and optional modules on literary translation and on translation for advertising offered me the chance to be creative.
I was nervous about going “back to school” after working for a number of years, but the CTS tutors are so approachable and encouraging. They come from a variety of backgrounds, bringing much knowledge and experience. Although translation for the arts is something I was particularly drawn too, I understand that Surrey is actively pursuing research into the evolution of translation in the digital age – something that is relevant to all linguists. If this happens to be an area in which you are interested, it would be well worth looking into the research opportunities coming up at Surrey in the near future.
Like with so many things in life, the MA experience is what you make of it
Like with so many things in life, the MA experience is what you make of it. I had left my job to concentrate full-time on the course and wanted to take advantage of every possible opportunity. There are some great student discounts for workshops and courses out there – it’s great for networking, and never too early to get started on CPD! I went along to the ITI Conference for less than half the regular price, and, although it might feel daunting to newcomers, it was a great experience. Surrey also puts on a programme of extra-curricular seminars featuring industry leaders; we had the opportunity to hear the founder of Nimdzi Insights speak, as well as those working in food translation and children’s literature.
So, what are the downsides? A half downside for me was that I thought there would be more of a focus on practical translation; it’s only a half downside, because it transpired that I found the theory absolutely fascinating. It’s also important to say that your dissertation can be topic-based, so on translation theory, or it can be a translation plus a commentary, so you have the opportunity to spend three whole months sinking your teeth into something that really motivates you.
My word of caution is that some modules were withdrawn, but we weren’t notified until our induction day; although one of the modules I was keen to pursue was no longer running, it wasn’t make-or-break for me, but it was quite problematic for some. There’s no simple way around this, as universities can only run courses if it’s viable to do so, and I know that it happens at other institutions. But if you are changing your life to pursue a course, it’s a worthwhile consideration.
My MA ticked all my boxes and was the best year of my life
It may sound contrived but, all in all, my MA year at Surrey was the best year of my life. It ticked all my boxes, and so many more that I didn’t know I had. The course, and my tutors, inspired me so much and I feel very grateful to have had the opportunity to retrain to do something I truly love.
This guest post was written by Hayley Smith. Hayley is a Student Member of the ITI and the CIOL, and has just completed her Translation MA at the University of Surrey.
A passionate Francophile, she one day hopes to enter the world of theatre translation but, for now, is specialising in the translation of medical and pharmaceutical texts.
It’s survey time again on My Words for a Change. Back in 2015 I ran my first survey on adverts on translation blogs (TLDR: don’t have any adverts on your blogs!). The following year I ran one on revisions (thus combining two of my favourite subjects). I spared you all my intrusive questions in 2017 and last year I ran a survey on whether blogging is dead (TLDR: no, it isn’t yet, but it really depends on the blog).
This year I want to quizz you about qualifications. As you probably know if you’re a regular reader, lots of guest posters have written about their experiences of MAs and MScs in translation for this blog, and the vast majority of them have been positive. But taking out a year or two to study a degree at university, even if it’s a distance-learning course, isn’t an option for all of us.
After completing my BA degree in German & Spanish with the Open University, I had an idea that I wanted to be a translator but didn’t really know how to become one. I looked online and saw that anyone can call themselves a translator, so ideally a qualification would benefit me. I began hunting online at universities that offer MAs in Translation. Lo and behold, my old university was just about to start an MA in Translation and it would be their first intake of students.
Although an MA in Translation Studies can be a springboard to many avenues (such as a PhD), I was keen to pursue translation itself and make a healthy contribution to the industry. I am also nowhere near clever enough for a doctorate and my parents would be less than enamoured about me sponging off them for the next three years.
Therefore, although interested in securing a full time in-house translation position or internship, I read an advert about the SUFT (Setting Up as a Freelance Translator) course in the January/February ITI Bulletin. The course sounded particularly interesting and had positive reviews by previous students. I was after a realistic, “warts ‘n’ all” insight into what running a freelance translation business is like and it would also keep my options open. I duly applied on the closing day for applications (I like to live dangerously) and was kindly accepted. Being an ITI member, payment was £349, but £499 for non-members (excellent value at either fee as it turned out).
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.
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.
I studied a BA in Translation and Interpreting in Spain and I loved interpreting. However, after university, I got a full-time job and never worked as an interpreter. A few years later I still wanted to give it a go and become a professional interpreter so I decided to move to the UK to brush up on my English. I worked in PR for two years and then I started looking for MAs in Conference Interpreting. I was already living in London and the MA at London Metropolitan University offered the possibility to work into your B language, which caught my attention. Not all MAs offer this option and I thought working into a B language would be crucial for the private market.