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Thread poster: RB88
MA or DipTrans - seeking opinions and experiences
RB88
Mar 31, 2012

Hello everyone

I know there's no right or wrong way to establish yourself as a freelance translator but I'd really appreciate your advice and opinions!

A bit of background info: I've got a Bachelors degree in Economics with German and since graduating I've been employed doing admin work in a legal context and book-keeping, sales, etc. in a small/medium-sized business.

I've got the opportunity to study MA Translation in September 2012 but I'm having second thoughts. The cost is quite huge (especially when you consider I'll have to give up full time employment) and I'm not sure it would really be worth it.

Basically my options are:
- MA Translation
- Postgraduate Diploma in Translation (missing out the dissertation module of the Masters degree)
- CIOL Diploma in Translation (I think I'd also complete a preparatory course and I've spotted lots of useful ITI/ECPD webinars)

Although a Masters degree looks useful and sounds great I get the impression from the websites of translation agencies, established freelancers, etc. that a Masters really isn't essential (but a recognised translation qualification and experience are!) However I'm a bit worried of taking the plunge and going for the DipTrans with no specialist knowledge? I intend to look for voluntary translation work but I'm wary that I really wouldn't have the skills to even get my foot on the ladder?

I'd love to hear about your own qualifications and experiences as I'm finding it very hard to make the best decision!!

Thank you


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Louisa Fox
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:11
Member (2009)
German to English
+ ...
Part time MA and work? Mar 31, 2012

The other option you could consider is a part time MA by distance learning. Portsmouth do one which is very good (disclaimer - doing it atm!). You could then maybe work part time and study as well?

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jacdaniels  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 19:11
English to Dutch
+ ...
IoL register brings in all my work Mar 31, 2012

Hi there, my first reply on the forum, so hope this is all OK to say!

I've only done the IoL diploma and registered with them on their Find a Linguist page, and that website is the only place where I am listed. Apart from 1 job that came through Proz, all my other work has come through that registration, and it's keeping me busy enough not to have to do any other marketing. Not sure that would be the same for your language combination of course!


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Tomás Cano Binder, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 20:11
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
MA first of course Apr 1, 2012


RB88 wrote:
A bit of background info: I've got a Bachelors degree in Economics with German and since graduating I've been employed doing admin work in a legal context and book-keeping, sales, etc. in a small/medium-sized business.
...
- MA Translation
- Postgraduate Diploma in Translation (missing out the dissertation module of the Masters degree)
- CIOL Diploma in Translation (I think I'd also complete a preparatory course and I've spotted lots of useful ITI/ECPD webinars)

Just to better choose your options, just let me tell you that even very experienced translators with a BA and even a MA in translation find it hard to pass CIOL's DipTrans exam. I have seen excellent translators having to try four times until they passed. Given that you do not seem to have experience as a translator, trying the DipTrans would only make you lose your time (it only takes place once a year) and money.

If you are keenly interested in translation, your best option is to do the MA, so that you can learn what translation is really about and show your future customers in translation that you are serious about your career change. The MA will increase your chances in a very competitive market, and once you have translated for some time (ideally two years translating full time), it is the moment to try the DipTrans, which would be an additional reassurance of your abilities and would put you at the top of the list of choices for any translation customer.

[Edited at 2012-04-01 08:16 GMT]


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 19:11
Member
French to English
+ ...
Distance learning route Apr 1, 2012

You're at the same crossroads I reached ten years ago, when I applied to do an MA at Leeds but then decided to take the DipTrans instead. I took courses with City University London in my spare time while holding down a full-time job, which I was loath to give up, and can assure you that the DipTrans can be passed that way if you're prepared to put the work in. Since you already have a job, I think part-time study would be a sensible option for you. Quitting your job in the current economic climate is a risky move unless you have a lot of money behind you, and if you plan to go straight into freelance translation after completing your studies, bear in mind that it can take a while to find enough clients to make a living. Until that happens, how are you going to support yourself? Certainly, the DipTrans is not an easy exam, and you might not pass all three papers at the first attempt, but if you fail one or more papers you can retake the exam the next year and keep your job until you (hopefully) pass and build up a sufficient client base. The distance learning MA suggested by Louisa is also worth considering, though obviously it depends on what you can afford.

If you decide to study for the DipTrans by distance learning, of course you will need to do plenty of preparation; however, bear in mind that papers 2 and 3 are "semi-specialised" rather than specialised. The subjects change from year to year, and some years they are harder than others, so there is an element of luck involved. I would recommend that you take a preparatory course, as I did, and look at some past papers to give yourself an idea of what to expect. Some candidates plump for Literature and Social Science in the belief that these will be soft options but then find that they are harder than they expected. You could choose to focus on Business and Law, since it sounds like those subjects are relevant to your job and you have already studied economics, but when exam day comes, it's worth having a look at all the papers as you can never be sure what will come up, so that could form part of your "game plan". Also, don't underestimate the value of the real-world experience you are gaining in your job. Working in a non-translation role can be an excellent way of honing your skills! Giving up your job would mean you will miss out on that as well as the money.

One of the best things you can do to prepare for the DipTrans is simply to read newspapers, magazines and online publications, paying particular attention to the subjects you plan to take semi-specialised papers in. Voluntary translation would be worth considering once you have gained a qualification, but you probably won't get feedback on your translations from a professional that way, whereas you will if you take a preparatory course, so I would leave voluntary work until later if I were you.

Whatever you decide, good luck!


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 20:11
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
or, not and Apr 1, 2012


I get the impression from the websites of translation agencies, established freelancers, etc. that a Masters really isn't essential (but a recognised translation qualification and experience are!)


You can actually become a very successful translator without both, but you do need one or the other for the agencies to take you seriously. Not having any translation qualifications myself I am of course biased, and feel that only the experience is really essential!


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RB88
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you - some very useful things to consider! Apr 2, 2012

Thank you for your all replies! It's the first time I've posted on ProZ and it's great to get so many responses.

I'm strongly considering doing a part-time and/or distance learning MA... it seems that many universities also offer a Postgraduate Diploma option, which is the same course as the MA but without the final dissertation/project module... does anyone have any experience of this?


JaneD wrote:

You can actually become a very successful translator without both, but you do need one or the other for the agencies to take you seriously. Not having any translation qualifications myself I am of course biased, and feel that only the experience is really essential!


Whether I decide to go for the MA or not I'd love to get some experience but it seems that most agencies require at last some previous experience! How did you go about finding work initially?

Thanks again!


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JaneD  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 20:11
Member (2009)
Swedish to English
+ ...
Luck! Apr 3, 2012

I happened to get my initial translation experience in a couple of jobs which had a significant translation component but which were with ordinary companies. Then I got a job as an in-house translator, and finally made the move to freelance.

I think if you were deliberately trying to replicate this route the easiest way would be to get a job, preferably in the country of your source language, in a foreign company that wants to work in an English speaking market. If you are the only English native speaker, so much the better. That way you will quickly become their "translation expert" and thereby gain experience you can put on your cv even if they outsource the majority of their large-scale translations.

However, you do also need to spend a great deal of time actually practicing translation, because you will almost certainly be pretty bad at it to start with! So maybe a qualification isn't such a bad idea - and a diploma would give you the translation instruction and practice without you having to spend the time on the thesis.


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Paul Skidmore  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 20:11
German to English
Do not underestimate writing skills Apr 3, 2012

I agree with a lot of what Peter says.

In my view, the DipTrans is a useful qualification because it focuses on the professional activity/skill of translation. In addition, the exam is offered in a single direction. A candidate who offers German > English does not also have to offer English > German.

Some candidates like to prepare for the exam by taking a course. Others prepare on their own using past papers and examiners' reports. This is a matter of personal taste. As with any exam, reading the examiners' reports and taking heed of their comments is crucially important. One of the matters stressed (certainly for German to English) is the need for excellent writing skills.

Familiarity with the source language (and its linguistic conventions) needs to be matched with the ability to write good English (or whatever the target language is). As translators, we are selling our writing skills.

Paul


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BeaDeer  Identity Verified
English to Slovenian
+ ...
Distance Translation MA in Birmingham? Apr 3, 2012

You might want to check out the MA program in Birmingham. See if the CIOL DipTrans still counts towards the MA as one of the modules (there used to be six or seven) and if you can pay as you go.

Birmingham would have been my choice, had circumstances been different. However, looking back I see that taking the Diploma in Translation exam was one of my best investments ever. Having dropped out of the translation programme at our local uni where I felt I wasn't learning anything (despite the highest marks), I decided several years later to go for the DipTrans. ... Ok, I did it with a BA in English, 13 years of experience in translation, and I'd already read everything on the subject that I was able to get my hands on, but no special preparation for the exam other than reading the IOL booklet on annotations, which were still mandatory back then.










[Edited at 2012-04-03 09:03 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-04-03 09:03 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-04-03 09:04 GMT]


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Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 02:11
Chinese to English
Birmingham not a great choice Apr 3, 2012

I've just finished the Birmingham MA, and I can't recommend it. It's a department dominated by TEFL, with translation studies very much a secondary concern. It's totally theory-oriented, with no practical components at all. And there is literally no interactivity on the distance course - it's basically just a correspondence course with electronic documents.

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René Fassbender  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 14:11
Member (2012)
English to German
+ ...
I did both... I think the part-time MA might be your best bet Apr 7, 2012


Phil Hand wrote:

I've just finished the Birmingham MA, and I can't recommend it. It's a department dominated by TEFL, with translation studies very much a secondary concern. It's totally theory-oriented, with no practical components at all. And there is literally no interactivity on the distance course - it's basically just a correspondence course with electronic documents.


That's interesting to read, Phil. I recently finished the distance MA offered by the University of Bristol and my experience was the complete opposite. Very knowledgeable faculty with first-hand experience, great selection of modules focusing both on theory and applied translation, even CAT tools, as well as excellent interaction with the other students and instructors. I highly recommend it and I did it part-time while being employed full-time. It's tough but doable. They also offer the PGDip option but after going 80% of the way, why stop? I think for clients outside of the UK, an MA might be a more widely recognized qualification than the DipTrans (nothing against the DipTrans... I just did it in January, more or less for fun, and it's a tough exam).

[Edited at 2012-04-07 15:13 GMT]

[Edited at 2012-04-07 15:15 GMT]


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Mirella Biagi  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 20:11
Member (2013)
French to English
+ ...
MA or PDip at Bristol Aug 15, 2012

I'm just about to start my MA in translation with Bristol University and i'm taking the distance learning route. I originally planned to do it part time but due to work problems i've decided to go full time but still distance learning. This particular course was recommended to me by a friend who has just completed the PGDip with them. The faculty seem really friendly (i contacted them already for advice on my unit choices) and there not nly a CAT unit but also a Translation Industry unit to help you understand how the industry works before diving in.

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Vasiliki Koutsodimou
Local time: 21:11
English to Greek
experiences May 14, 2013

Αny experiences from Bristol yet? Im very interested in taking the same course in a distance learning mode as well, so im very eager to hear any reviews. I wish they had Greek as one of the languages used.

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