As I explained in the first article, to pass the Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) from the UK Institute of Linguists (IoL) you need to be able to produce a translation that is professionally usable or you will fail.
In this article I will explain why I thought I was ready to sit the DipTrans, how I prepared for the examination and my exam technique.
I came to translation in 2007 through developing knowledge of Portuguese after meeting a Brazilian in 1998 and spending extended periods in Brazil after we married in 2001. Having built up my work as a translator, I wished to have some form of accreditation.
As someone immersed in the language of my adopted country, I learned by a process of osmosis, through interaction with family and friends, through reading, watching television and listening to music.
I began reading children's books and progressed onto classics after a diversion into newspapers and magazines, where language is complex without striving to be artistic.
To tune my ear to the language, I devotedly followed a television novella, or soap opera, through a season. Television, like a Brazilian family in full flow at the dinner table, does not stop to check whether you are keeping up, so you quickly learn how to listen. A soap opera has different accents, formal and informal speech, and can be entertaining. It is also a topic of conversation for the dinner table.
When I could understand pretty much everything I read and heard, it occurred to me to try my hand at translation. I have written in my other careers. As an engineer, writing reports. As a teacher, producing handouts. In my ongoing work with a civil society organisation, writing articles and even authoring a chapter for a book on health and human rights. So I felt confident in my target language. Of course, my target language is my native language, and the Institute of Linguists advises strongly against translating into a second language.
I picked up my first translation work by contacting companies and offering to translate their websites. I broadened my vocabulary by careful research to ensure understanding, even if it meant I was effectively earning only pennies per hour at the outset because I took so long over the translations.
Then I came to Proz.com and gradually established myself with agencies, which have kept coming back with more work.
I was particularly keen to complete translation tests for agencies. I have seen that some translators decry agencies that require a translation test, but as an unqualified translator I welcomed them as a chance to show off my abilities.
Can you be a 'real' translator without a qualification? Perhaps. But when it became apparent that translation could be a parallel or even substitute career, I decided to engage seriously in professional development and researched various study and qualification options.
The Diploma in Translation from the UK Institute of Linguists seemed to be widely talked about and respected. There were also several courses that could help with preparation.
I enrolled for a distance learning course at City University, London, specifically geared to preparation for the DipTrans. There are other courses, but this one suited me. I subscribed for one module, which involved completing past DipTrans examination papers for assessment by a tutor.
There was no taught aspect to the course, though a detailed reading list was provided in the course handbook. I found some of the texts as eBooks and devoured them, feeling I was now on a serious path. I learned of false friends and translation by omission, and other concepts that were empowering and improved my translation. I was also compelled to read away from the course, studying reference books on English grammar.
Above all, the module gave me confidence as my tutor did not find too much wrong with the assignments I completed. So much so, in fact, that I only did the one module, involving eight past papers. Working on real translations seemed better practice than continuing with those exercises and I would earn money instead of paying it out.
It is necessary to apply in good time for the DipTrans. It is set in January, but you need to apply between 1 May and 31 July. Certain centres require you to apply early if you want them to process your application. I missed the deadline for the exam immediately after my course, but was better prepared in the January just gone.
The DipTrans examination consists of three papers: a general paper and two semi-specialised papers. The general paper is a three-hour examination. The semi-specialised papers are two hours each, and there is a choice of three papers for each. They are designated as follows:
Unit 01: General Paper
Unit 02: (A) Technology, (B) Business and (C) Literature;
Unit 03: (D) Science, (E) Social Science and (F) Law
In the module I had taken with City Univesity, I had already opted for business and science papers, and have specialised in this area in my work.
Examination conditions are very different to most translators' everyday experience, certainly my everyday experience. I use a CAT tool. I search out references on the internet. I use Kudos on Proz.com and other glossary tools.
In the examination room you are on your own, with a pen and paper and the reference books you have brought with you. I had spent some time visiting book shops in Brazil to find the best Portuguese -> English dictionary, looking up the troublesome words from recent translations to see which had the best solutions. I had also found a specialised Portuguese -> English dictionary with legal terminology, which is sometimes better than the internet.
The day before the exam, I suddenly decided to buy an English scientific dictionary to make up for the lack of reference papers available at the click of a mouse. This turned out to be extremely useful.
I arrived in London the day before the exam and checked out the location and how long it would take me to arrive. So I was there in good time, set out my books and went for a coffee until the allotted time to return.
My working method was somewhat different to normal. Usually I do a first pass translation into my CAT tool (Wordfast Pro) as I read the document, having only given it a quick look over in advance. After my first pass, I go through a second time, bringing in terminology that I may have ignored the first time through, entering **** instead of a translation. Clarity sometimes arrives later in a document, or a reference turned up on the internet may provide illumination. Then I spell check, export my cleaned file, read and adjust, then spell check once more.
With pen and paper it could not be the same. Nor did it have to be. The exam papers are short: about 600 words for the general paper and 450 words for the semi-specialised papers. It is possible to read them through. In the case of the semi-specialised papers, it is worth giving the three options a quick glance, just in case the preferred topic is a little obtuse. Though in my case the other papers reinforced the benefits of specialising: I would have struggled to translate the Literature paper in particular, coming to this discipline cold.
After reading through, I began my first translation on the rough paper provided, doing my first pass. It might not be the best approach for everybody, but I wrote my first translation quickly, with the intention of going back, crossing things out, ringing phrases at the tail end of a sentence to move them to the beginning where necessary (often the case when translating Portuguese). More or less satisfied, I then wrote it out again on the lined paper, making final adjustments as I did so. I worried over one or two troublesome expressions, making some final changes on what should have been the neat copy.
I added translator's notes. The guidance says that these should be as with a normal translation, except they can be indicated with a number at the appropriate point in the text and added as endnotes. The guidance explains at length that translator's notes are not to be used to justify a particular translation choice. I used them as I usually do, to flag up an ambiguity in the text that might require clarification and to provide expressions or explanations that I did not feel should appear in the body of the text, but might be useful to the client.
The passing grades for the DipTrans papers are pass, merit and distinction. This is not based on how accurate your translation is - if you mistranslate, you fail - but is based on how good your English (or target language) text is. So 'mumbling' over ambiguous text, translating it literally and hoping the meaning is somehow captured, is not going to give a higher mark.
I gained two merits and a distinction, which I think is because I wrote good English. If that gives me grounds to give advice, my advice is this: understand the source and write what it means, using a translator's note if the quality of the source text makes this difficult.
Where there is genuine ambiguity in the source text and the translator remains undecided between two possible interpretations, the more likely solution should be incorporated into the translation and the problem and less likely alternative should be briefly explained in a translator’s note.
Time management is important. Making drafts is cited as a reason why candidates sometimes run out of time. I aimed to be starting the copy to be marked half way through the allotted time. So that was half the time for reading, understanding and my first pass translation. Half the time for writing it out neatly, pausing to make the difficult decisions I had postponed, and time for checking and final adjustments - which have to be done by crossing out.
That may not be the best approach for everyone. Perhaps some people do only one good copy after making notes on their exam paper. Some exam centres have computers that can be used so you can tweak endlessly, but then you have to make sure you have left enough time to print.
Obviously it is important to try some past papers under exam conditions beforehand to see what works best for you.
After the exam, you have to wait approximately 14 weeks for the results to arrive.
My letter arrived at my home while I was away. I asked for it to be left until I returned, and even then I waited until the following morning before slitting open the envelope. The results sheet has a confusing letter for each paper (P, M or D), but just F or P for the overall mark. That drew my eye, then I looked for the key to understand the other entries.
It was a relief and a pleasure to have passed. To an extent it was expected because it had gone well, but I did have a niggling doubt about an ambiguity and the fact that a mistranslation means you fail. Here my Translator's Note may have saved me.
Now I can truly call myself a qualified translator and I am in the process of applying for membership of the Institute of Linguists. My referees - agencies I have worked for - have sent in their opinions.
I have updated my CV and Proz.com profile, adding Dip Trans IOL
It's an important step that makes me feel like I am now a 'real' translator.
But all the same, it is just one step. Every day and with most translations, we learn something new that will serve us well.