MA Translation (Distance) - University of Birmingham or University of Bristol?
Thread poster: JoshuaV-M

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
Jul 25, 2015

Hello to you all. I am Josh. I am a 27-year-old American freelance Spanish-to-English translator who has lived in Mexico for the past few years. I majored in history as an undergrad, but my love of languages has led me into this field.

Anyway, I've decided that it is time for me to pursue a master's program. I've also decided that I will limit myself to distance learning programs owing to the apparent lack of Spanish-to-English translation programs here in Mexico (it seems that, for obvious reasons, there are only English-to-Spanish programs). Taking those factors into account, I've applied for the distance learning master's programs of two UK schools, the University of Birmingham and the University of Bristol. The first has already accepted me, and I feel good about my prospects with the other. I want to know if anyone has any experience with the translation programs of either of these schools, be it first hand or second hand.

I should also clarify that I want to choose a program that lets me develop my ability and passion for literary translation (I'm particularly interested in translating 19th century Spanish novels into English that have never been translated into English) while also allowing me to build practical skills that will enable me to make a good living in my field (as it seems that literary translation is very rarely sustainable as a career, so it is probably necessary to have at least one commercially viable translation specialization, e.g. law or the pharmaceutical industry).

If you would like to ask me anything more about what I've written, I would be happy to answer you. I look forward to your responses!


 

Jane Phillips  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 03:21
Member (2013)
French to English
Bristol - UWE Jul 26, 2015

Hi Josh

I completed a Master at UWE over three years and graduated in 2012. I got my Master with a good grade so no real complaints. However what it didn't do is teach me how to translate, the nitty gritty of how to actually go about it or the real world of professional translating (agencies, clients etc). I felt the lecturers were not used to dealing with people who were already professionals with a full-time job and often actually older than they were.

I underline that this was UWE and not Bristol University. The year below me had a lot of issues with lecturers not keeping to the timetable, work posted later than it should have been and corrected work returned late as well, making it difficult to prepare for the assignments which would be marked and count towards the completion of the module. The course then closed, and I think some of the lecturers had actually left before the real end complicating things even further.

At the end of the day there was little real teaching (as is often the case for a Master's degree), assignments were set and marked, a reading list was given and we discussed things between ourselves via the forum.

The result for me was that I have a Master to put on my cv which I needed in order to get my first step on the translating ladder.

If your potential uni is Bristol and not UWE then little of the above is relevant, but I think it is probably the case that most UK distance learning is 'directed' rather than taught and the lack of physical contact makes discussing things with tutors more difficult, which may be an issue for you and your desire to go into literary translation.

I'm perhaps a little cynical but I almost had a slight feeling (please note I weigh my words) that as long as they got the money in that was the most important thing, that attitudes had changed since the students themselves, rather than the state, provided the funding (or a large part of).

So that's just one point of view which may or may not be relevant and please don't let my perhaps rather negative comments dissuade you or dampen your enthusiasm!

Good luck and happy translating

Jane


 

Jane Nizi
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
Italian to English
Bristol Jul 26, 2015

Hi Josh,

I have no experience of the Birmingham Uni programme but I did my Masters in Translation with Bristol University's distance learning course and it was a hugely positive experience for me. The course design and how it was run was fantastic. Despite us being scattered all over the globe, the course was designed in such a way that there was a huge amount of interaction between students and tutors. In my own experience, I didn't develop any specific areas of specialization during the course (we did a specialized translation module which I felt gave me an insight into the specific research skills required for any kind of specialized translation as well as getting me thinking about potential areas for my own specializations). The combination of theory and practice was great and would provide you with great foundations for developing your own passion which you mentioned. You would also have the opportunity to focus on this as part of your dissertation (I'm assuming the general structure of the programme has not changed much, I graduated in 2013). The other people I studied with seem to have branched out into a range of fields, from literary to legal translation.

To balance out my post here, I think the only thing I would have liked more of is, to use Jane's term, "the nitty-gritty", dealing with agencies, finding work, the day-to-day challenges of getting yourself established etc. Once I had finished, I thought 'Great, now I can translate, where's the work?' and it took a some time and patience to get myself established. But if you're already working as a freelance translator, it sounds like you've already got over this hurdle.

Another plus, post-Masters, is the continued interaction with my course peers. They are a great resource for ideas, potential jobs, potential collaboration and inspiration.

Have you looked into the British Centre for Literary Translation?

Anyway, best of luck to you!

Jane


 

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks! Jul 26, 2015

Thank you, Jane and Jane, for your valuable comments! You have inspired many new thoughts and questions. I will respond to each of you individually.

@J. Phillips: Thanks for your critical perspective, as I think it prepares me to try to enjoy the best while realizing that even something beneficial in the long run can be very imperfect. I'm sorry to hear that the level of instruction was lacking for you.

Was the program website's advertising misleading? I ask, because both Bristol and Birmingham (the former more adamantly, I would say) emphasize that the fact the program is online will not be an impediment to individualized attention, so I want to be ready to view that skeptically if necessary.

Now, would you say that, in spite of that, the increased prestige the MA gave you made the program worth it? Would you say it has opened up professional doors to you? Furthermore, has your opportunity been proportional to the investment you made in taking and paying for the program?

Also, even if the learning was more "directed" than "taught," would you say that you learned something valuable from the texts to which you were directed? I agree that it is nice to have instruction, and I genuinely feel for you that things were lacking in this respect, but I am trying to see the positive wherever I can.

@J. Ledlie: Thanks for your insider insight, it is very much appreciated and relevant to me.

One thing I wondered about was whether there were ever any conference calls among the students, since I noticed that Bristol emphasized group-based learning on its website much more than Birmingham did. I can't imagine how that would be done considering the surely diverse time zones of the students, but I was curious about that.

I'm a little bit confused about one thing. You say that there was particular emphasis on specialization during the course, but you mention a specialization module. That seems a little bit contradictory to me, but I am sure there must be some kind of explanation. Could you tell me a little bit about how it helped you find a specialization and what you have specialized in since then?

I notice that you mention that at least one person you studied with branched out into literary translation. Has this person found a way to make a living primarily with literary translation? I've continually heard that it simply isn't enough in demand for this to be feasible, but I would absolutely love to be proved wrong. So, would you say that the program will at once allow me to become a better literary translator and also to become better in more commercially viable fields that I might need when necessity calls?

Although you say that it was deficient in the industry/professional aspect, do you think that being able to put "MA in Translation" on your résumé has helped you get more and better jobs?

I am working as a freelance translator here in Mexico. Really, it has only been for one agency, which has generally treated me well and has given me enough work to make a decent living. However, I have had trouble finding other work. I wrote to several other agencies a few weeks ago, but the ones who wrote back to me wanted to pay me less per word than what I am earning with the agency I'm currently working for exclusively, so I couldn't accept their offers. I mention this to clarify that, while I have some good work, I feel that I am still not at the point to be truly self-sufficient and broadly marketable.

I did just check the page for the BCLT! However, it seems that most of the opportunities are only open to citizens of the UK or the Eurozone, and not some wayward yank like me, heh. But in any case, I was able to find some journals where I might try to get some short literary translations published, so thanks a lot for the link!

Now, for both or either of you, the application for Bristol was much more demanding than that of Birmingham. For the former, I had to complete a sample translation with a write-up on my choices, as well as respond to an essay prompt about the discipline of translation, while the personal statement was the only write-up required by the latter. In light of this, I wonder if Bristol's program would be more fruitfully challenge throughout the course of the program than Birmingham's. I am sure they are both good programs, but do you think this assumption has merit, or am I extrapolating too much from my limited experience?

Again, thanks a lot to both of you. Your comments are very helpful and I will be most glad and grateful to see how you respond to my new questions and concerns.

Best regards!

Joshua


[Edited at 2015-07-26 20:55 GMT]


 

Phil Hand  Identity Verified
China
Local time: 09:21
Chinese to English
I had a mediocre experience at Birmingham Jul 27, 2015

The Birmingham course is entirely theoretical, with no practical translation component at all. There is a module on the practicalities of the translation market, but when I did it (2011/12) it was hopelessly out of date - it instructed us in the art of "exchanging floppy disks"! A lot of the theory is all about literary translation, so I had trouble relating it to my commercial work. And they didn't have a dissertation advisor in anything remotely like my area.

Oh, and much worse than all of that - it's simply not an online course. It is a correspondence course. When I did it, there was literally no online component. They claim there is, because there's an optional discussion board, but it's a complete macguffin. They just haven't worked out how to do effective internet-based education.


 

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Hello Phil Jul 27, 2015

Phil Hand wrote:

The Birmingham course is entirely theoretical, with no practical translation component at all. There is a module on the practicalities of the translation market, but when I did it (2011/12) it was hopelessly out of date - it instructed us in the art of "exchanging floppy disks"! A lot of the theory is all about literary translation, so I had trouble relating it to my commercial work. And they didn't have a dissertation advisor in anything remotely like my area.

Oh, and much worse than all of that - it's simply not an online course. It is a correspondence course. When I did it, there was literally no online component. They claim there is, because there's an optional discussion board, but it's a complete macguffin. They just haven't worked out how to do effective internet-based education.


Hello Phil, Thanks for your comments. What you said certainly inspires some skepticism about the program on my part.

That said, I notice that you work with English and Chinese. As a Spanish-to-English translator, I would surely have completely different professors and classes from the ones you had if I went for this program, right? Or what percentage of the classes you took were dependent on your language pair vs that of those taken by all students in the program? Since Spanish is rather widely studied in the Anglophone world, I have a suspicion that the greater pool of professors from which the school could choose could very well mean greater quality control in my pair's sphere of the program.

Still, I will definitely take your insightful and well-meant comments into careful consideration, and I will see if I can get in contact with someone who studied Spanish-to-English translation. In any case, I am sorry to hear that the program did not live up to your reasonable expectations, and I hope that you have found success in spite of your disappointing experience.

Best regards,

Joshua

[Edited at 2015-07-28 14:18 GMT]


 

Jane Nizi
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
Italian to English
Bristol Jul 28, 2015

Hi Josh, You're more than welcome...Here are my comments in light of your questions and queries:

1. No conference calls, but a very well-set up online platform for interactions between students. It was a central part of the course. I think the feedback we gave each other counted towards our result in a small way, so that encouraged people. Compared to my "normal" degree course, I felt I almost had more interaction on this course, because we actually got to see each other's work and translations to provide feedback and comments on. This did not replace feedback from the tutor however...once we had had a chance to comment on each other's work, the tutor provided overall and indidivdual feedback to us, not only on the work, but on anything in particular which had come to light in our own feedback and comments. We were often organised into small groups to make this more effective. Sharing my work with my peers was a new concept for me, but I felt it led to a greater team spirit as we tried to help each other as much as possible in a sensitive way.

I'm a little bit confused about one thing. You say that there was particular emphasis on specialization during the course, but you mention a specialization module. That seems a little bit contradictory to me, but I am sure there must be some kind of explanation. Could you tell me a little bit about how it helped you find a specialization and what you have specialized in since then?

2. Specialization - yes, I did a module called Specialized translation. This area of specialization was chosen by the tutor, in my case, we did Business, and then Technology. It wasn't a case of preparing us to be specialized translators in either of those fields, as such, but more to develop the skills involved in researching to translate a specialized text. Whereas on the other translation module, we looked at more traditional difficulties in translating a text and chosing the right solution, this was more about ensuring the text was technically correct. It gave me an idea of the kind of resources to build up if I wanted to break into a certain specialized field. It has also given me a better "eye" for judging texts and seeing if I am happy to accept them because I'm pretty certain I can find all the terminology etc I need, or if I should decline them because I am not specialized enough in that field.

I think the best choice of specialization is something you already have experience in, or something you are interested in. In my view, specialization is key so that you can provide a higher quality service. I specialize in tourism, travel, food and wine, and mountaineering because these fields relate to my life experience and interests. I have been able to build up my own glossaries and resources over time.

3. Well, I know a couple of my peers have been involved in literary translations, but I don't know of anyone who makes a full-time living out of it. I think that's quite rare (but do investigate and prove me wrong). For example, I went to the London Book Fair this year and heard some talks about literary translation there. There was one very established literary translator talking about his experiences, but he had a "day" job so to speak, which had enabled him to pursue literary translation. If you really want to pursue that avenue, it might be wise to combine it with something more lucrative, that would also allow you to pursue particular projects which really interest you and decline others...

4. I think being able to put MA in Translation on my CV has certainly helped. Agenices often ask for qualifications of this kind now, or 10+ years experience, for example. And despite my comments about not feeling fully prepared for the real world of translation, the MA also helped me in that I am a better translator, I can justify my ideas more easily, and also make translation decisions more easily without faffing around looking for that "perfect" solution which doesn't necessarily exist. So, it has given me more confidence and improved my decision making skills when actually translating.

5. I understand your difficulties in finding other sources of work. I currently work for a handful of agencies and clients, but I think I contacted maybe 150 or so in my first year. And now I only work for a few of them as others are ones who have maybe contacted me. It takes a lot of patience and motivation when you start out (or at least it did in my case, and with other people I have spoken to). I think it's important to set yourself goals, focus on specializations and try and gain relevant experience.

Do look into other literary translation organizations, there are a few out there, and good luck with getting some short literary translations published, it sounds like you're heading in the right direction!

I can't compare Bristol with Brum in terms of how challenging the courses are, but Bristol was challenging and rewarding, yes!

I hope my answers are useful to you. Buena suerte!

Jane


 

Elizabeth Tamblin  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
Member (2012)
French to English
Hi Joshua Jul 28, 2015

Like Jane, I did my MA at the University of Bristol a few years ago and found it to be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience.

I would say that the course offers a good mixture of theory and practice. The translation theory modules require a fair amount of reading of theory texts, which can be quite heavy-going. However, there is plenty of opportunity to discuss ideas with fellow students and tutors. This is done via forums, not by conference calls, so the differing time zones of students are not a problem. I would say that you will probably find the theory modules very interesting, as they involve analysing different approaches to the translation of literary texts. One of our assignments involved comparing two translations of the same text (chosen by the student).

The practical translation modules taught us to analyse source texts, and to choose the translation strategy best suited to the text type, target audience, etc. As Jane says, we were encouraged to provide feedback on other students' work. The tutors always give detailed feedback on each individual's work.

There were some weaknesses in the course, but I won't go into them here. A few years have passed, so I'm sure that any problems will have been ironed out by now. No doubt all the tutors will have built on past experience and made the distance learning experience even better than before.


 

Rita Pang  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 21:21
Member (2011)
Chinese to English
+ ...

Moderator of this forum
... Jul 28, 2015

JoshuaV-M wrote:

That said, I notice that you work with English and Chinese. As a Spanish-to-English translator, I would surely have completely different professors and classes from the ones you had if I went for this program, right? Or what percentage of the classes you took were dependent on your language pair vs that of those taken by all students in the program? Since Spanish is rather widely studied in the Anglophone world, I have a suspicion that the greater pool of professors from which the school could choose could very well mean greater quality control in my pair's sphere of the program.


I think Phil's experience does not relate only to the quality of teaching, but to curriculum instead. As Phil mentioned, if a curriculum instructs students to have ANY work whatsoever related to "floppy disks" during the course of 2011-2012, that is indeed "hopelessly outdated" as Phil mentioned. Chinese is also widely studied in the Anglophone world; I would argue instead that perhaps Spanish is widely "used" in comparison to some other languages. Chances are we'll have a heck lot more users of Spanish in the Anglophone world who acquired the language through learning (i.e. not through birth/lineage etc) than Chinese.

What I find curious is that you are seeking to pursue an MA in your language pair based in the UK, instead of looking into options within the U.S., which in my understanding offers a wide array of various programs, in person or at a distance, for both MA and non-degree courses alike in your language pair. Based on where you are located, the timeline offered might be more suitable in the sense that potential real-time virtual classes could be closer to your time zone than the UK.

[Edited at 2015-07-28 17:41 GMT]


 

Keziah Cooper
United Kingdom
Local time: 02:21
French to English
no more floppy disks at uob! Jul 31, 2015

Hi!

I just wanted to add some information about Birmingham - I'm coming to the end of my MA there currently, and they've definitely updated it since Phil was there - no mention of floppy disks this year! They've also added a practical element (grudgingly!) and you can choose to write either a dissertation or extended translation project at the end of the course. The theory side is still pretty heavy, although I've found it interesting and helpful in some places. It's definitely more weighted towards theory, and there were people in our cohort who hadn't expected so much theory and didn't enjoy it. I can't speak for the distance learning experience of course, but this year our group made a facebook group which included distance learners, and the tutors have started making more use of the e-learning platform this year, which seems like it would be helpful.

Hope this helps, and good luck!
Keziah


 

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Hello to all Aug 4, 2015

Thanks for all your replies. I haven't been able to respond because I've been very busy with translation work. Indeed, I still am right now, but I am going to take some time to answer at least a few points.

@Jane: Your follow-up to my question clarifies many things for me and it has done a lot to convince me of the program (into which I have been officially accepted, by the way). I especially appreciate your points and encouragement on literary translation!

@Elizabeth: I am also glad to read your comments which provide further insight and support the general positive impression I have developed of the prospect of studying with the University of Bristol.

@Rita: As to why I chose to look at schools in the UK when I am in the Western Hemisphere, a few reasons immediately come to mind:

1) US MA programs are generally more expensive

2) Both languages of my pair are spoken in several different (and distant) countries, so I thought it would be nice to be exposed to variants of my target language and my native source language alike, as well as the culture surrounding said variants; for example, in my day-to-day work, I am nearly exclusively exposed to Latin American Spanish (almost always Mexican Spanish, although I have translated a few Argentine and Uruguayan documents), but Iberian Spanish is obviously the main type of Spanish known in the UK. Spain, along with Mexico and Argentina, is also an important cultural center within the Spanish-speaking world, and I believe that I would benefit from becoming more familiar with its version of the language.

3) At least in my language pair, US universities seem to be focused only on more commercially-oriented areas of translation. The UK universities I have researched seem to better allow my preferred approach of balancing more commercially viable types of translation and literary translation.

@Keziah: I am glad to hear that the program has improved since Phil was there. Nevertheless, I think that a more hands-on approach is what I would prefer.

Thanks to all of you for your contributions to this thread!

[Edited at 2015-08-05 01:00 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-08-05 17:44 GMT]


 

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Well... Aug 7, 2015

I have decided to accept my offer from Bristol. Here's hoping I have chosen wisely.

 

Iseult Harrington  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 03:21
Member (2011)
Spanish to English
+ ...
Thoughts on course? Oct 17, 2015

JoshuaV-M wrote:

I have decided to accept my offer from Bristol. Here's hoping I have chosen wisely.


Hi Josh;

I too am looking to do a distance learning Master course (Sp-Eng as well) and am in 2 minds between Birmingham and Bristol, though feedback would suggest that Bristol has a more well-rounded course. How do you find it so far for the Spanish-English combination? Would you say it requires about 20 hours a week study effort or would it be considerably less or more? (you have probably only started it so maybe it is too early to say!) Anyway, any feedback would be great, thanks.


 

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 20:21
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Hi Iseulth Oct 19, 2015

Iseulth wrote.:

Hi Josh;

I too am looking to do a distance learning Master course (Sp-Eng as well) and am in 2 minds between Birmingham and Bristol, though feedback would suggest that Bristol has a more well-rounded course. How do you find it so far for the Spanish-English combination? Would you say it requires about 20 hours a week study effort or would it be considerably less or more? (you have probably only started it so maybe it is too early to say!) Anyway, any feedback would be great, thanks.


Hi Iseulth,

I am sorry to say that I cannot answer your questions yet, as my program doesn't start until January. If you have not decided on a program by that time, I will be happy to answer your questions then.


 


To report site rules violations or get help, contact a site moderator:


You can also contact site staff by submitting a support request »

MA Translation (Distance) - University of Birmingham or University of Bristol?

Advanced search







Anycount & Translation Office 3000
Translation Office 3000

Translation Office 3000 is an advanced accounting tool for freelance translators and small agencies. TO3000 easily and seamlessly integrates with the business life of professional freelance translators.

More info »
BaccS – Business Accounting Software
Modern desktop project management for freelance translators

BaccS makes it easy for translators to manage their projects, schedule tasks, create invoices, and view highly customizable reports. User-friendly, ProZ.com integration, community-driven development – a few reasons BaccS is trusted by translators!

More info »



Forums
  • All of ProZ.com
  • Term search
  • Jobs
  • Forums
  • Multiple search