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Poll: Do universities prepare translators/interpreters sufficiently for the life in the industry?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
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Oct 20, 2011

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "Do universities prepare translators/interpreters sufficiently for the life in the industry?".

This poll was originally submitted by Eva Ruiz. View the poll results »



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Sara Maghini  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
English to Italian
+ ...
Impossible to generalise Oct 20, 2011

Well, of course it depends on the university AND on the specific course: my uni in Ferrara (Italy) didn't prepare me at all, but it was simply a foreign language course rather than a translation one; on the other hand, my Master's Degree in Translating at the University of Salford (UK), and some of the modules in particular, provided me with almost all of the information needed to work in this field, especially since some of the lecturers are translators themselves. I acquired technical skills but also tips on how to deal with clients, what to ask, how to look professional, and much more. We can't generalise: if you want to REALLY learn how to be a translator, go to Salford University, attend the right classes and accept their work placements... and all those who voted 'NO' will change their mind

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Els Hoefman  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:17
Member (2004)
English to Dutch
+ ...
Partly Oct 20, 2011

I went to a translator school with a very good reputation and I was well-prepared for translating texts, but there were still a few things missing in my opinion. True, it was the early 90s, but personal computers were getting commonplace, and all we could follow was an optional (!) short course called "computer-assisted translating" that was merely an introduction to WordPerfect at the time. But I'm sure all that has changed a lot since - although I guess schools can never quite catch up with modern technologies.
Another course that would have been helpful: some kind of business course to prepare students for running a company.


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xxxInterlangue
Angola
Local time: 16:17
English to French
+ ...
Other Oct 20, 2011

In my days and my university, we were very well trained for conference interpretation, in particular for international organisations - visiting professors saw to that.

Translation is another story, but the profession was totally different then and the freelance market hardly existed... This was before the days of computer, fax, modem and the Internet.

Let us put it this way: we were well prepared for the market of the early 70s, not for the 21st century.


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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 07:17
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
For interpretation, but possibly not translation Oct 20, 2011

I taught translation in the Division of Interpretation and Translation at Georgetown University for 15 years. The interpretation students had to be fully bilingual before they were accepted, and they studied full-time for two years. They developed sufficient skill to find jobs on the market, and with a couple of years' practice, they were well established.

Translation wasn't a full-time program, and my students did not show a lot of improvement over the time that I had them (16 weeks, once a week!). Other schools do have full-time programs and have produced good graduates.

Still, translation, because its product is permanent, has to meet a much higher standard than interpretation, and IMO, it takes quite a few years' experience to become a good translator - along with other factors. The short time spent in school, even full-time, is not enough.

[Edited at 2011-10-20 09:36 GMT]


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neilmac  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 16:17
Spanish to English
+ ...
Other Oct 20, 2011

My perception is that specifically translation-oriented university courses nowadays quite rightly devote a lot of time to the technological side (TMs, machine assisted, clouding...).

My concern is that these technologies (I've heard younger translators referring to Trados as "the money-making machine") are increasing being used by non-natives or otherwise insufficiently qualified people to encroach upon my territory (translation into my native English).

As for "life in the industry" that's a rather a large concept, too broad to go into now as I'm off to the dentist...


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Jack Doughty  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
Member (2000)
Russian to English
+ ...
No but may be out of date Oct 20, 2011

I took a Russian course for armed forces personnel aat London University in the mid-fifties. At that time, it seemed to us that the university students were spending a lot of time on Church Slavonic, philology, and ancient literature such a "Слово о полку игорьеве" but not much on modern Russian. Our course, on the other hand, included conversation classes, and 19th and 20th century literature as well as our specialist subjects for our roles in the armed forces, and this seemed a much more useful preparation for a real-life job than the university course.

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Louise Péron  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
English to French
Not enough, in my case Oct 20, 2011

I had a great training, and we were well prepared to become efficient translators, however I don't think that we were given an accurate idea of the rates imposed by some translation agencies.

However, I think that's why we get an intership in an agency : to get insight in the industry.

In France, the Société Française des Traducteurs also offers a lot of reunions such as "how to start as a freelancer", they are full of handy advice and are cheap for Translation students.


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 15:17
Flemish to English
+ ...
No Oct 20, 2011

No. Professors were government-officials working in an ivory tower or some at the public broadcasting corporation.
At the time, having a doctorate in Romanic, Slavonic, German languages was a basic condition to teach at a school for translators/interpreters. So, professors with no practical interpreting experience had to evaluate interpreting students.

The ivory tower mentality also meant that they were used to getting their salary at the end of the month and new nothing about the bad business-world outside their tower.


[Edited at 2011-10-20 12:43 GMT]


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Nina Khmielnitzky  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:17
Member (2004)
English to French
Definitely no Oct 20, 2011

I maybe only had 3 useful classes that were "hands on" and really made a difference in my career. The theory and history of translation classes were too numerous and not relevant to me. The assignments were unrealistic too. Two weeks to translate 250 words Try to make a living out of 250 words every two weeks. We were never told what the real life of a translator is. We were only taught what the idyllic translation world should be. Now, when I meet trainees who are still at the university, I let them know fair and square what to expect. We were never taught how to negociate, how to avoid pitfalls, how to deal with agencies and clients who refuse to pay, etc. I had to learn on my own.

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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some universities do not prepare translators sufficiently Oct 20, 2011

I attended the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba's Escuela de Lenguas (now Facultad de Lenguas) in the mid '80s. After almost five years, I graduated with a degree in English and Translation Studies (my own translation for "Traductor público de inglés").

The Universidad Nacional de Córdoba is a state university. Started as a school of languages, the current Facultad de Lenguas offers a lot in terms of theory, linguistics and classroom practice to future translators...but nothing close to real-world situations. Its syllabus has nothing to offer regarding business management, project management, CAT or TEnT tools, desktop publishing or technical writing. I have spoken about this to some of the members of the Translation Research Center (part of the Facultad) and they told me that (a) the School cannot offer training or courses in those areas as they are considered work training after graduation and (b) making changes to or updating the syllabus is a very bureaucratic and intractable process.

I also spoke with a good friend of mine and a current tenured professor at this university, who told me that a professor may not legally teach a topic that is not in the official syllabus. Some students may file a complaint against the school for testing a subject that is off-syllabus, for example.

What I know about the profession I learned through experience and observation of more experienced colleagues here in the United States. I still believe that a translation school or translation program has the responsibility to train in theory and practice, business practices, intro to technologies (not just CAT tools, but desktop publishing, software and other media localization, for instance), and customer acquisition and retention, to name a few areas.

I did teach some translation courses in Argentina in 2007 at a small college level. Trying to teach the basics of translation to my students was very difficult, as they assumed that translation is just an extension of foreign language learning and not an independent craft. Also, most of my students found it difficult to write properly in their own language, which impacted their reading comprehension level of translation exercises in a negative way.


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Lany Chabot-Laroche  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 10:17
Member (2009)
English to French
I hated my university for this Oct 20, 2011

We had plenty of translation classes and theory classes, but we were never prepared to deal with real issues in the translation industry. Not once did the dilemma between Freelance, In-house and translation agency was mentioned. We never discussed CAT in any meaningful way, we never discussed rates or average output, or how to deal or find clients.

Basically, we were left to fend for ourselves and figure out how the industry works in the real world by ourselves. I'm actually considering preparing a 1-2 hour presentation for students and get the university to hire me as a speaker so I can help those poor guys.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 10:17
English to Spanish
+ ...
Translation history IS important for us Oct 20, 2011

Nina Khmielnitzky wrote:

I maybe only had 3 useful classes that were "hands on" and really made a difference in my career. The theory and history of translation classes were too numerous and not relevant to me. The assignments were unrealistic too. Two weeks to translate 250 words Try to make a living out of 250 words every two weeks. We were never told what the real life of a translator is. We were only taught what the idyllic translation world should be. Now, when I meet trainees who are still at the university, I let them know fair and square what to expect. We were never taught how to negociate, how to avoid pitfalls, how to deal with agencies and clients who refuse to pay, etc. I had to learn on my own.


I know where you are coming from, Nina, but I have to disagree on the usefulness of theory and history of translation. Take history of translation, for example. Where else will we get a sense of identity, professional identity? Can we learn from past translators, such as the notable brothers Cyril and Methodius, the creators of the Glagolitic alphabet, the basis of Russian and other slavic languages? How else will we learn translation techniques and strategies?

Of course we need to acquire business acumen to run our own career. There are some good resources out there, but I would stay away from booklets or books that start with "How to make money with languages" or "Earn a living as a translator" as if a knowledge of languages was all it takes.

[Edited at 2011-10-20 14:54 GMT]


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Katalin Szilárd  Identity Verified
Hungary
Local time: 16:17
Member (2006)
English to Hungarian
+ ...
Not sufficiently and sometimes working against the translation industry Oct 20, 2011

Many people in the education industry (universities, linguistic institutions etc.) never worked in the real market. Some of these people do not know anything about the business part of the industry. They don't know anything about prices, they still say that hard copy dictionaries are the one and only resources (try it in Hungarian with legal or medical texts hahaha), they don't know softwares, have basic level of PC and high-tech knowledge, they like hand-written translations etc. And I also heard that there are some teachers who actually know less (both in translation and on the business side) than their own students and when it comes to examinations that can cause twisted situations.
But I also heard the opposite as well, when education became an exploitation factory: when teachers have their own agencies and they pick up some translators from the courses and they pay peanuts for them ("You are so talented in translation, I will give you a lot of jobs just please, be my slave" - many fresh graduates are very happy with this and working for peanuts).

I think translation is mostly a typical autodidactic profession. First of all as we all know being bilingual is not enough, there are many multilingual people who understand 2 or more languages but they are not able to translate fluently. A certain skill is needed for translation. Although there are some parts in translation that can be taught.
But I can state that what I know in translation I learned them mostly by myself or from a few colleagues, definitely not in linguistic institutes.

Katalin


[Edited at 2011-10-20 15:32 GMT]

[Edited at 2011-10-20 15:36 GMT]


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Miroslav Jeftic  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:17
English to Serbian
+ ...
Nope Oct 20, 2011

In my country, no, not even close.

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