Academic vs. Practical translation courses
Thread poster: Ciara Nugent
Ciara Nugent
Italian to English
+ ...
Jul 23, 2010

Hopefully this is in the right place, but I was just looking for some feedback or opinions on postgraduate translation courses. I have been looking at two courses in UCL and in Westminster (UK)and am uncertain as to which is the right course. One of them has quite a academic, theoretical and literary bent whereas the other is much more practical and commercial, to judge from the course descriptions, i.e. one is translating literary texts and covers theories of translation whereas the other is more concerned with institutional and technical texts.

My question is directed to people who studied more theoretical courses, did you find this a handicap or a setback when you started working? Did you feel your course prepared you for the work you ended up doing? My understanding is that very few people end up translating literary texts and I'm just concerned that this course (while the one which interests me the most) is not the most 'sensible' choice of the two. Any feedback would be appreciated.

Also for people who have two non native languages do you think that it is better to take a postgrad courses which includes translation from those two languages into your native language or could you get away with studying just one of them in a translation MA?

Thanks for your help


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Williamson  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:28
Flemish to English
+ ...
Minimum Jul 24, 2010

Gumboots wrote:


Also for people who have two non native languages do you think that it is better to take a postgrad courses which includes translation from those two languages into your native language or could you get away with studying just one of them in a translation MA?

Thanks for your help




An opinion from somebody, who had a practical training (a lot of translations in the legal, medical, technical field as well as literary translations from and to the native language), aren't two languages standard in any translation course?

Might come handy if after a few years of practise you might have a go at getting into Westminster's EMCI. (interpreter training), where 2 foreign languages are the minimum requirement.

Also comes handy, when you want to participate in concours for international institutions. Here again, 2 foreign languages are the minimum.

Whatever you choose, pick something with a compartive morphosyntactical study. In plain words, you will have to analyse texts with regard to structure (syntax) and meaning (content). After that phase, you will get a lot of translations which will be discussed in class. In my time (80-ies), we had a text about wind-turbine and scientific text about DNA. Given that the teacher was not an expert, I worked together with my local GP on the DNA-project.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:28
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
I did a practical course Jul 24, 2010

Gumboots wrote:
My question is directed to people who studied more theoretical courses, did you find this a handicap or a setback when you started working? Did you feel your course prepared you for the work you ended up doing?


I did a rather practical course. I really missed the literary stuff and I believe it would have been better for me if my course had a literary translation component. In my course, we did study theory. I remember once, shortly after I graduated, taking part in a workshop where most participants had a theoretical, literary training, and most of the things that they said that had problems with were things that I had learnt in my practical course. So I'm very happy that I had a practical course, although a module of literary translation would have been nice to have.


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Peter Linton  Identity Verified
Local time: 05:28
Member (2002)
Swedish to English
+ ...
My feedback Jul 24, 2010

About nine years ago I had a similar predicament -- whether to do a more theoretical course in my main source language or a more practical course. I solved it by doing both - an MA in Translation Studies at UCL, followed by an M Sc in Technical Translation Course at Imperial College. Since then I have also become quite familiar with the Westminster course, and have in the past given talks there.

If your prime motive for doing such a course is vocational, then there is no dispute. That is what Westminster offers, and there are plenty of Westminster graduates who have successfully launched translation careers.

But there are also people who prefer a course with your academic, theoretical and literary bent. The key word there is "Studies", which tells you that it is not a vocational course (although there are some vocational elements). Such a course is also better suited to aspiring literary translators. I certainly enjoyed my time at UCL, and there are UCL MAs who have successfully gone on to a career in literary translation.

I like to explain the difference between these courses like this: my first translation at UCL was a Swedish poem. At Imperial it was a user guide for a food mixer.

On your question about languages, my view (which many people disagree with) is that it is best to concentrate on your single best language. Your work will be quicker, better and more enjoyable. You will spend less on dictionaries, and more time on developing your own glossaries. You will be able to devote more time and effort to keeping abreast of developments in your source country. Your customers will be impressed that you specialise in their language. In short, better to be a master of one language than a jack of many.


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Samuel Murray  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 06:28
Member (2006)
English to Afrikaans
+ ...
@Williamson Jul 24, 2010

Williamson wrote:
An opinion from somebody, who had a practical training (a lot of translations in the legal, medical, technical field as well as literary translations from and to the native language), aren't two languages standard in any translation course?


Well, the 3-year full-time course that I did prepared me for a career in English-Afrikaans translation, but we didn't do any additional training in those languages -- it was assumed that you know the language, and that you would take steps to improve it yourself. We did, however, have two years of classes in two extra languages -- Xhosa (a local language) and German (a non-local language), at a level that would make it possible for you to speak and understand tourist-level conversations in those languages, and to read newspapers and write simple letters as well.


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Tatty  Identity Verified
Local time: 06:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
My advice Jul 24, 2010

I would definately do a double language combination and I would go for a practical course. Translating theories aren't important, you are looking to produce the best result possible however you do it.

Though personally I don't really see the value of translating a user guide for a food mixer, I don't think that you would learn much from that. After all, you can look that up on the Internet. However, I can see the use of translating a poem as you would have to come up with nice clean sentence (which the Internet could help you with) and incorporate images etc. You would gain a lot more perspective on your languages with activities of this type.

Good luck to you,


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Ciara Nugent
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Jul 24, 2010

Thanks for all the replies, it has been useful to get feedback from people who are actually working as translators. Still a bit of pondering ahead it appears, but thank you all for your help.

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Romeo Mlinar  Identity Verified
Portugal
Local time: 05:28
Member (2009)
English to Serbian
+ ...
Artisan Jul 25, 2010

To be a translator means to be an artisan. The practical skills count big time, but "meta knowledge" of translating will eventually boost your competitiveness, IMHO.

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I have the same question Aug 19, 2011

Gumboots - which course did you choose to do and how did it work out? I'm faced with the exact same dilemma now. I'd love to do the UCL course and a bit of literary translation, but my head says the practical one at Westminster will be more likely to help me in my career - which is (hopefully) to start translating French websites (I come from a web-editing / web-development background).

Any other guidance from anyone else would be most welcome also.


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Rankings of UCL vs Westminster Aug 19, 2011

Another thing which is swaying me towards UCL is the rankings for both French:
http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings?s=French
(5th out of 54, with Westminster 51st)

and linguistics:
http://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings?s=Linguistics

(4th out of 30, with Westminster 30th)


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Kuochoe Nikoi  Identity Verified
Ghana
Local time: 04:28
Japanese to English
Practical Aug 19, 2011

I'd take the practical course if at all possible. A good practical course would be like having a personal translation mentor, someone to check your errors, correct your wrong tendencies, give you tips to handle all kinds of jobs and more. There should be tons of networking opportunities with your fellow translators-in-training.

Nothing wrong with an academic course, but I'm sure 90% of the stuff they teach there can be learned from a couple of good books on translation theory. No need to pay £5000+ for that unless you plan to become a translation scholar.


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Ciara Nugent
Italian to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
I would go to Westminster Aug 22, 2011

Hi,

I was the OP and I'm just coming to the end of my Masters at UCL in translation. To be honest I haven't enjoyed it that much, mainly I think because I made the wrong choice of course for me. It is very theory heavy and not much actual translation is done. I did no Italian translation until my dissertation which I'm doing now, and only one hour of French translation a week which was all literary. I did some optional courses at Imperial college as part of their Msc I think, and I found them more practical and better linked to actually doing translation. I think I would have been happier with the course in Westminster, but not having done it I can't be certain.

While I found most of my theory lectures interesting I was slightly frustrated by the lack of connection between the theory and the bits of actual translation we did. I think reading about the theory was helpful in terms of thinking about the way you translate generally but it wasn't really what I was looking for when I decided to do a Masters, which was to get more translation practice and feedback.

Having said that the UCL course didn't conceal that it was theory heavy and I should really have realised the extent when Westminster got me to do two (one for each language) test translations and UCL didn't ask for anything.

At the end of the day though it comes down to the type of course you want to do. It's been a while since I looked at the Westminster course but it seems like it might fit your website translation needs a bit better.

Good luck and if you've any specific questions let me know
gumboots


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Thanks a million Aug 23, 2011

Thanks Gumboots, you're a gem - this is exactly what I needed, and just at the right moment. I've just had an interview with a lady at UCL who was very open and said that the course was for academics and normally people went on to do PhDs or specialised further, and they couldn't compete with Westminster in terms of vocational training and links to translation agencies. Though she didn't want to put me off and said I would enjoy the challenging intellectual nature of the course. I was disappointed because of course UCL looks better on your CV than Westminster, but I need to be pragmatic and think of the job market. Then I came back and read your posting and that clinched things. So I've just accepted the Westminster offer! Very very grateful for your feedback. And TransAfrique also: I take your point about picking up more networkinging opps at Westminster, very true. Excellent forum

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ClaireM85
United Kingdom
Local time: 05:28
Spanish to English
+ ...
Practical vs Academic Aug 23, 2011

Hi Gumboots, I did my MA at UCL and I agree with you. I knew the course was more literary translation-based, but I didn't realise just how little practical work is done. It is called Translation Theory and Practice, after all (or it was when I did it) and there was very little practice. I did enjoy it, but I came away feeling a bit like I'd wasted my time. Compared to friends who studied at Westminster and Bath, I just don't think I have the networking opportunities that are available to them. I too went for UCL partly because of its reputation, but I think anyone in the know knows that Westminster is good for translation and interpreting. If I could do it all over again (I can't afford to now), I think I'd definitely choose a more practical course.

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Christine Andersen  Identity Verified
Denmark
Local time: 06:28
Member (2003)
Danish to English
+ ...
I'm glad I did a practical course Aug 24, 2011

Many years ago I dropped a literary course. Officially it was on health grounds, but even if my health had not stopped me, I would probably have dropped out anyway.

Now I enjoy reading about the languages - how English developed from Anglo-Saxon and Old English, influenced by Vikings, Romans and Normans.. and occasionally German going back to Goethe, or French from Moliére on... But I do it as an amateur, and would hate having to write essays, study the linguistics systematically and take it seriously enough to get a degree in it.

Health recovered, I trained as a technical librarian, with emphasis on communication. That was before the Internet, when technical libraries and university libraries were where people went instead of Googling! Librarians had to be able to select appropriate books or articles from the stacks, where there was no public access, so we were very much aware of the target reader's needs, from students to industrialists to researchers.

*****

I ended up living in Denmark and trained again as a language secretary - Danish industry is strongly export-oriented, and of course, very few people outside Denmark read Danish, so business correspondence has to be in the customers' languages.

Like Peter Linton, I was translating user manuals and product descriptions. I was lucky enough to get a job with a translation agency, who paid for the postgraduate phase of my training. Here we did study some linguistics, but also comparative law and economics. I took a module in medical translation as a specialist subject. We also translated texts about wind turbines and sustainable energy, and did a project on cars and automobile terminology.

In Denmark, students typically take two languages up to bachelor level, and specialise in one of them for their postgraduate training. I did a diploma, not the full Master's degree, but the main differences were interpreting, which I did not do, and the master's thesis.

At that stage there was no discussion: I needed the practical training in order to earn a living. But unless I was going to teach, (which I did NOT want to do,) I had no use for the literary translation course. However, I still find my librarian training highly relevant, with its focus on target groups, text analysis, context and register.

I recommend anyone wanting to make a living as a translator to take a practical course, but read all the literature you can find time for too!
Literature is a good way to learn about the culture of the country, which may be more difficult to find in the more pragmatic courses. It is also a way to understand idioms and develop fluency in the language.

Training is a never-ending process, but luckily you do not need to take exams all the time, and you can decide for yourself what you need to study.

Best of luck!


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