Formal qualification for UK-based German-to-English translator: necessary/beneficial/superfluous?
Thread poster: KRevell

KRevell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
German to English
+ ...
May 31, 2016

I know this is a perennial question, but I hope the specifics of my case justify starting a new thread!

I'm a UK-based German-to-English translator and subtitler with around 5 years' experience. My highest relevant qualification is a Scottish MA (essentially a BA) in German and Politics. I first learnt German as a child and, since then, have lived in Germany for around four-and-a-half years. My foundation in the language is, I think, pretty solid - in any case, the feedback I get from clients is positive. I don't, however, have any formal translation qualification, nor am I a member of any industry body.

I've so far translated and subtitled part-time (alongside internships, jobs and studies in filmmaking) and have been able to rely on friends and colleagues to send work my way. Now, though, I'd like to become more established and start actively acquiring clients. To this end, I'm wondering whether it would be worthwhile trying to obtain a formal translation qualification (e.g. the IoLET's DipTrans).

I know there will be a range of opinions on this, but that's exactly why I'm curious.

- Do you think pursuing a formal qualification is a worthwhile investment of time and money, or should I work on expanding my existing client base through references and word of mouth (as I've done so far)?
- Which qualification(s) would you recommend? At this stage, I don't have the time or resources to pursue an MA, but I can commit to a maximum of one year's part-time distance learning.

Most of my current work relates to film and TV. I'd like to stay and develop in this area, but I'd also love to take on more journalistic and literary work. I'm not interested in specialising in science or law.

Huge thanks in advance for any advice you might have!


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
You have what you need for now Jun 1, 2016

KRevell wrote:
- Do you think pursuing a formal qualification is a worthwhile investment of time and money, or should I work on expanding my existing client base through references and word of mouth (as I've done so far)?

My theory is that when clients are looking for freelancers with whom to work, the first phase of that process is simply a box-ticking exercise designed to cream off the best candidates. "Qualification" is one of those boxes and having two qualifications probably doesn't help much - it still only ticks one box.

Specifically, when I started out I found that some agencies in Europe and the UK wanted a degree in either a language or something related to translation. I think this is because they want translators who comply with certain conditions of ISO 17100, as described here.

What happens after you get through the initial "boxes ticked" screen? With a short list assembled, clients can afford to take a closer look at each candidate's strengths and weaknesses.

At this point a DipTrans would have to be interpreted positively, but I would bet that for relevant projects your qualifications in film would be given far more weight because clients respond strongly to verifiable industry experience.

In any case, I predict that your initial problem will not be qualifications but accumulating and demonstrating your experience to agencies. There's not much you can do about that; somehow you just have to get those first jobs.

Regards
Dan


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:51
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Would it help you or your skills? Jun 1, 2016

As said, you can already tick the box with your language degree. You say you're studying film-making and that is of paramount importance to clients in that business so emphasise that.

So anything more is arguably more important to you than to the client. Are you supremely confident about your ability to translate, or are there times when you wonder if you aren't supposed to tackle things a little differently? Do you simply think you'd come across to clients as more able if you had a qualification? In other words, do you feel confident in yourself but have difficulty putting that confidence over to the client? Once you've got the basics to tick the boxes, marketing becomes perhaps more important to get new clients and for that you need all the ammo you can get. Of course, to get repeat orders you have to prove yourself worthy, so marketing skills alone won't make you rich.

I'm sure something like the DipTrans would be a good idea, but it needs a lot of preparation. I did a certificate course with a private company, WLS, and was very happy with the tuition I received. They prepare translators for the DipTrans too.


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Graeme Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
Member (2015)
French to English
+ ...
Qualify in your domains Jun 2, 2016

Dip Trans, MA in Translation etc. - great if you have the time and the money - and you think it will be of benefit: to your confidence and/or your self-marketing to clients. Everything Sheila says. The ATA make a big point about saying that people who have achieved their certification (by exam) end up making more money than those who don't. This could be because it is primarily the most driven people who sit their exam in the first place - and so they would have ended up earning more anyway - who knows. What I like about them is that they are pretty explicit about what you need to do and the way in which it is marked. The pass rate is reputedly only around 20% though. Dip Trans is similar - around 30% overall I think. Then there is ITI - you need proven experience and to do a translation test to get in - but I think that's a well recognised organisation too.

The WLS that Sheila mentions is Words Language Services.
http://www.wls.ie/tranbroc.htm
I have always been put off them just by their name - because it so difficult to say! Clearly, that's a very silly reason. But I have to say that, of all the courses available, theirs (to my mind) is the most flexible - and it's only a few hundred £s. One extra benefit is that you can choose to specialise your tuition entirely in one topic area (if you want) - that's a really clever approach. So, despite the name, I'm going to investigate them too. I don't think they have film/tv - but you could ask and see.

The other thing you could do is notch up some (useful marketing) certificates in your areas of specialism. For example, there is a Diploma in Journalism - by distance learning. I don't know about film/tv but there must be something similar there too.

HTH


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Fiona Grace Peterson  Identity Verified
Italy
Local time: 12:51
Member
Italian to English
Industry experience Jun 2, 2016

Dan Lucas wrote:

At this point a DipTrans would have to be interpreted positively, but I would bet that for relevant projects your qualifications in film would be given far more weight because clients respond strongly to verifiable industry experience.



A piece of paper is nothing if you don't have the competence to back it up. And if you have the competence, why add another piece of paper? Of course we are talking about client impressions here. But in my experience clients are more attracted to translators who have proven experience in their chosen field, rather than a whole sheath of translation qualifications.

I recently took time off to get my nursing degree. The university course here in Italy has a demanding theory component, plus a lot of time spent on the wards and caring for patients. It has made me a lot more confident in my approach to medical translations, plus it has given me the theoretical knowledge that it would have been hard to get from books alone. And I have seen a huge difference in how clients perceive me since doing the course.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
There's a place for pieces of paper Jun 2, 2016

Fiona Grace Peterson wrote:
A piece of paper is nothing if you don't have the competence to back it up. And if you have the competence, why add another piece of paper?

If I were playing devil's advocate I would ask you whether a nursing degree is no more than a piece of paper. However, we're clearly on the same page in that we both acknowledge that there's a place for book learning (as implied by "the university course here in Italy has a demanding theory component").

My position is that industry experience is, ceteris paribus, more valuable than paper qualifications and I have already noted that the most important people (clients) "respond strongly to verifiable industry experience". This matches your experience of the change in the way you are perceived by clients.

But if the OP has industry experience in film AND a DipTrans then that is - to me at least - somewhat more impressive than industry experience without a DipTrans. Whether that impresses clients enough to recoup the cost and time invested in the DipTrans is difficult to assess. On balance, probably not.

Regards
Dan


[Edited at 2016-06-02 20:18 GMT]


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KRevell  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 11:51
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Belated thank you Jun 6, 2016

Hi all,

Huge thanks for all your advice, and I'm really sorry for my silence.

I think I'll hold off on the DipTrans (or similar) for now and see how I get on without it over the next few months. I've just finished a year-long study programme in the USA, so, in any case, it's going to take me a while to get back into the swing of regular translation work.

Your advice about emphasising my film(making) experience in the context of my translation work is really valuable. It seems obvious, but I think I've actually tended to downplay it in the past in case clients look unfavourably on a "part-time" translator. You're right, though - knowledge of the workings and language of the film industry is, of course, a boon. I'll highlight that more in future.

Sheila (and others), I think my motivation to (at some point) pursue a translation qualification comes from a desire both to be seen as more "legitimate" in the eyes of colleagues and clients AND to shore up and expand my existing skills. For that reason, even if I find that I can secure enough work without one, there might still come a point at which pursuing a further qualification will make sense from a professional development point of view. I'll make a note of all your tips so I can refer to them if and when I decide it's time.

In the meantime, thanks again. I'm really grateful for your speedy and comprehensive feedback!


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Stephen Emm  Identity Verified
Local time: 11:51
French to English
+ ...
Professional qualifications can be helpful Jun 9, 2016

I have an MA in Translation and this enabled me to get my first in-house translation position, which was my entry point into the profession and then the platform from which I launched my freelance career.
As you already have a degree in languages along with plenty of experience, I don't think you necessarily need to do a master's degree. But, if I were you, I would look into either taking the Institute of Linguists' diploma or gaining qualified membership of the ITI.
These professional qualifications are valued by decent translation agencies and will attract direct customers. They are worth doing.
If you need any information about either of these just PM me.
On another issue, I get very tired of some professional translators denigrating qualifications in translation as being ''just a piece of paper''.
These are often the same people who then complain about translators being undervalued and ''paid peanuts''. If we want translators to be viewed as professionals, we HAVE to move away from this attitude.
Why should we not be paid peanuts if we haven't bothered to educate ourselves?


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