Which MA to choose-higher-ranked Uni, theoretical course or more practical commercial one?
Thread poster: danialmp

danialmp
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
German to English
+ ...
Jul 3, 2016

Hi everyone,

I am a UK-based prospective MA student (German & French into English) with unconditional offers from two courses in London to start this September. I am finding that there is not so much information online to judge the quality and employment prospects of translation courses, so I was wondering if anybody on here has studied at either City University or Westminster on the following courses recently, particularly City, as there is very little information owing to the course being fairly new?:

MA. Audiovisual Translation and Popular Culture (City University)
http://www.city.ac.uk/courses/postgraduate/audiovisual-translation-popular-culture-ma

MA. Specialised Translation (Westminster)
https://www.westminster.ac.uk/courses/subjects/languages/postgraduate-courses/september/full-time/specialised-translation-ma

Regarding my own translation/linguistic background, I have a BA in French & German Studies from Warwick, completed in 2008. I reached the final of the DGT competition in Brussels to work at the EU in 2011, but fell ill on the day and could not complete the assessment. After that, I spent 2 years in Germany working in digital marketing, so that is one area of specialisation I have, along with sport, particularly football, which is a real passion of mine. I have no commercial experience of translating, but have been able to translate most topics from German and French into English, including poetry, as I seem to have a natural instinct and feel for translating.

My aim is to work in-house initially after completing the MA degree in order to have stability and gain some contacts and eventually to start my own sports translation agency, translating football club websites into English for example. I was aiming to base this in the UK, but may have to reconsider if Brexit goes through.

Going back to the initial question, when choosing a course, should I be going for the higher-ranked institution focusing mainly on subtitling and niche literary genre translation (City) or the very vocational course focusing on a range of commercial topics such as law, science, politics, with specific modules on CAT tools and project management (Westminster)?

I am so torn, because I really like both courses, but I do not know which one is more likely to be more lucrative in terms of winning projects or gaining in-house employment, and I must decide by 7th July!

A teacher friend of mine said that university rankings do not matter so much for Masters courses as they relate more to the teaching and an MA is more about self-study and research. Is this a fair assessment?

Finally, given the niches of subtitling and literary genres involved in the City Uni Audiovisual and Popular Culture course, is it possible to make a stable income working in subtitling or literary publishing?

Thanks in advance to anybody in the community that can point me in the right direction or offer some advice.

Danial


[Edited at 2016-07-03 00:02 GMT]


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
my advice in a nutshell: get a mentor instead of a degree! Jul 3, 2016

Hi Danial,

This might not be what you were hoping or expecting to hear, but let me just say that it isn't actually necessary to study translation in order to do it well, or to find work as a translator. Of course, I have been translating for over 20 years by now, and so things might have changed for those entering the profession now, but I think it is perfectly possible to start getting work and thus gaining experience without any degree of any kind. Considering how expensive they are these days, it might be a good idea to first give it a try without a degree, and see how you fare.

Although some translation agencies require some kind of degree, they often will accept either (1) a translation-related degree or (2) any old BA/MA, preferably done in your target language. Direct clients of course don't care whether you have a degree or not, but I assume that you will be starting with translation agencies, rather than going straight to direct clients, which can be a bit harder to find and get work from.
Anyway, so assuming you are going to try a few agencies first, all they really care about is how good you are and how cheap you are.

My general advice to newbies is always the following: take the amount of money you are planning to spend on your translation degree, take a tiny piece of this, and offer it to an established translator to mentor you for a few months. You'd be surprised what a translator would do for one or two thousand euros

Asking an actual, experienced translator for help (instead of an academic) will also have the added benefit of giving you an inside look at the industry as it is today. For example, since you would be translating German French into English, what is much more relevant to you personally than, say, a course on the history of translation, would be first-hand intel on the inner workings of the French and German to English translation market. Who is having what translated? Where are the best clients located? What are the best and worst rates at the moment? Are things getting worse or better? What are the best payment/tax solutions (IBAN vs PayPal, TransferWise, exchange rates, VAT, etc.)? — your mentor should be able to answer all of these questions and more.

Good luck!

Michael

[This post was dictated using Dragon NaturallySpeaking 13. Please excuse any typos]

[Edited at 2016-07-04 06:42 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-07-04 10:11 GMT]


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ATIL KAYHAN  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 00:38
Member (2007)
Turkish to English
+ ...
One Criterion Jul 3, 2016

danialmp wrote:

Going back to the initial question, when choosing a course, should I be going for the higher-ranked institution focusing mainly on subtitling and niche literary genre translation (City) or the very vocational course focusing on a range of commercial topics such as law, science, politics, with specific modules on CAT tools and project management (Westminster)?

I am so torn, because I really like both courses, but I do not know which one is more likely to be more lucrative in terms of winning projects or gaining in-house employment, and I must decide by 7th July!

A teacher friend of mine said that university rankings do not matter so much for Masters courses as they relate more to the teaching and an MA is more about self-study and research. Is this a fair assessment?



Dear Danial,

I will make the long story short. There is only one criterion when it comes to choosing your course or field of study. All else fails. This criterion is:

Which one(s) would I like the best?

Your friend is right. University rankings mainly refer to undergraduate study. I think this is because it is easier to evaluate undergraduate programs than graduate programs. For example, undergraduate programs have more specific goals (which can be measured) whereas graduate programs have more unforeseeable goals. A graduate program is more research oriented, and you cannot always predict which direction the research will take you.

Best of luck and success in your graduate study.


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Peter Shortall  Identity Verified
Local time: 22:38
Member
French to English
+ ...
Earning potential and job prospects Jul 3, 2016

danialmp wrote:

Going back to the initial question, when choosing a course, should I be going for the higher-ranked institution focusing mainly on subtitling and niche literary genre translation (City) or the very vocational course focusing on a range of commercial topics such as law, science, politics, with specific modules on CAT tools and project management (Westminster)?

I am so torn, because I really like both courses, but I do not know which one is more likely to be more lucrative in terms of winning projects or gaining in-house employment, and I must decide by 7th July!



I can't comment on the institutions or the quality of their courses as I didn't attend either, but since you are interested in what will give you the best earning/job prospects, my advice would be: get to know the translation market as well as you can, and if you want to be sure of making a decent living, go for fields that are always likely to be in demand and where there will always be money! There will always be court cases, and people who can afford to pay lawyers' fees can probably also afford translators' fees. And there will always be money in science (think of pharmaceutical companies, for example). Arts and literature are fields that might suffer more if people have to tighten their purse strings in future, since governments tend to view them as a lower priority when budgets have to be cut. In these uncertain times, I would say that bread-and-butter fields such as law, business and science are a safer bet, but try to canvass opinions from as many translators as you can before you make your decision - I don't know the subtitling/literary market at all, it just seems logical to me that if a recession might be on its way, commercial fields would be safer than the arts.

As for choosing the field(s) you enjoy the most, a point that Atil raises, I would say: the ideal situation would be one where you can find a compromise between what the market wants and what you like doing. If languages are your passion (and I would hope they are, if you're planning to become a translator!), then you'll be working with language all the time and I would hope that this will be enough to stimulate you, regardless of the fields(s) you work in. Personally, I can find all sorts of subjects interesting, especially if I come across new terms as I go along, though I am careful not to take on texts that would be too difficult for me.

You should also think about the speed at which you can translate. On the rare occasions when I have translated "arty" material (mainly tourism), I have found that I translate more slowly as I have to put more thought into coming up with turns of phrase, whereas I can translate legal/business "bumph" much more quickly as it tends to be more formulaic and contains few idioms, metaphors etc. So if you're looking at earning potential, you should consider how quickly you work with different kinds of material and the kinds of rates you can expect in different fields.


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Dan Lucas  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
Member (2014)
Japanese to English
Specialised Jul 3, 2016

danialmp wrote:
Going back to the initial question, when choosing a course, should I be going for the higher-ranked institution focusing mainly on subtitling and niche literary genre translation (City) or the very vocational course focusing on a range of commercial topics such as law, science, politics, with specific modules on CAT tools and project management (Westminster)?

The consensus seems to be that it's very hard to make money in literary translation and that it is a labour of love that requires other streams of income in order to allow you to pay the rent. Subtitling is quite commercial and needs specialised software and know-how.

I would go for the more specialised course - not sure that politics counts? - that covers subjects such as law or science. To be competitive with others in those fields you would probably need to demonstrate more than just an MA course. Firsthand experience in a particular field is always good.

You like football; have you looked into sports industry translation?

Dan


[Edited at 2016-07-03 21:22 GMT]


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Texte Style
Local time: 23:38
French to English
theory vs. practice Jul 4, 2016

Just seeing the terms "theoretical" and "practical" in your title, I would suggest the practical course. Learning business savvy is very important, especially if you want to set up your own business. We see so many excellent translators here who come a cropper because they don't understand about negotiating, letting agencies bully them because they don't realise this is not how the market is supposed to work.

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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 03:08
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
General Jul 4, 2016

Since your interest appears to be to eventually start a translation agency of your own, the second general option that covers subjects like law, science, politics, CAT tools, project management seems to be the obvious one for you.

To make your agency a success, you would have to get hands-on experience in your intial years as a professional translator, and you should try both freelancing as well as in-house translator/project manager positon in an actual translation agency. Running a translation agency is vastly different from translation and an entirely differnt set of skills would be required for this. So you will have to separately make up your mind that this is what you want. Your interest and aptitude in translation would not be sufficient to make a success of a translation agency, especially one that has a very narrow focus on sports translation. Most translation agency cast their nets wider and take up versatile jobs that include not only translation into various subject areas but also localization, editing, proof-reading, talent search, project management, DTP, website design, and so on.

Another unrelated point to consider would be the financial aspect of both the universities. If they are funded by EU money, post Brexit, they could run into trouble, and you wouldn't want to be left high and dry in the middle of your course. However, as the exit negotiations would take well over two years, you would in all probability complete your course before the financial implications hit your university, but this is one consideration that you might want to keep at the back of your mind.

Good luck with your studies and your career as a translator/sports translation agency owner.


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Laura Kingdon  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 17:38
Member (2015)
French to English
+ ...
Practical is usually better Jul 5, 2016

As someone with no specific academic credits in translation (though with some in both my source languages), I have to say that it hasn't held me back much, if at all. Most clients seem more concerned with sample translations and previous work and only (maybe) glance over credentials to see that you have some. I have to qualify this by adding that I do most of my work in Korean-English and the demand rather outstrips the supply there, so I may have it easier than many when it comes to getting jobs. My point is that academic credentials, prestigious or otherwise, are not (in my experience) all that necessary in this field as clients care more about what you can actually do. For that reason, I would always choose a more practical course over a more theoretical one so long as I felt the practical course would help me with skills that I believed to be relevant to my own work.

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Graeme Jones  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
Member (2015)
French to English
+ ...
MAs are valid and useful - but not guarantees Jul 5, 2016

You could follow any number of pieces of advice on this one: choose the higher ranking uni; choose the more attractive course; don't bother with it and employ a mentor. All are perfectly valid. But that doesn't help you decide.

MA degrees in translation probably don't have a big direct connection to or influence over employment. So take away that expectation. But they almost certainly work in your favour in at least three ways: a) as a marketing tool on your cv - you stand above others who don't have the qualification; b) to help boost your confidence - i.e. you have proof that you are a translator now; c) making and generating useful contacts - which may, in fact, help with employment opportunities afterwards. These make (any) translation MA a valid choice, in my view. If you don't feel you need any of those three things, however, then really ask yourself why you would do an MA at all.
Obvious caveat: having an MA won't propel you to the front of the queue past those who are experienced and already known by the client base in their field, regardless of their qualifications.

Alternatives/additions to MA degrees might be the Dip Trans IoL (from CIOL). Big advantage: it costs a lot less than an MA degree and it is regarded as evidence of professional competence. Consider also/instead joining one of the recognised translation bodies: IoL, ATA or ITI. These are all perceived as giving some guarantee of quality and professionalism from their (qualified) members.

If you wanted to know which (MA) course to choose, it might be an idea to think about it the other way round: do you know what kind of translating you want to do afterwards? And are you going freelance or aiming for a job with a renowned organisation? To take an easy example, if you knew that you wanted to be a legal or medical translator, then you would choose whichever MA helped more with that plan - either because you could choose those as specialist options or because the process of researching the optional specialised fields (even if not your own) helped you with researching specialised fields in general, so you could apply the same process yourself.

I don't have direct experience of City or Westminster unis, but they both crop up regularly in translation searches. I wouldn't have any hesitation about either (if it was me having to make the choice).

I very much doubt that you would ever regret (afterwards) having done an MA in translation - you would have that qualification which you keep with you for ever. But you need to be happy to commit to those 10-12 months of study... and the money.

Good luck!


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Texte Style
Local time: 23:38
French to English
sign up quick! Jul 5, 2016

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Another unrelated point to consider would be the financial aspect of both the universities. If they are funded by EU money, post Brexit, they could run into trouble, and you wouldn't want to be left high and dry in the middle of your course. However, as the exit negotiations would take well over two years, you would in all probability complete your course before the financial implications hit your university, but this is one consideration that you might want to keep at the back of your mind.


My son at uni in Scotland got a mail reassuring him that all EU students would be able to complete their course on pre-Brexit terms. He was contemplating a gap year, I think that will have to go by the board.

If I wanted to do a course in the UK I would sign up real quick.


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danialmp
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
German to English
+ ...
TOPIC STARTER
Thank you, MA motivation sport Jul 5, 2016

Hi all,

Thank you for your advice so far. Some serious food for thought needed now.

I am happy to commit to the MA, as there is now postgraduate funding available from the UK government for the first time from September 2016, and an MA, as I had suspected, was essential to work at least in-house or even for agencies in the UK, as some language recruitment consultants confirmed to me. A Masters might also now be required to get a visa to move abroad in a post-Brexit world, so there is another driver. I do genuinely enjoy learning languages and new words, and would also try to improve my Spanish and Dutch to make myself more marketable.

Hopefully, I will be able to learn the skills to win a range of work, from sport, e-commerce and travel. I can translate at 500 words per hour already without ever touching CAT tools and with long spells between translations, having not been in the industry professionally yet. Is that a reasonable working speed? I have seen in job descriptions that in-house translators are expected to translate 2000 words per day.

I did have IoL associate membership, but it did not really feel like enough to enter the profession or win work without any guidance from experts. I might re-apply to the body after the MA, as all of the tutors at the 2 courses I have applied for.

To Dan Lucas, I have looked in the sports industry before, however I would need to improve my Spanish in order to work for a governing body like FIFA/UEFA, although the ethics of those bodies are in question. I had to turn down a paid internship at mmc sport in Munich last year, as I had only just moved home to the UK from Germany to be closer to family, particularly elderly relatives, and working remotely was not an option for them, and I tried a speculative application to Clark Football Languages, but got no reply or acknowledgement. Having scanned the web again, I can see that there are a lot more companies offering sports translation than I previously thought, which is an advantage for freelancing or in-house, but a disadvantage if I want to go it alone.

Any more advice is more than welcome before I make my decision, although this has been complicated by an interview this week for admin work for 12 months that will allow me to save up some funds and defer the MA by a year. It will be for a national consulate and using French as well, so can only help if I get it. I thought they had rejected me, as I was turned down for another post there.


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Michael Joseph Wdowiak Beijer  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 22:38
Member (2009)
Dutch to English
+ ...
:-) Jul 5, 2016

danialmp wrote:

Hi all,

Thank you for your advice so far. Some serious food for thought needed now.

I am happy to commit to the MA, as there is now postgraduate funding available from the UK government for the first time from September 2016, and an MA, as I had suspected, was essential to work at least in-house or even for agencies in the UK, as some language recruitment consultants confirmed to me. A Masters might also now be required to get a visa to move abroad in a post-Brexit world, so there is another driver. I do genuinely enjoy learning languages and new words, and would also try to improve my Spanish and Dutch to make myself more marketable.

Hopefully, I will be able to learn the skills to win a range of work, from sport, e-commerce and travel. I can translate at 500 words per hour already without ever touching CAT tools and with long spells between translations, having not been in the industry professionally yet. Is that a reasonable working speed? I have seen in job descriptions that in-house translators are expected to translate 2000 words per day.

I did have IoL associate membership, but it did not really feel like enough to enter the profession or win work without any guidance from experts. I might re-apply to the body after the MA, as all of the tutors at the 2 courses I have applied for.

To Dan Lucas, I have looked in the sports industry before, however I would need to improve my Spanish in order to work for a governing body like FIFA/UEFA, although the ethics of those bodies are in question. I had to turn down a paid internship at mmc sport in Munich last year, as I had only just moved home to the UK from Germany to be closer to family, particularly elderly relatives, and working remotely was not an option for them, and I tried a speculative application to Clark Football Languages, but got no reply or acknowledgement. Having scanned the web again, I can see that there are a lot more companies offering sports translation than I previously thought, which is an advantage for freelancing or in-house, but a disadvantage if I want to go it alone.

Any more advice is more than welcome before I make my decision, although this has been complicated by an interview this week for admin work for 12 months that will allow me to save up some funds and defer the MA by a year. It will be for a national consulate and using French as well, so can only help if I get it. I thought they had rejected me, as I was turned down for another post there.



Not sure which language recruitment consultants you asked, but as far as I know, an MA is definitely not essential for working in-house or for agencies in the UK. Some people may ask for a BA, but I've never heard of anyone requiring an MA. All that matters to agencies/outsourcers is (1) the quality of your work, and (2) your rate. Incidentally, even people who ask that you have a BA can usually be persuaded otherwise if you demonstrate you know how to translate, and don't charge the moon.

However, you seem to really have your heart set on doing an MA, so I'll stop trying to convince you it isn't necessary. Also, if I was in a position to do one (I only have a BA), I'd probably jump at the chance. But that ship has sailed for me, at least until we get our one-year-old daughter out of the house

Michael


[Edited at 2016-07-05 17:38 GMT]


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Daina Jauntirans  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:38
German to English
+ ...
Side note on uni ranking Jul 5, 2016

Practical commercial skills are a must in a translation program, as far as I am concerned - unless you want to go for a PhD later when theory might serve you better. If all else is equal, though, go for the uni with the more prestigious reputation. The networking possibilities alone could ultimately pay for the course. I attended MIIS for my MA, which has a very good reputation in the industry. The name opened doors for me at the start of my career (I was recruited straight out of school) - and still does.

[Edited at 2016-07-05 17:32 GMT]


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