Last Friday, I went to my very first International Translator Day event at the British Library, organised by the Free Word Centre. While the various sessions I attended were all excellent and informative, I’m going to limit myself here to the seminar on Translator Training and Employability. It was led by Rosaline Harvey and Ruth Martin of the Emerging Translators Network, as well as Amanda Hopkinson, Visiting Professor in Literary Translation at City University.
A lot of the talk centred on how well MA courses are preparing future translators for the jobs market. Plenty of positives emerged, but many in the audience also thought that MAs in the UK tend to focus too much on translation theory and not enough on actual practice. The other common gripe was that there is very little, if no, training on the business aspects of being a translator. Graduate translators go out in the world without essential business skills, such as negotiation techniques, how to find clients, how to communicate professionally, or how to write an invoice and file your tax returns.
The counter-argument is that it’s impossible to fit everything into an MA, and there was a suggestion that MAs might include extra, optional modules that would focus on currently neglected business aspects.
This could work. Personally, when it comes to MAs, I think the best solution is to have two, very distinct types of degrees.
1) Degrees which are more academic and literary, focussing on translation theory and literary translation to prepare those who are thinking about going on to do a PhD, or who want to work exclusively in academic or literary translation.
2) Degrees which are more practice oriented, with modules on business skills and rigorous training in specialized commercial areas such as technical translation, legal translation, and medical translation, etc. UCL’s MSc in Specialized Translation is a good example.
This touches on another complaint by students: the lack of clarity in MA programme descriptors. Many students enroll on MA programmes, unaware that they will mostly study translation theory and/or be working almost exclusively on literary texts. This creates disillusionment, frustration and, of course, a sense that many thousands of pounds have been wasted. As one attendee said, it was galling to spend around £6,000 on a Masters, and then fork out another £300 plus to take part in the ITI’s training course on how to become a freelance translator. (However, that course did come recommended!).
My own gripe is that there is a lack of courses for people who are not interested in doing an MA for various reasons. For me, it is because I already have a PhD in Languages and I feel I really have spent enough time studying at university. There is also the sad fact that books, while eminently wonderful, are no good to eat.
However, I am very keen on professional development, and I’m planning to enroll on an online Localisation course at UCL’s Centre for Translation Studies the next time it starts. In a parallel world, I might have done computer science and become a games programmer, and I don’t know how many times I have googled programming degrees oriented towards this. I eventually concluded that this ship had long ago sailed and that I was quite content in my own linguistic boat. But now that there’s a possibility we might sail together, I’m getting excited.
Finally, for anyone who can’t afford an ITI course, I can recommend two excellent books and one blog on which will provide you with a lot of the business nous required: Chris Durban’s The Prosperous Translator, and Corinne McKay’s How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator (slightly more US focussed). Corinne’s blog, Thoughts on Translation, is also a great source of information and discussion.
Finally, check out the posts written by other ITD attendees:
A great round-up of the whole event by Kristen Gehrman.