Friday, 26 October 2012

You should learn a language because...

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow.
‒Oliver Wendell Holmes

Friday, 12 October 2012

Guest Post - Undergraduate Degrees in Translation

From my time spent working in the translation industry, I am well aware of the negative perceptions that exist in regard to translation degrees. They’re hugely expensive (three detailed below each add up to £27,000 over three years), and for such a massive amount of money it has been questioned just how much you get out of them. A common argument is that once you have the language skills – perhaps gained instead from the seemingly more logical route of a straight language degree – what else worthwhile is there to learn that warrants such a huge burden in terms of time and finances?

There are many who disagree with the above sentiments, however, which I’ve been made particularly aware of since taking up my new role at London Translation Agency. I have the pleasure of interacting with translators and interpreters more closely than I did at sister agency Quick Lingo, giving me the chance to hear in more detail about their experiences. A significant proportion of linguists we work with in their 20s are graduates of undergraduate translation-related degrees, some of whom I’ve had the chance to talk to about their experiences good and bad. In about half of these examples, the translators have gone on to do relevant master’s degrees and have cited their undergraduate degrees as beneficial preludes at the very least.

I have detailed five of the degrees I’ve heard first-hand and second-hand accounts about from professional linguists. All are four-year courses if you include the either highly recommended or compulsory third year working abroad in a country where a student’s language of choice is spoken.

Cardiff University – Translation BA

I’ve heard good things about the master’s degrees on offer in various elements of translation at Cardiff, but last year was the first time they taught an undergraduate course that a few associates of our translators experienced. Students are required to undertake the course in conjunction with a major language and a minor language (yes – it can be Welsh!), studying a broad overview of translation theory, principles and methods. The Politics and History modules that the course combines are apparently very interesting, if not wholly relevant to a career in translation.

Aston University – Translation Studies BSc (Hons)

Aston is another university that is without a doubt serious in dedicating energy and resources to translation and interpreting degrees. A total of six are available that enables a student to study French, German or Spanish as their main language or combine the two of them. A 90% satisfaction rate pretty much mirrors accounts I’ve heard about the courses, again offering a range of modules ranging from detailing specialised types of translation to advice on starting out in the translation industry.

University of Surrey – Translation BA (Hons)

Guildford’s close proximity to London has made these courses combining two major languages quite popular with international students. The second year does genuinely allow you to build further on language skills rather than taking the emphasis too far away from linguistics, as can be the case with some degrees. High-tech facilities available allowing students to put their studies into practice have received rave reviews, although the undisputed highlight of the course for most is the placement year that offers opportunities to work at major firms overseas including EDF and Volkswagen.

University of East Anglia – Translation and Interpreting with Double Honours Language BA (Hons)

If anything, these three courses (Japanese and French, Spanish and French, Spanish and Japanese) serve more as language degrees than translation degrees, not that that is necessarily a bad thing even for a budding translator. By the time the fourth year comes around where the proper focus on translation and interpreting really starts, students will have reached a level of proficiency in their chosen languages that makes the modules a natural progression, rather than bringing them in too early before they are at an ultra-advanced stage with their language.

University of Westminster – Translation BA (Hons)

Nothing in terms of course content makes Westminster’s three BA translation degrees stand out particularly, although having Mandarin as one of the three main language options alongside French and Spanish does make that degree one of the few undergraduate courses to specialise in such a currently in-demand language translation-wise. As with the degrees at Cardiff, part-time learning options are available.

Robert Davies is Editorial Executive at London Translation Agency.

Friday, 5 October 2012

You should learn a language because...

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two.
‒Geoffrey Willans

Friday, 28 September 2012

You should learn a language because...

Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going.
‒Rita Mae Brown

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

European Day of Languages

Did you know that today is the European Day of Languages?

Join in the fun marking the 10th anniversary of the the EU's celebration of linguistic diversity. Europe is rich in languages and language learning can open the door to many opportunities - even if all you want to do is use a few phrases while on holiday!

The European Day of Languages website can be found here.

  • Find out why the European Day of Languages is so important
  • Evaluate your own language skills
  • Learn some interesting language facts
  • Try a quiz to test your knowledge about different aspects of language

If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.
‒Nelson Mandela

Friday, 27 July 2012

Work experience that will help your translation career

Not so long ago I received an e-mail asking for some advice and it just got me thinking about the challenges facing new translators making that jump from student to professional. The enquiry was along the following lines:

I’m a second year student studying German and Spanish and hope to work in translation once I graduate. Do you have any advice on summer jobs or work placements that would help me to improve translation skills before I head off on my year abroad?
To be honest, while this student might have expected some information about possible translation opportunities, my advice was that he should spend the summer working in a non-translation environment and although that might sound strange, here's my reasoning.

At this stage students don’t need to focus so much on language skills. During the year abroad students develop their language skills more than they can ever imagine possible, so over the summer it’s enough to keep up their language skills by reading, watching and listening to stuff in their foreign languages – and by the end of second year they should be doing that anyway!

Neither do they need to worry about their translation skills. During their 3rd and 4th years their translation technique will get better anyway, helped along by peers and tutors - especially if they do translation classes at university during their 3rd year abroad, because many European T&I courses have a different focus from that of Heriot Watt and they'll have the chance to learn heaps of great stuff related to different translation styles, CAT tools, linguistics and so on.

BUT if they want to work professionally in translation when they graduate they need to specialise! Freelance translators get work because they are subject specialists - they are technical translators or legal translators or specialise in marketing or biotechnology etc. The biggest challenge after leaving university is that students are language specialists but unless they have come from a previous career or have studied another subject in depth, they're not subject specialists, and that’s what makes the transition from student to professional difficult.

That doesn't mean they need to be a technician or a lawyer or a biochemist but it does mean they need to know about their chosen speciality - and that's where the summer job comes in! So students who want to work as translators should start to think about the type of translation that might interest them professionally (their specialist subject) and try and get a summer job in that area so that they can start to build up their specialist knowledge. (The process never really stops for the professional translator.)

So for example, if you want to get into technical translation, a summer job working in an engineering firm's office would be a bonus. It might not have the same allure as teaching kids at summer camp in the south of France. While it might seem that you’re wasting the summer making tea and photocopying, you are actually learning industry-related terminology, finding out how the industry works, who your clients might be, what sort of documents they might need to translate, you’re learning about document types, genres and linguistic style, you’re creating networking opportunities - exactly the things you'll need when working professionally.

For students in today’s economic climate career planning has to start early, and being a passionate linguist is only half the battle. You need to take practical steps that will make you stand out from the crowd so that you are the freelancer of choice for a particular translation job. Developing a translation specialism is a step in the right direction and getting the right summer job is a good way to achieve this.

(This blog post was recently posted on Heriot Watt University's lifeinlincs blog.)

Monday, 2 July 2012

Don't Feed the Monkeys!

Due to the prevalence of low-cost translations providers, we often hear the phrase “If you pay peanuts you get monkeys”. While it is true that such providers tend to pay well below the rate a professional translator would accept, and turn out work well below the quality a professional would expect, I can’t help thinking that the translation profession has, to a certain extent, only itself to blame. In other words “Don’t Feed the Monkeys”. Let me explain why.

The basic law of supply and demand means that there will always be someone willing to do translations on the cheap. This will always be in the form of “translators” with no credentials or training who are looking for a quick buck, students, people who are “doing a bit of translation on the side” while they look for a “proper job”, people who live in countries where the cost of living is considerably lower than in Europe or North America etc.

One solution is simply not to accept this type of work. Ask for decent rates and look for clients who appreciate translation as a profession. Personally I feel that a professional job deserves a professional wage, after all I haven’t spent years at university for nothing. I haven’t invested time and money into my business just for fun. In short, I expect to be paid for my professional service.

In reality it isn’t that easy and that’s why I think part of the problem is actually caused by the translation industry per se. A fundamental problem is that the profession is largely dominated by translation agencies who rely on freelancers. That allows agencies to pick the “best” translators, which is logical because that produces the best results and generates the greatest income. In doing so however, agencies tend to wash their hands of any responsibility for the development of the profession.

Unlike accountancy, for example, the translation profession does not involve a defined career path such as in-house mentoring and training leading to a recognised, professional qualifications. Until agencies see their role as something more than “language service providers” there will always be a core group of agencies looking for a cheap fix.

The issue though is rooted in the nature of the profession. A new translator can cope with sending out hundreds of CVs to agencies who never bother to reply, with endless requests to complete test translations or application forms, with agencies who want 5 years translation experience or even with an NGO who wants volunteer translators to have 2 years translation experience as long as they can afford to do so. The problem is that entry into the profession is so difficult and drawn out  that some new translators have no alternative but to accept peanuts!

The translation profession needs to accept that it itself passively encourages low-price agencies to operate because it makes it so difficult for new translators to break into the profession often leaving them no alternative but to earn peanuts. If you’re going to feed the monkeys peanuts, is it any surprise that they’ll eat them?