MA in Translation

When studying for my degree in Spanish and History with the Open University I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to become a translator afterwards. However, when I started to talk to people about it, it soon became apparent that without an appropriate qualification in translation at degree or post-graduate level, and without the relevant experience, breaking into the profession might be a tough nut to crack. I researched the subject further by looking at various translation agencies’ websites and online forums and this confirmed my suspicions. I decided to search the web for online courses and, bingo, my own university had recently started running an MA in Translation course. It would take an additional two years to complete, on top of the five it had taken to finish my undergraduate studies. I would also need to dedicate between 20 and 30 hours a week to study, as I had done with my degree. Of course I thought this was fantastic news – another two years of having my social life blown to smithereens by the Open University – so I signed up for it immediately!

The course was presented entirely online which at first I found a little daunting. In previous courses with the Open University I had always received study books. I’d get a real sense of excitement when they were delivered. I would open the package up straightaway, like a small child on Christmas morning, and start reading them. Using books was a style of study I was comfortable with but now everything had to be done via the course’s website. The reason behind this was to get us used to working online. As the majority of a translator’s day is spent sat in front of a laptop it would be good preparation for when we enter the professional world of translation. The website was very easy to use, however, and I soon got the hang of the new way of working. There were three assignments for each module and also an end of module assignment at the end of each one. All work was submitted and returned online with detailed feedback from our tutor. There was a forum for questions and discussions and also regular tutorials from the course tutors. Furthermore, there were occasional seminars from professional translators who gave a flavour of different aspects of translation and an insight into the profession as a whole. By and large the course was very well designed and the help and support from our tutors was excellent.

The first module covered the theory of translation. It started with a brief history including early bible translators such as Jerome. Then it moved onto linguistics-based translation where the process of translation was seen as a language act in which a text in one language is substituted with an equivalent text in another language. Following on from this was functional translation where the brief is fundamental and can create a new purpose for the text to be translated. The importance shifts from source text to target text orientated translation styles. Literary polysystems and norm-based theories were then discussed. We discovered that all texts are ranked within a complex literary system where literature of a more classical nature will generally command more respect. This can, therefore, have a profound effect on how much freedom a translator has when rendering the message of the original text. When comparing the translations of two different versions of The Three Musketeers, one being for adults and the other for children, it was intriguing to see how the translators had adapted them for the different audiences. We then looked at the most recent theories that took place during the cultural turn of the 1990s and 2000s. We learnt that translation can be seen as a form of rewriting where more dominant forces may, from a position of power, manipulate a text to perpetuate certain ideologies and cultures over others. As a historian this was probably my favourite part as I could see the parallels between this and what I had learnt during my studies on empires and imperialism. After this we looked at technology and CAT tools and how they have greatly altered the landscape of the translation profession. It was a fascinating module and good preparation for what was to come next.

The second module gave us an opportunity to put the theory into practice. This practice was done over a wide range of specialisations including audiovisual, business, legal, finance, news, children’s literature, poetry, humour, marketing, technical, medical and scientific. We were also able to get the hang of different kinds of CAT tools as we carried out the translations. I particularly enjoyed translating a video about the use of artificial grass on Spanish golf courses using the subtitling tool. It was a steep learning curve getting to grips with the new technology but watching the video afterwards, which I had subtitled, gave me enormous satisfaction. Throughout this second module we were able to experiment with some of the big ideas in translation such as equivalence. Should an attempt be made to remain loyal to the original author or does the translator have carte blanche to produce something different that fits in with the target culture? The brief must be analysed and several other factors will also be scrutinized before deciding how closely a translation should resemble the original, or how far it should deviate from it. We also learnt about building a corpus of parallel texts and how they could be used for context, comparison and justification for translation decisions. During the translation of a complicated scientific text we also learnt how to build a glossary of key terms and words which proved invaluable in the translation process. I have never been very good with science so I was amazed at how well I coped. No doubt the task was made easier by following the methodology taught on the course.

In the final module there was a choice between the extended translation project with commentary or a translation research option. As I wanted to put into practice what I had learnt in the previous modules, but on a bigger scale, I chose the extended translation. We were free to choose the text to be translated as long as it was between 6000 and 8000 words. I found an amazing article from Argentina which told the heart breaking story of what happened to the Argentine soldiers when they returned home after the Falklands War. It describes the harrowing experiences suffered by the soldiers at the hands of the military dictatorship and illustrates how their crimes were covered up. Furthermore, it links these actions to those committed during the ‘Dirty War’ where as many as 30,000 people disappeared. My brief required a translation that should read smoothly and be fully understood by the target audience but, by breaking traditional norms, should also retain original cultural terms and proper nouns. This gave me the opportunity to use the Spanish place names Malvinas and Puerto Argentino in my translation, rather than the Falklands and Stanley, which could be seen as somewhat controversial. Therefore, it was a great talking point to incorporate in my commentary which included some of the most interesting translation decisions I had made. These decisions had to be justified and discussed in the context of relevant aspects of translation theory and also the brief. We had researched these aspects at length and mine included functional approaches, postcolonialism and othering. I could go on and on but I don’t want to risk boring you too much!

Now, when I look back on the entire experience of the last two years, several words come to mind; incredible, mind blowing, memorable, fascinating, stressful, galvanizing, challenging, demanding, inspirational, brutal. Whilst it has been all of these things what the MA has really taught me is how to think critically and apply relevant theories to the act of translation, thus enabling me to justify my decisions. Translation is a purposeful activity and so much more than just finding an equivalent word in another language. The course has also been useful from a vocational perspective as we’ve looked at the profession as a whole and been shown what to anticipate as a freelancer and also what potential employers and clients will expect from us. On the course there were people like myself working full time and others working part time. Some were retired and looking for a new challenge, whilst others had young families to look after. We were all different and we all had to adapt our lives and make huge sacrifices, especially towards the end of the course when it just seemed to take over our lives. This is where you had to show strength of character and resolve. It was as if you were climbing a mountain and it was getting steeper by the day. You might have felt alone sometimes but we had an incredible Facebook group, full of wonderful people, who were there every step of the way. It was great for support, motivation and problem solving. It was also good for having a laugh (Nord’s TOASTIE, carriages, tutus and the colour purple spring to mind) and letting off steam. I believe that the qualities one must possess to complete the course are the same ones needed to become a successful translator. It blows my mind to think how far I have come since I started the MA a couple of years ago and this has inspired me to dream big as I enter this wonderful profession. With the correct amount of motivation and dedication, and a healthy portion of resilience, anything is possible.

8 thoughts on “MA in Translation

  1. Welcome back stranger! I assumed you had moved to Barcelona and maybe even left blogging behind. Sounds like you were just busy with your studies. I finished an online copyediting course in Dec. and wrote a post about what it was like to work fulltime and go to school part time, so I know how you feel.

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    1. Hello Miss Architect! Lovely to hear from you! I was just thinking about you the other day. I was going to look you up but I got sidetracked with writing this post and tidying up my website. You’re right, I have been extremely busy with my studies to the point where it just completely consumes your life. But it’s over now so I can slowly get back to a normal existence. I’m still planning on moving to Spain soonish but there’s still plenty of complications. Well done on completing your course! I’ll have a read of your post about it later on.

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      1. Selling my house is the biggest complication. I put it on the market around about this time last year and it should have been a relatively easy sale but 5 minutes later the corona comes knocking and puts a huge spanner in the works. How’s life over your way or shouldn’t I ask!!!

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      2. I’m sorry to hear that. We haven’t moved, but we have been having construction on our house (adding two new rooms) and COVID is making everything move so slowly. We hope to be all finished up in two weeks or so.
        Sadly, we recently had a death in the family and would actually be in England right now if it weren’t for the travel/quarantine restrictions. It’s sad enough when someone dies, but to not be able to be with family because of a virus is especially heartbreaking.
        Other than that we’re good. Weird school year. I’ve taught in hybrid mode, distance learning, and 100% in-person. Spring break trip in March is in flux due to the virus. So, you know, totally normal ’round here.

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      3. Abnormal is the new normal! Sorry to hear about the death in the family. Very sad especially since you couldn’t be with family. Hopefully things will slowly get back to normal and we can get in airplanes again! Do you remember them, wings, engines, air hostesses? No? Me neither!

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