Analysis: MA Translation vs Industry

A qualification in translation is almost a necessity for anyone aiming to enter the industry, so you might be wondering what students learn on these courses, and which academic perceptions of the industry ring true in the professional world of translation. Read on for our take!

Here at Sure Languages, most of our in-house team have completed an MA in Translation. Project managers Matt and Louise studied their translation MAs at Exeter University and University of Lille respectively, while customer success manager Frankie did hers at Edinburgh University. Meanwhile, project manager Rhys did his MA in German and comparative literature, split between St Andrews University and Bonn University, in Germany – which just goes to show that you don’t always need a translation Masters to make it in the translation world! Last but not least, Sure Languages co-founder and project manager Francesca did her translation MA at the University of Turin.

In this article, we talk about the perception of the translation industry as a master’s student, and the reality as a project manager in a fast-paced professional environment.

CAT (Computer-Assisted Translation) tools are used all the time

CAT tools have revolutionised the way translation is carried out in recent years, and learning how to use them is now a key part of postgraduate translation courses. They allow translators to work more efficiently by using translation memories and glossaries, meaning sentences or phrases which have already been translated in similar projects are suggested to translators, saving them typing time as all they have to do is confirm or reject the translation. Although getting to grips with these tools in class could sometimes be a rather daunting task (‘Catastrophic Error!’ messages popping up was enough to terrify anyone), they really do make the process much quicker and easier.

By using CAT tools, translators can reproduce the target text in exactly the same format as the source text, so there is less need for post-translation formatting, meaning more time can be spent on other translation tasks. At Sure Languages, we also use CAT tools to analyse files to give accurate quotes, and to update the translation memories for both clients and translators so they are ready to go for the next job.

The translation industry moves very quickly

In academia, you’re forewarned that the industry is fast-paced. However, within the student bubble, translating 2,000 words a day could seem like rather a lot when an assignment of that length would normally take several weeks! Granted, there is some scholarly theory thrown in too, and students have to juggle several assessments at once, but in project management, we organise the turnaround of translations of this volume within a matter of days or hours.

While at first this may seem like a difficult task for freelancers and project managers who are just starting out, they do already have the linguistic ability and transferable skills needed to succeed in the industry, such as good time management and strong communication.

Competition is high for freelancers

Students may be apprehensive at the prospect of entering a highly competitive industry, with similarly qualified translators jostling for position, ready to snap up jobs when advertised. From the project management perspective, it is clear that new translators do need to go the extra mile to stand out from the crowd. Most already have a translation qualification of some kind, but some translation experience (this can be voluntary, for example for Translators Without Borders) and demonstrating an eye for detail and the ability to communicate clearly and quickly can go a long way.

While students may be prepared for and informed of the competitive, fast-paced, computer-based translation environment, there are some aspects of the translation industry which might come as a bit of a surprise to students. So, what isn’t taught about the industry in academia?

The translation community is close-knit

While the field is competitive, the industry can in fact be far more friendly and welcoming than it seems from the outside. At Sure Languages we work closely with our translators, getting to know them, the sorts of translations they enjoy, the sorts they do not enjoy so much. This helps form a good working relationship and produces the best quality text. We also build up a rapport with our clients, understanding their translation needs and preferences such as style, type of language and levels of formality, all to offer a personalised service to best fulfil their needs.

Translation projects are extremely varied

Students often hear how important it is to specialise and get a solid grounding in one type of translation whether it be legal, financial, medical, or literary. On the one hand, having a specialism is important because when we in project management receive a highly specialised text in a less-common language pair, there is always someone we can trust to take on the job. This means we can accept most translation requests from clients. However, for the most part, our network of translators take on a huge variety of work, from instruction manuals to marketing slogans. From a project management perspective, the range of translations keeps us on our toes, and there is never a dull moment.

While this huge variety might take some prospective translators out of their comfort zone at first, most academic courses allow students to gain an insight into different specialist fields and develop the linguistic and analytical skills required to decipher difficult texts. And these skills are also highly useful in project management – we need to be familiar with all sorts of texts and languages in order to perform in-house checks to make sure we meet clients’ needs and uphold industry standards. This variation also keeps the work fresh and interesting for translators and project managers alike.

All in all, the translation industry is evolving rapidly and the range of work makes it an exciting field of work to enter. The workflow is becoming increasingly efficient and although the field is becoming more competitive, future graduates are indeed prepared for the challenge, learning how to work in a tech-based, forward-thinking environment, so they can hit the ground running and deliver the best-quality translation projects.

Interested in a career in translation? The Institute of Translation & Interpreting (ITI) have lots of information about translation and interpreting as a career, plus listings for job openings and training events for students and professionals. Happy researching!

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