The benefits of a Master's in translation

The benefits of a Master’s in translation

Embarking on a Master’s in Translation (MiT) is a big decision, and one which I made back in 2014. The jury is very much out on whether it’s a worthwhile investment, or an indulgent waste of time and money. Here’s how I see it.

Pros

  • Skill development:
    Your MiT course will not only bolster your technical skills, it will give you the chance to meet translation professionals who can offer tips and tricks and their own candid opinions on the industry. Working with other students and tutors also gives you a useful insight into their different working methods and idiosyncratic translation styles.
  • Commercial advice:
    Some MiT institutions hold business workshops for students. Commercial skills, such as setting yourself up as self-employed or knowing how to build a career, are arguably as important as language skills. Workshops can also offer insights into the range of careers available in the translation industry and, importantly, how much you can expect to earn in each.
  • Networking:
    An inevitable part of professional life. A quality MiT course will expose you to other people in your field – some of whom could prove to be lucrative contacts in future.
  • Theory:
    Is useful (to a certain point). Translation theory gives you the linguistic ammunition you need to justify your choices to exacting clients and pedantic fellow translators. It also gives you an overview of the different translation options available and, often, helps you better understand the syntax of your mother tongue.
  • Credibility:
    A Master’s helps you stand out from the crowd. A cliché, but true. For the major language combinations at least, translators are two-a-penny. If you have no qualifications and no experience, your chances of a client or agency looking at you twice are slim to none. An MiT also opens doors to industry bodies such as the ITI in the UK. If you’re looking to become a freelancer, the ITI boosts your credibility and provides a readymade network too.
  • Qualification:
    The latest ISO standard for translation service providers (TSPs) requires them to prove that their translators have either 1) a degree in translation (or related subject), 2) a degree in any other field + two years’ full-time translation experience or 3) five years’ full-time translation experience. 2) and 3) present a chicken-and-egg situation for anyone just starting out: you need at least two years’ translation experience to work for a TSP; but you can’t get this experience because you’re not allowed to work without it. The way around this? 1) Go get yourself a degree in translation.
  • Learning is fun:
    You get to immerse yourself in an educational environment – if only for purely selfish reasons, learning is always worthwhile and stimulating.

Cons

  • Time:
    Most courses last either one year or two – time that could equally be spent in paid employment. Homework and revision also require a commitment outside the 9 to 5. If time is a major concern for you, consider part-time and/or online options as practical alternatives to full-time, classroom-based courses.
  • Money:
    Can be prohibitive. Courses on the continent can be under EUR 1,000, in the UK you’re looking at between GBP 5,000 and 8,000, while in the US, MAs can cost more than USD 50,000, and that’s even before travel and living expenses. For those fresh out of uni, this means a significant addition to existing student debt; for seasoned translators, loss of income has to be factored in.
  • Stress:
    if you don’t work well under pressure then exams and coursework deadlines are likely to be a constant source of stress. However, don’t forget that life in the translation industry will also involve working towards deadlines, no matter what your role.
  • Theory:
    Of little use (beyond a certain point). As a translation professional, experience and business acumen are usually more valuable than knowing the ins and outs of different schools of translation thought. To avoid death-by-theory, search for a course with a focus on practical skills (unless, of course, you’re interested in a life in academia).

    In summary:

  • As an established translator with a steady income:
    An MiT is not a professional necessity but an edifying luxury. Short courses in CAT tools or business management, for example, would probably be more useful for experienced translators looking to enhance their skillset than a full-time Master’s degree.
  • If you’re just starting out:
    An MiT is definitely worthwhile. With hundreds of full-time and part-time, online and offline courses, and a range of different modules available, you should find something to suit your lifestyle and interests. The qualification will get you that metaphorical foot in the door, and is vital if you didn’t study languages as an undergraduate. If you do it – and you pass – the initial financial outlay should be more than compensated by the boost to your future job prospects and earning potential.

Cover picture via Flickr: Graduation – Mark Ramsay (CC BY 2.0)


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