BA Translation degrees – what are they?

Generally, I write a lot of my posts for people who are currently studying or have graduated from university. Today, I’m going even further back to take a look at BA Translation courses.

But what are BA Translation courses? Are they any different to normal languages degrees? What universities do translation courses? Which one is the best?

Lets go through each question one by one.

What are BA Translation courses? BA Translation courses are undergraduate degrees, generally run by a university’s Modern Languages faculty. They typically run for between 3 and 5 years depending on the course and the institution. Some courses offer a year abroad (year 3), whilst others may not. Some courses even offer a foundation year of study to get a feel for what the degree offers and what will be expected of you.

Are they any different to normal language degrees? In the university where I studied my degree, there were a few differences, but not that many. Translation modules in theory and practical translation were open to all languages students in all language variations offered at my institution. (For more information about my course, see below). However, for translation students, the modules in translation are compulsory instead of optional. Language modules on grammar, reading and vocabulary are the same for all students regardless of degree title – the only difference will be if you are a beginner or advanced.

However, even though you are a translation student, you are still expected to take some cultural modules (history, politics, literature, film, art, culture etc.) How many of these you have to take depends on the module credits system at your university.

Other than that, the courses for BA Translation and say BA German are pretty similar, and a BA German student and a BA Translation student could, theoretically, take all the same modules, but just be awarded different degree titles.

What universities offer translation courses? When looking at UCAS, 20 higher institutions are returned when you search for translation. The confusing thing is, that almost each one has a different course title and course code, meaning that they’re all slightly different.

Universities that specifically mention translation in the course title are Birmingham Aston, University of Birmingham, Cardiff University, University of Essex, Heriot-Watt Edinburgh, University of Leicester, London Metropolitan, Middlesex, Newcastle, Nottingham, Roehampton, Swansea and Westminster. But as I mentioned before, not all the courses are the same. Some universities specify which language you can translate from, others mention interpreting whilst others do not, and some have three year courses, whilst others have 4 year courses with a year abroad option.

If you’re unsure of which type of course you might want, make sure to look thoroughly through the university courses page, and even contact the course director. Whilst your personal statement is your opportunity to sell yourself to the university, remember THEY need show you what they can offer YOU that others can’t – especially if fees are going to increase over the £9,000 threshold.

Top considerations are:

  • Do you want to practise you languages abroad (3 year or 4 year sandwich?)
  • Do you want to look at interpreting, translating or both/unsure?
  • Does that university have a good and growing research department? What opportunities can they offer you for pro bono work?
  • Do you want a foundation year to see what the course can offer you? (See the University of Nottingham)
  • What other language opportunities can they offer you? Do they teach Chinese/Japanese/Portuguese/Arabic/Russian/Dutch/British Sign Language etc.?
  • What are their entry requirements and do they have flexibility in offering places?

MY DEGREE As an example, I’m going to talk about the three year BA Translation course at Cardiff, to give a rough idea of what was expected there. THIS IS NOT AN ADVERT, THIS IS JUST MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.

As with any course, there are compulsory modules in each year. In Cardiff, translation students had to take two languages in the first two years of their degree (in my case advanced level German and beginners Spanish), one of which could be dropped for final year. Core modules in years one and two look at introducing and expanding on your knowledge of translation theory as well as using these methods in actual sample translations.

Theory modules are generally assessed through an essay and a written exam. Specialised Translation of texts is assessed through a written exam (of theory not in exam translation) and two written translation assessments completed at home.

Final year compulsory modules are slightly different, Advanced Translation Practise is an extension of Specialised Translation – you will translate two texts at home on two different genres, but this time you must write a commentary explaining your choices as translator.

Translation as a Profession is very different, but also very useful. The majority of the class is used to look at Computer Assisted Translation tools such as SDL Trados. This module is assessed through three translations – two of which are assessed both on translation quality and use of the CAT system. The final assessment is a presentation summarising both the translation, the CAT tools as well as how you would translate this a business, looking at pricing and invoicing. This module, as hinted in the title, is designed to give you  a taste of what it’s like in the translation industry.

My final module for translation was a 40 credit (normal modules are worth 20) dissertation, of 10,000 words. This can take two forms, either a dissertation/analysis of a text/ translation theory or you can take a previously translated text and write an Annotated Translation Project (ATP). This gives you the chance to practise your translation skills (roughly 4,000 words) and then justify your decisions and choices (6,000 words).

If you continue to study two languages you can chose a shorter dissertation option.

That leads me on to my last question:

Which one is best? My honest and only answer has to be that it has to be YOUR decision. Translation degrees are still fairly new, and in a sense, have not become as standardised as normal foreign language degrees. If you do continue to an MA, there will be a certain aspect of repetition of some course content, but not so much that it makes doing both pointless. As with most subjects, there is always more to learn.

If you are undecided as to what type of translation work you might want to do, or which language options you want, try to look for a university where there are lots of different languages and modules on offer. As you may have noticed, the undergraduate degree at Cardiff is not geared towards interpreting or subtitling, however subtitling comes into the MA course, leaving room for further study and specialism.

Email course directors and order prospectuses. See if the department can put you in touch with any current or recently graduated students to see what they say. Look at the staff pages on the school’s home page – what are the lecturers interested in? What are their specialities and research areas? Would those appeal to you?

Remember there is no right or wrong reason for wanting to study a translation course at university. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at university and I really enjoyed my course in part because I love to read (remember translation is going to involve a lot of reading different text types!).

If you have any questions about BA Translation courses or the BA in Translation at Cardiff in particular, leave me a comment below or tweet me at @amjscorr.







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