When I started university in 2011, I did not know that I had any interest in professional translation at all. To me it seemed one of the stock two professions (along with teaching) that anyone who doesn’t do languages, assumes you must want to be. To add insult to injury, I’m interested in both. After my second year of uni, I transferred from a BA German and Spanish course to a BA Translation course.
As I’ve already mentioned before, this switch was mainly down to my love-hate relationship with Spanish, and my fear that I would fail my degree if I insisted on continuing with it, purely for the sake of having two languages to become a MFL teacher. Although the course had opened up the year before (after I left first year) I decided to wait it out and see what happened.
In the summer of 2013 I switched course. This involved sitting some modules from second year that I had not already done. For a year I studied two translation modules over three classes a week – one module in Spring and the other in Autumn. Since the rest of my year group had gone abroad, I was suddenly back to being in classes with a whole load of people I didn’t know. I was also the only one in the class studying for a degree in Translation without actually having taken any of the first year translation modules. Not the best start.
Luckily, my lecturers were understanding and helpful. My course director recommended I buy Introducing Translation Studies by Jeremy Munday (mentioned here). I read each chapter before it came up in class. I read through the PowerPoint slides and hand-outs, if they were available online. I learnt a lot in those classes and really enjoyed them.
Taking a course in translation gave me a better idea of my language skills and my strengths. Up until then, translation exercises were smaller and generally only of ‘lighter’ newspaper articles. The most important factor was making them sound coherent and fluent in English.
In my specialised translation modules, this all changed. Although coherency and fluency were still important, so were style, tone, audience and purpose. Who was this text for? Could the tone be retained in the target language, or would it have to change because of cultural differences? If the text contained a joke or a pun, how would you translate that back into English? I also encountered a greater variety of text types – car adverts, technical manuals, tourist brochures. On one memorable occasion, we translated a text on a computer component, and received actual feedback from the person who had designed the software, via Skype.
You also learn that translation isn’t about knowing every single word off the top of your head. Especially at undergraduate level, you haven’t developed any specialism of what type of texts you would translate. It would be impossible to know every technical word in another language relating to medicine, for example. It is expected that you would need to research, to talk perhaps to the author of the text to ask for clarification.
In my translation degree, I was never asked to translate a technical text under exam conditions – it just wouldn’t happen in a real life setting.
Changing degree gave me more options – of course I could have stuck with my normal German and Spanish degree and taken a masters in translation later. But by starting at undergraduate level, I was able to learn the techniques of translation at an earlier point. I might not have even considered further study in translation at all if I hadn’t changed course.
It has also given me more opportunities, and given me a chance to look at text types and genres that ordinarily I wouldn’t have come into contact with. Through my assistantship last summer and my current internship, I’ve looked at essays and lectures on composers – a subject that wasn’t my forte. Though I’m a not a music expert, I’ve learnt a lot of vocabulary and terms and gained new skills. My current text is written in Gothic German lettering, something which I have never come across before. This is something that I can take with me into future work.
My decision to change to a translation degree was more personal than professional, but it has ended up being the best decision I could I have made.
If you’re interested in languages, and want to know more about translation undergraduate degrees see my post here on BA Translation degrees. As always, if you want to ask a more direct question, or there’s something I haven’t covered, leave me a comment below, or tweet me at @amjscorr.