In September 2015 I finished my Translation MA at SOAS University in London and was… disappointed to say the least. I felt it had been sorely lacking and wrote What an MA in Translation Doesn’t Teach You.
It’s been a few years since then and in that time I’ve read books, talked to other translators, completed online courses and, finally, started a translation and interpreting course at Bellevue College in Washington, USA.
To say I’ve learned a lot more in the Bellevue College program in the first week is an understatement. I’ve only completed three out of 13 classes, and am taking another two classes right now, but I’ve quickly realized what is so amazing about this program.
This article is for people who are teaching translation, organizing translation courses, and those interested in translation courses. I hope you find it helpful in improving your own translation classes. As well as for those who are trying to find good translation classes.
The Translation Process
In my first class in Translation 101 at Bellevue we went over the 10 steps of translation. Text analysis, research, glossary, translation, formatting, editing for style, editing for accuracy, proofread, deliver and feedback.
This may seem like common sense stuff to many translators, but as a beginner you imagine that translation is… well… just translation.
You don’t consider the huge amounts of research that goes into a translation. Or how many times you need to go over the translation editing and proofreading.
Yet translation is only a tiny part of a larger process.
Focus on Useful Skills
Going on from the translation process as a whole, a great translation should focus on building useful skills and habits.
Not practicing a translation in a topic once a week and then… that’s it.
But useful skills such as research techniques, proofreading techniques, how to build glossaries and use CAT tools. Good habits like utilizing software to improve productivity and keep track of time.
Focusing on skills is more important than practice in the early stages of a translation course because you can then use those skills later in practice. Then see how skills are useful and discover which ones are more useful to you. Starting with just practice can also lead to bad habits.
Self-reflection of Translations
One thing I love from my current class, is the opportunity to be reflective.
The focus of my current class is to learn translation skills, not on Japanese-English translation specifically. It has a mixture of people with different languages pairs. And as such, the teacher doesn’t judge us on our translations at all.
What we do have are short 200 words translations every week and we are marked on answering questions about our translation process. We are forced to be reflective on what we found challenging, how we overcame those challenges, what resources we used, how useful those were.
Then in class we all discuss our translation processes and what we each took away.
In our most recent class the translation was (I thought) incredibly simple one about home remedies. From our class discussions I realized I hadn’t considered the target audience and probably used language that was too high register.
The opportunity to be reflective individually and in a group is incredibly important to improving translating skills.
Feedback on Translations
From talking with other translators who have taken other Translation courses, one of the most valuable things they gained was feedback on their translations.
In my translations skills class we get feedback on our self-reflection. The teacher points out what was good and were we could have improved on research or critical thinking.
But other translators have mentioned how feedback on their translations themselves have been invaluable.
For example, Tim Gregory is completing a remote MA at UIUC focusing on Applied Literary Translation. The in-depth feedback he receives from the teachers focus on the structure and reliability of the translation from a literary standpoint.
Translate into Dominant Language (Emails into Secondary)
At SOAS we did 1 term of English to Japanese and one term of Japanese to English translation. The class had a mixture of Japanese and English people, resulting in at least 1 term of useless lessons for at least half of the class.
Only a very few people translate in both directions well and this is probably because they were brought up bilingually and bi-culturally.
Bellevue College’s method had Japanese and English students together (in the 200 level classes), but everyone’s given translation practice from their second language into their dominant language. This is normally involves homework with the same text so that the class can discuss and reflect on how everyone tackled the same piece.
Most programs focus only on translating into the dominant language.
I am sure there are times, such as in a business setting, where emails and internal documents need to be translated into someone’s second language. I think that at least writing emails in your second language should be taught in a good translation course.
Business Skills (Marketing, Project Management, etc.)
One thing that many translation courses lack are business skills. I have heard of translation courses that include a level of marketing training including website building and self-promotion. But many seem to miss this key part of translation.
You might think that working in-house means you don’t need marketing skills but the majority of people work freelance. And even those who work in-house are able to because they promoted their skills to be hired in the first place.
Teaching marketing skills involves techniques to network (social media and conference). How to write a resume for freelance translators (which are different from regular resumes). How to write emails in English and Japanese for effective communication while working. Keeping track of financing, calculating rates and taxes.
Project management (good time management etc.) is a skill that I’ve learned over time from my undergraduate, postgraduate and generally working. But some of the best advice has been from other translators.
These mostly include tips for maintaining productivity as well as keeping healthy as a freelancer. Such as, working for 25 minutes, breaking for 5. Drinking lots of water, walking, keeping good posture. Tracking the time you work. Having set start and finish times. All of these (and more) have been picked up from talking to others. Having these included in a course in translation, would be incredibly useful for any beginner.
CAT Tools, Glossaries and Computer Skills
One of the best things I learned at SOAS and Bellevue have been Computer Aided Translation tools. Specifically Trados and Wordfast, although I also know how to use MemoQ.
CAT Tools are incredibly useful but very intimidating for translators who have never used them before. There are lots of online tutorials but I honestly find having an expert to directly ask has been a huge help.
A great translation course should include other useful computer skills such as making and maintaining glossaries (which Bellevue teaches but not SOAS).
One thing that many programs seem to forget about are ethics in translation and interpreting.
It all seems like common sense but teaching ethics can improve a translator’s approach to the industry and help them spot possible scams.
The course I’m taking now at Bellevue is not perfect. It doesn’t have any business specific classes, but the teachers and other students are able to share business advice. I still feel Bellevue College’s certificate program in Translation and Interpreting has helped a lot with my translation skills so far. Although I have a lot more to learn but I feel lucky I’ve found such a great program.
One thing I’d like to add is that having a variety of teachers who have a lot of experience in translation has been a great help. Even lecturers who are experts in other languages have been amazing. Everyone has a unique perspective and experiences which have been great to learn about.
If you’re looking for a great, high quality translation program (whether certificate or MA), I suggest checking out the ATA List of Approved Translation and Interpreting Schools. This is a list of master and non-university translation and interpreting programs for all kinds of languages.
I so suggest doing your research including ask others translators who took the courses to hear what they thought. What the courses included and what they might not have.