Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A University Translation Bureau: Training Translators

The last post mentioned a way of training translators in the United States. Last week, Marcel Thelen from the Department of Translation and Interpreting of the Maastricht School of International Communication of Zuyd University in Maastricht, in the Netherlands, spoke here at Swansea University about an interesting program he has set up.

As a way of training his undergraduate translation students, Dr. Thelen has started a translation bureau at the university. He explained that it is mostly for the fourth-year students, the ones who will soon graduate and hopefully get jobs as translators, but some of the younger students are involved too. When he first started the bureau, it was all simulated role-play, with the result being that it felt fake and there was no incentive for taking it seriously, since all students had to do to get credit was participate. So, he changed it to a real bureau.

Students have to write CVs and cover letters in order to apply for positions (office manager, project manager, IT expert, translators, editors) and then they go on interviews. Those who want to work as managers interview with Dr. Thelen and then they interview and hire the translators and editors. Unfortunately, the students have to stick with whatever position they’ve chosen for the whole term, so they don’t get a chance to switch, which would be even better, because then they would get experience with a range of translation-related jobs. Not all those who train as translators then work as translators; for example, they can go on to be project managers at translation agencies or become localizers. So that is why getting the chance to train or intern in a variety of roles could be interesting.

The bureau gets job assignments from professors on their university campus or from other schools with similar programs (they are each other’s clients, in a way). They also get samples of already-completed work from agencies, which means that they then can compare their own translations to the professional ones, and such analysis is a useful exercise for them. Finally, they also do free work for the non-profit sector. The jobs they do are not just translations, but also include terminology or scanning or other such assignments.

A manager receives the assignment and gives it to a translator. An editor goes over it when the translator has completed it. The bureau receives fake payment for the job, but on a sliding scale, depending on whether the client is satisfied. The students involved in each assignment get class credit based on the satisfaction and payment, as well as on their attendance and their reports on their work. If a student is not doing a good job with the assignments, she or he can get warnings or extra work, and can even be dismissed, if the circumstances call for it.

Dr. Thelen explained that his students get a lot of useful practice out of this bureau. As already mentioned, they learn how to write CVs and application letters and how to interview, and they also learn how to work at a translation agency, and, of course, how to handle the specific requirements of whichever job they get at the agency. Many of the students improve their translating and editing skills, end up working more efficiently, practice using CAT tools, and also get experience with problem-solving, bureau management, workflow management, personnel issues, negotiation, dealing with clients, meeting deadlines, handling financial issues and balancing books, and so on.

I think Dr. Thelen’s program sounds like a good one. It would be interesting to know if alumni from such programs are hired at bureaus more frequently and/or if they are more successful in their translation careers. I’d like to see more university programs in translation include such real-life (or, at least, simulated real-life) practice along with what they already offer, i.e. translation theory, training in using computer programs, and language courses. Perhaps it makes sense to also have a sort of mentoring system in which students intern with and/or have study visits at bureaus and/or with freelance translators and/or at other places that employ translators.

Students training to be translators and/or to work with translation in some other way need this hands-on, pragmatic experience and not just the more academic courses.


Rudy said...

Hello B.J.

It is interesting as well as informative to read through your blog. It really gives good insights and business ideas, as it is rather hard to innovate when it comes to language services.

any idea where one can get market info on language services sector? databases like Mintel, Cobweb, Keynotes, don't offer much really.



B.J. Epstein said...

Thanks for your comment, Mazen. I am not quite sure what you mean about the language services sector. Do you mean you are looking for translation agencies? Or customers who might need translation?

Best wishes,

cristian said...

The teacher had a very good idea and we should more people like him that try offering experience to the students. That way, when they finish college, they will have a solid CV to fight with. I wish that more universities would integrate such an approach because it can be very useful for students, but for the economy as well as it doesn't hurt to have prepared people on important jobs.
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