Universitat Pompeu Fabra: A Day in the Life

By Carmen Salomón Hernández

pompeu-fabra.I finished my high school degree, including the International Baccalaureate Diploma in 2011 and decided to study Translation and Interpreting (T&I) because I love languages and reading, and through Latin and Greek, I learned to love translation itself. The lessons consisted mostly of epics and poetry texts. These two subjects taught me to be patient and to translate as if I were solving a puzzle where the original text contained pieces I had to put in place to reveal the beautiful final image. Like most degrees in Spain, Translation and Interpreting lasts 4 years.

Admission to most Spanish T&I colleges requires a specific test besides our university entrance tests. That’s why I had to make my mind up early enough not to miss any relevant test dates. I decided to go to Barcelona, mostly because I loved the city and it was the furthest from home I could reach without boarding a plane, so I applied to both Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF). UAB is outside the city on a beautiful campus surrounded by nature and forests. It offers a huge variety of foreign languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian. The UPF Communication Campus, on the other hand, is located in the middle of modern buildings at the heart of Barcelona. It offers fewer options, with only English, French, German and Catalonian Sign Language as second and third languages.

As I mentioned, I applied to both universities and thankfully, I was admitted to both institutions. In the end, UPF was my first choice because I wanted to live in the city and I already knew English and some German. I have never regretted this decision.

As you may already know, Barcelona is in the Catalan part of Spain, where both Spanish and Catalan are the official languages. Since I was from a different autonomous community (Castilla – La Mancha), I had to learn Catalan from scratch. For students from other parts of the country, the University offers it as a foreign language for the first two years of study, which really does help you to adapt, although two years really isn’t enough to get to the same level as native speakers.

During the first term, we only studied National languages and translation theory, and we did not actually translate anything. I found this surprising at first, but it gave me the proper basis not to mix everything up, and I enjoyed studying Spanish in more depth. After that term, we started translation from our B language – English in my case – in one year, and from the C language (German) in the next. We also had covered other subjects including documentation and computers.

The study plan states that every T&I student must spend three months abroad at a different university during the first term of the second year. It is a very good way to get to know the culture students will translate to or from, and it is a unique opportunity to travel without delaying studies at all (it’s sometimes difficult to find the time to travel while studying). I went to Durham University in the UK, because I heard that it was a great place. I really enjoyed it because I had the chance to live at a “college,” I was able to learn about their traditions and I got to know how their collegiate system works. When I returned to UPF with my fellow students, we started specializing in our respective fields: legal, scientific and literary translation. We were introduced to interpreting then, and we were taught the use of translation technologies.

After the second year, while they also have mandatory courses such as Terminology and German-English Translation, students continue to pick subjects that interest them the most. I decided to specialize in literary and scientific translation, and translation technology, because I knew I wanted to be a translator, and not an interpreter or researcher. There were different subjects on the same topics until the end of the fourth year, where students end up doing just one obligatory subject per term: Catalan-Spanish translation (you choose the direction between the languages), proofreading and editing, and the final-year project.

Each term consists of ten weeks with two lessons of each subject, which was not enough to cover the full breadth of the material. Although UPF’s term scheme was unconventional, we touched on many areas.

In brief, I would say the main features of UPF are:

  • 4-year degree with 3 terms per year
  • English, German, French, Catalan Sign Language offered as foreign languages
  • Spanish and Catalan offered as mother tongues
  • A modern campus located at the heart of Barcelona
  • A term abroad included as part of the studies
  • A wide range of electives depending on students’ profiles
  • Full-time studies (lessons grouped in the morning for 1st and 3rd year students and in the afternoon for 2nd and 4th year students).

Besides my degree in these four years, I have joined several associations – the most important of them being the Spanish Association of Translation and Interpreting Students (AETI). Here I was introduced to many wonderful people and learned about the translation business by collaborating with professional associations. The university did give me the theoretical and technical understanding required to become a good translator, but associative life gave me a broader view of the translation world. I would recommend that students engage actively with their education, and try investigating further what appeals to them the most in this field.

About the author: Carmen Salomón is currently finishing her degree at Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Spanish is her A, English her B, and German and Catalan are her C languages. She wants to specialize in technical translation and work as a freelancer, although she admits that her first dream was to become a literary translator. She was president of the Spanish Association for Translation and Interpreting Students between April 2013 and May 2014.