Universidad de Alcalá: A Day in the Life

Cervantes AlcaláI went into my master’s program at Spain’s Universidad de Alcalá convinced I wanted to be an interpreter. A year later I was a passionate translator. Sitting on the edge of my seat in a conference booth interpreting for a Finnish researcher; sandwiched next to an African immigrant across from a Spanish social worker; carefully situated between a Spanish therapist and her American patient—all of these experiences were exhilarating. It’s just that somehow I took much greater pleasure in searching tediously for parallel texts as I translated a 50,000-word European Union bill.

The two internships I did as part of the master’s program couldn’t have been more different: half of my time was spent interpreting for a drug and alcohol abuse program through Madrid’s public health department, and the other half was spent working alongside two classmates to translate a lengthy bill for the Spanish Ministry of Justice on the exchange of criminal background data among EU member states.

Universidad de Alcalá logoInterpreting, though thrilling, made me nervous, while translating made me feel absolutely exuberant. One thing that good translators and good interpreters have in common is that both are perfectionists. I too am a perfectionist—for better or for worse. But studying translation and interpreting at the same time made me realize that I am the kind of perfectionist who cannot live with providing perfection on the spot. I’d much rather take my time finding the perfect solution—and that’s how I came to be a translator.

I began the Master’s in Intercultural Communication and Public Service Interpreting and Translation at Universidad de Alcalá (UAH) in 2013. The university, one of the oldest in Europe, is located in Alcalá de Henares, a small city in the autonomous community of Madrid. Among its claims to fame, Alcalá is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and the location where the first polyglot Bible was printed.

The university has offered a master’s in translation and interpreting (T&I) since 2006, and the program has belonged to the prestigious European Master’s in Translation network (EMT) since 2009. The EMT vets universities based on certain standards for translator education, with the aim of improving the quality of the incoming workforce.

European Master’s in Translation logoThe master’s at UAH is geared towards students with undergraduate degrees in T&I or those who are already working as translators or interpreters, though these are not strict requirements for admission (proof of language command is!). Some of my classmates were already sworn translators or practicing interpreters, while others were medical professionals or paralegals. One was even a teacher who won a popular game show on Spanish TV and decided to spend the prize money on taking his career in a new direction. I myself had been working in education and public services (at a library in the US and later as a cultural ambassador for the Spanish Ministry of Education in Madrid) for three years leading up to my discovery of the field of translation and interpreting.

In line with the program’s goal of improving the skills of existing translators and interpreters, the curriculum is more practical than theoretical. The first half of the program consisted mostly of interpreting role plays and independent translation assignments that we reviewed together in class. Our instructors were all talented translators and interpreters whose engagement in the profession allowed them to offer us relevant insights and anecdotes, giving us a taste of the world outside the classroom.

The program is organized in cohorts based on language pair, with a considerable offering (all in combination with Spanish):

  • Arabic
  • Bulgarian
  • Chinese
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Polish
  • Portuguese
  • Romanian
  • Russian

Students with opposite A and B languages are placed together in each cohort (for example, there were native Spanish speakers as well as Americans and Brits in my cohort), and all students practice bidirectional translation. In my case, this meant translating not only from Spanish to my native English but also from English to Spanish. Translating in both directions allows students to offer better feedback and to benefit from one another’s strengths.  I found that translating into Spanish improved my Spanish writing skills and also deepened my knowledge of equivalent terms and concepts in both languages and cultures.

Some other noteworthy aspects of the program are:

  • An equal focus on translation and interpreting (T&I)
  • Separate units concentrating on the medical and legal-administrative settings, including classes on comparative law
  • Technology and research tool classes (CAT tools, corpora tools, glossaries and termbases)
  • Hands-on internships
  • A biennial conference on public service T&I with presentations by renowned researchers
  • A master’s thesis on a topic of the student’s choice
  • Visiting instructors, researchers, and trainers from other institutions: our class was lucky to host Marjory Bancroft of Cross-Cultural Communications, who gave a workshop on interpreting for trauma survivors, as well as Maribel del Pozo Triviño from Universidad de Vigo, who led sessions on interpreting for the police
  • Unique opportunities to collaborate with other university departments: we had the chance to interpret for a mock trial involving DNA evidence alongside law students
  • Optional intensive training in conference interpreting and the opportunity to interpret for the program’s biennial conference

And I could go on! But at the end of the day, one of the greatest values of the program was being humbled by my fellow students, many of whom have gone from classmates to lifelong colleagues and friends. I still collaborate with some of them on projects now that we are “real-life” translators and interpreters, even though we’re scattered across the globe!

If you live in or near Spain or have the ability to travel, I recommend checking out the university’s conference on public service T&I in early March 2017: 6th International Conference on Public Service Interpreting and Translating. The university is also hosting the 8th International Conference of the Iberian Association of Translation and Interpreting (AIETI8) that same week.

Images used with permission

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 Continue reading

MIIS: A Day in the Life

By Erin Teske

MIIS Branding Identity Change logoMy first glimpse of what it would be like to be a student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, formerly the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), came when I received the results of my Early Diagnostic Test (EDT), which is an essential part of the application process. The Spanish program coordinator suggested that I spend a few more months improving my language skills in a Spanish-speaking country before enrolling in the program. When I told her that I was already living in Argentina, she promptly sent me a list of Spanish grammar classes offered in Buenos Aires and even put me in touch with a former MIIS professor who happened to be living around the corner from me at the time. Continue reading

University of Lund: A Day in the Life

Who wouldn't fall in love with this beauty? Photo courtesy of Mikael Risedal

Who wouldn’t fall in love with this beauty?
Photo courtesy of Mikael Risedal

By Marie Eriksson

I came to Lund University for the first time as winter was just giving way into spring. My father drove me from one side of Sweden to the other in a shaky, noisy truck in a snowstorm, while I tried to sleep against the car window on an itchy old pillow. I arrived with no more than two hours of sleep and armed with a big bag of candy, ready to write my entrance exam for the translation program. Over the lunch break, my father and I walked around campus and discovered the university library.

I decided right then and there that I wanted to stay and study in Lund. Love at first sight is real.

Needless to say, I passed my entrance exam and I’m currently taking the program’s third of four terms. At Lund University, students can select to take a one-year or two-year MA in translation. I chose two years because the courses offered during the second year seemed interesting and because I thought writing the master’s thesis would deepen my understanding of translation studies and research. Of course, there are alternatives for students that aren’t interested in the master’s thesis at all, such as taking three of the four terms and not writing the final master’s thesis.

This program is focused on translation, so there are no interpreting courses or training. Although some assignments include translating fiction, the main focus is translating non-fiction texts. The program is offered entirely in Swedish, with Swedish as the target language and English, French, Spanish, Italian and German as source languages. English is offered every year, but the other source languages have been split up so that two are offered each year. New students can choose English, French or Spanish one year and English, Italian or German the next. It’s also a campus-based program without any online courses, which fits me perfectly.

The first year includes translation courses where the students work with texts from various genres. For example, we were given excerpts from a software user manual for one assignment, followed by a popular science text about sharks for the next assignment. The combination of this level of variety and the tips and tricks from the experienced teachers gave us the resources we needed to handle different genres and find appropriate sources for fact checking and terminology. We also studied Swedish grammar and text analysis, and were introduced to CAT-tools such as SDL Trados Studio and MemoQ.

In the second year, students can choose between translation from a second source language and translation from Danish. Since I don’t speak any of the other source languages offered, I went with Danish. I suppose I can’t say much about my skills, since I haven’t actually passed the course yet, but I feel much more comfortable with Danish now than I did three months ago. The teachers have given us a lot of information on how to think about the small but important differences between Swedish and Danish and how to familiarize ourselves with the language and culture in order to become better translators. The second course of the second year is focused entirely on translation studies and theory. This is partly because it’s an integral part of the program, and partly because it prepares us for the master’s thesis and our future work after graduation.

In addition, the teachers do their best to prepare us for life as a translator after graduation. They give us helpful pointers based on their own professional experiences and regularly send us information about interesting lectures or job offers. There was quite a fuss among them about the EU entrance exams for translators into Swedish earlier this year, and we even had a whole (optional) lecture dedicated to practical information about applying for and taking the exam. They also provide us with links to groups focused on advising and helping translators in the beginning of their professional life and give us information about translator associations such as the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ).

I feel much more confident about my language and translation skills after these three terms. I’ve developed a much keener sense of the Swedish language as well, since the natural flow and sound of the resulting target text is such an important part of any translation. Thanks to my education and the network of friends and professionals I’ve developed during my time at Lund University, I now have a solid foundation for my future career.

About the author: Marie Eriksson is a current student of Lund University, in her second year of the translation program. She studied English, Swedish and Japanese at Dalarna University, and graduated from there with a BA in English. She spent four months in Tokyo between graduating from DU and going on to Lund University. She is considering studying medicine to get the skills needed for medical translation, and dreams of translating fantasy novels. Website: http://www.eovers.com


University of Maryland, College Park: A Day in the Life

By Sarah Caudill

UMD logoThough I live in Silver Spring, Maryland, just a short bus ride from the UMD College Park campus, I was teaching English in a small French town called l’Isle d’Abeau when I first heard about the brand new Interpreting and Translation program at UMD. I had interpreted and translated on an informal basis for friends and family, of course, but I hadn’t considered going back to school to learn to do either one professionally. Now, with the first year of the program completed, I’m so glad I decided to take a chance and join the inaugural class.

For someone coming into the program with no formal experience in the field, starting the first year presented many difficult choices. For starters, all incoming students have to decide whether to pursue a 1-year certification or commit to a 2-year masters degree. But most pressing was choosing between interpreting and translation. While I eventually decided to focus solely on interpreting, several of my classmates elected to take courses in both. Students must concentrate on one or the other, but the class schedule makes it possible, for example, to center your attention on interpreting while taking as many credits in translation courses as you feel comfortable with. In our first year, instructors worked with students to accommodate scheduling needs, while students did the same for them; after all, the instructors are actively working in the translation and interpreting fields in addition to teaching. While it does require some flexibility on all sides when an instructor has to change a class date because he will be interpreting at the White House that day, the benefits of learning from professionals with such vast experience and skill more than make up for it.

The program’s location is a great boon, first and foremost for its proximity to Washington, DC. Everything the capital city has to offer is accessible with a bus or metro ride. The instructors who work with students at UMD are high-level professional interpreters and translators in government offices and international organizations, so their insights and recommendations are always up-to-date. And when students are not in class, they can take advantage of the city as well. During the first year, we were able to have several informational and practice sessions at the International Monetary Fund and welcome guest speakers with a wide range of backgrounds, from the State Department to the Inter-American Development Bank.

UMD picOf course, the students themselves bring quite a variety of experiences to the program. The new program started out small, with fewer than twenty students in all, but within that group were represented almost half a dozen languages: Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic, and Italian, with Korean and other languages set to make an appearance this fall. This made it difficult for some of us to find practice partners in our particular language combinations, but we found ways to work around it and learn from each other nonetheless. Because the first year had a strong emphasis on theory, we were able to have many of our courses together regardless of language combinations; in the second semester, we began specializing in either political or medical subjects. In between these theoretical courses, we then had classes with much smaller groups of students to study and practice interpreting or translating in our particular language combinations.

These small language classes varied in size during the first year, from the larger Chinese classes to the typically four-person Spanish classes, and even down to my one-person French class in the spring. I was a little nervous in the beginning about having a one-on-one class, but I was fortunate to have a fantastic instructor who put me at ease and helped me understand what I was really capable of. But as much as I learned from that class, it’s the ones with a small group of students that truly stick with you, because you pick up as much from your classmates as you do from the lesson. Some of my classmates came to the program, like me, without formal experience but eager to learn. Others were freelance interpreters who had already made a name for themselves in the interpreting world and were seeking to take the next step in their careers. I’ll never forget the first time I heard a classmate in the latter category interpret in class and I told myself: “That is where I have to be.”

This is still a new program, set to begin its second year this fall. That means a degree of uncertainty for our inaugural class – there aren’t yet alumni to share stories about how studying interpreting or translation at UMD has advanced their careers, and every course is a new discovery for everyone involved. But it also allows for flexibility and growth. Instructors and students can work together to shape what this program is going to be; what is important and what we need; what will work best for turning us into the future colleagues our instructors want in the booths with them. I know that all of us are looking forward to seeing what challenges the next semester will bring!

About the author: Sarah Caudill has recently completed the first year of her Masters of Professional Studies in the University of Maryland’s Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation program. She is focusing on conference interpreting with English (A), French (B), and Spanish (C). Her French and English skills have been put to use teaching English to middle school students in France and helping visitors in the US Capitol Visitor Center. She has a BA in International Studies from the American University, where she studied French, Arabic, and Spanish. She attended elementary school in French-speaking Quebec.