How to study to become a translator?
This question is certainly familiar to every student in the field, and there is no one right answer. There are as many paths to study translation as there are translators. This blog discusses the simulation of translation company operations and what it can teach students about the translator’s work and the translation industry in general. Working in a business simulation gives students the opportunity to try out, in a safe environment, different roles in the industry, from project manager to IT specialist. Through trial and error, they may discover completely new aspects of themselves.
At the University of Turku, an essential part of the Multilingual Translation Studies MA Degree Programme is a study module called Multilingual Translation Workshop. The module consists of two extensive courses (Multilingual Translation Workshop 1 and 2), lasting one term and worth 10 ECTS credits each. The workshops are carried out as a business simulation and are meant for translation students of all of the foreign languages involved in the MA Programme, i.e. English, Spanish, Italian, French and German, with Finnish as either the source or the target language. At the beginning of the first course, students are assigned to teams representing different language pairs, and each team simulates the setting up of a translation company. All translation and other communication tasks assigned during the course are either simulated or authentic, starting with responding to the tender request from the client and ending with invoicing.
In the workshop, students can explore the challenges of entrepreneurship in a safe environment. The other members of both one’s own company and the other companies, as well as the enthusiastic and highly professional teachers all provide their support and assistance. Students get the opportunity to try out almost every aspect of entrepreneurship, such as business planning, handling the start-up process, and finally running a business. Each participant will therefore gain invaluable experience from not only translation but also entrepreneurship and project management. Other courses in the MA programme support the topics covered in the workshop. For example, the tools and practices learned during the preceding translation courses support the translation process, and the skills provided in the translation technology courses help students solve the inevitable technological challenges they face in the workshop. What was learned during the compulsory pre-workshop course Language Technology and Translation Tools can now be put into practice, so the importance of translation technology becomes clearer. In fact, in the workshop, the students get the chance to put into practice everything they have learned during their Master’s (and Bachelor’s) studies.
The workshop gives students the opportunity to tackle many different challenges. In addition to simulated translation assignments, both workshop courses include at least one authentic assignment. In these assignments, students step out of the safety of the simulated environment and are given the opportunity to deal with interesting real-life partners. Their task is to deliver material that will be used in authentic situations. Naturally, this creates pressure on the students, but it is also an opportunity to put to test the communication skills they have learned during the workshop.
In addition to running a business, the students are encouraged to be innovative. During one week, the students try to come up with solutions to problems in the translation industry, such as by innovating new tools. At the end of the week, they present their ideas to the other participants. In fact, the project management tool Verso, the winner of the 2021 EMT Challenge competition, has its origins in the Multilingual Translation Workshop Innovation Week at the University of Turku. During this week, as in the course of the entire workshop, translation industry professionals visit the workshop and share their views on how the translation industry works in real life. This provides an opportunity to build invaluable connections.
At the beginning of Multilingual Translation Workshop 1, the teachers kind of throw the students straight into the deep end of the pool and see how they manage. This analogy reflects the vast number of new things students need to learn in a relatively short time. Nevertheless, the teachers trust that the students can swim – that is, that they will cope, and that they can always rely on each other and on all of the teachers on the course. There is always a lifebuoy at hand, so no one will drown even if one’s swimming skills might fail.
No one is born a master, but over time, the companies begin to learn the many new practices, as do the students as individuals too. Even though, at the beginning, none of the students might think they can learn as much as the study module ultimately teaches, each witnesses a rapid growth in the confidence that they have in themselves as a translator, a member of a translation company, and an expert. The students are given a safe environment in which to experiment, make errors and, through all that, learn enormously. There is always a chance to consult and ask for help: if the company cannot find a solution to a particular situation, they can always ask the other companies or any of the teachers. Awareness of this also helps the students to experiment safely, to learn, and even to make mistakes. At no time during the course do the students feel alone as their fellows in the simulated translation company support them the entire time and communication is tight.
The students learn tremendously in one year. In addition to working as a translator, they have an opportunity to experience, for example, what it is like to work as a project manager, reviser, terminologist, and proof-reader. Furthermore, the translation workshops teach teamwork skills, especially since the students may not know the other members of their company from before. Translation work is never about working alone because there is always at least the client involved. Often there are also other translators or translation professionals working on the same assignment.
The workshop courses teach some very useful communication skills. The internal communication skills of the company develop as the workshops progress. In addition to the unofficial communication channel on WhatsApp, the companies use Slack and Trello, both of which make it easier for the students to communicate and plan schedules within their company. Furthermore, the workshop teaches how to communicate with clients when the assignment is negotiated and sorted out via email. Client communication may even include some challenging client situations, which are also important for the students to learn to handle. Not everything always goes “perfectly” with the clients. This reflects real life and real client communication.
After the first workshop course, the students have already learned a great deal, and the basics are well in hand. Thus, during the second course the responsibility for assignments is increasingly transferred to the students themselves, and the number of guided activities decreases further. The companies are given assignments that run parallel while being expected to meet all deadlines. What the teachers envisaged from the start—by trusting the students—is now taking place in fact: the students are able to pull through the challenges and go the distance.
The experience gained during the translation workshop could be the distinguishing factor that grants the students their first job in the translation industry. Despite the business being simulated and many of the clients consisting of familiar teachers, the students will have gained valuable work experience during the workshop. In our experience, each of us were able to practice several different tasks in the translation field in addition to actual translating. As our skills and confidence accumulated, we could also fill out our CVs with the know-how gained during the courses. In authentic job interviews, we are now able to tell about our experience as project managers in challenging and parallel running translation projects.
The experience gained during the workshop has made it easier for us to start in a new job. The leap into the unknown was already behind us, and instead of being nervous, we could now focus on learning the practices of the new work environment. This was also supported by the simulated job-hunting process included in the second workshop course, which consisted of job applications, translation samples and interviews. In addition to providing experience for job-hunting, the study module also provided skills for starting as a freelancer. Once you have learned how to handle things like contracts and financial matters risk-free, they no longer seem as intimidating.
We can now return to the question raised at the beginning: how to study to become a translator? After the workshop courses, we have reached the conclusion that translation skills are best learned in a hands-on environment that offers opportunities to experiment with new ways of working and different roles in the translation industry. The study module offers each student an opportunity to explore themselves as a professional in translation and to look for a direction for their future career.
- Publication date
- 3 February 2023
- Directorate-General for Translation
- EMT Category
- Pedagogical initiatives