Why Bother Doing Research?

As you will find out throughout this year, a lot of the PhD students here in LINCS are actually practicing interpreters or translators. So most of us are researching the very work we do on a regular basis. This leads to a first question: why would practicing interpreters and translators give up or at least slow down their practice for 3 years or more to go and sit in the aforementioned dull and dreary rooms? Good question.

In the next few posts, we will look at some of the reasons people do research and what it is actually like to be a PhD student.

For me personally, it starts with the fact that is that it’s very rare, when you are doing translation/interpreting/etc. to have time to sit back and think about how to do it better. For the most part, the general busyness of being a professional means that between working, doing admin, chasing clients, gaining clients, networking and sleeping there is not a lot of time to think much past the next job or the next payment.

All professionals want to get better but few have the time to spend to investigate how. Sure, there are always CPD events and conferences but what impact do they actually have on your practice? Networking might get your more clients and going to events can be fun but how do you know whether it has been of any real benefit to you? Less selfishly, how can you possibly understand what is going on in the profession or what impact your work is having on the wider world when you are constantly pressured just to keep up?

For three years or so, doing a PhD gives you that space. Research is built on thinking. We think about what we want to investigate. We think about the people who have looked at the same problem before. We think about how to gather data. We think about what the data means. With good research, we then think about how that might be applied to the same world of translation and interpreting that we have come from.

So, when I noticed that in-between translation and interpreting jobs, when I should have been visiting some event or doing admin, I was actually reading research papers, I realised something was up. I saw that I was quickly growing a passion to link what academics say and what translators and interpreters do.

After all, when we start lobbying for better paid interpreters, we need research to show what they actually do. When we want to disprove silly stories about interpreters being paid five figure sums, we need research to show we are right. When we want to demonstrate the good that interpreting and translation do for society, yep, you’ve guessed it, we need evidence.

Like it or not, the future of translation and interpreting, at least in the UK, depends on how well academia and the profession can work together. And that’s why I do research.

Author: Jonathan Downie

Why bother with a translation degree?

They cost lots of money, don’t really help and waste your time. That’s the common opinion of the majority of translation degrees. In a profession where there are as many routes in as there are professionals and where a good work history trumps a list of degrees, why on earth would anyone even think of spending thousands of pounds on a year or four in a university? Surely there are easier ways in.

Well, truthfully, there might be easier ways into the profession. You can, if you want, set yourself up as a translator with no training and even less experience. You might, if you keep your rates low, just score a few early clients and work up from there.

But let’s turn this around. Almost everyone reading this post will agree that translation could do with a greater degree of professionalization. If the fight over conditions and pay for interpreters has taught us anything, it is that we need fixed standards and defined entry paths if our professions are to attract the respect we believe they deserve.

How many of us would happily visit a GP whose only qualifications was a month watching Casualty and House? We all agree that it is good that people who want to become doctors (or dentists or accountants or lawyers) need to go through a period of university training BEFORE they are let loose to practice. Why should things be any different for translators?

The problem then is not so much with the concept of a translation degree but with our perception of them. For many translators, fairly or not, a translation degree is associated with time spent thinking about translation, writing about translation and discussing translation but doing very little of it. Hence why so many translation blogs go on about a translation degree not making you a translator.

But what if there was such a thing as a practical translation degree? What of prospective translators got down to the nitty-gritty and into texts from week one? What if, on top of their training, they got advice and help from practicing translators on how to get into the field? What if the texts they handled were very close to the kinds of texts they will face in real-life? Surely that would make it worth it.

Of course, we can’t let this idea go by without pointing out that Heriot-Watt has just such a degree. 😉 On the other hand, it would be a shame if all this post achieved was a little advertising. In a recent survey on this blog, “better translation training” was one of the top things people wanted research to look at. What exactly does this mean? How did you train as a translator? If you did a degree, was it any good? What could have made it better? What kinds of things should a degree actually cover and how long should it last?

Please leave your views in the comments below.

Back to School Part 3

What I Wish I had Done During my Degree
About 7 years ago (yes, I am THAT old) I was a total newbie. Two short months after getting married, I found myself two floors down from where I am writing this. I was stood in the entrance hall of the Henry Prais building waiting for my first ever Interpreting class. And I was worried. Fast forward a year and a half and I had finished my MSc dissertation at last and was ready to face the world. Little did I know I had slowed my own progress. This post follows on from Fanny’s posts on Wednesday and Monday and is aimed at helping you not to make the same mistakes I did. So, here are my top 5 strategies to get the most out of your MSc.

1)    Do not attempt to “coast it.”
I picked up this bad habit from school, where I could go out every night of the week, not do the homework and still get good grades. While it might just be possible to pass an MSc like that (although it is unlikely), it is a seriously bad idea. Practice sessions, reading lists and the like are not there to punish you. Work hard, read a lot and practice even more and you will not only get good grades but more importantly, you will get better at translation and interpreting far more quickly and easily than would otherwise be the case.

2)    Learn to Get Better Every Day
This sounds a lot like the tip above but it is actually a lot more specific. If you make a plan, even a rough one, of what you want to achieve each week then you are more likely to get more done. Start scheduling tasks like listening to the news in your B and C languages or attempting to interpret a live speech or translate part of a web site. Do a little extra each day and it will pay off.

3)    Think
Duh, you’re in university, of course you will think. Actually … not so much. You would be amazed at how many people attend the lectures, do the assignments and can’t tell you what they wrote five minutes after handing them in. Even worse, they practice interpreting and translation for hours a week and can’t tell you what their weaknesses are. Learn to look at your own work critically. What do you find difficult in interpreting? Could your voice be clearer? Could your sentences be sharper? What kinds of texts are you better or worse at? What kinds of things do you definitely NOT want to end up translating or interpreting when you leave? Start answering those questions and you will be able to get better every day too.

4)    Question your lecturers
You know how every lecture ends with a Q and A session? There’s a reason for that. Here’s a good question to ask in every lecture: “How would I use that as a professional translator/interpreter?” If you can’t answer that question yourself, please do ask the lecturer. It not only shows that you care but it gives you a nice take away that you can apply to your learning in the longer-term.

5)    Take a notepad everywhere!
There is an old cliché that true interpreters go nowhere without a notepad and a pen. Good students should be the same. Do this not just to practice note-taking skills but to jot down how you plan to use what you are learning and how well you are learning. Keep a “Learning Diary.” If you ask a question at the end of a lecture, and you should(!), then take a note of the answer. Go back over your lecture notes and think and write about how you would use them after you are finished. In short, write down everything you are learning and the ways you might actually use that stuff one day.

Do those five things and you will make your degree much more interesting and much more useful.

Author: Jonathan Downie

Public Service Interpreting: How hard can it be?

In the following guest post, Pierre Fuentes, Convenor of ITI Scotland and Heriot-Watt graduate, lets us know about an exciting event taking place here at Heriot-Watt.

The Scottish Network of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting will hold its autumn workshop at Heriot-Watt University on Saturday morning, 29 September 2012.
ITI Scottish Network is the Scottish representative body of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), the foremost professional body in the UK for practising translators and interpreters.
The Network’s autumn workshop will be about public service interpreting. The first half of the session will discuss the landscape and challenges of public service interpreting in Scotland, setting the scene for the day. The second half will discuss what it is like working as a public service interpreter.
The current landscape of the sector is a hostile environment. The workshop speaker will share her insights into the key challenges the sector faces and what can be done to “turn the tide”.

The Speaker
Ms Jeanice Lee is the executive director of Elite Linguists, a social enterprise committed to strengthening Scotland’s public service interpreting and translation provision, thereby addressing some of the root causes of inequality and injustice in our society where language can be a barrier.
Ms Lee will share her experiences using a rich mix of facts and case studies to explore the challenges and rewards of life as a public service interpreter, and touch on some ethical dilemmas and traumatic encounters.
This workshop will be useful to those studying interpreting, those who already work or are thinking about working as a public service interpreter, as well as all those with a more general interest in the interpreting industry.
This workshop is free.
To register apply here:
Editors note: The opinions expressed in guest post solely those of the writer of the post.

Back to school – making the most of your university training pt 2

Views from the other side of the desk – 2/2

Having reiterated the obvious, let’s get down to the not-so-obvious.

What about self-study?

Very simple: do it. But do it cleverly. In other words, set yourself goals and specific tasks, and review your own work afterwards. For instance, if you want to work on economic translation, why not use the web-site of an important multinational whose webpage is available in several languages? They often have quarterly reports on the company’s finances – build up your glossary, flipping between the two versions of the page, and then find a small paragraph further in the text and translate it. You have a “model” translation to refer to, and you can analyse discrepancies. Even better – do the work with an exchange student, so that you can discuss the source text and translation with them.
You’re studying interpreting? Again, you’ll have received clear advice and guidance from your lecturers, and you’ll have materials at your disposal. All serious EU interpreting programmes should also be able to provide you with access to the speech repository created by the DG Interpretation – a wonderful resource.
What is important is keeping a critical eye on your work: plan your self-study, assess your work (time to rope in these exchange students you’ve befriended), and once you’ve taken stock of your progress, decide what you’ll do for your next self-study session.
Running a study blog could be an interesting solution and a way to perfect narrative techniques and humour, for instance.


The extra mile: what more can you do?

Plan ahead – and I don’t just mean “assignments and classes”. By that, I mean “plan your post-university life”. You’re going to come across the usual catch-22 situation: employers want people with experience, but how can you get experience if you don’t get a job? Well, actually, you can. Experience doesn’t have to be paid employment, as your career officers will explain to you. It can be volunteering, as long as you only do so for charities that wouldn’t otherwise have employed a qualified professional. It can also be drawn from your involvement in associative life- that could be a great preparation for translation project management. It could also come from your part-time job which has given you a good understanding of an industry or another.
You should also be proactive: if you’re interested in public service interpreting, go and sit on trials, many are open to the public and you’ll learn a lot about the proceedings. Organise a multilingual debating society at your university. Attend open lectures and free seminars to enrich your culture. In other words: think outside the box.
“But when do I have the time to do all that?”, you’ll ask me. Well, you may already be doing lots of interesting things – and if not, get yourself a diary and get planning. Organisational skills are also a must.

Last but not least: don’t panic, don’t be too harsh on yourself and take time to relax. Translation and interpreting are two extremely demanding professions, which can’t be improvised, a bit like a marathon. It will take you time to develop the skills and you’ll need to build up your stamina and resistance, so treating your “muscles” (in that case, your brains and your voice) kindly is the surest way to last the distance.

Author: Fanny Chouc

Back to school – making the most of your university training pt .1

Views from the other side of the desk 1/2

September is upon us, which can only mean one thing: students are back! Fresh minds, motivated young people, talents waiting to be honed … that’s what we lecturers hope for each year, and that’s hopefully how you students feel at the beginning of your M.A. or MSc in translation and/or interpreting.
So how can you make the most of this coming year? Well, here are a few recommendations from the “other side of the desk”.
Let’s start with the obvious: language skills.
But which one? This may seem like an odd question. Obviously, the foreign language(s)!
OK, let’s start with that.
Evidently, you must master the grammar and verb morphology of your foreign language (no way around it, sorry guys). You also need vocabulary – get your pads and pens out, that’s the only way you’ll really memorise it properly. And of course, a language is more than words and grammar: to really understand the message, words aren’t enough – you need to acquire the cultural, social, economic, political and historical knowledge which is commonplace for the speakers or authors you’ll work from, and their level of education can be rather high. So don’t neglect the lectures on these matters, they may seem quite unrelated to translation and interpreting, but in fact they’ll make all the difference. And speak to exchange students, befriend them and work with them- they know what you’re going through, they had to learn this language in the first place themselves.

But the most important language to master is actually your own (your “A language”, to use the jargon).
You may have grown up and gone to school in the UK, for instance, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can adopt the appropriate high register used by a diplomat or a politician, nor fully understand what a finance minister has to say about EU markets.
There is a solution and you know it – time to ditch the Metro and to start reading good quality newspaper (which you can usually get at student prices on campus); time to dig out those good old history books (old schools manuals are actually a great source of general knowledge); time to invest in a good atlas (countries change names, and evolve); time to read the classics (many are available for free on e-books and can be read on your smartphone – put that bus journey to good use).

Now all these are old news, and if you’re honest, you’ll admit to having heard us all sing that tune before. What you need to bear in mind is that improving your language skills, in your mother tongue and in your foreign languages, is the work of a lifetime. And that’s good, really, because there will always be exciting new expressions to discover, books to read, accents to get used to … so you’re set for careers that will never get boring!

Author: Fanny Chouc