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