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