· Applied Translation Studies (MAATS)
· Audiovisual Translation Studies (MAAVTS)
· Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies (MACITS)
I studied Audiovisual Translation in 2012-13. It actually wasn’t my first choice. I initially applied for Conference Interpreting and Translation, for which an interview is obligatory (it’s not for the other two Master’s programmes). So I went to Leeds for the interview in June 2012. One of the main differences between the Interpreting and the Translation programmes is that in Interpreting, you have to interpret into and out of your native language (in the other two programmes, you translate into English, normally, or another native language if possible). So in my case, I was applying to interpret from Spanish to English and English to Spanish, with English being my native language.
Obviously, it’s much more difficult to translate into a language that is not your native language. Nevertheless, I was still confident of my Spanish level. I probably could have done better in the interview, and unsurprisingly, I wasn’t accepted onto the MACITS programme. I was offered at the same time a space on the MAATS or MAAVTS.
The University of Leeds and the city of Leeds
I did my undergraduate degree with The Open University, so this was a new experience for me, to be studying in a proper university with bricks and all. My experience of university life in Leeds was a very positive one. I personally did not have much time to enjoy the social side of university, which I do regret a bit, as I chose to work part-time teaching English in an English institute (15 hours a week, 5 days a week) whilst studying the Master’s. This was not easy, but I managed to do both, and came out with a Merit so I wasn’t disappointed. I chose to teach English whilst studying, as I knew that when I finished the Master’s I was going to return to South America to teach English in Colombia, so the teaching experience was also important for me. I didn’t do it for the money, I could have gotten by without working so much.
Anyway, Leeds is a great city to be a student in. It’s a large city, but small enough to make everything easily reachable.
The course (this was in 2012-2013, I am already aware of some changes to course content, check with the uni)
There are a lot of crossover subjects between the Applied Translation programme but also a lot of differences. One immediate difference is the number of students on each course. On the Audiovisual programme, there were 12 students, and about 45 on the Applied Translation programme. Both the MAATS (Applied) and the (MAAVTS) students are obliged to take the following two modules:
· 30 credits: Methods and Approaches (Semester 1). Probably the least favourite module of all. But essential to understanding the art of translation. I liked it, I just didn't like the 9am lectures on Thursday mornings. Such is technology that more than half of the lectures I watched from the comfort of my warm bed with a cup of tea, This is also for many the most difficult module you will take in the Master’s. One complaint I would have is that the theories are studied in isolation to translation practice. It would be helpful, in my opinion, to see how the different theories and approaches are applied to translations done by you as students. There was little application of these theories in other modules, for example.
· 30 credits (or more, if you have two languages, 15 credits per semester): Specialised Translation. This is the most practical of all the modules. Here you will practice translating texts between your various combination of languages, normally from a foreign language into English. There are four main themes, General/Admin, Journalistic, Literary and Technical, all with different tutors. For me, these were some of the best and most practical modules I studied, and would have liked more of this, but then again Ionly studies one language pair (EN>ES), so maybe with two languages you'd have enough. I enjoyed comparing translations with those of other students, and it often generated good debate about better or more appropriate translations. I had three different tutors for the four different genres, one of those was/is currently a professional freelance translator, and the other two were teaching/academic staff within the university’s school of languages.
The main difference between the Applied (MAATS) and Audiovisual (MAAVTS), is that Audiovisual students do not have a compulsory module on Computer Assisted Translation (CAT). There is an optional 15 credit module if you are interested in studying this. Instead of this 45-credit module in CAT tools, Audiovisual students take the three following compulsory modules:
· Audiovisual Text Analysis (AVTA - first semester). In many ways, this is similar to the Methods and Approaches module above. It is related to theories, techniques and approaches used in Audiovisual Translation studies. Assessment was an oral presentation and a written essay.
· Monolingual Subtitling (first semester). This is a much more practical module. Here you get your first experience with subtitling software, beginning with monolingual subtitles. So in this module, you create English subtitles for videos with English audio, with the focus being on those for Deaf and Hard of Hearing (SDH), often called Closed Captions (CC) in the US or Teletext in the UK. It can be tricky at first to get your head around the new software, but the teaching staff were excellent, and very patient with us newbies! The main focus in this module was on subtitling, but we also looked at theatre captioning. In this module, there is a lot of crossover from the AVTA module above, as you have to take into account many things discussed in that module. Assessment in this module was a group presentation and a subtitling task (a few minutes of a video) with commentary about the difficulties experienced and reasons for decisions taken. The software we used in this module was Isis (by Starfish).
· Film Translation and Subtitling (second semester). This module is a continuation of the Monolingual Subtitling module above. In this module, you will be producing subtitles from one other language into English. We used a different subtitling software in this module (Swift). The teaching of this course is split about 50-50% between the main course leader (who in our case also taught the above two AV modules), and a specialised language/subtitling tutor. My second language is Spanish so I was in a smaller group of three students for this part. Our tutor was a professional subtitler who teaches subtitling at Leeds and other universities. We would be given a Spanish language video (from Spain and Latin America) to subtitle in English. We would do a small part (starting at 2 minutes and increasing each time), and in our next session with this tutor, she would provide feedback and comments on our work. I really enjoyed this module and found the teaching staff and specialised tutor to be excellent. If you have more than one foreign language, then you can join other language groups as well, so you can do work in both German and Spanish for example, but this will be a lot more work for you. The only issue here is if English is not your first language, you are still obliged to create subtitles into English (apart from the Japanese and Chinese students I think). I guess this is the fallback of studying at a UK university. Assessment in this module was a group subtitling project, and the subtitling and commentary of a video (about 10 minutes in length).
As with the Applied Translation students, you have to do the following module:
· 45 credits: Extended Translations/Dissertation. This is the “summer project”, to be completed by mid August. In the Audiovisual programme, you have a choice of three: you can subtitle a video (minimum 45 minutes) and produce a commentary (similar to the translation commentary in the Methods module); you can translate two 5,000 word texts, with a commentary for both; or you can do the research dissertation of about 10-12,000 words. Most of the students on the Audiovisual programme did the subtitling project. You are responsible for finding your own video to subtitle, so if you are living abroad, it would be a good idea to make some contacts with film producers, directors or companies before you come to Leeds. This was a demanding but thoroughly enjoyable and practical experience. The commentary is very short, in this case only 3,000 words. One thing to note here is that if you plan not to be in Leeds in the summer (semester 2 finishes at the end of May, and the project is due in August), you should think about how you are going to use the software. I used a rental version of EZTitles as I finished my project here in Colombia. Another student chose to buy a full version of Swift (several thousand pounds).
Any extra credits can be spent taking more translation modules or subjects in other departments in the university. I chose to study level 1 Portuguese, and really enjoyed this break from the translation courses. In the elective translation modules, you will be with students from the MAATS and MACITS programmes and other courses.
I found the quality of teaching at the Centre of Translation Studies to be generally excellent, especially in the three core, compulsory modules of the Audiovisual programme (AVTA, Monolingual Subtitling and Film Translation and Subtitling). Not all of the translation staff in the other modules have working experience as a translator, and are mainly academically orientated, but I found the teaching to be of good quality.
One major criticism I would have is there could be more training and preparation for life as a translator/subtitler. Many of the teaching staff do not know, for example, about current rates for professional translators or subtitlers, and have no firsthand experience of life as a translator or freelancer. There was some practical advice with a special workshop on how to create a translator’s website though. More sessions like this would be helpful.
The lecture series with invited guests and speakers from the world of translation was very interesting, but I found they applied mainly to working in EU institutions which focus mainly on French, German and English.
ERIC will become undoubtedly become your best friend in no time at all. We had all of our classes for the three audiovisual modules in this lovingly named computer lab. Can any ex-students actually remember what the acronym stands for? I can't, that's for sure! You will spend a lot of time here if you do the Applied or Audiovisual programmes as this is the main lab which has the oh-so-expensive translation and subtitling software installed (as well as the Linguistics lab in the basement which I preferred to work in as it's much quieter). ERIC is open more during the week, and less at weekends and holidays, so consider this if you are going to work during the week like I did, and plan to study at weekends. This is especially important as for the subtitling modules and the summer project, if you're not going to stay in Leeds in the summer.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a smaller group of students doing the Audiovisual programme than the Applied one. For me, it was nice to be part of a small-knit group, with students coming from all over the world: UK, Europe, South America and Asia. I made some very good friends from both the Audiovisual group and the Applied Translation students, and there are plenty of opportunities to follow your other interests in the university, with hundreds of groups and societies catering for pretty much anything you could want to do while at uni.
· Don’t worry about the academic standard. I studied at the Open University for my undergraduate degree, and didn’t find the transition too difficult. I worked hard and got a Merit. I was also working part-time all the way through. Of our group of 12 in the Audiovisual group, I think only one person got a Distinction. The pass mark at Master’s level is 50%.
· Don’t expect a lot of contact time. Unlike life here in Colombia where most of my university students have about 35 contact hours per week, life at uni in the UK is generally less intense, with more emphasis on independent work and reading. This suits me as I like to have a flexible timetable.
· Althought you will (hopefully) have a Master's degree, you will most certainly not be a master translator at the end of the course. If I have learned anything from this course, it is that the best way to become a good translator or to get experience is by doing translations. I am not saying this course is not useful, it is. But it won't make you a master of the art. Expect many more years of "work" as a translator before you can consider yourself that.
· Don’t limit yourself to using the subtitling software that you use in the subtitling classes. We didn’t try any free software in class, which I thought was a shame, especially considering how expensive most "professional" subtitling software is. There are some interesting and useful free programmes such as Subtitle Edit and Subtitle Workshop. I also trialled Spot, WinCaps and EZTitles. I found EZTitles to be the best, easiest and most intuitive of all the ones I tried inside and outside the class, and this year forked out about £1,400 to buy it, well worth it in my opinion as for one thing it has increased my work rate and productivity.
· Apply to agencies as soon as you start the course. If you want to work freelance or get experience, this would be my biggest tip. I started applying with agencies before finishing the Master’s. I started my first freelance work in about April of the second semester, and now, about one year later, I am probably in the position where if I wanted to, I could work freelance full-time. I now have a full-time teaching job, but get enough offers and work to be able to go solo. It takes time (I’d say minimum one month, sometimes 3 or 4 months or more) to get in with an agency, and probably longer to establish a relationship with a project manager within an agency. Get a good CV together, do some voluntary translations if you have time, get a good LinkedIn profile (I’ve got a few subtitling jobs and met PMs directly through it). Most of my freelance work has been in subtitling (creating English language templates mainly, which are then translated by other translators into other languages).
· Related to the previous point, from the very beginning, you should keep a record of ALL translations you do (even academic ones for university) and ALL CPD (career and professional development) you do, such as attending the university’s series of lectures and workshops. This will help you greatly as you begin later on to prepare a translator’s CV.
· There are many groups on Facebook, LinkedIn and Proz. Join them, participate, connect with translators from different countries and people working in your specialised area.
Should I take the course?
If you are interested in subtitling, and want to work in this field, do this Master’s degree. It will prepare you for life as a professional subtitler. If you are more interested in doing normal translation (written) and specifically using CAT tools to improve your working methods, you should do the MA in Applied Translation Studies.
In the MAAVTS (Audiovisual) programme, you can do an optional module in CAT tools, and in the MAATS (Applied) programme, you can take an optional module in subtitling, but in both cases you will have to do a lot of independent work to bring yourself up to a level where you can successfully work in that area. In my case, for instance, I don’t feel that after taking the optional CAT module, I am proficient in the use of CAT tools. In the elective CAT module, we had 3 hours of class for 11 weeks of teaching, which is not a lot. We tried a few different CAT tools, but we didn’t go anywhere as near into detail as the students of the Applied Translation course. I spent a lot of my own time learning how to use these, and still have a lot to learn. I do, however, feel very proficient in the use of various subtitling programs.
It might also be worth looking at the average rates charged by freelance translators (look at the fora on LinkedIn and Proz), as it is likely that in your fist few years of life after this MAS, you will not be earning a great amount. It seems that only really experienced freelance translators, and those with good language pairs, are able to earn good money. You can make good money as an in-house translator in the EU, but to get into an organisation like the EU or UN takes years of experience before you can even apply. Before I took the Master’s, I had no idea how much translators earn. I have a better idea now but am still trying to find the right rates to offer to agencies and clients.
I have found the following Facebook groups extremely helpful for all kinds of topics related to translation:
If you have any questions about this article or the Masters in Audiovisual Translation Studies, or my experience after the programme, feel free to leave a comment or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org