Changed the way you translate me: What I got out of my MA

Last week I was in London for my 8th and last module of the MA in legal translation that I’m doing at City University. I’ve still got my last assignment and the dissertation to go, but my two-year academic adventure is drawing to a close, so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on what I’ve got out of the course in terms of work practices. So, has doing the course changed the way I work? Yes, definitely, and, luckily—given its not insignificant cost in time and money, for the better. It has had an impact in three areas: 1) terminology research, 2) style and register, and 3) decision making in the translation process. As a result of these three things, I’d say without a doubt that I now produce better legal translations than I did before doing the course.

A more comparative law approach

Doing the course has given me the tools to be able to more thoroughly and accurately research terminology. Beyond but also, obviously, because of the law content that we’ve studied, I’m now less likely to get stuck at the superficial term or linguistic level and far more able to focus on how legal concepts exist in their respective systems, which normally puts you in a better position to understand terms and compare equivalents and other solutions. This may not be an explicit teaching aim of the course, although it does seem to be a logical consequence of studying the legal systems independently—at least this has been my reaction to the situation.

I suppose this comparative-law-type approach is a fairly intuitive and straightforward thing given the system-based nature of legal translation, and I’m sure that most translators discover this quite early on. In my case, it was something that I’d been aware of and had tried to apply, although I didn’t always have the knowledge or the skills to be able to do so.

In practice, it may not be that often that you need to research unfamiliar terms from scratch, but there are lots of times when you need to iron out the kinks of near equivalents for different contexts, for which this type of approach gives you the tools to do so and then be able to justify your decision to anyone who may be interested. A client, for instance.

More polished translations

The course has also helped me to improve my translations in terms of style and register. This has mainly occurred through what we’ve covered in the translation workshops and in doing the 8 translation assignments that I will have done at the end of the course. The focus of our tutors (we’ve had three in the Spanish–English group over the MA) has always been very practical. As a result of their advice in class and their feedback on the assignments, I’d say that I now produce translations that read more like authentic legal documents.

Apart from getting feedback, which is always good and something that rarely happens as a working translator, becoming more familiar with target models through analysing legal documents in the English law lectures has also played a part in this improvement. Doing this has instilled a far stronger habit of using target texts as models for translations. I did use target models beforehand, but I only really trusted very similar patches of texts and generally only used them at the sentence level. Now that I’m more familiar with English legal documents and how they work, I find I can get far more from them than just a few phrases.

A more complete perspective and more strategies

Lastly, the course has given me a theory framework that I think may help in my decision making at different points in the translation process. This point is less specific, but it’s still important—maybe even more so than the other two as it has the potential to lead to other improvements. In gaining a stronger grounding in the theory on the MA, as well as having more strategies and options for dealing with problems in the translation process (decoding, encoding, choice of approach, etc.), I have a better perspective and criteria for knowing when and how to use them. I was confident in my ability to get the job done before starting the course, but now I feel better equipped to get it right, or more right, and to know why.

Having a base in the theory seems to help you to put it all into perspective and classify things, a lot of which you already knew or suspected, especially if you’ve had more work experience than anything else, which was my case. In some ways, the theory complements the other two improvements that I’ve noticed: knowing different approaches for researching terminology and styles for writing legal texts is fine, but when you have more options, you then need some kind of criteria or context to guide you as to when you should choose one over the other.

So, was it worth it?

Anyway, that’s my take on it, or at least my attempt to justify two years of study and tuition fees. 🙂 Seriously, though, I do feel that I’ve got a lot out of the course that I can directly apply to my work. This is a very individual thing, and other students will have taken completely different things away, in some cases maybe a lot more; in others, a lot less. I suppose it has a lot to do with where you’re at in your career and what your expectations are. As my main reason for doing the course was to further specialise in legal translation—mainly from a subject specialisation perspective, I think it has been worth it.

I have, of course, got other things out of the MA. For instance, it was great to get the chance to meet translators from around the globe. I was used to meeting Spanish and English translators, but I wasn’t too up on the other varieties, so that’s been fun. I’ve met lots of interesting people, and hopefully I’ve made some good friends too. I know you can do that down at your local park, but it doesn’t always happen, so I’m always happy when it does. It’s definitely another worthwhile thing I’ll take away from the course.

Written by Rob

Rob Lunn is a freelance legal translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English.

2 comments to “Changed the way you translate me: What I got out of my MA”
  1. It sounds as if you got a lot out of the course, Rob. Congratulations. I really agree with what you say about the comparative law approach. I’ve often fiddled around superficially looking for a suitable term, without success, until eventually I give up and decide to find out what the Spanish actually means (in its wider context). And that’s when you’re finally in a position to start looking for a usable translation.
    I also sympahise with the “target text” approach (corpus anybody?).
    Hey, Rob, don’t you feel a workshop coming on? Or a presentation of some kind? 😉

    • Hi Steven! Nice to hear from you. The course has been good. Now I just have to finish it off and pass it. And yes, more power to a target text focus and using corpora! Someone on the course was going to do her dissertation on using corpora. I can’t remember exactly what it was about, but she’d already stumbled across your paper. It’ll be interesting to see what she does. I let you know anyway.

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