This is a big debate in the translation community and I’m going to add my two cents.
First of all, I did my MA in Translation and Interpreting at the University of Westminster. It’s a practical course introducing you to the main areas of translation and interpreting. The course is taught and run by passionate translators and interpreters, many of whom still work in the industry themselves.
The course teaches you about different types of translation. You learn that you can’t approach a contract in the same way as a newspaper article. You might realise that you prefer translating the article, and definitely don’t want to look at a contract ever again. You learn how to research terms and look for credible sources. You learn the importance of proofreading. You don’t finish your homework and hope you don’t get picked on in class to share your shoddy translation, regretting it later. You learn from your peers and admire they way they manage to grasp nuances that completely elude you.
In interpreting classes, you learn that there are three types of interpreting: public service, consecutive and simultaneous. You learn how to prepare for any of these and how to make glossaries. You figure out what to do when you hear a term you don’t know. You get used to embarrassing yourself in front of your peers during practice. You are totally intimidated in your first lesson of simultaneous interpreting and quake in your boots every time you get into the booth. Your teacher bluntly points out the tics in your speech so that you become a better public speaker (mine was ‘umm’). You leave every lesson completely exhilarated and raring to do it again.
You also make wonderful friends that stick around once the masters is done.
Do I recommend it? Yes, absolutely! (If you can afford it of course.)
The course gave me a solid grounding in translation and interpreting as disciplines, while also providing me with tools and resources I needed to set up a translation business. I did an optional module called Developing Professionalism where we covered the practical aspects of working in the industry, such as writing CVs and managing finances. We also had guest speakers every now and then, including Marta Stelmaszak, who had us enthralled with her interpreting experiences, and Helen Oclee-Brown, who introduced us to a whole load of IT tools we’d never heard of! We also had workshops every Friday which were open to all translation/interpreting students, and covered general knowledge topics like the English legal system or the etymology of medical terms. Throughout the year, there were additional events, such as Meet the Client organised at Westminster with the ITI London Regional Network, bringing together agencies and translators.
To answer the question What’s the point of doing a Masters in translation?, I think it is a sound starting point for your career. For me, it was indispensable. I didn’t know much about the profession beforehand so everything was new to me. During my degree, I took to my language studies quite easily but the MA taught me that having excellent language skills is not enough to succeed as a translator. It was a challenge that I relished but it also taught me humility. I felt a sense of achievement when I completed the course and the MA qualification makes me feel like a credible professional. When I have moments of doubt over my abilities, it’s one of the things that reminds me that I can do this job. You have to remember though, that a Masters is only the beginning. It is only through experience that you can improve your skills as an academic and professional.