Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

A guest post today, from someone starting out in their translation career. Kathleen Clegg is just completing her Masters at Glasgow University, and kindly agreed to write a post describing her experience over the last year and her feelings as she embarks on her translation career. So read on, for a fresh perspective on the translator’s life.

Translation Studies MSc: a student’s perspective

What was the first thought that came to mind when I began the MSc in Translation Studies: Translation & Professional Practice at Glasgow University? Sheer terror and just a little bit of excitement. Semester one did feel like I’d been thrown in at the deep end but could I stay afloat? I’ve come out the other side, so the answer, thankfully, was yes. But in order to tell you where I am now, I’ll have to take you all the way back to September 2013 and it’s been quite a journey…

Semester one of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester one did seem to pass in a blur of reading lists, translation theory, and an ever-present feeling of panic as I adjusted to the pace of work (bring back undergrad). I didn’t even realise that there was literature on translation theory… I do now! For me personally, there was slightly too much emphasis on theory and not enough on practice. But, having said that, theory has influenced how I approach translation. My perspective has definitely changed now that my translator’s brain has been rewired to ask two simple questions before a translation begins: What type of text am I translating and who is my target audience? I’d say that’s a pretty good place to start any translation.

A translation student’s typical week

I must admit how much I loved the small class sizes; usually no more than 10 of us, put under the spotlight every week for two hours as we discussed our translations and our strategies for tackling them. And for those of you that don’t love that idea, it was a lot more fun and relaxed than I’ve just made it sound! The range of texts was impressive too – marketing texts, literature, news and magazine articles, and theatre…It’s strange how much I enjoyed it, given the amount of time I’d spend trying to find the right word, only to arrive at class for someone to tell me the exact word I’d been looking for all along! Not to mention the countless number of drafts I’d print off in the pursuit of perfection. Despite the inevitable challenges that came with each type of text, I’d have loved to have done more translations each week. The small number of contact hours each week did mean that I didn’t get to know my classmates as well as I’d have expected. Translating did surprise me in that respect for being a rather solitary process.

Translation Masterclasses

But there was the added bonus of being able to meet up throughout the year for translation masterclasses; professional, dare I even use the word ‘renowned’, translators would come to the university to talk to us about breaking into the profession. Although there wasn’t shock, there was awe. We couldn’t quite believe that they had come to talk to us. Their pearls of wisdom were gratefully received. Only one question remained after their departure. Could we be like that one day?

Semester two of the Translation Studies MSc

Semester two brought with it much of the same, with a foray into technical translation and the inevitable headaches that came with legal and medical translation. As we ventured back into the world of non-technical texts, the translation of children’s literature was a pleasant but confusing change. With semester two came two new additions – an introduction to subtitling and subtitling software and the love/hate relationship (mostly hate) that came with mastering Trados translation software. We were doing a Masters after all; how hard could it be? Very hard is the answer. After much frustration and shouting at my laptop later, I passed the beginners’ Trados exam, so you’ll be pleased to know that there was a happy ending and a still intact laptop… I can’t comment on the laptops of others.

My dissertation: Medical Translation

Currently, I’m in the middle of my 14,000 word dissertation and I’m going to surprise you all now when I tell you that I’m really enjoying it. My dissertation comprises a translation project followed by a commentary with a theoretical foundation. OK, I admit when I say it like that that it may not sound like the most exciting thing that you’ve ever heard of! My translation project involves translating a French medical textbook for both a medical professional audience and a non-professional audience; the latter will be in the form of a magazine article. While my classmates have no clue why I’d willingly delve into the world of medical translation, I’m not regretting my decision… well, not yet, at least. I’m just hoping that my supervisor isn’t regretting her decision to supervise me!

What lies ahead after my Translation Studies MSc?

I took the plunge a few months ago and joined the Institute of Translation and Interpreting‘s Scottish network, ITI ScotNet, in an effort to stave off the feeling of being a lone wolf. I can’t emphasise how lovely the Scottish translation community has been and it feels great to know I’m not alone; help is most definitely at hand if I need it. So what’s next for me after escaping academia? Well, nothing in this life is certain, but here’s my plan. In the near future, I’m intending to join the ITI and become a member of their medical network. After graduating I’m hoping to apply for an internship or work for a translation agency. I know that right now it’ll be impossible to live the life of a jetsetter and attend every major medical conference going, but I’ll be happy taking my first steps into freelance work. Can I make it as a freelance translator? Hopefully, my MSc in Translation Studies is just the beginning…

About Kathleen

Photo of Kathleen for blogKathleen Clegg lives in Glasgow, where she is currently working on her dissertation: the last stage in her MSc in Translation Studies at the University of Glasgow. She translates from French and Spanish into English. In 2013, Kathleen graduated from the University of Strathclyde with a BA (Hons) in Spanish and French. During her degree course, she spent her fourth year abroad as a language assistant in Seville. Kathleen is a keen and passionate linguist who hopes to embark on a career in medical translation following graduation. She loves reading Scottish crime fiction (when she finds the time), and listening to Scottish folk and Spanish classical guitar music.

By Marian Dougan

Published by Marian Dougan

Marian is a translator and editor (specialising in web content) currently based in Glasgow, Scotland. Marian previously lived in Italy for over 20 years, working as a language teacher, translator and policy analyst with the British Embassy in Rome. A qualified member of the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and its Italian-language and ITI Scotnet networks, she is currently Scotnet's Convenor and Deputy Webmaster. From 2003 to 2006 Marian taught translation skills at the Italian Department of Glasgow University and now gives Master Classes as part of the new Masters in Translation Studies course. She also conducts web-writing and usability workshops to help people improve their websites and communicate more effectively with their readers, users and customers. In September 2014 Marian obtained User Experience Certification, with specialisation in Web Design, from the Nielsen Norman Group. She loves language, especially English, and is convinced that learning languages opens up people’s minds and horizons (and increases their brainpower!). To share her enthusiasm, she advises schools and educational authorities on language skills and enterprise. She gives talks to pupils on how to combine language studies with other subjects and so enhance their potential and increase their career options. Marian is an active member of organisations such as: Scottish Council Development and Industry (SCDI); Association of Scottish Businesswomen; Dunbartonshire Chamber of Commerce and the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Scotland. She also loves architecture, design, fashion (British Vogue!), cities and chocolate. She’s a great fan of Twitter and you can also find her on Linkedin.

Join the conversation


  1. Thank you very much for sharing your experience! I’m about to start my bachelor in Translation Studies at the Innsbruck University in Austria and I’m neither scared nor relieved after reading this post; it only confirmed my expectations. I’ve chosen it exactly because it’s demanding and challenging… and I hope I won’t regret!

  2. Hello Ana,
    Sorry for not replying to your post sooner. I’m glad that my post was useful and that you’re feeling more relieved about your degree. It will be challenging but hopefully really good fun too. I met lots of interesting people who loved translation and it was great to be a part of a group of people that shared the same interests as me.
    Good luck with everything and please feel free to get in touch if I can help you at all.

  3. Hello, it’s me again.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my future as a translator and more importantly, about my study methods, and I’d like to ask you the following: if you could go back in time, what would you change? Which approaches didn’t work for you? How do you learn collocations the best? What is a huge waste of time and is not worth doing while studying to be a translator? What should I pay attention to while learning new words and expressions?

    And thank you very much for your replay!

    1. Hello Ana, I’ll pass your questions on to Kathleen. In the meantime, is it OK for me to include them in a blog post, and open up the discussion to other translators?


  4. Hello Ana,
    It’s good that you’ve got lots of questions and I’ll do my best to answer them!
    With regard to language learning, I wouldn’t say that trying to memorise lists of vocabulary or set expressions is a good idea. You need to expose youreslf to language, but in a way that works for you. If learning doesn’t feel like a chore then I think that’s when you learn the most.
    For example, you might want to read newspaper, magazine or online articles in your non-native language. Find a topic that interests you in your native language first and then go from there.
    I spend a lot of time watching films and criminal and political dramas in English, so I do the same with French and Spanish programmes and films. I usually buy them on DVD and watch them with the French or Spanish subtitles turned on. That means I can understand a lot more and relate what I read to what I hear.
    Learning new words and expressions can be tricky, especially if they are long. What I tend to do if I can’t remember them is to translate them word for word into English. If the literal translation is logical or funny then it helps me to remember. For example, ‘gafas’ is Spanish for ‘spectacles’. This isn’t particularly memorable on its own but is more memorable as the phrase ‘gafas de sol’, literally
    ‘spectacles of sun’ = ‘sunglasses’. Or, if you can, use an alternative that makes more sense.’Anteojos’ literally means ‘in front of eyes’, and that also means ‘spectacles’.
    One last word of advice if you are doing timed translations in class. Personally, I would avoid doing more than one draft, as there isn’t usually enough time for me to do more than one draft. Keep calm and translate! Your work and your thoughts will be more organised and you won’t need to redraft.
    That works for me at least!
    I hope I’ve helped.
    Like last time, please feel free to get in touch whenever you need to.

  5. Great, so I’m on the right track! I’m living in Austria since January and I’ve been studying German alone ever since. My writing skills are equivalent to the B2 level and my listening and reading skills are around C1, almost C2 (I’ve been learning German for 2 years). Almost all my classes and lectures are in German (except for the Spanish and German classes that will start in October)and I love watching TV and films in German too. The side effect of it is that my active English vocabulary has noticiably shrunk even though I’ve read around 3000 pages in the meantime (as if you haven’t noticed that English isn’t my mother tongue…).
    I’m having a hard time with finding interesting vlogs in Spanish though. I’m currently reading “La sombra del viento” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón even though I’ve been learning Spanish for only 3 months because my mother tongue is Portuguese and those languages share almost 90% of their word families. Thank you very much for the tips! I’ll keep on doing this way (which feels very natural) and let’s see where I’ll get with it 🙂

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