Interested in translation studies? An overview for aspiring translators

Are you a language lover looking to break into the translation industry and wondering whether you need a degree under your belt? Not sure which subject will give you the right skill set for your career? As a current student of translation studies at Heidelberg University in Germany I have gained some first-hand experience of this relatively new field of study. Do you want to secure a smooth start into professional translation with a translation degree? I’ve gathered some facts that should help you decide:

1. Where?

Germany is known to be a little more traditional when it comes to academia so translation studies is still in its early stages. However, in light of the increasing demand for language services in a globalising world, universities are starting to adapt and besides my own home turf in Heidelberg, universities in Saarbrücken, Leipzig, Hildesheim near Hanover and Germersheim near Karlsruhe offer BA and MA courses in “Translation Science”, “International Communication and Translation” or “Translatology”. German is the main working language for all degrees, so your German would need to be at native or near native level to study translation in Germany. If you’re not German, but your German skills are excellent, you may want to consider this option – education in Germany is FREE!

In the UK, translation studies are usually offered as a one-year Masters course to top up a language-related BA degree. The options are vast and you will find courses such as “Translation Theory and Practice”, “Translating and Interpreting” or simply “Translation Studies” at most major UK universities from London to Leeds and Exeter to Edinburgh.

But where you study will ultimately depend on what exactly you want to study.

2. What?

Specialising within your chosen field is usually helpful when forging your future career. This also applies to translation and both Germany and the UK offer a variety of options to specialise. Does your mind want to be fed with creative and cultural content or are you the next Mark Zuckerberg on the translation landscape?

At Heidelberg we translate anything from Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to the website of Panama’s Marriott Hotel and instructions for the latest Bosch vacuum cleaner. Most universities will allow you to choose a complimentary subject based on your interests, such as law, medicine or business. This means you may study a foreign legal system or the human skeleton in your chosen foreign language. If you’re interested in working in the media, have a look at the “Media Text and Media Translation” degree in Hildesheim. Saarbrücken University combines Comparative Literature with a translation qualification and in Heidelberg you can dive into the tech world of “Translation for Information Technology” – and gain useful engineering skills at the same time!

While Germany offers more BA options for the study of translation, the UK is the master of Masters. There are a million and one ways to specialise in your chosen translation field, whether you would like to become a conference interpreter, an audiovisual translator or a transcreator (creative translator, similar to a copywriter). For the latter check out Warwick University which offers a reputable program. The University of Leeds has a well-known Centre for Translation Studies and offers a wider variety of specialisation options.

So many options, but is it even worth my while?

3. Is it worthwhile?

In a word: YES.

I think translation studies is a varied field with plenty of opportunities to develop your interests and find your own special niche. In contrast to a linguistic or literary degree, translation is a more practical course. The advantage: You’ll learn about translation tools and technology such as Trados, memoQ and Across, which might give you a head start into the industry. But the most important skill you need to be a translator is a feeling for language. So if you love languages and want to spend your time at university completely encompassed in beautiful text – go for a language or literature degree and take language classes or study a semester abroad. You can always get practical experience during a work placement which might be more relevant than anything you can learn at uni anyway. And if you have a knack for science or technology and still like to learn languages and write – even better! A multilingual engineer with writing skills will most certainly find a job in technical translation.

4. Still undecided?

Check out our post Inspiring Young Language Talent which includes a presentation with an overview of education and careers in linguistics and translation.


About the author: Teresa Günter is a 23-year-old student of translation sciences in English and French at the University of Heidelberg. She loves nature and culture, humorous people, English accents and good chocolate. Languages are her passion so she would like to work as a translator in the future.