Navigating the UK’s Linguistic Qualifications

Navigating the UK's Linguistic Qualifications
Please Share:

Whether you’re a business looking to procure translation services for the first time, or even the tenth time, understanding the UK’s array of linguistic qualifications can seem a little daunting. How does an MA in Translation Studies differ from an MSc in Translating? Is it worth paying more for a translator with a BA in Translation Studies than for one with a Diploma in Translation?

For students who love languages and are considering future career options, the choice can seem equally confusing. The translation profession is, at present, largely unregulated in the UK, so there are few professional sources of impartial advice and guidance available when it comes to choosing the best route into a translation career. This can make it difficult for students to know which translation qualifications they should pursue and which translation certificates they should hold in highest regard.

The lack of regulation of the translation industry in the UK is something that many professional linguists are seeking to change. As the situation currently stands, anyone can claim to be a professional translator. They can set up a translation business and offer their services, irrespective of whether or not they possess any translation qualifications or particular linguistic abilities.

Inevitably, this is damaging to the translation industry as a whole. Standards can vary hugely between individual translators and between translation companies. There is no set standard of linguistic competence that clients can rely on when booking a translator to work on their documents. As a result, businesses that are looking for a translation service for the first time are open to exploitation by unqualified non-professionals.

There’s no reason why a company that isn’t involved in the translation industry should have any knowledge of the different translation certificates on offer in the UK and what they mean. Indeed, it would be reasonable for a company to assume that a translation service would, at the very least, provide suitably qualified linguists in order to carry out their work!

From a professional linguist’s perspective, the lack of regulation is also a worry in terms of income. Competent translators deserve to be fairly rewarded for the skilled service that they provide. However, when the industry that they work in is ripe for exploitation by unqualified individuals who are happy to charge rock-bottom rates, it can be difficult to remain competitive. Cost is always important to clients and the ability to pay less for a lower quality translation is unfortunately attractive to many businesses that are working under tight budgetary conditions.

A word about professional interpreting

It is worth noting at this point that the interpreting industry is some way ahead of the translation sector, in that it does at least have an independent voluntary regulator – the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI). NRPSI’s role is to recognise the qualifications and practical experience of interpreting professionals, in order to ensure that only suitably qualified interpreters undertake professional interpreting work.

Recognising that the skills required for translation are different from those required for interpreting, NRPSI has embarked on the process of establishing a new separate Register, the National Register of Public Service Translators (NRPST). This will have standards for registration appropriate for professional translators and is expected to be launched in the middle of 2018.

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting also offers a membership service to professional linguists with sufficient experience (which it classes as at least three years of relevant experience and a degree or equivalent translation qualification). Would-be members have to undergo assessment and an interview before being accepted.

Translation qualifications in the UK – an overview

Until such time as a regulatory body oversees the UK’s translation industry, it may be helpful to provide an overview of the translation certificates that are currently available, in order to better enable companies to assess the quality of the translator that they plan to work with. As such, we’ve reviewed a range of translation qualifications currently available in the UK. Of course, it should be noted that a lack of formal qualifications does not necessarily preclude someone from being a good translator – after all, many brilliant minds have struggled to fit within traditional academic settings. However, the attainment of a formal translation qualification is certainly a strong indication of an individual’s linguistic competence.

Diploma in Translation (DipTrans)

According to the University of Westminster, the Diploma in Translation is “the oldest professional qualification of its kind.” It is a tried and trusted way for both new translators and those already working in the industry to gain formal recognition of their translation skills at postgraduate level.

The Diploma in Translation does not have a set study period, but those attempting the qualification must put sufficient work into preparing in order to pass a total of three units. These consist of three written translations:

  • A general text
  • A semi-specialised literature, business or technology text
  • A semi-specialised law, science or social science text

Many universities and colleges offer preparatory courses to help linguists prepare to sit the Diploma in Translation exam. The exam itself costs £769 for those completing it by hand, or £804 for those completing it by computer. Course costs vary from provider to provider. The University of Westminster, for example, offers a trio of courses totalling 29 weeks of study and costing £1,025.

The Diploma in Translation is available through the Chartered Institute of Linguists and the Institute of Language Educational Trust. It is accredited by Ofqual at level 7 of the UK National Qualifications Framework. It is widely recognised both in the UK and internationally.

BA Translation Studies

The BA in Translation Studies is a three-year degree course that assesses students through a mixture of examinations, coursework, presentations, project work, class tests and a translation portfolio. It is open to students that have completed two to three A levels (depending on the university they are applying to) at grades C and higher. Mature students can also undertake the qualification regardless of their formal qualifications, provided they can demonstrate relevant experience.

This vocational qualification covers translation theory and practice in-depth, as well as language and culture mediation topics. Students translate texts on a vast range of subjects, including law, finance, IT, marketing and medicine. The qualification can also include placement work, for on-the-job skills development.

The BA in Translation Studies is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Linguistics and the Institute of Language Educational Trust. It costs £9,000 per year to undertake.

BA Translation and Interpreting with Modern Languages

The BA in Translation and Interpreting with Modern Languages is a three-year or four-year degree course that includes either a semester or a full year spent studying abroad for total linguistic immersion. As well as modules on translation and interpreting skills, students spend time building up their linguistic proficiency in two chosen languages.

Students develop their language skills to the point of being able to develop sophisticated arguments in both languages, with their skills assessed through a mixture of coursework and exams (both spoken and written).

Entry requirements for this qualification vary from university to university. The University of East Anglia, for example, requires three A levels at grades A, B, and B, including an A for the relevant modern language. An A-grade language GCSE is also required, along with a C or higher in maths and English.

Those starting this degree in the 2017/18 academic year will pay £9,250 per year in fees, plus £1,350 for the year spent overseas.

MA Translation Studies

An MA in Translation Studies is a one-year full-time course. Many establishments also offer it as a two-year course for those who prefer to study part-time. Most universities have an entry requirement of an upper second class honours degree (or international equivalent) for this course. This translation qualification costs £6,525 for students from the UK.

The MA in Translation Studies is ideal for language graduates who wish to hone their skills further before launching a career in the translation industry or, indeed, go on to engage in further studies and research. It is also well suited to those already working as professional translators and interpreters, who are looking for a formal translation certificate in recognition of their linguistic competence. Core modules are combined with practical exercises (often undertaken with charities or public bodies), with students assessed based on their performance.

MA Translation and Interpreting Studies (MATIS)

The MA in Translation and Interpreting Studies is similar to the qualification above, but with additional emphasis on the skills required for interpreting, as well as those required for working as a translator. It is offered as a one-year full-time course or a two-year part-time course and students must hold an upper second class honours degree in order to meet the entry requirements. This course costs in the region of £9,000 to complete. 

Translation qualifications of this nature emphasise both theory and practice in order to prepare those undertaking them for successful careers in the translation industry and other cross-cultural communication roles. Assessment is undertaken through a combination of coursework and exams.

MA Translation, Interpreting and Subtitling

The MA Translation, Interpreting and Subtitling allows students combine their linguistic talents with the art of subtitling. This translation certificate requires students to master written translation, oral interpreting and video/film subtitling. As such, the course is particularly well suited to those looking to work in the TV, film, tourism or business subsections of the translation industry.

This one-year, full-time qualification costs £5,950 to complete and combines practical modules with theoretical and historical details. It can also be taken as a part-time qualification spread over two years. A second class honours degree or higher is required from those wishing to undertake this translation qualification, along with an International English Language Test System score of 6.5 or higher. Assessment is undertaken through eight pieces of coursework and one dissertation.

MSc Translating

The MSc Translating covers practical translating, including the study of translation technologies and their role. This translation qualification is for students who are studying translation between English and either one or two foreign languages. It is a one-year full-time course and can also be taken as a part-time course spread over two years.

Those undertaking the MSc Translating will develop a critical understanding of translation theories and concepts, as well as analytical skills for solving translation problems. They are required to master the translation skills and techniques in order to translate at a professional standard. The MSc Translating costs around £6,770 to undertake.

MSc in Specialised Translation (Scientific, Technical and Medical)

This qualification is for those who plan to work in the specialist translation fields of scientific, technical and medical translation. It offers a deep understanding of the theory and practical application of translation in these areas, over a one-year (full-time) or two-year (part-time) course. UK students can expect to pay in the region of £9,840 to undertake this qualification. An upper second-class Bachelor’s degree (or equivalent international qualification) is the minimum entry requirement for this translation certificate.

This translation qualification is highly focused on the preparation of students for professional, specialised translation work, including the study of translation tools and how these are used in the medical, technical and scientific sectors. Students must undertake essays, project work, assessments and an independent research project culminating in a dissertation.

PhD in Translation Studies

Students who hold a postgraduate degree in translation studies may be eligible to complete a PhD. A distinction or equivalent in the postgraduate qualification is usually required before a student can progress to undertaking a PhD in Translation Studies. Fulltime PhD study in this area usually takes three years. A six-year part-time option is also available.

PhD students work closely with university staff in order to define and progress their individual research projects. This is the highest level of academic qualification on offer to translators in the UK.

Where next?

If your company is in need of a professional translation service, being familiar with these different translation qualifications and translation certificates can help you to make informed decisions about the skills of the translator(s) that you are considering working with.

Remember that you can also ask to see written recommendations for individual translators and/or ask them to undertake a short test translation before you commit to working with them. You can read more about the advantages (and the flaws) of test translations here.

Finally, please bear in mind that a top rate professional translation service requires more than linguistic skill alone. Don’t forget the value of good, old-fashioned customer service when it comes to finding the perfect translation provider to meet your needs!