Translator Training – A Guide to Getting your Foot in the Door

Well before I founded TransTeach, in 2008, I was teaching many different aspects of translation at universities across the UK. Translator training is something I’m truly passionate about and I know many other translators are too. With a background in education, I always had a gut instinct that teaching in the translation domain would be right for me. However, like anyone, I needed that initial ‘break’, to give me a chance to prove myself and to enable more opportunities to arise as a result.

I consider myself extremely fortunate and still adore walking into a classroom or lecture theatre of new students today. I therefore love to do all I can to help other translators who have the same dream I once did. So, if you’re someone who knows they want to teach translation, particularly in a formal, academic environment, then read on. Here’s TransTeach’s advice on how you can do just that…


Know what you want and want it enough

I’m not sure of the exact when or how, early in my own translation training (in 2003-4 on the MSc at Imperial College, London) I determined that I wanted to train other translators. In fact, I was surprised at how strong the desire in me to do this was. I adored my course of study: the timetable, the different modules, the constant learning. All I knew was that it felt ‘right’ to want to be involved in providing the same for future students in my field.

Fast forward 12 years and I’ve been teaching translation for 11 years. I started by teaching on the very masters course I’d completed when an opportunity arose soon after I graduated. I had a teaching qualification, but I had no PhD – often a requirement for such teaching posts. I therefore considered myself to very lucky, and am grateful to this day, for the chance my former tutors gave me. I know I was a capable student, and a good teacher, but I still believe my passion and enthusiasm played a large part in getting me first break. (Along with quite a lot of positive visualisation – which definitely does work!)

The message here? Basically, know what you want, even if you have no idea how you’re going to get it (yet). And want it BAD! That desire, determination and drive will emanate from you and be picked up on somewhere, by somebody. In my case it was my own Spanish to English practical translation tutor, Nicky Harman (thanks Nicky! – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicky_Harman). When she first approached me, rather tentatively, to see if I was interested in teaching part of a practical translation module, I practically bit her hand off. And that has been pretty much the case with every translation teaching opportunity I’ve been offered since.

Let people know what you want

There’s no point knowing what you want (and wanting it an awful lot) if you never share your desire with anyone else. So, make sure you tell anyone and everyone what it is you’re interested in doing. “I’m really interested in getting some experience teaching translation in a university”. “I loved my translation training and want to be able to train other translators. I’m passionate about it”. Put your wishes out there and the universe will able to help. Keep them to yourself and it will be an awful lot harder to achieve your goals.

If you’re interested in working at a specific institution or on a specific course, then approach  a course leader or a head of department directly. Believe it or not, they don’t get people doing this every day. There aren’t as many people out there wanting to get into translation teaching as there are aspiring actors, musicians or writers (strangely enough); the odds of you finding an opening are actually quite high!

Don’t be put off if you don’t have a PhD

Gone are the days when only people with a doctorate could teach at university level. Nowadays, institutions are as likely to employ practising industry professionals to lecture as they are the most respected academics. If a full-time post teaching translation if what you’re ultimately aiming for, then obviously improving your academic credentials will be of benefit. However, if you want to teach and practise your profession at the same time, universities now recognise the advantages of this. They are often keen to bring in visiting lecturers who teach specific modules, with very practical, industry-related content.

Get a teaching qualification

One way of standing out from your competitors is to get qualified to teach (particularly university level teaching). Nowadays many institutions are demanding that their academic staff  hold teaching qualifications. In the UK, for example, the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education is becoming increasingly popular: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postgraduate_Certificate_in_Higher_Education.

A good academic researcher does not necessarily a good teacher make. Training helps to redress the balance. By contacting one or two institutions, you can find out what qualification(s) they like their staff to get and investigate starting one of these. You don’t have to have completed it before you start looking for work but it’s another way of demonstrating your commitment to the field you want to work in.

Be prepared to step outside of your comfort zone

If I had waited until I felt truly ‘ready’ to teach others about translation, I’d probably still be waiting to do so right now. There is never a ‘right’ time. You will always feel under-prepared, lacking in knowledge and just downright daunted at what may greet you in the translation classroom. So, if an opportunity arises, view it as a now or never chance and jump in with both feet!

Since taking on my first technical translation teaching post, I’ve progressed to teaching legal and translation, localization and audiovisual translation. I’ve even developed and delivered my own ‘A Day in the Life of a Translator’ introductory course for undergraduate language students who may be contemplating translation as a career option.

Every time I’ve been offered a new challenge, I’ve seen it as just that. When I was asked if I could teach audiovisual translation, I said yes, of course. When I was asked if I knew how to use the associated software, I said yes, of course (and promptly taught myself how to do so in a week!) Where there’s a will, there’s a way, so never be put off by something that seems slightly outside of your current range of knowledge and experience. If nothing else, it enables you to empathise all the more effectively with the students you teach. Being a teacher or trainer requires you to constantly step outside of your comfort zone, so get used to it. In fact, enjoy it. It’s what makes the work so interesting!

Be humble

Good teachers know that they are not the source of all knowledge on a particular subject. Rather, they are a facilitator and sometimes who know a little (or even a lot) more about a certain topic than some of their students.

When I first walked into a room full of translation students, I was but one year ahead of them in terms of translation education. I therefore made it clear that I felt confident, but humble and was ready to learn as much from them as they would from me. That’s pretty much been my approach ever since. I’ve found that it’s one that works well both with colleagues and students. Nobody likes a know-it-all. So, let everyone know that you’re keen to keep on studying and learning about translation and its different elements and that you see teaching as a great way to do this.

There can be little more stimulating or fulfilling than sharing your knowledge of a subject with those who have opted to study it at an advanced level. It reignites your passion and often tests your abilites to the very limit. I hope this advice goes some way to enabling you to get your first break in translation teaching. I wish you many years of the same enjoyment, challenge and satisfaction that I have been fortunate enough to experience and of course, let TransTeach (and me) know how you get on! 

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