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Translation Graduate Programs: An Overview

It’s that time of the year again, the application cycle for graduate programs across the nation is about to start. Applying to any program is a daunting task, whether it be a certificate program or a PhD. Simply finding the information about what programs are out there, the length of each program, and how much each program costs seems an insurmountable task which is why I’ve decided to put together a multi-post series on the post-undergraduate options an aspiring translator has available.

The first thing that one has to decide when researching translation programs is what kind of program one wants to apply to. You need to ask yourself first and foremost what kind of translator you want to be: a general translator or a translator with specific credentials (medical, court, literary, conference, etc.). While a plethora of general translation certificates exist, the options telescope when a category like medical or literary translation is added into the mix.

A master’s degree or PhD in translation or translation studies generally refers to a comprehensive, general translation program. These programs are interdisciplinary and allow students to dabble in historical, literary, and scientific areas while at the same time grounding the students in general translation skills. Computer skills are emphasized as an essential tool for translators and classes teaching the use and development of translation computer programs and glossary management are often a key component of translation studies programs. Graduates of translation studies programs are qualified to work for personal and corporate translation services, as freelance translators, as government agency employees, and as translation software developers. PhD graduates often stay in academia and teach linguistics or translation studies. Like any comprehensive humanities degree, a master’s degree or PhD in translation studies allows each student to tailor the program to his or her individual interests.

A more specific kind of translation program, however, is the literary translation degree. Typically awarded as a Masters of Fine Arts degree in the United States, only a handful of these programs exist. MFA programs in literary translation offer training in the theory and practice of literary translation. The translation work specifically focuses on translation literature from foreign languages into English. Each candidate for the MFA in literary translation focuses on one foreign language, although sometimes a program requires a candidate specialize in two or more languages. Because these programs are MFA programs often associated with the Creative Writing department, candidates are required to take both creative writing and translation workshops in addition to theoretical and practical translation courses. MFA graduates are qualified to teach at the undergraduate level and to translate literature into English as either a freelance translator or as an employee of a translation or publishing company.

Most court, medical, and conference translation programs are awarded at the certificate level. There are some exceptions to the rule, of course, but generally these types of studies are limited to professional or graduate level certification. Tens of translation certification programs exist in the United States and narrowing down the programs can be daunting. Some certificates are general French translation, German translation, Spanish translation, etc., but some are more specific: legal, medical, conference. The general certificates function like the graduate degrees in translation studies. They allow for a translator to gain advanced study in the foreign language as well as to take courses specific to the profession. Legal certificates prepare candidates to work in legal and courtroom settings. In order to become a court translator, one must pass a state-specific test (comprised of a written and oral component) for both English and the foreign language. The certificate program helps to prepare candidates for translating in a legal setting by focusing on legal vernacular, the professional conduct of a courtroom translator, and state court test preparation. Likewise, medical translation certification focuses on medical vernacular and professional conduct as a translator in a hospital or other medical setting. Conference translation certificate programs prepare candidates for translating at conferences and seminars. These certificate programs vary in time commitment and cost, but most are designed for the professional student and take place at night or in one to two week commitments over a period of one to two years.

While finding, applying, and choosing a translation program seems impossible, over the next few posts I will break down each category: translation studies, literary translation, legal translation, medical translation, and conference translation, as well as descriptions of the top translation programs in the United States.

I hope that you might find this information helpful for your own research, and, of course, if you have any tips, questions, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to comment or email!

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