Does an academic background really make a difference?


This is a quite controversial issue in the translation sector. Those who have an academic background categorically say it is essential, while those who do not, say it is not. With a BA and MA in Translation, I have to admit I am biased on the subject. Therefore, if you are like me, you will most surely like this post. If you have no academic background though, do not give up on me: keep reading. If I can make you change your mind, great! If not, you can share this post as the most absurd thing you have ever heard of. 😉 

You see, the thing is, unfortunately, in order to become a translator, you do not necessarily need to have a higher degree. If someone masters (or not) two languages, this person can work as a translator (please be aware that I am not discussing quality and professionalism here, just the fact that pretty much anyone can be a translator). As simple as that. If it is fair or not, that is a topic for another discussion. The fact is, since an educational background is not mandatory, people sometimes refuse to “spend” their time and money sitting on a chair, doing plenty of reading and writing, and practicing translating. 

After all, what’s the point in studying Translation? I’ll give you some reasons: 

  1. The theoretical knowledge you learn will help you build your translator self, your identity as a professional who knows about all the history and theories behind the art of transforming a bunch of words in one language into a beautifully crafted text in another.
  2. You will have plenty of practice translating several types of texts. This will help you have at least an idea of which path to take. Besides, it helps you learn some tricks, dos and don’ts.
  3. Grammar lessons. They may sound stupid and useless, but believe me: you do not know everything and you do make grammar mistakes you are not even aware of.
  4. Culture and literature lessons in both your working languages. And depending on your major, even other lessons. For example, my MA was in Translation Studies with Intercultural Communication, so I had, among others, Interpersonal Communication and Translating Cultures lessons.
  5. You get to learn more than you bargained for. I learned Italian in my BA (including for translation purposes), and Greek in my MA (Ab initio for translation purposes).
  6. It offers you recognition and validity. 

Are those reasons convincing? Well, some people say the bad thing about those courses is that they do not offer you a practical idea of the market. That is right, they don’t. However, I question if that is really the role of any university. The university only guides you. It is not its responsibility to give you every piece of information you need to be a successful professional. That is your job. Living and learning, with practice. Besides, it is better to be introduced in the market with all the background I pointed out above than with nothing at all.

Bottom line is there are no cons in taking a higher degree (in any field). Knowledge is never too much.

Some other related articles:
How (Not) to Be a Professional Translator and 6 Tips to Help You Become One (Fresh out of the oven. Alina also posted it today! Serendipity?)
The (un?)importance of translation-specific degrees to translation (also mentioned in Alina’s article)
Masters in Translation


What’s your opinion on the topic? Do you also have an academic background in Translation? Do you agree with me? Would you add any other good/bad points?