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From translating in Paris to project management in the UK: Bethan’s story

Bethan shares her journey from being an in-house translator in France to managing a small team of translation coordinators at an international education trust.

A selfie of Bethan at the beach.
Bethan currently works as a Senior Translation Project Manager in London. She previously spent two years as a translator in Paris.

Bethan Rees studied MA Translation and Professional Language Skills (TPLS) and graduated in 2015, having studied for her undergraduate degree at Bath as well. She wanted to take her French and Spanish skills further and gain the practical experience to use her languages in the translation sector. We spoke to her about her career and how TPLS gave her the necessary skills to navigate the wide variety of job roles in the industry.

What did you do before you took up a master’s at Bath?

I did my undergraduate at Bath in Modern Languages and European Studies [1]. At the time I really liked the fact that it was quite broad and practical. You had the language side of things, translation and grammar, plus the politics, culture and history of the countries you were studying.

When I got to the end of my undergraduate degree, I wasn’t sure exactly what to do next. I wanted to keep languages in my career going forward and had really enjoyed translation.

The master’s courses in translation at Bath have a really good reputation, so I was happy to stay on, especially as Bath is a really nice place to study.

It was exactly what I wanted as it was very practical and a lot of the lecturers were working in the industry, which really appealed, as they knew what employers would be looking for and the kind of skills that would be useful. We also had training opportunities as part of the degree as well, which was really helpful. I came out of my master’s feeling ready to embark on a career.

What have you gone on to do since graduating?

I started my first job in Paris as a translator after graduating. I actually found that job through the alumni mailing list. I worked for two years as an in-house translator, also proofreading and reviewing other people’s work and checking the French staff’s English content output. I was able to directly apply what we’d been studying during the master’s course.

I then decided to relocate back to the UK and started a job as a translation coordinator at the Wine and Spirit Education Trust, where I’ve now progressed to senior project manager. I oversee translation projects and the relationships with linguists, review translations and build up assets like terminology lists and style guides.

What I enjoy most about my job is that, at its core, translation is about making things more accessible and opening doors to people. We want to make sure that the content we produce in Turkish or Italian has the same amount of care and attention as the content produced in English.

What does a typical day look like for you?

The company develops course materials in English and there’s a network of course providers around the world, in approximately 70 countries and 15 languages. We're responsible for translating the course materials – this could be anything from workbooks to presentation slides to exams.

Depending on where we are in the project, my daily work can be quite different. When I first started this job, I would be editing English documents to check that they're consistent, clear and concise for translation before we send them off to print. I now manage a number of people, and at the moment we’re liaising with printers and checking final proofs of documents.

During the translation, I manage queries from linguists about terminology or background knowledge. I also update our internal resources and work with the marketing team – it’s a very dynamic department to be in and it’s been a great way to get to know a completely new industry.

Even though I haven’t been translating content myself in the last few years, I’m still dealing with issues that come up with translation all the time – also in languages that I don't speak at all. Working on the English originals, tweaking and improving the source material, is almost a bit more creative than the translation side of it. The editing and proofreading skills from the master’s are definitely something that I brought to my current job.

What do you feel were the strengths of your master’s?

Translation during my undergraduate degree was more of an academic exercise and enabled me to learn more about the language and study different ways you can translate terms. This, in turn, would bring up grammar and vocabulary points.

During my master’s, however, it was a lot more vocational. Our assignments were quite varied, and the type of things you would encounter as a freelance translator. There would be quite niche topics that you'd have to research, and the deadlines were much shorter. There were also fewer closed-book exams, as that’s not the way a translator would work – you would be able to use the Internet and dictionaries, and you were encouraged to research everything properly. The lecturers were really good at setting tasks similar to those you’d be doing when working professionally. They would share lots of real-life examples of ways they dealt with certain problems or tasks they'd been given in their roles.

The training opportunities I had were also very good - I went to the UN and worked in Geneva for five weeks. It was amazing to see the practical applications of what we'd been studying. Watching the interpreters in their booths, attending meetings and getting a glimpse into their work was great. These opportunities can open doors too.

The Department of Politics, Languages & International Studies arranged these opportunities with big international organisations; one of my friends went to the World Trade Organisation, and others went to companies all over Europe or in London.

The practical training opportunities are definitely a big selling point of the course; as it gives you something you can put on your CV when you finish. The emphasis Bath puts on work placements and networking is fantastic, both in the postgraduate and undergraduate courses.

What did you gain by doing a master’s?

It definitely helped me focus my career goals and figure out what I wanted to look into more. The master’s helped open doors to the different roles and careers within translation. In this field, quite a lot of roles do ask for either an undergraduate degree that has a specific focus on translation, or a master’s in translation.

I’d say the course felt more like training than just education. I didn't go down the route of working for the UN or the EU in the end, but the course gave me that qualification and confidence that I had the right skills to apply for translation jobs. Bath is also very good at preparing people for the government service route and some people really succeed in that area.

Was there a sense of community on the course?

Absolutely! There's of a group of six of us that still meet up a couple of times a year.

It was a relatively small course and we all got to know each other quite well and organised Christmas dinners across all the different languages. It was nice to also connect with people from a wider range of backgrounds than you find on an undergraduate degree. Some people had already been in the workplace for years and other had studied subjects other than pure languages.

There is a nice sense of community even after graduating, as the translation world is quite small and it’s often easy to keep in touch with people. Some of my current and previous colleagues are also Bath graduates, too.

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