I sat and passed the examinations for the UK Institute of Linguists (IoL) Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) in January 2011 and thought it might be useful to share my experiences, particularly for those who have embarked on this stimulating and challenging career without formal training.
The Diploma in Translation is a recognised qualification and a successful candidate is invited to apply for membership of the Institute of Linguists, which will lead to their inclusion on the IoL's list of translators.
There are three papers in the examination: a general paper and two semi-specialised papers. Papers can be taken on the same day, usually in January, or individually over the course of five years until the required number of passes is achieved.
The pass rate for candidates taking the three papers in one sitting has been given as 30% in the IoL forum. Examiners reports are produced, which sometimes give pass rates for specific papers and also provide useful guidance to candidates. In the last available report with pass rates (2009), the general paper for my language pair (Portuguese -> English) had a pass rate of 40%. Semi-specialised papers had pass rates of 0, 25, 50 and 100%. See:
DIPLOMA IN TRANSLATION 2009 EXAMINERS’ REPORTS ON CANDIDATE PERFORMANCE FOR SMALL ENTRY LANGUAGES
Which suggests the first question to ask when considering taking the examinations is: "Are you ready?"
To answer this question, it is essential to know that although the pass mark for a paper is 60%, mistranslating the source text results in an automatic fail. This is how the 2010 Diploma in Translation Handbook puts it:
The pass mark for the examination is 60%. Candidates who obtain between 70-79% will be awarded a Merit and candidates whose marks fall between 80- 100% will be awarded a Distinction. A translation can only be awarded Distinction, Merit or Pass if it is professionally acceptable. Any translation which is not professionally usable will be awarded a Fail. [Emphasis added].
The Handbook is available at:
It presents the detailed marking scheme, which covers three areas:
1. Comprehension, Accuracy and Register;
2. Grammar, Cohesion, Coherence and Organisation of work;
3. Technical Aspects: punctuation, spelling, accentuation, transfer of names, dates, figures etc.
With regard accuracy, criteria for a pass are described as follows:
The translation shows an adequate command of the subject matter. There are no serious errors or omissions in the transfer of information; and the minor inaccuracies or omissions therein will not give false information to the reader. The vocabulary, terminology, idiom and register chosen are broadly appropriate. Although some infelicity in rendering is evident at times, this does not impair the overall acceptability of the translation.
Past papers are available on the IoL website. If you can produce a usable translation for language of this complexity, you can pass. The closer your translation is to the ideal of appearing to have been written in your target language, while maintaining the register of the source, the better your mark will be.
I achieved two merits and a distinction on my first sitting of the three papers. Yet I was still unsure until I nervously opened the results letter as to whether I had passed. I had a niggling doubt about my translation of one phrase, but I was perhaps saved by the translator's note I had added.
It is worth giving particular attention to what the DipTrans Handbook has to say about Translator's Notes. As with a real translation, they are to be addressed to the client, not the examiner. Unlike normal practice, the Translator's Notes in the exam are to be added as footnotes or endnotes. The Handbook explains that in the context of the examination there is "no risk of confusion between an author footnote and a translator’s note."
Poor or overused Translator's Notes will be penalised, but they "may be used to indicate an ambiguity in the text which cannot be clarified (in a real-life situation, the translator would need to consult the client / the author of the Source Text)."
So on this basis I had flagged up the phrase that gave me a problem as requiring clarification.
Even with this possibility of addressing confusing source text, it is important to be reasonably sure that you are ready for the exam, not least because the examination fee for taking all three papers is over £600 and you may have additional expense for travel and possibly an overnight stay.
The Handbook provides information on how to register for the examination and where you can take it.
As the exam is normally completed with pen and paper, working methods are likely to be different to usual working methods. Even at the centres that have computers available, there will be no CAT tools, no internet connection and no spell check.
Everyone's experience will be different, but I will explain in the second article why I thought I was ready to sit the DipTrans, how I prepared for the examination and my exam technique.