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The Diploma in Translation

An excellent postgraduate-level professional qualification for translators.

Run by the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIOL), the UK’s leading language institution, the Diploma in Translation, or DipTrans, not only gains you entry to the Institute as a member and allows you to add MCIL to your list of qualifications and titles, it is proof of your ability to translate at a level deemed "professional".

The Institute’s website declares it to be the “Gold standard in the field of translation” and claims it enjoys recognition worldwide.

I’d probably have to agree.

How it works

The DipTrans can be taken in a variety of language combinations, mostly into or out of English and - of interest to us – in the English to German, or German to English combination.

Candidates are expected to translate into their mother tongue, i.e. native English speakers will translate from German into English.

Why? Well, the greater challenge is often phrasing your translation – making it sound like a piece of original text – rather than understanding the source text, so your command of the target language must be excellent.

Examinations for the DipTrans are held once a year, in early January, at examination centres throughout the world (usually British Council premises).

In order to achieve the Diploma in Translation, candidates need to pass 3 papers:

1. General paper :  3 hours to translate an article of 600 words.

2. Semi-specialist paper I:  2 hours to translate 450 words. Choose from:

  • Technology
  • Business, or
  • Literature

3. Semi-specialist paper II:  2 hours to translate 450 words. Choose from:

  • Science
  • Social Science, or
  • Law

The real killer is that all 3 exams are run on a single day in January, starting at 9 am and finishing around 5 pm-ish.

By the end of the day you feel quite literally wrung out.

Candidates are usually provided with a laptop or computer - but check with your exam center as some people still report having to use good old pen and paper. However, you'll have no internet access, making it necessary to lug piles of heavy dictionaries to the exam.

The pass rate is..... around 30%

The pass rate for the DipTrans is around 30%.

Yes, that sounds tough, but I think it shows that:

  1. it makes the DipTrans worth having, and
  2. it's open to a very wide range of candidates and so functions as a great filtering mechanism.

I’ll admit right here and now that I didn’t pass all the papers in one sitting and getting my Diploma in Translation took a couple of years, but I think that just proves determination to be good and to succeed!

I suspect too, that candidates coming straight from a language degree or an MA in translation, who are “in the swing” of regular, recent exams, might well do better.

For me, and for many other candidates who are already working translators, coming back to exam routine after a break of many years was an additional challenge. As a result, it is more than likely that candidates will have to repeat some of the papers a year later, or will decide to stagger their entries over several years.

A Letter of Credit is issued for each paper the candidate passes, and the Institute allows a maximum of 5 years to obtain passes in all 3 papers.

The major advantage – financial!

If you've got the time and money, a year or two at university spent getting an MA in translation studies, or similar, would be wonderful. But it is costly. 

Taking the DipTrans isn't.

So, if you're already working in German translation, or have a solid background in German (and write beautiful English!), the Diploma in Translation can be a great alternative.

The CIOL recommends all candidates take a course to prepare them for the exams. These aren't run by the CIOL itself, but it does recognise several course providers. These courses are hugely less expensive than full-time tuition, and involve either part-time or even distance learning.

Here's a list of organisations offering courses to prepare you for the DipTrans. Some are on campus, other operate via distance learning.

Many simply offer a reading list and a set of past papers, which examiners then mark and return to you, with comments and advice on any weak points and what to think about more. But it was enough for me, and very practical if you are limited in terms of time or geography or cash.

I'd recommend the Diploma in Translation for....

Anyone looking to stand out as a serious translator, especially those already working in the field and keen to find more or better clients.

A trend I've certainly noticed is that translation agencies are increasingly becoming certified. This means they have to meet specified standards, such as only employing translators with recognised translation qualifications.

The Diploma in Translation is recognised throughout the UK and, once you’ve passed, it allows you to put DipIoLET (Diploma in Translation from the Institute of Linguists Educational Trust) after your name.

With your DipIoLET in hand, and references from clients, you can then apply for membership of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and swap the DipIoLET for MCIL.

ADDED BONUS!   I was talking to a prospective DipTrans candidate the other day, and we both agreed that this is a particularly good qualification for a German translator: in German, a "Diploma" is often part of a undergraduate and even postgraduate-level study, whereas in English, the word "diploma" is normally associated something less academically challenging.

So when it comes to impact, in a German-speaking environment the "Diploma in Translation" punches above its weight!

Although I suspect the Chartered Institute of Linguists is significantly less well known in continental Europe, I’ve never actually been asked what MCIL means and so I do spell it out on CVs etc. (Here in Austria, with the general love of titles, it adds a touch of the exotic!)

Am I the right sort of candidate for the DipTrans?

If your German is excellent and you are accustomed to reading fairly demanding German texts (e.g. Die Zeit, FAZ), then you may well be.

You may already have a language degree or are living/have lived in a source language country for a reasonable length of time. You will probably have some experience of working in translation.

If you are US-based and would prefer North American certification, then you might consider the American Translators Association (ATA) Certification Program instead – see www.atanet.org for details.

What are my next steps?

Go to the Chartered Institute of Linguist’s website for more detailed information about the exam, registration, examination centres, examiners’ reports etc. You can also order past papers to get a feel for the texts.

I’d also suggest doing a few test translations to see where you currently stand – try some of the free sources of German and English translation such as Project Syndicate that I’ve listed here to see how your translations currently compare.

Getting the Diploma in Translation may take take some time and effort, but a proper qualification is always worthwhile.

I wish you every success.


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