Carnegie Mellon, Leader in Machine Translation, Launches MA Program in (Human) Translation

One of the US’s top ranked universities, Carnegie Mellon, has launched a new translation master’s degree. The MA in Global Communication and Applied Translation (MA in GCAT) is a joint venture between Carnegie Mellon University’s (CMU’s) Department of English and Department of Modern Languages.

CMU is well-known for its language technologies department, which is home to the NeuLab, a dedicated natural language processing and machine learning research lab, headed up by Assistant Professor and leading light in machine translation research Graham Neubig.

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But outside of the research sphere, CMU offered no dedicated courses in applied translation, until now. Slator spoke to Program Director for the new MA in GCAT Gabriele Maier to find out more about the program and why CMU decided the time was right now to launch a translation master’s course.

According to Maier, discussions about the possible MA started several years back, and involved consultation “with potential partners on campus and in the translation industry, and extensive research about the need for translation in national and international contexts.”

What the team discovered was that “there is need for qualified individuals who have sound training and expertise in professional translation, localization, and intercultural communication in a wide range of areas, in business and industry, technical and scientific areas, health, social, and legal services, government, media, and arts,” Maier said. The Program Director explained that, based on research and advice, these are the most in-demand specialist areas and the ones most likely to “make it easier for our students to find jobs.”

Moreover, because of CMU’s “many international initiatives, its diverse campus, attention to applied learning and innovation, we believe that it’s very timely to launch this new program with its focus on the importance of cultural communications and global understanding,” Maier added.

The MA offers “training in the principles and practices of translation, localization, and global communication,” according to the course website. Students can select from Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Russian, into or out of English.

Deviating slightly from common practice, the program allows students to choose between translating into a target language that is not their mother tongue, or translating into their native language. Maier explained that the decision to allow students to translate into a language other than their mother tongue was taken because “the more training one receives in one’s target language (foreign tongue) the more familiar one will become with one’s mother tongue.”

Maier said that translation technology is a key element in the MA since it “plays a crucial part in translation these days.” Indeed, the idea is to have specialists with hands-on experience to teach on the course. This is important, Maier said, because “along with the crucial human dimension, we believe that knowledge of and expertise in translation technologies are crucial to succeed in the profession.”

“Along with the crucial human dimension, we believe that knowledge of and expertise in translation technologies are crucial to succeed in the profession.”

The emphasis on technology also extends to collaborating with CMU’s machine translation research teams, to “engage in research that contributes to the successful training of our students [and] inviting scholars to our classes to share their research with our students,” Maier said.

The course is primarily geared towards preparing students for the reality of the working world, and the program structure reflects this objective. Available modules include:

  • Translation as a Profession, “a weekly 3-unit seminar designed to orient students to employment opportunities, prepare for the job seeking process, and meet with professionals and prospective employers”;
  • Translation Workshop designed to explore project management skills through a project course, and client-based, multilingual projects that support skill development in supervision and coordination;
  • Electives in specific topic areas such as technical and scientific, literary, business, audiovisual and media, and healthcare; and
  • Translation Technologies “(taught by a professional translator who is an expert in using translation technologies and keeps up with new technologies)”

The MA aims to prepare students for the real-world through internships and guest speakers. “We are in the process of establishing links in the profit and nonprofit sectors both with translation companies and entities that work with translators on a regular basis,” Maier said. She also divulged the names of some of the links to industry that CMU has already cultivated, which include Global Wordsmiths, City of Asylum, Westinghouse, Google, Amazon, and Rand.

“First and foremost we are training future translators,” Maier highlighted, and graduates can expect to find jobs in a range of industries. And it’s a bright future too, in Maier’s estimation: “With respect to domestic opportunities, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, during the coming decade, employment growth is projected at 18 percent ‘much faster than the average for all occupations,’ and will be driven by increasing ‘globalization and by large increases in the number of non-English-speaking people in the United States.’

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Esther Bond

Research Analyst at Slator. Localization enthusiast, linguist and inquisitor. London native.