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Building a New Graduate Studies Program: A Focus on Translation Technology

By: Dr. David Sawyer (University of Maryland)

16 May 2014

Washington DC has long been a hub of activity in the language industry, which makes it surprising that the metropolitan area lacks a comprehensive, two-year postgraduate program leading to master's degrees in translation and/or interpreting. This situation has changed with the recent launch of Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation (GSIT) at the University of Maryland in College Park.

This flagship campus just outside the District of Columbia is no stranger to language-related programs, now home to the largest integrated community of language scientists through its Language Science Center. With its academic home in the College of Arts and Humanities’ Department of Communication, GSIT is building specialized tracks in its two-year Master of Professional Studies programs, which take into account the increasing specialization in the diverse sectors of the language industry. One focus is on translation technology, and GSIT is eager to partner with the industry as this advanced, second-year coursework is offered in Fall 2014 for the first time.

The 41-credit Master of Professional Studies in Translation (MPS in Translation) is a two-year curriculum designed to equip students with competencies as specialized translators, project managers, or administrators of language services. Students focus on translating written communication, developing advanced knowledge of the role of technology in translation processes, and acquiring management skill sets.

Instruction for the 41-credit MPS in Translation includes two main components:

The first-year curriculum, which is the same course sequence as the Graduate Certificate of Professional Studies (GCPS) in Translation:

  • 21 credits of core training in the fundamental skills of translation, translation for specific domains, translation studies, the translation profession, intercultural communication, and background knowledge in at least one of the following communication contexts: politics, the law, health, and other domains, such as science and technology.

The second-year curriculum, which GCPS holders may start directly upon completion of the GCPS program and the MPS Degree Track Entry Test leading into the second year:

  • 20 credits of advanced training in translation, translation technology, intercultural communication, and advanced study in at least one of the communication contexts listed above.

Specialization is offered in the second year through two tracks:


  • Example skills include the translation of specialized texts in health, legal, political, and technical domains, including the translation of documents and websites for major corporations, international organizations, and government ministries
  • Performing as a translator in professional settings (effective use of time, tools, and resources for translation assignments, workload management, coordination and cooperation with colleagues, effective and constructive self-assessment of performance, ability to provide constructive peer feedback)
  • Using computer-assisted translation tools
  • Working knowledge on topics that characterize private and public-sector settings in the respective language pair
  • Understanding the history, current developments, procedures and practices of representative organizations and institutions that provide or use translation services

Translation and Localization Project Management

  • The same skills and knowledge as above in a reduced language combination (C into A), and in addition:
  • Managing large-scale translation and localization projects, as well as projects involving cutting-edge translation technology and terminology work
  • Demonstrating knowledge of translation and localization project management
  • Managing communication and language services programs

The sequence of instruction in translation technology consists of the following courses:

  1. Introduction to Computer-Assisted Translation is taught in the first semester, enabling students to use a range of CAT tools for projects in all of their translation courses throughout the curriculum.
  2. Translation Technology is taught in the third semester and focuses on advanced CAT tools, terminology management, and machine translation applications.
  3. Communication Management, also a third-semester course, provides an overview of managerial and administrative skills required to successfully run a language services enterprise.
  4. Translation and Localization Project Management is taught in the fourth semester and focuses on large-scale translation projects.

The MPS in Translation prepares students for professional flexibility and mobility through a Professional Practice Forum, which enables students to integrate the entire course learning.

In the Practicum, students

  • Experience completing real-world, multilingual translation projects as translators, reviewers, and project managers
  • Lead a team of translators
  • Organize and provide conference translation services for an event, including advising event organizers on use of translation services
  • Collaborate with interpreting colleagues in preparing and rendering translation services, including terminology coordination

Workplace Processes and Procedures is designed to improve

  • Familiarity with translation procedures across sectors and organizations
  • Knowledge of the profession required for informed career plans and choices
  • Knowledge of tenets of ethics and professional conduct—a process that begins in the first semester and continues through the program's progression
  • Knowledge of business practices for freelance translators working as sole proprietors

Career Portfolio and Exams

The MPS Degree Examinations and Career Portfolio Review are administered as part of the coursework for the Professional Practice Forum:

The purpose of the Degree Examinations is to determine whether students have the translation competence in their proposed language combination to enter into the profession at a distinguished level, particularly through taking employer tests required for staff and freelance translation work and tests for professional certification.

The purpose of the Career Portfolio Review is to determine whether students have the career strategies in their proposed language combinations to enter into the profession at a distinguished level, in particular through career goal setting and planning for future employment. The portfolio is a career development tool that students can use to seek and find translation work.

As the first cohort of students grows close to completing the first year of study, they are landing internships and receiving offers of full-time positions in the language industry. Applications for Fall 2014 have doubled in comparison to Fall 2013, with the Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish sections being the largest. GSIT also expects to have French, German, Persian, Portuguese, and Russian in the program next year as well.

GSIT is fortunate to have direct access to leading institutions employing translators and interpreters in the Washington DC area and beyond, and these institutions are eager to provide support by sending evaluators for test panels and guest lectures addressing a full spectrum of topics, including the role and use of CAT tools and custom machine translation engines in organizations based in Washington DC. Over the course of the academic year in 2013/14, GSIT has hosted speakers from the U.S. Department of State, International Monetary Fund, Pan-American Health Organization, and the Inter-American Development Bank, among others. Staff from such organizations also serve as regular instructors in the program, and entrepreneurs in the language industry have participated in panels organized through UM’s University Career Center, which holds a Language Career Fair to bring students and employers together every fall. GSIT is seeking to expand and deepen this network by including additional partners particularly from the localization industry.

This world-class translation and interpreting program contributes to the portfolio of language programs and research centers of the University of Maryland at College Park in general and the College of Arts and Humanities in particular, complementing the activities of the members of the language science community, such as the National Foreign Language Center, Center for the Advanced Study of Language, and the School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, among others. With its emphasis on providing the next generation of translators and interpreters for the local community, state and federal agencies, and international organizations and the private sector, GSIT supports the vision of President Loh to make the University of Maryland an even more globally networked, innovative, and entrepreneurial university in service to Maryland and the nation.

Dr. Sawyer directs the Department of Communication’s program in Graduate Studies in Interpreting and Translation (GSIT). He is currently on leave from his position at the Office of Language Services, U.S. Department of State, where he has served for over ten years, most recently as the Chief of the European Languages Branch and the Senior Diplomatic Interpreter for German in the Interpreting Division.