Students in Leeds and Metz learnt more than they bargained for during a translation assignment, reports CIOL Student Affiliate Adam Dewhirst

Reproduced from The Linguist 56/3

In November, eight of my fellow MA students and I were recruited as project managers for the second of three very exciting international translation projects that have taken place in the Centre for Translation Studies at the University of Leeds this year. These projects, which involved more than 10 language pairs, have given us the opportunity to gain valuable translation and project management experience while we are studying, and to familiarise ourselves with a wide range of computer-assisted translation (CAT) tools. When we volunteered for the role of project manager, I’m not sure any of us were aware of just how challenging and rewarding the next two weeks would be.

Our first task was to recruit 70 student translators for the project. Many were our colleagues on the MA in Applied Translation Studies at Leeds, but we were also able to work with 22 translators from the Université de Lorraine in Metz. This collaboration was possible thanks to the European Master’s in Translation (EMT) network, a partnership between the European Commission and more than 60 universities providing high-quality postgraduate courses in translation.1

Collaborating with our French colleagues was one of the highlights of the experience for me: it added to the project’s international and multilingual dimension, and allowed us to get to know translation students from a different university and country. A number of guest speakers at Leeds have suggested that our fellow translation students are our first professional network, and this project enabled us to start expanding that network overseas while we are still studying.

The role of the clients was taken by our excellent tutors, who dedicate lots of their time to make these projects possible. I think they also enjoy ensuring that we encounter additional challenges along the way, as we are likely to in our professional work in the future. For example, they sent extra files after we had already prepared the project and allocated work to each of the translators, meaning that we had to rethink and incorporate these new files into the workflow. Thanks to our tutors’ links with local and international NGOs (nongovernmental organisations), the translations produced in these projects often go on to be used online.


While we were recruiting translators, we were also planning the project timeline and preparing the files. Each project manager was responsible for a team of eight translators in addition to all of the files for one or two language pairs. With the project taking place in two countries, we had to consider the slight time difference and the fact that we could only communicate with the translators in France by email.

As we had to allow time for revision, as well as translation, we had initially intended to use a waterfall workflow, in which one stage is completed before another one begins. However, when many of our translators returned their work early, we decided to start the revision stage ahead of schedule. This worked in our favour because we had given ourselves a very short turnaround time between the revisers’ deadline and our own deadline for delivery to the clients. By working together to process the revised translations and generate target files, we managed to complete our project on time.

As this project took place in the context of our module on CAT tools, technology played a central role, and also presented a number of challenges. At Leeds, we were using Déjà Vu X3 as our main tool, but in Metz they were using SDL Trados Studio 2015. As we had already learnt to use Studio at Leeds, this was a great opportunity to work with more than one CAT tool at the same time.

Instead of just preparing the files for these translators in Studio, we chose to base the project in Déjà Vu X3. One of the reasons for this was its ‘Divide & Dispatch’ function, which allowed us to quickly split files between a chosen number of translators, or into packages containing a specific number of words. The divided files could then be exported as XLIFFs, with which we could create new projects in Studio and send project packages to the translators in France.

However, we encountered difficulties importing the translated XLIFFs back into Déjà Vu X3 in order to generate target files. Fortunately, having already learnt that CAT tools do not always provide the level of interoperability we might hope for, I tested the process at the start of the project with the help of my colleagues. This enabled us to identify this issue in the first few days, instead of near the end of the project. In case it happened again and we were unable to find a solution, we devised a workaround: we asked the translators also to provide a translation memory containing their revised work, with which we could pre-translate the original project in Déjà Vu X3.

After speaking to a number of representatives from translation companies, I have learnt that problems arising from transferring files between CAT tools are fairly common. Finding solutions to this kind of technological challenge was particularly rewarding and the experience will hopefully be useful for our work in the future.

Managing the projects for the translators in Leeds was less complicated thanks to Déjà Vu X3’s Team Server. Although we initially encountered some problems with language resources not remaining attached to packages, the server environment made it easier to share files and for translators to collaborate during the project. Our involvement in the EMT network gave us access to the European Commission’s machine translation (MT) engine, MT@EC, which provided useful experience of post-editing MT output.


Another task, which brought its own set of challenges, was overseeing the project’s finances. We had to negotiate rates with translators, which occasionally involved long email exchanges before an agreement could be reached, and make a profit of 30-40% – although the financial element was the only part of the project that wasn’t real. Thankfully, my colleagues’ excellent Excel skills and previous experience made this part of the project much easier. Similarly, we could use CAT tools to get accurate statistics on word counts and matches from translation memories. Using this knowledge, careful planning and negotiation skills, we managed to make a profit of 51%.

I found the financial dimension useful when I worked as a translator during our other two translation projects. Should I decide to work freelance in future, I now have my own quotes and invoices, which would only need minimal editing before I could use them in a professional context.

In some ways, I was glad to return to the role of translator for our third team project. I enjoyed translating webpages for a Spanish NGO and had more time to explore advanced features in another CAT tool – memoQ – for this final project. But my experience as a project manager meant that I did this with a much better understanding of where my role fitted into the wider project workflow.

Our work as translators is only one part of a larger process in which the work of revisers and project managers depends on our translations being delivered on time. I was also aware of some of the pressures my project manager could be facing, and I knew that returning my translation even a couple of hours before the deadline might alleviate some of those pressures.

Collaboration was at the heart of this project. As project manager, I was working with an excellent team of translators who, by replying to my emails promptly, completing their translations to a high standard and returning all of their files ahead of schedule, made my work much easier. They also taught me lots about the technology we were using.

Our work with translation students in France brought additional challenges but also made the project more rewarding and enjoyable. Being part of such a cohesive and supportive group of project managers, working together to solve problems, and collaborating with an excellent team of translators were definitely the highlights for me.


1 See