Newsletter #49 July 2020

Postgraduate Diploma in Translation: interview with a former student

Coláiste na hÉireann/Gaelchultúr has been offering the Postgraduate Diploma in Translation since 2013 and the course will be available again this year, from September. Nuachtlitir Ghaelchultúir spoke to a former student, Ian Mac Murchaidh, who now works as a translator in the European Commission, to find out how the course benefitted him.

Ian Mac Murchaidh

In short, this is what happened: I attended the first lecture of the Postgraduate Diploma in Translation course in September 2017 and within two years I was employed by the European Commission as a translator. I’m now based in Brussels.

I graduated in Irish and journalism in 2009 and spent ten years working in the media. It was a good position and I travelled all over Ireland and Europe working for RTÉ/TG4 News. I was a TV cameraman and I was part of a team whose main spoken language was Irish. Although my spoken Irish improved during this period, I wrote very little Irish for almost a decade. Neither I nor my family are native Irish speakers. My understanding of the Caighdeán Oifigiúil (Official Standard), which has been updated twice since I first qualified in Irish, declined and I was reluctant to write much for fear that people might think that this man who was fluent in Irish was not able to write the language very well.

I attended two other Irish language courses before I heard about Gaelchultúr but I didn’t manage to attend all the classes and I dropped out of those courses. It was hard to commit to a course like that because I often got a call from the newsroom telling me that I had to travel to a certain place where a story was breaking or I got an order to go abroad nearly immediately. Or on other days, I used to feel tired after work, I’d be lazy and wouldn’t attend the Irish class that night.

I saw on social media that Gaelchultúr was running a course that was both online and in the classroom and that I would only have to attend a few lectures in the college. I used to spend an awful lot of time driving to Dublin every day but I had the time to attend a course that was mainly online.

You can read a grammar book and do the exercises by yourself, and I wish every success to those people who can study alone. I needed support and guidance, however, and the Diploma lecturers gave me plenty of encouragement, as did the other students. The course itself was challenging and enjoyable but doable, and I liked the fact that we were shown the process of translation, both the theory and the practice.

This course involved a lot of work and a lot of translation – but that’s what translators do! I also liked the layout of the course: some lectures focused on writing good Irish and some lectures and other modules focused on translation skills. This is worth remembering if you are unsure about working as a translator but want to improve your written Irish.

I had attended the course for two terms when I had the courage to apply for a journalism position in RTÉ/TG4 News. After that, I spent a year working with BBC Gaeilge. In the meantime, I applied for a job at the European Commission to become a translator. The European Commission’s recruitment process is lengthy but I passed the translation exam.

I moved to Brussels in November of last year. I was lucky to know some of the translators who were already working there and so it wasn’t hard to make new friends. There are almost forty people working in the Irish Language Unit in the Directorate-General for Translation – it 's like an urban Gaeltacht.

Staff support was one of the reasons I wanted to work in the Commission. Every translation is reviewed and all aspects of it are discussed. A team of translators often works on large documents and, as a team, we’re required to discuss many things in minute detail. In addition, a discussion forum is held each week to resolve different issues. The translators of the European Union live in the shadow of each other.

Because there is so much to translate, we have an opportunity to focus on different texts. Some of us work on communicative texts or legislative texts or on both.

The workload here will gradually increase again. The derogation in the case of the Irish language in the European Union will end on the last day of 2021, which will mean that much more will have to be translated after that date.

I don't speak a third language but I’m given the opportunity to attend French classes during working hours. The classes did not stop due to the Covid-19 outbreak: they are now run on Zoom, which reminds me of Gaelchultúr's lectures. That and other graduates of Coláiste na hÉireann/Gaelchultúr who also work here.