The translation activities you carry out as a language student are a far cry from those carried out as a translation student. The objective of the former is to improve your language skills, the latter to refine your translation skills to a professionally acceptable level. When you join a translation degree at postgraduate level, for example, it is usually assumed that your language skills are already up to the job, or at the very least, that you have the ability to get them there – and keep them there – yourself.
The question of whether initial training for professional translators should take place at undergraduate or postgraduate level is an interesting one, with practice often informed by the realities of a country’s education system. But one advantage of a clear distinction between programmes for language learning learning and initial translator training is that it helps to re-enforce the difference between studying to learn a language and studying to become a professional translator.
In other words, translation competence is distinct from language competence. Researchers at Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Zurich’s University of Applied Sciences, describe it well below:
The translation process (and thus the training of future translators) is not only based upon the bilingual competence of the translator but also on his/her capacity to analyze the relations between the source text (ST) and target text (TT) in order to produce a translation which, on the one hand, is as close to the ST as possible and, on the other, meets all necessary linguistic and cultural conventions of the target-language community. Additionally, the translator must possess specialized knowledge concerning the subject or field covered by the ST itself (e.g. law, computational science, biology etc.).
Extract from: Susanne J. Jekat & Gary Massey. The Puzzle of Translation Skills. Towards an Integration of E-Learning and Special Concepts of Computational Linguistics into the Training of Future Translators. Linguistik online 17, 5/03. Accessed 6 July 2010.
If all language learners and teachers were to understand this difference, I’m sure it would go a long way towards raising the status of the profession. It would also ensure that students considering translation degrees would have a more realistic picture of the kind of activity they are likely to undertake, both as part of their degree and afterwards.