Translator Training

5 Reasons Why I Failed the IoL Diploma in Translation

by | Last updated Jul 17, 2020 | Translator Training | 2 comments

My IoL diploma in translation exam pass-fail letter
My IoL Diploma in Translation results from 2008. A rude awakening, but motivation to work harder, to get my pass in 2012.

Planning to sit the IoL Diploma in Translation offered by the Chartered Institute of Linguists? Judging by results from past years, about 25% of candidates will get a pass on at least one of the three papers. I first sat the Spanish-to-English DipTrans in 2008, and it was the first time in my life that I failed an exam. This article is about what I did wrong. I hope it’ll help you pass all three first time.

It was dark and rainy in Cardiff, where I sat the exam. I remember getting stuck in rush hour traffic afterwards. Exhausted, I already knew I’d failed one of the papers.

How did I know I’d failed the IoL Diploma in Translation?

It was a business paper and, in reference to the staff of a company, I wrote personal instead of personnel. I did it three or four times. I don’t know if that was the only mistake I made, but it was a bad one.

I realised I’d done it as soon as I walked out of the examination room. I could actually visualise it. That means I’d observed it in the text, that somewhere in my subconscious I knew it was there. But, it hadn’t made its way into the part of my brain that would jump on such an elementary mistake and correct it. HOW COULD I HAVE BEEN SO REMISS?

I had read over the text again and again, checking every word, or so I thought. I’m still kicking myself today.

So, why did it happen?

Inexperience. I hadn’t done enough practice. Rookies make rookie errors. And that was me in 2008. The IoL Diploma in Translation exam is a test of practical skill. It isn’t like a typical exam where you answer a series of questions from memory. It tests your ability to produce professional work. It’s an exam that says “sit down and show me what you can do”.

“I hadn’t had the right guidance to help me identify the places I was most likely to make mistakes.”

Here are five reasons why I couldn’t walk the walk.

1. Inexperienced translators make elementary mistakes

This is because they haven’t had time to make lots of mistakes and learn from them. I can assure you that I’ve never confused personal and personnel since that fateful day. The more opportunity you give yourself to make mistakes, the faster you’ll learn. As long as you identify them, or get someone to point them out.

See my article “9 Favourite Mistakes by Translators on My Spanish-English Translation Course” for some problem areas to look out for.

2. I couldn’t handle the time pressure

Papers two and three of the IoL Diploma in Translation exam allow two hours to translate 450 words. These days, an hour and a half to translate 450 words normally leaves time to spare. But in the early days, it was nail-bitingly tight. Pressure isn’t good for quality. The more practice you do as a translator, the faster you get at it. Practice makes perfect.

Check out these great tips to help you pass the Diploma in Translation exam. Click To Tweet

3. I was focussing too much on the text as a whole

This is good for coherence and style, but not good for accuracy. At that point in my development, I hadn’t learned how to see each word individually. Or how to make sure the content of each sentence was logical. That is how I missed personal. I didn’t see it because it got camouflaged among all the other words. I forgot I had to actually see every individual word, and the letters that make them up.

Check out “10 Proofreading Mistakes by Trainees on My DipTrans Online Course” for help with this.


4. I didn’t know the technique of doing different readings for specific aspects of the text

There’s so much going on in a text that it can be overwhelming. One way of getting around this is forcing your mind to focus on different aspects. So, one reading for grammar. One reading for terminology. One reading for style. One reading for spelling. And so on, until time is up. The more experienced you get, the more you’re able to observe in a single reading. But, when you’re learning, breaking the text down and looking for specific problems can help.

“It isn’t like a typical exam where you answer a series of questions from memory.”

5. I didn’t know myself as a translator

I hadn’t had the right guidance to help me identify the places I was most likely to make mistakes. That means I didn’t know where I should be double checking myself. If you don’t know the errors you make, you have no chance of seeing them. If you don’t see them, you’ll never correct them. It all starts by admitting you have a problem with spelling personnel. Which, by the way, I DON’T ANY MORE.

Road to IoL Diploma in Translation success

I’ve spent many an hour chewing over that failed Paper Two. Anyone who’s ever failed the Diploma in Translation exam will know what I mean when I say I took it personnelly. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist). My conclusion was that inexperience is one of the main reasons why translators fail the DipTrans.

If you want to do the IoL Diploma in Translation, you need to get experience before you attempt it. As much as possible. A course is also a very good idea. A good coach will help you identify your mistakes and learn how to correct them.

If you’re sitting the DipTrans in the Spanish-to-English combination, look no further. Join me on my Advanced Spanish-to-English translation course. Since that first exam, I’ve completed two translation MAs and the DipTrans. I’ve also translated millions of words of professional texts. And I’m happy to share everything I know.

I work closely with my course trainees to help them understand themselves as translators. Once you can do that, the exam becomes easier to manage. But, even if you make that serious mistake on the big day, you’ll still come away knowing how to manage a translation.

Fancy a free level test with feedback from me? Send me an email.

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