The Diploma in Translation exam, or Dip Trans, offered by the Institute of Linguists (IoL) of London, is one of the most widely recognised and prestigious professional qualifications for translators. Unlike some of the MA programmes offered by universities, the qualification is awarded on the basis of a one-off exam, in which the candidate has to translate three texts of different types.
The exam consists of three papers: Unit 1, General Translation, lasting three hours; Unit 2, Semi-Specialised Translation, with a choice between Technology, Business or Literature options and lasting two hours; and Unit 3, Semi-Specialised Translation, with a choice between Science, Social Science or Law options and also lasting two hours.
All three papers must be sat the same day and so the exam usually takes place between 9am and 5.30/6pm. The exam can be taken in many countries throughout the world at recognised examination centres: for example, you may be able to take the exam at a branch of the British Council. Past papers can be obtained by contacting the IoL.
In January 2010, I sat the the Spanish-English combination of the Dip Trans exam. I have the papers that I sat: the texts were all taken from published sources and I am providing the relevant references below. I am not reproducing the exam papers themselves as they are under copyright to the IoL. Obviously, the questions for subsequent years will not be the same ones, but the references below indicative of the standard and type of text that can be expected.
I should point out that the exam questions were all edited versions of these texts. This was principally to ensure they fitted the number of words for each question, I think, and not to make them easier. Having said that, if a section contained particularly obscure references, that may have marked it out for exclusion.
Unit 1: General Translation (3 hours)
“La Gran Guerra de este siglo”, by Vicente Verdú, published in El País, 17th May 2009.
This text uses only paragraphs 1, 2 (last half of the paragraph heavily edited), 3 (penultimate sentence edited and last sentence omitted), 6, 13, 17 (last sentence omitted), 20, 21. There are also some other minor edits.
Unit 2: Option A Technology (2 hours)
“CENTRALES NUCLEARES: Santa María de Garoña” published on the website of the Spanish Nuclear Safety Council
For this paper, only the paragraph beginning “El CSN ha realizado…” and ending “(…nuevo permiso solicitado)” seems to have been omitted.
Unit 2: Option B Business
“El puzle de la productividad y la competitividad”, published in El País, 5th July 2009 (although the exam paper says June 2009)
The exam text omits the early part of the article, starting with the paragraph “Tal paradoja…” and finishing with the paragraph starting “La tercera de las razones…”. The first and final paragraphs of the exam have been edited, but the rest seems intact.
Unit 2: Option C Literature
The text for this option is taken from Alberto Méndez’s book of short stories, Los Girasoles Ciegos, specifically from the opening to “El idioma de los muertos”. Obviously this text is not available online, but it can be purchased from Spanish bookstores such as Fnac or even from Amazon.
Unit 3: Option D Science
This text is an edited excerpt from the article “Cromosomas parásitos” by Josefa Cabrero and Juan Pedro M. Camacho and published in July 2009 on the Investigación y Ciencia website.
The text corresponds to the subtitle of the article and the first five paragraphs and seems to be otherwise unedited.
Unit 3: Option E Social Science
This text is an edited extract of the article “La caída de la fecundidad y el déficit de natalidad en España”, written by Fabrizio Bernardi and Miguel Requena and published on the website of the Federación Española de Sociología.
The excerpt is an edited version of the four paragraphs on page 10-11 of the PDF (p38-39 of the article’s printed pagination). The first paragraph’s last sentence is omitted, as is the sub-heading and the first sentence of the following paragraph. with the last sentence also omitted. The third paragraph seems intact and only the first sentence of the last paragraph is included.
Unit 3: Option F Law
This text is an edited version of the article “El Poder Judicial quiere desviar a los jueces de paz un millón de causas leves”, published by El País, 2nd April 2009.
The text comprises the first four paragraphs of the article, plus the first sentence of the fifth, and it seems otherwise unedited.
Thoughts on the papers
My impression during the exam was that this was the hardest paper and that the author was rather depressed when he wrote this. Not the cheeriest companion when you’ve just started a hard day’s slog which your future career depends on!
I received a merit for this paper.
Going into the exam I was prepared to tackle the Technology paper, but not knowing much about nuclear power stations, I was wary about this, and the table at the start, in particular, with the all the different types of autorizaciones, scared me off, as I thought I would likely make a mistake or come up with translationese.
I gave serious consideration to doing the Literature option, perhaps wasting more time than I should have done, as I ended up doing the Business paper. Reading quickly through the Literature option, there were a few phrases which had me scratching my head. For example, in the paragraph where Colonel Eymar is described, there is a play on words between “guerrera”, the combat jacket he is wearing, and “guerrero” and, at the time, I couldn’t think of an elegant way of achieving that in English. I thought I could come up with accurate, but not totally satisfying, translations, but the assessment of the quality of the translation for this option is much more subjective than for the others, I think. So, this is what made my mind up to go for the Business paper.
The Business paper covered somewhat similar ground to the General paper, but I found it easier and less depressing.
I received a merit for this paper.
The Social Sciences paper should have been the easiest one for me, given the fact that my studies have been in the humanities and social sciences, but unfortunately the text is a particularly good example of a verbose kind of writing common in Spanish-speaking academia, with long, labyrinthine sentences. The way to approach this, I think, would be to try and make it more accessible by breaking up some of the sentences, to meet the expectations of the typical English-speaking reader. Yet, that has its dangers in a time-limited, exam situation, as too much simplification can lead to inaccuracy. So, I veered away from this.
I briefly considered making it a hat-trick of translations from El País by attempting the Law paper, but I didn’t feel that I had sufficient familiarity with the Spanish and English-speaking legal systems to try this without recourse to the internet.
In the end I went for the Science paper, as I’m reasonably familiar, for a layperson, with evolutionary theory and genetics.
I received a pass for this paper. Strange really, because I can honestly say that enjoyed working on this text more than the others – maybe I enjoyed myself too much. I know of one error I made, which I realised about ten minutes after finishing: I spelt heterozygote as “heterocygote” – some interference from the Spanish original there I think.
If anyone would like to ask any questions about the exam, please contact me via the comments section or via the contact form on my website.