A Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOAS


Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOAS

For the past year, from September 2014 until September 2015, I have been doing an MA in the Theory and Practice of Translation (Japanese) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

My decision to do this had always been a Plan B as SOAS is seen to be a very prestigious school and there are not many Japanese translation courses in the UK. And due to reasons, my decision and application to the school was a bit of a rush job (done in just 3 days). I had looked at the program in the past but wish I had known more about it and compared it more to other courses in the UK, but as the name SOAS is widely recognised among the international community that’s the one I went for.

So below is my experience taking this course as well as of the school and other facilities. If you’re interested in taking this course or something similar at SOAS feel free to ask any questions, whether in the comments section below, by email (jtalkonline [at] gmail [dot] com) or on the facebook page.


The Course

The course (when I took it) was a 1 year program at only £7000, which might seem like a lot but isn’t too bad (what’s bad is the accommodation cost, but I’ll get to that). Because of it’s cheapness and time there were actually a few American students who could do an MA cheaper and quicker than in America. There were also a few Japanese students who were doing it as a part of their MA programs in Japan (like a year abroad).

I was worried that I would have a hard time with my low JLPT N2 level Japanese BUT there was even a student who had only passed JLPT N3, and although she struggled on timed translation, he overall translation quality was a lot better than mine. So do not fear if you think your Japanese level is low, it can’t hurt to apply. (And unlike schools in the USA you don’t need to pay an application fee).

Classes Taken:

  • Japanese to English Translation
  • English to Japanese Translation
  • Translation Technology: SDL Trados Programs, AntConc, Aegisub
  • Translation Theory
  • Japanese Literature
  • Dissertation (6000 word translation, 4000 word commentary)

The course is split into 2 terms of 10 weeks (with a reading week in the middle) followed by an exam term and then the summer is for dissertation (due in September). So out of the year you only get 18 weeks of classes, and each week only has around 7 hours of classes… Which means you’re paying a lot of money for only 126 hours of classes for an entire year.

Although you might think you have a lot of free time you’re still expected to do a lot of reading and work hard on your translations.


EN -> JP & JP -> EN Translation Classes:

We had the opportunity to translate between Japanese and English in a wide range of topics; journalism, academic, technical, novels, children’s books, manga, and recipes.

However, we only had 1 hour lecture and 1 hour in-class translating and discussion. This really is not enough time to cover all these topics in much depth. And we did not get taught any translation techniques (just what we did wrong in those translations), or anything about the translation industry (like how to work as a freelancer or approach companies).

Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOAS

Translation Technology:

Burcin Mustafa is the postgraduate (PHD) lecturer who designed this course. And while he was teaching it, it was amazing. He covered a lot on SDL Trados and translation technology, and really made the students think about the relationship between translator and technology. He was also very aware of the limitations of students (especially international ones who can’t speak English well) and how to help them achieve the best they can.

However, the second term was run by computer illiterate Dr.Dongning Feng who only taught the subtitling program of Aegisub. This is a very simple program that you can learn how to use in a few hours and you do not need 10 weeks to learn.

This was a 1 year program but has been changed to 1/2 a year from next year. Mustafa will be teaching the course, but Dr.Feng will be doing another module covering subtitling. Avoid any class Dr.Feng unless you want your time and money wasted!


Translation Theory:

This is a core module that you can’t avoid taking. It’s also taught by Dr.Feng. It is useful to learn about theory, but this course is taught for those who want to be academic translators and is not taught in a way that makes it clear how it’s relevant to our translation modules, nor the translation industry of how it will be useful in the wider world. It’s also very dry and I found myself skipping the seminars because they were dull and not very useful.


Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOASJapanese Literature

There is a year long Japanese Literature and a 1/2 year Japanese Literature class. The year long one reads texts in Japanese and unfortunately I could not take this one. The 1/2 year class (this one) taught the texts in English and how they fit into different parts of Japanese history.

It was so incredibly insightful to Japan’s history and the types of texts that were produced and different authors. A lot of reading, but a lot of fun!


Extra Classes!

The school offers extra evening language classes which are open to everyone (students get a discount). They can be expensive but are very useful. In the second term they offer FREE beginner classes in a wide range of languages (I did Korean) which are good fun.

Update: There is NO teaching on how to communicate with customers or agencies in Japanese and English. As I have graduated now this would be an INCREDIBLY useful topic as writing emails and CVs in Japanese are very formal, structured and there are set expectations. Sure this course “teaches” you translation, but what’s the point if you can’t get work because you are accidentally rude to a client?


The School

Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOAS

Very liberal and very studenty, does not have a professional atmosphere. If you have done your student life and want a professional, driven atmosphere then this might not be the school for you. If you like getting involved in world wide events and liberal agendas then this might be more of your thing.

There is also a wide variety of people from all across the world, which makes it interesting, but I found it hard to meet many people as the clubs are at awkward times (especially if you like over an hour away and don’t want to travel late). Also a quick FYI if you like anime, the anime club is not very good. Not well run and not very welcoming to new people. The only time I went it was a bit of a mess and I felt very awkward.

The school is also very small. I hadn’t realised that it was only 3 buildings! 2 at Russel Square and the 3rd by King Cross, a 20min walk away.

The library is very big and has a wide range of excellent books! But the lighting’s really bad and it’s hard to find seats when you want to study.

Information is badly circulated. I only recently found out when the dissertation needed to be handed in and have received no clear guidelines for doing it. Lots of information is emailed out for careers events, student support and from the union, but I found they were not very well laid out. There was a mix-up with class teaching during the second term due to bad communication. And even though I did Japanese I received NO emails from the Japan department, only linguistics, which I’m not interested in.


Accommodation & Living in London

Avoid anything run by Sanctuary Students!!!
There was an incident this year where one of the buildings (Dinwiddy House) was overrun by mice and cockroaches, was very dirty. Constantly had water outages which were followed by flooding. Broken locks. Broken washing machines (even the new ones). Lift constantly breaks. The managers are rude, racist and didn’t listen to complaints. Despite renters strike and continued problems, the company Sanctuary Students still did nothing. Constant disruptions and strangers allowed to live in apartments where Postgraduate students are staying over the summer without being told there are strangers in their homes. Click here for a news report on this.

I lived off campus 1hr to 1.5hrs away but I have friends living there and it’s just so horrible the conditions they let students live there. I’m also furious that SOAS are continuing to suggest that accommodation to future students. So I strongly suggest you avoid SOAS recommended accommodation and make the extra effort to rent somewhere else.

Living cheap in London is hard, and unless you find somewhere far away expect to be paying out the nose for not very good accommodation. But living closer to campus has it’s benefits as it’s easier to get to events and be more involved in the school, clubs, and more work opportunities. 

London itself is busy, expensive, and a bit scary. Some people love the city life, but because I lived so far away in a very dodgy area, it ruined my experience completely. But each to their own!



Good Things

  • Translation classes covered both English to Japanese and Japanese to English.
  • Translation classes covered a wide range of topics.
  • Translation Technology with Mustafa was the best module there! (Taught SDL Trados)
  • Japanese Literature is a lot of fun and you read a lot of Japanese novels.

Bag Things

  • Not a lot of class hours for the amount of money you’re spending.
  • Do not go in-depth with topics when translating.
  • Avoid all classes with Dr.Feng.
  • Not a very vocational course (doesn’t teach you about the industry or help with becoming a translator).
  • Do not get any accommodation with the company Sanctuary Students!!!
  • No advice for finding work, or how to communicate with clients/agencies in English or Japanese


If you are interested in a vocational course that will get you a jot at the end and will help you find a job; do not study here.

If you are interested in translating for manga, novels, video games etc; do not study here.

If you’d like to study translation because it’s interesting but you don’t know if you will go into translation at the end; study here.

If you want to continue being a student and enjoy a studenty environment; study here.

Otherwise I would suggest you look at City University London which has an MA in Audiovisual Translation and Popular Culture (novels, films, manga etc).

But do your research! See if doing an MA will be beneficial and what course would best suit what you want. Also, remember that the website doesn’t always reflect what it will actually be like so try and find ex-students to ask.

You might want to think about doing a short week-long translation course (if you can find one) to see if translation’s something you’re interested in.

As I said, if you’re interesting in taking this course or something similar at SOAS, or a translation MA, feel free to ask any questions, whether in the comments section below, by email (jtalkonline [at] gmail [dot] com) or on the facebook page.

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  1. Wow, Dinwiddy House has sure gone downhill since I lived there in 2004/5. I was doing BA Japanese, but sadly had to drop out halfway through my second year due to illness.

    The fact that I was unable to finish my BA brings me to my question: Are there any good courses in Japanese translation that do not require an honours degree to enter? I managed to teach myself the language up to N1 level after the excellent grounding I had received at SOAS, but am at a loss as to where to learn the tricks and tools of the trade.
    Alternatively, resources to teach myself would also be greatly appreciated.

  2. Hi Manuel!

    It is a shame that the accommodation has been lacking, I guess you were lucky that you were there when it was good!

    I've looked and there really isn't much vocational help besides a degree, and as I've found even that isn't necessarily vocational. Because of this I've written (and plan to write a lot more) about becoming a translator. There are 4 articles out at the moment: http://jtalkonline.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Becoming%20a%20Japanese%20Translator

    Besides those there's the Translation Summer School (which I did this year) and is a great week long course, but it's expensive and the next one won't be until next year, but it's very valuable. https://www.city.ac.uk/courses/short-courses/translate-summer

    Another valuable experience is the IJET which is held every year in York. http://ijet.jat.org/
    It's a weekend long Japanese translation conference with lectures on translation and great opportunities to network and find work.

    Proz is a popular website for freelance translators and includes a forum for networking and getting help, as well as information on translation: http://www.proz.com/
    Linkedin's also a good website for finding work and networking.

    If you're serious about translation I also strongly suggest you get The Routledge Course in Japanese Translation (can buy it on amazon), which has advice and exercises for translation. At N1 level it should be easy for you.

    I also suggest to work hard to get accredited such as with the ITI (http://www.iti.org.uk/). This can be expensive and time consuming as well, but it's very useful for work.

    Hmmm that's all I can think of for now. Feel free to message me if there's anything else you'd like to know!

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