Studying Translation and Interpretation in Poland

16/03/2012 14:22

Last year there was a broad discussion among the students of our department regarding the way our study programme is structured. Students complained about too many "useless subjects" and too few practical translation/interpreting courses and came up with many proposals for improvement. You may find it interesting to compare our study programme with one of a similar kind in Poland, which, despite formal resemblance, displays some considerable differences from ours.


I have just returned from Katowice, Poland. With the help of the Visegrad Fund I spent a semester at the Faculty of Philology, Department of English Philology at the University of Silesia, studying English and German in the translation/interpreting programme. As far as I know, it is the only translation programme in Poland combining two languages (English with German, Spanish, Arabic or Chinese). However, I soon found out that the status of the two languages is far from being equal. None of the four languages have their own department – they all come under the Institute of English Philology. What came to me as a rather big surprise was the fact that the entrance exams for the English-German programme test only the students’ knowledge of English while there is no mention of a required level of German. As a result, some students with a B2-level of maturita exam in their first year of studies often find themselves sitting next to a person who has never taken a German course. The first two years are therefore aimed at bringing the students to approximately the same level of German while also improving their English language skills. In practice, this means that during the first four semesters there are no translation or interpreting courses (neither in English nor in German). The study plan is aimed predominantly at practical language classes. Students who are already advanced at German do not need to attend those classes in the first years.  At the end of their studies, as far as I could see and as a few students from different classes confirmed, students form a rather homogeneous group and their level of German could be roughly estimated at B1. There are no demanding courses of translation and/or interpreting in German even at the Master's level. Students are therefore not motivated enough to work on improving their second language skills on their own, which I personally find a pity. The name of the study programme that I attended at the Department of English Philology is Translation Programme with the German Language and it seems that it is indeed a programme for translators/interpreters of English who happen to have the same second language, but not a second working language. The vast combinations of languages at our university that we can choose from and which are all (supposedly) taught at the same level seem to be a much better solution for a market which does not give much chance to translators/interpreters with one working language only.


Another great difference between Bratislava and Katowice is that there are no elective courses. Every semester, you get a fixed timetable and you must attend all classes. There is no possibility of taking more literature, interpretation or specialized language classes, nor can you adjust your timetable according to your own time preferences. On the other hand, students usually get at least one day off during the week, mostly Fridays.


Now, let us have a look at how some of the courses in Katowice are taught.

  1. Translation and interpreting. There is one class of consecutive interpreting, simultaneous interpreting and translation every semester starting from the third grade. Teachers are free to focus their seminars on a broad topic that they teach the whole year (e.g. medicine, law, technology etc.). Accidentally, two out of four teachers currently teaching interpreting have chosen medicine as their general topic. As a result, students at the Master's level interpret only medical texts throughout their whole studies (but they are not officially specialized in medical interpreting and what they get is a degree in general translation and interpreting).
  2. Literature. There are two semesters of British literature and two of American literature at the Bachelor's level. Students are required to read about five to six books per semester and in order to pass the exams, they can use their notes taken during the lectures. There is no list of required literature for the state exams as there is nothing like state exams in (at least) philological study programmes in Poland. (After you pass all your exams in the last semester, you write your thesis, defend it and your final grade will be calculated on the basis of your average grades from all the courses.)
  3. British and American studies. There are two semesters of each of them at the Bachelor's level.
  4. Translation studies. There seems to be a slight deficiency as during their studies students take only one course on the theory of translation, whereas a theoretical basis in interpretation studies is missing completely.  
  5. The mother tongue (Polish). The University of Silesia offers nothing like „spoločný základ“ that we have in Bratislava and therefore, there is only one course focused on the Polish language, predominantly on its stylistics.
  6. Other courses. The translation programme in Katowice includes a few courses that are not available to us in Bratislava, such as Latin, Philosophy or Computer Science (here students acquire practical skills of how to work with MS Word, MS Excel, Photoshop, web design etc.)


Finally, I would like to say a few words about the practical training that the students at the University of Silesia are required to do. They are supposed to find a short-term job related to their subject of study in the winter semester of their third year or during the holidays prior to the semester. Students either do the job on a daily basis for a month or do it in smaller portions, thus working for a whole semester e.g. on Fridays. The idea behind this requirement is doubtlessly a very good one, but its implementation into practice is rather bleak. Students do not have a single lesson on translation or interpreting until the beginning of the winter semester in their third year and yet they are already supposed to attend a training. It is just like doing the training straight after the maturita exam, at least as far as the translation skills are concerned. The natural outcome is that students do the training in travel agencies or call centers, which has no relevance to their future profession of translators and interpreters and only few are lucky enough to see some actual translating in practice.


All in all, I would say that the two study programmes – the one at Comenius University in Bratislava and the other at the University of Silesia in Katowice – are rather different in their structures. The Polish programme is more language-oriented and, in my opinion, less demanding. Consequently, in the preparation of translators and interpreters I find it less ambitious. What I found absolutely negative was the lack or rather the non-existence of the students' awareness of translation/interpreting being a conscious process. Their work with texts in class seemed to me very intuitive and non-organized. On the other hand, Slovak students seem to apply the acquired translation methods even earlier in their studies. I am sure there is a lot that both study programmes could learn from each other. It might be a good idea to start some cooperation between various translation/interpreting programmes in order to draw some inspiration and do away with any existing deficiencies.

Lýdia Machová



Date: 14/03/2016

By: Claire

Subject: Learning Polish

It's always great to learn something new. As a former expat student in Poland, I must admit that this random decision to study in Poland became a good step towards a great career. I took my Polish course at Prolog: A bit difficult language, but fun to learn, and the teachers are always there to help. Fantastic memories. I mean, don’t hesitate, just visit Poland and study here, it’s cool.

Date: 28/03/2012

By: Cathy

Subject: Translation and interpretation courses

The courses on translation and interpretation are very important and helpful to prospective translators or interpreters. But the solely academic knowledge of the interpreting work is far from enough. Rich field experience counts more.
Generally speaking, <a href="">interpretation</a> differs from translation in terms of the techniques involved, the methods of calculating the costs and the requirements of the interpreters. An interpretation task is more demanding and hence, usually cost more in its service fee.

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