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The IoL Diploma in Translation exam

Overview of the DipTrans exam

The Chartered Institute of Linguists Diploma in Translation (DipTrans) is a professional qualification which has been running since 1989. It is one of the few examinations that allows translators working from Spanish into English (and many other language combinations as well) to show that they have reached a professional level of competence.

The exam tests the candidate's ability to translate a range of general and semi-specialist texts to a professional standard, and thus requires a) a high level of linguistic knowledge of the source language (in our case Spanish), and b) an ability to write effectively in the target language (in our case English). The aim of the examination is to set standards of quality and reliability in the field of translation, and to provide an assurance to prospective clients that successful candidates have met these standards.

In the UK it has come to be regarded as an entrance qualification to the profession. It is a challenging test of translating ability, but a fair one, in that candidates are allowed access to dictionaries and other works of reference and can use word processors (examination centre permitting). It is a practical, realistic exam, but only candidates who produce work of a professional standard will pass.

Dates and applications

The examinations are held in mid-January each year.

Applications to sit the examination can be made through International House, Barcelona. The International House enrolment deadline for the Diploma in Translation examination is mid-August.

Alternatively, applications can be made to the CIOL directly. The CIOL enrolment deadline is August 31st.

  • IoL Educational Trust (IoLET)
    Dunstan House (4th floor)
    14a St Cross Street
    London EC1N 8XA

Examination and invigilation fees

Please note that the examination enrolment fee does not include the invigilation costs of the examining centre.

Please contact the Translation Department (contact details, foot of page) for current examination and invigilation fees.

Exam format

The exam is in three parts:

Paper 1: General translation (3 hours)

A text of about 600 words. The CIOL describes it as demanding but non-specialized. The texts tend to be leader articles from quality newspapers on themes of cultural or social interest. Topics covered in the most recent general translation papers have been:

  • 2012 The evolution of the kitchen through the ages.
  • 2011 Information currently unavailable
  • 2010 The practice of tipping in UK restaurants.
  • 2009 Sunday Times article on the French way of justice.
  • 2008 Networking skills in business.
  • 2007 Research into physical appearance and success in life.

Candidates are expected to translate the text to a professional standard.

Paper 2: Semi-specialized translation (2 hours)

Candidates choose one of three texts of a semi-specialized nature of around 450 words, in the subject areas of Technology, Business or Literature.

Subject areas that may be covered under these headings can be found in the Diploma Handbook. Over the past few years, paper 2 has dealt with the following areas:

  • 2012 Technology: The construction and uses of muscle motors made of electroactive polymers. Business: The effects of the eurozone crisis on debt flows. Literature: Extract from Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply.
  • 2011 Information currently unavailable
  • 2010 Technology: Data transfer inside the human body. Business: Tax breaks and other incentives given to US companies. Literature: Extract from a short story by Hilary Mantel.
  • 2009 Technology: Biosensors and other medical and environmental probes. Business: The rising cost of groceries and its impact on the UK economy. Literature: Extract from Sarah Emily Miano's Encyclopaedia of Snow.
  • 2008 Technology: Wind turbines and wind energy resources. Business: Private equity. Literature: Extract from Jeff Noon's Automated Alice.
  • 2007 Technology: New non-thermal food processing technologies. Business: Affiliate marketing. Literature: Extract from Among the Cities (Jan Morris).

The word to stress here is semi-specialized. The texts are not as complex as ones that technical, financial or legal translators deal with in real life. Nonetheless, in practice, those who attempt Paper 2 (A) or (B) or Paper 3(D) do require some background in technology, business or science.

Candidates translate ONE of these texts. There is no need to decide beforehand which text you are going to choose, although obviously some candidates already have a clear idea. Others read through all the options and then take a decision.

In the IH distance learning course, Module 6 focuses on the Literature paper, Module 7 on the Technology paper, and Module 8 on the Business paper.

Paper 3: Semi-specialized translation (2 hours)

Candidates choose one of three texts of a semi-specialized nature of around 450 words, in the subject areas of Science, Social science or Law.

Subject areas that may be covered under these headings can be found in the Diploma Handbook.

Over the past few years, Paper 3 has dealt with the following areas:

  • 2012 Science: The geological phenomenon of "hot blobs". Social Science: Recent changes in pre-primary school provision in the UK. Law: Issues relating to privacy and privacy-related injunctions.
  • 2011 Information currently unavailable
  • 2010 Science: The formation of locust swarms. Social Science: Improvements in the way school results can be analysed. Law: House of Lords decision on the without prejudice rule.
  • 2009 Science: The genetics of obesity. Social Science: The status and prospects of a stateless minority, the Roma. Law: Topical issues in sentencing.
  • 2008 Science: The science of producing purer glass. Social Science: The social and economic impact of migration. Law: A case of monitoring personal communications.
  • 2007 Science: The antioxidant properties of tea. Social Science: Intergenerational mobility in Europe and North America. Law: A judgement in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.

Again, candidates translate ONE of these texts. In the IH distance learning course, Module 6 focuses on the Social Science paper, Module 7 on the Science paper, and Module 8 on the Law paper.

Candidates may sit all three papers in the same session, or may choose to sit the General Paper one year, and the other two papers the next year.


Distinctions may be awarded for an outstanding performance in any paper, and a Merit grade may be gained for work of a higher standard than that required for a Pass.

There are two fail grades, F4 and F5, F4 being the less serious, and F5 being a considerable way off the required standard.

Marking guidelines can be found in the Diploma Handbook.

IoL Diploma courses

Preparation course

Refresher course

Diploma Handbook

The Diploma in Translation Handbook provides a very full description of the exam. It be accessed on the Institute's website (www.ciol.org.uk).

Other languages

The Institute runs exams from most major languages into English, and an exam from English into other languages as well.

Candidates are strongly advised to translate only into their mother tongue.

Credit transfer

The IOL Diploma in Translation is now eligible for credit towards an Open University BA/BSc degree.


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