Beware the box tickers

Beware the box tickers

Training should be what we choose

I saw a webinar advertised the other day. In fact I see lots of webinars advertised, but this one caught my eye because it concerned the CIoL Diploma in Translation, an examination I took a couple of years ago. Looking more closely I saw that the webinar was with eCPD, a respected organisation, and that all its aims, benefits and target audience were carefully detailed. It looked like a very professional job, and the talk was given by an experienced teacher and invigilator, but I couldn’t help thinking that this webinar, at a cost of £25, was merely giving information and advice on the exam which could easily be obtained elsewhere for nothing.

Now, I’m sure the intention behind organising the webinar was to help and not to rip anybody off, but no-one can deny that there is plenty of information on this exam available on the Internet (here, for example, and here). Going beyond the purely factual, there are also many helpful colleagues who would be prepared to provide more personal advice on the exam. We’re quite easy to find, too, on forums or in Facebook or LinkedIn groups. So why should anyone be asked to part with £25 for something they could easily get absolutely free. I mean, I can’t claim the teaching background of the webinar speaker, but, looking purely at it stated objectives, they’re all things I could cover in a chat over a beer and a couple of tapas.

This is not, honestly, an attack on eCPD. After spotting this one, I went through its list of webinars and most of them looked fairly useful, if sometimes a little pricey. Nor is it an attack on the CIoL or any other individual or organisation. But I do want to use this example to question the way CPD (Continuous Professional Development for anyone who doesn’t know), which is what we’re supposed to call training nowadays, is coming to be considered and conducted. For example, the webinar on the DipTrans that attracted my attention counted as an hour’s CPD or one CPD point. It was approved and accredited too, interestingly by none other than the CIoL, the same organisation whose qualification it was promoting.


Now what does all that mean? Let’s start with that CPD point. That’s is important if you belong to an organisation like the American Translators’ Association, which makes a certain amount of development compulsory if you want to remain a member. And accreditation is important because associations that insist on CPD, or insist on you logging it, want to make sure that they approve of the training being given.

All these things are done for good reasons, I just happen to think they’re misguided and that the results are unfortunate. I’m not against CPD at all. I do it and I intend to carry on doing it. Learning more about aspects of your work, whatever it is, is generally a positive thing. But in my view, the motivation for any CPD should come from the individual, not from external pressure. People need different kinds and different amounts of CPD at different times in their careers and personal lives. Their options for accessing it also change with time. What happens if you’re ill, or have a baby, or have other responsibilities or demands on your time? What happens if you’re short of cash?

An even worse effect of compulsory CPD is that everyone affected by it ends up wandering around trying to fill up a scorecard. Surely that can’t be right. CPD should follow a person’s interests and needs, rather than being a totting up exercise. Maybe one year there are a lot of opportunities that interest you, but the next year there are fewer. Do you really have to go on courses you’re not interested in just to make the numbers up? I think that’s a nonsense.

And this is compounded by the idea that all CPD has to be “approved”. I realise that this is meant to ensure that only worthwhile courses count, but I fear it’s likely to exclude, to take one example, just the kind of CPD I might be looking to consider next. At the moment, I don’t feel I need much more training on the mechanics of translating, for example, or even the business side of the profession, beyond what I’m likely to get at conferences I might attend. What I’m interested in is finding out more in some of my specialist areas and maybe even getting an odd qualification. This type of course, however, is not going to be “approved” translator CPD.


If we’re not careful, and with the best of intentions I’m sure, we’re going to end up with a situation where those providing training have a licence to print money as we will have no choice but to pay them to tick our boxes. With compulsory CPD they would have a captive market and be able to charge whatever they liked for providing whatever courses they liked, as long as they could get them approved. But, as I’ve already indicated, the accrediting bodies are sometimes associations of the very kind that demand the CPD, which suggests that approval might not be all that hard for them to achieve.

We’re not there yet, thankfully. The majority of translators’ associations don’t yet make CPD compulsory. But it’s a trend I can see coming if the understandable desire to professionalise translation is carried through without enough thought for the consequences. And it’s a trend that I, as firm believer that the “free” in freelance is there for a reason, am going to resist. Incidentally, have you noticed that some “professionalisers” have started telling us that the word freelance gives a bad impression and we shouldn’t use it any more? Could it be because they dislike exactly the connotation I’m so fond of?

In the spirit of free(lance)dom, you’ll find me, no more or less professional than any other translator, doing the CPD I want to do with whoever I like whenever I want to do it. I will then list the things I’ve done on my website and promotional information and prospective customers can judge me accordingly. Any organisation or movement that says I can’t carry on working like that will soon see my membership card ripped up in pieces on the floor.


  1. Simon, well done for speaking out on this. Your points are all echoed in many private translators’ forums. Please feel free to read my blog for my own views on the subject. It was written before the CIOL introduced its rather worrying accreditation scheme. These ventures have developed from within our profession (and associations) as translators and interpreters have "diversified" and I suspect this is why we’re viewing them as colleagues rather than the for-profit businesses they actually are. Conflicts of interest abound. If we’re not careful we’ll find ourselves in the same situation as certified/sworn translators in the Netherlands purchasing low-grade compulsory CPD just to retain our title.

  2. Thank you – I’m getting increasingly irritated with the way CPD is categorized and marketed.

  3. I think that CPDs are a joke. I wrote a post on this subject a while ago in which I compared them to "indulgences" that were sold in Middle Ages to sinners to make a lot of money for the Catholic Church.

  4. If self-study could no longer be considered as CPD, it would be very annoying. In Hong Kong where I live, some free seminars in translation, offered by universities, are of little help (speakers are always the key to my decision to attend it or not) to experienced translators. Some pay-workshops of two or three hours, run by professional society at a cost a little bit more than the £25 you mentioned above, going with snacks look like charity shows.

    Further/lifelong learning is something very personal and every one is different. For instance, I could have spent 4 hours in a local library nearly every Saturday morning over the past ten years, what I need to learn may be quite different from my young colleague who is enjoying his weekends with his girlfriend. The professional translation associations asking for compulsory CPD may like to take into account individual cases, especially the hands-on experience of the translators in question.

  5. We need to become aware that today, translators are increasingly targeted as a <b>market</b>. In contrast to other industries and professions where training and consulting are stand-alone, long-established disciplines, business training for translators is very often offered by <b>now part-time</b> or <b>former</b> translators themselves who, as Lisa quite rightly observed, unobtrusively diversified into adjacent markets. These trainers portray themselves as <b>colleagues</b>, with “collegiality” building the basis of their credibility. Immature and incompetent to act as full-fledged consultants in their own right, they appeal to the unsuspecting target group both under the disguise of non-for-profit, share-the-knowledge collegiality and, what is more deplorable, with the help of (also unsuspecting?) professional associations. A very timely and very necessary posting, Simon!

  6. An excellent post. In the Netherlands, it is an enormous burden – not just in terms of time and expense, but also the incredible bureaucracy.

  7. Simon, your post pinpoints my own concerns about the direction translator CPD seems to be taking and I can only echo many of the comments above. For now at least, UK organisations such as the ITI and CIOL do recognise a wide range of formal,informal and self-directed activities as valid, and of course CPD is encouraged rather than insisted upon. Let’s hope this does not change as I would hate to see our professional bodies directing time and resources to policing members’ development activities when there are so many other important areas to focus on.

    I firmly believe in the benefits of appropriate CPD, but framing that learning or development in a points system seems a good way to reduce the opportunity to actually learn or develop in any meaningful way.

  8. You might also be interested in this discussion last year:

  9. Well done for speaking out about this issue, Simon.

    I won’t repeat what all the other great points you and the other commenters have already made, especially about how translators and interpreters are being targeted as a market, I just want to add a couple of short points.

    1. CPD is not a new concept. Practitioners of most, if not all, professions have been engaging with it since the dawn of time. The attempt to depict CPS as some kind of novelty with a ceremonial value mostly means one thing: There is some commercial value to it to someone. I like to take the advice of deep throat (at least as depicted in the movie All the President’s men) and "follow the money". When one does that, the interests map becomes much clearer and a lot (sometimes horrifying/concerning) insights are obtained.

    2. I argue that translation is not a standalone profession but a specialty within another profession. As such, the translation community is mostly a fiction as there is actually not much in common between most translators. This is probably why what is now considered CPD in the translation landscape deals mostly with business, marketing, specializing, and how to "succeed" — a common denominator stuff that could very apply elsewhere just as well, and has very little do do with the actual skills and expertise needed to get better at translation.

    3. You mentioned the CIOL accreditation. As it turns out, <a herf="">getting accredited by the CIOL costs money</a>. This introduces another issue: based on what the accreditation or any other kind of endorsement/promotion are granted, and what are the safeguards and balances being applied to make sure the system won’t be abused easily? Even in the best case scenarios this spells the creation of a CPD-industry-within-the-industry. That industry might be out of reach for some due to the entry bureaucratic entry barriers, effectively forcing individuals into the hands of already established businesses in this field, thus creating a new type of broker — a re-seller of intellectual property.

    Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  10. I must admit I burst out laughing, Simon, when I read the first few lines of your post: I actually purchased that very webinar about DipTrans, not so much for CPD purposes, but rather for the privilege of questioning the relevance of such old-fashioned examination format and hope for an answer. As it turned out, the only "satisfaction" I got was to have my questions read out-loud… and the confirmation that all my doubts about DipTrans are sadly well founded. A waste of £25?… Absolutely, but then I had a good time debunking a myth, so it was a small price to pay 😉

  11. For any ITI members who might be interested, this post spawned a discussion in the ITI’s LinkedIn group with contributions from Iwan Davies:

  12. Thank you very much for starting this discussion. I will certainly support any resistance to making CPD compulsory.

    There are probably few professions that engage as much in lifelong learning on a daily basis as ours. As a translator, I frequently find myself acquiring knowledge on random detail of subjects I would never have imagined ever knowing anything about. Very often, we have no idea in the morning of how much more knowledgeable we will be at the end of the day… and it is a blessing that much of this knowledge can be stored efficiently in translation memories rather than in our own.

    It is, of course, important for our industry that there are courses about translation technique and translation technology, about the business and tax aspects of freelancing, about specializing in certain subjects and – last, not least – health and safety aspects of our way of working.

    But such courses, which I do attend and also occasionally teach myself, will never deliver all the knowledge we need, and do acquire, just by doing the work we do. I would argue that translators working full-time in their job will be doing most of their professional development in their daily work.

    Especially for experienced translators with long-standing successful careers it can be very difficult to find CPD courses of immediate use for their work. I do sometimes attend accredited CPD courses simply for general interest purposes or in my own subject area, but in languages I do not use professionally, and that can be an interesting experience. However, I would find it extremely patronizing to be obliged to prove my attendance in such courses.

    As an industry, we should promote CPD wholeheartedly, but beware of setting up box-ticking bureaucracies!

  13. Thank you, Simon! I couldn’t agree more with what you’re saying.
    I fully share Angela’s thoughts: we’re doing more in terms of CPD when we research background information and terminology for a job than when we attend a one-hour monolingual, almost by default rather general webinar on some sort of ‘specialist’ topic.
    I think as professionals we take some pride in taking responsibility for our business and professional development. Making CPD compulsory would not only be rather patronizing, but might also defeat its purpose as translators who ‘tick boxes’ will look better than those who actually do their homework.

  14. I think we risk focusing too much on concerns about CPD possibly becoming compulsory in the UK and not enough on the use of terms such as "accredited CPD" or "partnerships" between CPD businesses and professional associations, which has already happened here in the UK and elsewhere.


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