Chartered Institute
of Linguists

DPSI candidate advice

General advice


  • Candidates should bear in mind that the DPSI is a professional examination at degree level and ensure that they are proficient in both English and the target language prior to registering on a DPSI course. It is vital to be able to write well in the target language in order to be able to produce a translation which reads like an original piece of writing.


  • Study past exam papers.


  • Effective exam preparation can have a significant impact on results, as it can help you recognise your individual strengths and weaknesses and set strategies in place to address the weaknesses before attempting the exam. It is important to attempt some past exam papers and ask for objective and individual feedback from your trainer/teacher.


  • Work at mastering the concepts and vocabulary used in the area you plan to work in and maintain the required level of knowledge.  Work towards use of language that is accurate but also sounds natural. Pro-actively seek exposure to situations you are likely to come across as an interpreter, as well as situations that improve your general knowledge and understanding of the environment people live and work in.


  • Exams can be stressful but so can interpreting assignments. Control of the situation is vital. Develop coping techniques that will help ensure good quality of work whatever the circumstances.


  • Candidates need to improve their linguistic skills to tackle complex sentence structures but this cannot be achieved overnight. Reading more good quality writing will help over time.


  • Candidates should always exercise great care to transfer the exact information. Sometimes, it can be tempting to elaborate a little bit, especially if it is a familiar topic. 


  • Although this is in essence an interpreting exam, the written element forms an integral part of the qualification and translation skills are needed more often than candidates perhaps realise. Often the requirement is to translate documents of crucial importance to service users, who are often vulnerable with no or very little English and who are perhaps facing prison or having their children removed, and strict accuracy is paramount to them.


  • An interpreter’s job is to communicate, so you should be able to communicate accurately, appropriately and concisely. Therefore, you should have a broad, expressive vocabulary and excellent, in-depth knowledge of the grammatical nuances, quirks and rules of your target language, especially if it is your mother tongue. You should also be experienced in reading the sort of text you wish to create, in both your source and target language. One way to expand the range of your vocabulary is to compile a glossary of vocabularies, especially in your chosen pathway. Explore the different meanings of individual words and categories based on their usage in different contexts. You can improve your translation skills by learning and putting your knowledge into practice by starting with simpler texts and work your way up to a more complicated one.


  • For interpreters it is very important to keep both of their languages alive and active. This can be achieved by reading, watching television programmes and possibly conversing in both languages – keeping in mind that you have to be exposed to the correct register as well; informal chats do not always suffice. This is especially important in the case of language pairs that do not share a history and a basic structure.


  • Lack of general knowledge about legal vocabulary can be a problem. Candidates need to know the meaning of terms like “think-tank” and “law enforcement”. Candidates should learn translation strategies, such as how to translate names (e.g. National Crime Agency) and when not to translate them (Policy Exchange was translated incorrectly in almost all cases) and how to adapt figures e.g. billion, among others.


  • Continuous Professional Development training is advantageous. Debating a new topic is never irrelevant; linguistically speaking it is an extraordinary tool. One topic leads to another and new language will be used all the time. There are always occasions where same language speakers will be present and this interaction offers an opportunity to practise the language in multiple ways. This process is called learning too.


  • Read and write as much as possible in both languages. Compositions and dictations are a good starting point. Going back to basics helps improve persistent misconceptions and mistakes.


Advice on specialist terminology of your chosen pathway


  • Prepare yourself before the exam and ensure you have a good command of the specialist terminology. Remember idiomatic translation of texts and providing a meaning for meaning rendering of texts are essential parts of exams at this level. Develop a vocabulary list containing idiomatic terminology and their equivalents in your language and in your subject matter and review and expand this list regularly.


  • Also practise translating English texts in your subject area before the exam and ensure that the translation reads smoothly in your language, conveys all the points and is well presented.


  • Keep your knowledge of current issues in the UK up-to-date, particularly in the subjects of your specialisation. Collect and study information leaflets freely available from public service offices and websites, in order to familiarise yourself with up-to-date expressions and jargon.


  • Become familiar with the relevant terminology. The only way to achieve this is by regularly reading good quality specialist magazines/websites of both the source and target languages.


  • It is essential for candidates to learn specialist vocabulary. They need to read documents in both languages to get an idea of the type of vocabulary and wording used.


  • Candidates are also advised to read legal/medical/local government articles in order to be familiar with the relevant terminology. These articles do not have to be highly specialised but of a general nature. Reading them would help in choosing more appropriate specialist terms when translating.


  • It is important to be familiar with the original legal, medical or governmental specific language in written English and the other language, and the formality of such documents. It is helpful to study by reading as well as listening to as many related topics as possible in both languages to build up a bank of terminology.


  • Specialist vocabulary is essential to be kept up to date, and also a lot of thought should be given when translating names of organisations. When an exact translation equivalent cannot be found, than a paraphrase can be used that shows awareness of intercultural differences. For example, the term “target beneficiaries” could prove challenging. The way to tackle it is for the candidate to understand first what the expression means, and this can be achieved by paraphrasing it in English, first, and then try to get the equivalent in the other language in a form that makes sense and is understood by the intended reader. In some cases the translation has to be extended and cannot be kept in the same form as the original.


  • Candidates should be aware of institutions and institutional names that do not have an equivalent in the target language country and decide on the best way to deal with this.


Advice on the use of dictionaries


  • Read thoroughly; understand the text before you start your translation. Make a note of the word(s) you need to consult with the dictionary.


  • The use of good dictionaries is helpful (monolingual and bilingual, as well as specialised dictionaries for your chosen area).


  • Terminology should be double-checked in a monolingual dictionary if the candidate is in any doubt. When the word has several meanings, the context is paramount to decide which one is the most appropriate equivalent. An incorrect choice would necessarily distort the meaning and therefore negatively affect the translation.


Practical advice



  • Remember you need to work on both the languages involved.


  • Keep both your languages up to date by reading, writing and speaking.


  • If you are preparing for the law pathway, improve your knowledge of legal terminology by attending a court hearing, where your language is used. This will give you a better idea of court procedure and how to use legal terminology.


  • If your chosen pathway is health, visit local health centres, hospitals and read about the NHS and the corresponding services in the other language context.


  • Pay careful attention to the specialist terminology relevant to your DPSI pathway and keep up to date with the specialist vocabulary in your chosen field.


  • Build up a glossary of specialist terminology. Read original documents in your chosen pathway to research your glossary. Make sure you understand the specialist vocabulary in your chosen field and its specialist concepts and notions so well that should a specialist term not exist in one of your languages, you can paraphrase precisely. Work at mastering the vocabulary used in the area you plan to work in and keep it up-to-date.


  • Dictionaries are useful, however, on their own they are not enough. Work towards use of language that is accurate but also sounds natural. Pro-actively seek exposure in a range of situations you are likely to come across as an interpreter as well as situations that improve general knowledge and understanding of the environment people live and work in.


  • Listen to the radio (e.g. BBC Radio 4 and the World Service.). Remember an interpreter is a facilitator of communication between two people neither of whom has complete knowledge of the other person’s language. You have to be proficient in both languages to be able to do your job properly. Programmes recommended for law pathway candidates include BBC Radio 4 programmes such as Law in Action, File on 4, Today, World Tonight and PM; all these programmes are also available on the BBC iPlayer.


  • Read newspapers (including online) as well as other publications and original documents relating to your chosen pathway regularly in both your languages. This will ensure that you keep up to date with current affairs in both cultures and with what is happening in your subject area.


  • Use internet research as a tool to increase your knowledge of your speciality; it is advisable to concentrate on the government, official and university websites, as they are likely to be reliable.


  • Watch relevant television programmes in both your languages. Radio and television programmes in most languages are available on the internet. This will help you keep up to date with terminology, and you can practise interpreting while you watch.


  • Exams can be stressful, but so can court appearances and interpreting assignments. Control of the situation is therefore vital. Develop coping techniques that will help ensure good quality of work whatever the circumstances. This will make you a better professional. Enjoy interpreting. Only if you enjoy it, can you really be proficient. If you are struggling, practise more until you start enjoying it. Remember that to be a good interpreter you need to be competent in two languages, as you need to decode the source language and encode the target language. It is not enough to be a native speaker to get a DPSI qualification, you need to be able to act in your chosen specialist field with competence in English and the other language or language variant.


  • Practise the tasks involved in the exam under timed exam conditions. This will help you with time management. Practice will help alleviate stress in the exam itself.


At the Exam:


Spoken Units:


  • Aim for accuracy - your interpretation provides access to justice, appropriate treatment for a patient or correct advice in local government issues.
  • Remember you can make notes during the consecutive part of the interpreting tasks.
  • Pay attention to style (formal or informal).
  • Pay special attention to the register of the language and make sure it is appropriate to the situation you are interpreting in or the text you are translating.
  • Interpret everything. Don’t add or omit anything.
  • Concentrate.
  • Speak clearly and audibly.


Written Units:


  • Make sure you understand the source text before starting to translate. Do not begin to translate a sentence or paragraph before reading all of it; otherwise you run the risk of following the source language word order or sentence structure too closely. Produce a coherent translation.


  • Before you start translating a text, remember it has an author and a reader. Identify them first. Who wrote the text? Who will read it and why? Once you have translated the text, put yourself in the place of the reader and see if you can act on the basis of the text, and make sure that the text makes sense.


  • Pay careful attention to detail, to the correct use of grammar, spelling, and vocabulary. Make sure that you know the grammar of English and your own/other chosen language. Refrain from using transliterated words where there is a good word in your own language.


  • Be alert to the kinds of error that speakers of your particular language combination are prone to make when interpreting and translating between the languages. For example, if your language does not have grammatical categories such as articles and tenses, be sure to pay attention to them when interpreting and translating into English; if your language has very elaborate systems of address forms, remember that you may need to simplify considerably when translating and interpreting into English.


  • Use the letter-writing conventions in English and in your own language.


  • Pay attention to accuracy in choosing the right wording when translating idiomatic terms as they may not have clear-cut equivalents in the target language. It is better to describe/paraphrase the specialist terminology unknown in your language rather than trying to find a single word for it. Be alert to ‘false friends’.


  • Do not offer alternative translations. This is not good professional practice and will be penalised. It is up to you, not the reader, to select the most appropriate term.
  • Complete the task; serious omissions are penalised. 


  • Do not add words to the translation, you may distort the original meaning or invalidate the text.


  • Make sure you have access to dictionaries or glossaries for your chosen pathway. When consulting a dictionary where more than one term is given for a word, do not use the first term that meets your eye; make sure you select the best term for the context. Where a key vocabulary item is concerned,  it is essential to get it right to obtain a pass. Cross-reference if necessary.


  • Leave time to read through your translation at the end of the exam so that you can check for spelling, grammar and punctuation errors. When reading through the text make sure that the choice of the words in the target language is made according to the context of the text and avoid the use of English words when the word exists in your language.


  • Make sure that the translated text is clear and reads fluently in your language. This means that a speaker of your language would not only understand the message but that the text conforms to the genre of the original text. Also, make sure that the translation is faithful to the original text.


Bear in mind this Checklist:


  1. Read the Source Text through thoroughly.
  2. Make sure you understand completely what the original says.
  3. Note the terminology you do not know and use your dictionaries to clarify.
  4. Think how you would express the meaning of the Source Text phrase in your Target Language, think in terms of meaning, not words.
  5. When you have a first draft, check your translation against the Source Text: have you translated everything? Have you made any unnecessary additions?
  6. Read your translation without looking at the Source Text. Does it sound natural to you? Would you have written it like that if you did not have the English in front of you?
  7. Closely revise your text. Is it consistent? Have you missed any accents or commas?
  8. Any typos? Is the terminology consistent? Is the text clear and well-presented? etc.
  9. Do not forget to use your logic; if something does not make sense, check it. It is probably a mistake.
  10. Finally, read through the translation keeping in mind that the text has to make sense to the reader i.e. the speaker of the target language who does not have access to the source text.