ATA’s Back to Business Basics – Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times

ATA launched its new Back to Business Basics webinar series in September 2020. These webinars focus on a small, practical piece of business advice for translators and interpreters at different stages of their careers. The series quickly became popular: there are usually a few hundred people attending each live session. Members can access these webinars free of charge, and non-members can purchase each recording for $25.

Diversification: A Tool for Thriving in Uncertain Times was the second webinar in the Back to Business Basics series. The live event was streamed on October 5, 2020, and a recording is available in ATA’s on-demand webinar library. The webinar was given by Corinne McKay, a French to English translator and interpreter, seasoned trainer, and past ATA President. Corinne explained what diversification may look like for language professionals, shared a few reasons to diversify your business, and provided tips on how to do that.

Diversification refers to having more than one revenue stream, such as more than one type of client or service. By diversifying their businesses, language professionals can spread out their risks and avoid becoming dependent on their one or two top clients. In other words, diversifying gives you the freedom to focus on the profitable part of your services.

Corinne shared a few ways of diversifying your business. She stressed that it is okay to have multiple specializations as long as you don’t stretch yourself too thin and don’t choose too many unrelated subjects. Combining work for agencies and direct clients could also help you reap the benefits and mitigate the risks of working with each type. Finally, Corinne listed some services translators and interpreters can expand into, from purely linguistic to other creative endeavors.

Especially during difficult times, like the COVID-19 pandemic or a global recession, when translators and interpreters may see some of their work dry up and clients disappear into thin air, diversification can help you future-proof your business.

Check out the recording of this webinar and share it with colleagues who may be interested!

Author bio

Maria Guzenko is an ATA-certified English<>Russian translator and a certified medical interpreter (CMI-Russian). She holds an MA in translation from Kent State University and specializes in healthcare translation. Maria is a co-founder of the SLD certification exam practice group and the host of the SLD podcast, now rebranded as Slovo. More information can be found on her website at https://intorussian.net.

Getting Real with Translation & Interpreting

This post originally appeared on the Language Magazine blog and it is republished with permission.

Caitilin Walsh suggests 11 resources to bring Translation and Interpreting to life in your online classroom

In an educational landscape so dominated by talk of STEM—purportedly to prepare our students for technologically-influenced jobs—world language teachers are under constant pressure to defend their departments.

This sits in stark contrast to the widening “global talent gap,” a term coined in a report from ACTFL to describe the missed business opportunities reported by a quarter of U.S.-based employers who are unable to hire enough people with advanced language proficiency. Even the seismic shifts of maturing artificial intelligence and a global pandemic have not stemmed growing demand, and we see well-paid translation and interpreting (T&I) jobs continue to increase at a much faster rate than others. We desperately need people to fill these jobs.

For world language departments, this is good news: Being able to make the case to students for a potentially attractive career motivates them to continue their language studies (with the bonus of parental buy-in), increasing demand for courses beyond the first two years, while service learning, language for specific purposes, and study abroad take on new meaning.

Some schools have already connected these dots and are working to provide students with the language proficiency and “soft” skills they need to get a leg up on a career in T&I. If you’re uncertain about how to bring T&I into your world language classroom, relax. Whether you’re looking for content for a standalone T&I course or activities to keep beginning interpreting students busy, or even just trying to figure out how to engage your AP class when they can’t concentrate on yet another Zoom class, there are some quality resources online that are easily adapted for your virtual or in-person classroom.

The Basics: Exploring Language Careers

We already know that high school-aged students are actively thinking about careers and looking for pathways to get them there. So, it’s a perfect age to expose them to things they can do with their language (and other) skills and passions—and that knowledge may motivate them to seek advanced language skills, which means more enrollment in upper-level courses (and a corresponding wave of demand for post-secondary advanced language courses). I often suggest using these short videos to frame discussions around what skills T&I professionals need in addition to language—it’s fun to challenge your students to think of a domain where language services are not needed (I haven’t found one yet!):

  • A Day in the Life of a Translator or Interpreter (2 minutes) An animated short presenting how interpreters and translators work: a great overview that starts with the difference between interpreting and translation.
  • Interpreters and Translators Making a Difference (3 minutes) A short video that features professionals, many of them heritage language speakers; these students in particular need to know the value of their bilingualism.
  • How Interpreters Juggle Two Languages at Once A five-minute animated description of how simultaneous interpreters listen and speak at the same time (spoiler: the answer is practice!). As a bonus, this TED-Ed video also provides study guides and other educator material, which can be used with this and other videos.
  • United Nations, A Day in the Life of Real Interpreters (8 minutes) A short film by Sidney Pollack as a companion to the feature film The Interpreter that offers a glimpse into the world of conference interpreting.
  • Interpreter Breaks Down How Real-time Translation Works (9 minutes) WIRED uses real interpreters to break down how interpreting works in this very entertaining and accessible video. If you have advanced Spanish speakers, there’s a second video in the series where they challenge the same interpreters with awesome speed tests.

The Deeper Dive: Learning from Professionals

Of course, one of the most effective ways to deal with a topic you may not specialize in is to bring in an expert. The American Translators Association (ATA) has an established program that brings practicing translators and interpreters into classrooms—at all levels! Over its 20-year history, they’ve sent professionals to preschools and elementary schools, and from undergrad to graduate classes around the globe. Since they’re not able to show up in person, they can set you up with someone via the videoconferencing application of your choice so students can pepper them with questions about how much money you can make (an average of $50-60k) to whether machine translation will render humans obsolete (nope!). In addition, there are a couple of longer videos to give you different perspectives on professional translating and interpreting careers:

  • ATA Presents Careers in Translation and Interpreting (1 hour) If you can’t get a “live” person to talk to your class, this video follows the outline of the ATA School Outreach program mentioned above. It’s aimed at secondary levels and above.If you’re looking for a more academic focus, they have a webinar, Careers in Translation and Interpreting (and what to do to have one, 53 minutes) that’s aimed at college students.
  • Interpretips An entire YouTube channel devoted to topics related to interpreting, from community and medical to courts and beyond. Playlists also group videos by topic. A great resource if you want to explore specific areas of interpreting; ethics are particularly appealing to this idealistic generation. Many of the featured speakers have also authored guides that may be useful textbooks for your classroom.

The Test Drive: Let students try it for themselves

Another engaging way to bring interpreting into the classroom is to allow students to take a stab at it themselves! Not only do students get to try out their budding language abilities, but it can also serve as a springboard for self-reflection, class or small group discussion, or even a way to introduce a several-week unit on interpreter skills building. Students often surprise themselves with how much they can do and will often be motivated to shore up weaknesses—in both their source and target languages. Try these resources:

This list is only the beginning: many more resources used to prepare interpreters and translators for certification are freely available, and most professional associations have libraries of webinars available for a nominal fee.

Caitilin Walsh is a professional French-English translator specializing in education, software, and gastronomy. A past president of the American Translators Association, which represents more than 10,000 translators and interpreters across 103 countries, Caitilin works on a national scale to create and illuminate educational pathways for World Language students seeking to use their skills in rewarding careers.

Public Review of Published Reports

How are research papers reviewed in other fields, and how can we apply those practices to the interpreting and translation field?

As we observe the publicity surrounding vaccination efforts, we notice that developers are called to follow established procedures in their research. These research procedures are documented and can be reviewed by others. Their reports are checked for conflicts of interest. This is a matter of public interest since 2016, when the public became aware that the studies promoting breakfast as the most important meal of the day had been funded by the cereal companies, as this Vox article points out. Today, transparency is developed to the point that the World Health Organization has a template for reporting the conflict of interest of all contributors to its papers. See page 92 of this document on physical activity. What do we require in the interpreting and translation field?

I will base many of my comments on two books:

  • The General Theory of the Translation Company, by Renato Beninatto and Tucker Johnson, © 2017, nimdzi.com
  • Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies, by Edgar Moros, © 2011, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing

When a new idea is presented in professional and scientific fields, it typically goes through a process of public discussion and debate, and over a period of time the concept is improved on or discarded.

In the translation and interpreting field, we have a different situation. Beninatto provides this list of participants. The Language Service Providers act as intermediaries:

  • Contract Language Professionals (CLP)
  • Language Service Providers (from small to large)
    • Local In-Country Single Language Service Provider
    • Regional Multiple Language Services Provider
    • Multiple Language Services Provider
    • Massive Multiple Language Service Provider

The CLPs are the independent contractors, the individuals who provide independent services. According to Beninatto, they are “the backbone of the industry,” and include interpreters and translators. Beninatto considers that it is increasingly rare to see CLPs working directly for Language Service Buyers (the people who order the translated documents). Because of the predominance of intermediaries, the practitioners are not generally able to explain their work to the people who need the work product itself.

I have developed another classification of translation and interpreting services providers based on my personal observation and standard business terminology.

Individual providers: They render all their services personally through direct contracts or as a subcontractor of one or more contractors (prime contractors).

Solopreneurs: Here they would be prime contractors, who hire subcontractors to provide services to complete the package the client needs such as providing a booth, editing services, desktop publishing, etc.

Small language service company or boutique language company. They generally specialize in a particular field and work in up to five languages. The owner renders some services directly in the languages for which they are personally qualified, and subcontracts other services to individual providers.

Larger language service company (more than 5 languages). The person who runs this company has less time to interpret and has to spend more time finding work for other interpreters and interfacing with clients.

The provider who engages directly with the translation services buyer becomes the prime contractor, and if the prime builds a team, the team members become subcontractors. This is standard business terminology across all business fields. Small businesses can be prime contractors and build teams with other subcontractors to provide a broader set of services.

Who defines the task an interpreter or translator does?

Moros (pages 20 and ff) states that when workers were not involved in describing their jobs, it led to significant problems. Stopwatch measurements of factory work were not objective, since workers and those who measured time did not agree on the definition on what the “task” was. Only managers defined tasks, assuming they were neutral, and paying attention only to their own interests. However, those doing the work have other interests that need to be considered, and human activity can’t always be measured, analyzed, and controlled the same way a physical object can be measured. The factory system of charging by the piece has been transferred to translations, where the product is often charged on a per word or per page basis, and fast workers make a better income. The quality of the product is not considered in this system.

Since translation and interpreting are essentially the transfer of messages constructed by human beings, this is a complex task that humans must carry out, and it is not a task that machines will be able to do effectively. It is important for practitioners to be involved in representing their profession and providing resource materials for users of translation services.

However, the language services field depends heavily on large language service companies as prime contractors, and therefore these businesses are the ones that provide most of the information to translation and interpreting clients.

Problems in our field

Beninatto identifies two problems in our field, and I added a third one:

Lack of outsider analysis. Beninatto says this is a problem because very few outsiders know much about the field. However, contract officers are learning more and more by analyzing the work product they receive.

Playing nice to avoid controversy (Beninatto). The CLPs depend on the intermediaries for a living. Therefore, writing documents that challenge material written by those who hire them could be difficult. What criteria have professional associations established for accepting article drafts? It is important to publish a variety of perspectives to avoid creating an echo chamber, as Mr. Beninatto calls it, in professional publications.

Lack of transparency regarding conflict of interest. When conflict of interest is not disclosed, and the information is generated by intermediaries, not practitioners, the profession may not be defined accurately.

How practical is it for practitioners to be involved?

Independent translators and interpreters are also in a difficult position. As the Theory of the Translation Company states (pg. 139), “LSPs rarely employ in-house linguists. Most linguistic services are outsourced, either to smaller LSPs or to freelance CLPs.” In other words, questioning the statements of an LSP can be dangerous in terms of workflow. Contractors have no protection if they fall out of favor with a client.

Where can practitioners publish?

It is possible for professional translators and interpreters to submit factual, well-researched articles to a professional association for publication. This is where independent contractors can publish the theory they are developing based on their daily practice of their profession, and help the profession grow.

The published articles should be reviewed by colleagues who have subject matter expertise in the topic and do      not have a conflict of interest.

How to prepare an article

Consider your audience

What kind of role do your readers play? Are you writing to translation buyers, to translators and interpreters, to decision makers in government, to language companies?

Put yourself in their shoes and think of how they might respond, what they might need to know.

What do you want your readers to learn?

Summarize what has been published. Be somewhat objective about the strengths and weaknesses of the previously published materials. Base your response on that and document your statements. Links to reliable sites will give your document credibility. Quoting the documents you are responding to will help people see the issue you are addressing.

Review it with someone who has a critical eye

As an independent provider, I suggest a further step. Discuss the article with people who can tell you how others might respond. Change whatever you need to change.

Be open to having the professional association review it!

As a professional, you have a voice. Analytical, well documented presentations on issues by practicing professionals are key to the peer review process of any publication and the growth of the profession.

So, You Want To Be A Translator?

This post originally appeared on The Detail Woman blog and it is republished with permission.

There are two main things I want to do on this page: first, I want to say a few things to people considering entering the translation profession. Mostly I want to clear up some misconceptions, but there are also some things I just plain think everyone who’s contemplating or practicing translation needs to hear. Second, for people interested in what kind of background you need or steps you can take to become a kickass translator, I want to talk a little bit about the skills needed and how to go about getting them.

I write this page not with the assumption that I am The Kickass Translator of All Time, but with the knowledge that I am still growing and that every single thing I say still applies to me and always will. In fact, I hope I’ll always be growing as a translator. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. But in my career I’ve had the opportunity to be on both sides of the process: on one side the translator being evaluated and working under supervision, and on the other side the person evaluating translators–both making recommendations on hires and quality checking other people’s work. It’s a somewhat unique set of experiences and it’s let me see a lot of things about the translating processes of myself and others, and about new translators I see entering the field.

Part 1: Opening Comments – On Translation

Over the last decade I’ve been asked a lot of questions about translating and being a translator. Some have come from aspiring translators, some from current translators, some from anime fans, and some from people who were just interested. I’ve seen remarks about translation in anime reviews, fan forums, and the like. I’ve also corresponded with people seeking translation jobs.

All these experiences have taught about some of the ideas people come into the translation field with–and some of the ideas they don’t. And I’m seeing some gaps between the expectation and the reality of translation that I’d like to address.

1. Your Work Is Not Your Work.

To translate means to deal in the borrowed or the stolen, never the owned. Everything that you are handling belongs to someone else. That show you are translating, that novel you are translating, it’s someone else’s work. This may seem almost insultingly obvious. But there are a lot of implications that you need to think about. The act of translation necessitates an extreme degree of respect. Surrender any impulses of “he should have.” Fight off any thoughts of “making it better” than the original. The greatest artist is great because of what you see testified in his work, but the greatest translator is great because of his invisibility. You must not insert your own ego. You must not change lightly. You don’t have the right to. It’s the same principle as the man assigned to guard another man’s wife: your job and your moral duty are to return her in the same condition you found her to the furthest extent possible. Because whether you love her, you hate her, or you find yourself indifferent to her–it’s your job, and she’s not your wife. You need to be thinking that seriously. If you’re not prepared to live with the constant moral responsibility that translating entails, you shouldn’t be a translator.

2. Some Types Of People Make Good Translators, Some Don’t.

Because translation carries such a high degree of ethical responsibility and there are so many cracks through which meaning can slip, a translator absolutely must be meticulous. The kind of person that makes a good translator is the same kind of person that makes a good librarian: someone who’s a little (or a lot) obsessive-compulsive. Now, of course you don’t need an OCD personality to be a translator. But if it’s not your personality, it’s got to be your attitude. Translating requires intense concentration for long periods of time and attention to the very tiniest of details. Either you need to get through on sheer meticulousness, or you need an all-absorbing passion for the work. What you’re like in your personal life, who cares (hell, my apartment looks like a nuclear disaster site). But if you’re a “don’t sweat the details” person about your work, if you skimp on research, if close is good enough for you, this is not the right career choice for you. I don’t say this out of the desire to lecture and I’m not trying to scare you off; I’m merely trying to lay out the truth so you can make an informed decision. I don’t sit in front of my computer every day shaking like a leaf under the burden of a soul-crushing responsibility and the effort of superhuman concentration, and you shouldn’t either. But we all need to understand the gravity of what we’re doing and be serious about it and honest in our evaluation of whether we can do it well.

3. Knowledge Is Less Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that just because you never remember what that one really common word you always forget means, you’re never going to be a good translator. In fact, don’t think that forgetting what those ten or twenty words mean will make you a bad translator. Translation is you in a room with your computer; you don’t have to talk to it in real time. Of course vocabulary is important. But what’s way more important is knowing what you know and what you don’t. In fact, that’s the most important thing. Because if you don’t know and you realize that, you can always find out. If you can research as appropriate and you can figure out how to find out what you don’t know, remembering the word for “farming” isn’t important. You can always look it up. ^_^

4. Knowledge Is More Important Than You Think.

Don’t think that you can translate TV shows with an A in first-year Japanese class and a dictionary. It just doesn’t work that way, for Japanese or for any language. Yes, a dictionary can–usually–define a word for you, but language isn’t just a bunch of definitions strung together with elementary grammar. You need to have both a good grounding in Japanese grammar and a good idea of how it’s actually spoken and written out there in the real world. There’s always going to be some weird sentence you need help figuring out no matter how good you get, but if you don’t have subtle and nuanced enough understanding of Japanese syntax to understand what the grammar of most every sentence you encounter is doing (it’s okay if you have to sit and ponder it for a while first or remind yourself somehow), you’re going to misinterpret and your dictionary cannot save you.

5. You Need Good English.

Whatever language you’re translating to, you need to be really damn good at that language. Say you’re translating from Japanese into English. If your English skills aren’t good enough and you can’t make appropriate choices for how to express something in English, it doesn’t matter how masterful your Japanese is.

6. “I Speak Both Languages” vs. “I’m a Good Translator.”

For some reason a lot of people seem to think that a native speaker of one language is going to be better at translating from that language (actually theorists agree that it’s best to be a native speaker of the language you’re translating into), or that someone who’s bilingual is going to be good at translating from one of their languages to another. That’s not true. Translation is a skill and an art. Speaking multiple languages doesn’t make you a good translator any more than being able to see multiple colors makes you a good painter. Just like with any craft, becoming good at translation is part talent, part attitude, part education, and part practice.

7. The Native Speaker Is Not An Oracle.

This is partly an extension of #6; as we’ve said, speaking a language doesn’t make you a good translator. So it follows that speaking a language doesn’t necessarily equate with being able to answer questions about that language well. Some native speakers are great resources for word meanings and other linguistic issues; some native speakers are horrible resources for those things. And many are somewhere in between: it depends on how good you are at asking the right questions. It’s important to have native speakers as resources if you’re not native in the language you’re translating from, but it’s equally important to choose your advisors wisely–and then use them wisely, respectfully, and kindly. Finally, keep in mind that no one is infallible. All of us make mistakes, and all of us have things we’ve got the wrong idea about or just don’t know. I’m a native speaker of English with a B.A. in linguistics, and there are certainly English words I don’t know or have wrong ideas about. ^_^

Part 2: What You Need – On Developing the Skills

The Monterey Institute of International Studies has a ten-point list of ways to prepare for being one of their translation and interpretation students. Highly-paraphrased (so much so it’s not even ten points anymore), it basically says:

-Read extensively in your native language and in the language(s) you translate from.
-Pay attention to the news in all your working languages.
-Take steps to make yourself a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person.
-Spend time abroad.
-Develop your writing, research, analysis, and (for interpreters) public speaking skills.
-Get computer savvy.
-Don’t stay up for days at a time and live on junk food.
-Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I think this is a great list that applies to any translator in any field–although in the spirit of full disclosure, I will admit that as an anime translator I don’t generally feel compelled to read the newspapers in Japanese. However, that is something I feel is important to me, because I’m looking ahead to if/when I ultimately transition to working more on projects that aren’t pop-culture. At that point having that experience will become as critical as everything else on that list. So take MIIS to heart, but also know what your own goals are. There’s good solid reasoning behind everything on that list and everything will power you up. Now to flesh that out and add some things born of my personal experience, here’s my shot at a ten-point list:

Ten Ways to Become a Kickass Translator

1. Get good at the language you’re translating from.

This is the obvious one that everyone knows. But hey, it’s obvious because it’s true. To be a good translator of any language, you need to have strong skills in that language. I translate Japanese, so I need to have strong skills in it. There are many other webpages out there which can tell you better than I how to develop your skills in your chosen language. So I’ll just be short and sweet and say “use it.” Read, write, study, research, speak, listen. Also, one thing other places won’t necessarily tell you: I find my background in linguistics has allowed me to synthesize a lot of my language learning faster than my peers with other academic backgrounds.

2. Get good at the target language.

The “target” language is the language you’re translating into. So for me, my target language is generally English. You need to have intimate understanding of the language you’re translating into. I can’t stress that enough. To craft a truly fine translation you need to have truly fine skills in English (or whatever your target language may be). Otherwise you won’t be able to communicate your ideas as clearly and you won’t be able to make appropriate or inspired choices that capture the spirit and texture of a literary text. Your skill in the target language is even more important than your skill in the language you’re translating from.

If you don’t speak your target language natively: read, write, and study it extensively, become acquainted with its high literature and its use in pop culture, and make sure you have trustworthy people to advise you on language choices. Also see my tips to native speakers below.

If you’re a native speaker of your target language: good, because that’s ideal–but that alone isn’t enough. You also need to have skill in wielding the language. The best way to develop it is to read extensively and write different kinds of things (articles, essays, etc.). Also, if applicable to the kind of translation you want to do, practice poems and stories–they don’t have to be publish-me good; you just have to work with them enough to get a grip on what’s involved. It’s best if you can get some constructive criticism on them as well. If you’re still in high school or college, you’re in the best possible position to get your English (or whatever) skills up to snuff: take courses that have a heavy writing component. Try to take at least one literature-type course and at least one technical or scientific course that make you really exercise your writing, and really pay attention to the feedback from your professors and peers. (Often it helps to do a little asking around about instructors before you sign up for the courses; upperclassmen can usually tell you which instructors will be truly helpful and which won’t.)

3. Research, research, research.

Many kinds of translation, especially of books, movies, and TV shows, are about knowing a little bit about every single thing that’s ever happened everywhere. In the course of a typical week translating anime, I might have to search for information on rainforest spiders, Pakistani names, a 1960s Japanese TV drama, the Reformation, aerospace technology, and the daily habits of Tibetan monks. And then it’d be Tuesday. Obviously, you’re never going to know all that plus everything else (Norse mythology, the Koran, Italian…). So you need to get good at finding stuff out. Not only that, but the answers need to be from reliable sources where possible. So one of the most key things to develop as a translator is research skills. If you’re in high school or college, try taking courses that will help you in this, or attend a library orientation day. (In most colleges the main campus library will hold an orientation day, often including research tips, once a semester. The only trick is that you’re probably only going to find out when it is by going up to the librarian in charge and asking.) Hell, try to get a work-study job at the library; you’re bound to learn something (I did), and make money too. If you’re not in school and/or don’t work at a library, don’t worry. Many college and public libraries offer sporadic courses on research methods; you can find out and try to take one. If that’s not a possibility, you can go to a college or public library and find that mythical figure called the Reference Librarian. The Reference Librarian’s job is to know how to find out stuff. If you’re a student, your school/college Reference Librarian is fair game. If it’s a public library, try to go on a slow day or make an appointment. Then go up to him or her, introduce yourself, and ask for help learning good research skills both online and in print (if you think you’ll need to be doing most of your research online, let her know). TIP: It will help if you bring some sample questions/areas of research so that s/he can help you by example. You can kill two birds with one stone by bringing research questions that have come up in one of your translations. CAUTION: Remember, the Reference Librarian is not a research monkey. S/he is not a research assistant. S/he’s there to help you do your own research. There is nothing that will alienate a Reference Librarian faster than expecting him/her to know or find all your answers for you.

Now, it’s worth taking a step back and saying that if you’re an anime translator and you already have some experience researching things, even if you’re not the Research Queen you may still be okay. Most–but certainly not all–of your research needs can be met by developing a passionate love affair with Google (both Japanese and your home country’s). However, watch out! Do not think for one moment that Googling isn’t a skill. There are ways to utilize search engines to find out esoteric things or get helpful, reliable results. There are also ways to take three hours getting completely useless results. Maybe you want to get some tips, or maybe you just want to set yourself a long list of hard questions and try to get better and better at finding the answers. Maybe you’re the Google Queen already. No matter which it is, the fact is good research takes practice.

4. Make friends.

Remember how I said translation was about being an expert on everything ever? Well, knowing an expert on everything ever is the next best thing. Networking is the way to go for a translator. When I need to be an expert on Latin for five minutes, I call my friend who teaches Latin. When I need to be an expert on Buddhism, I call my friend who’s an expert on Buddhism. When I need to know something random about flesh, fowl, or good red herring I call my dad. There are some things where all the Googling in the world is not going to deliver the goods as well as a consultation with someone who really knows the stuff. And if you don’t have someone to call, you’re going to have to spend a day at the library. You don’t want that to happen if deadline is tomorrow! So keep the various expertises of your friends and family in the back of your mind. Remember people you’re introduced to and be nice to them. And remember, when you call one of your people in the middle of the day and say “I need to know all the Biblical implications of this Greek word right now,” ALWAYS thank them before you hang up. They save your life, so be sure to show your appreciation.

5. Have an idea of what your goal is.

It’s my belief that someone who’s thought about what her theory of translation is, what translation means to her, and what she’s really trying to do overall as a translator is going to be better at her craft. So I would read a little bit on translation theory, and then spend a little time pondering what you think and what your philosophy of translation is. As an added bonus, reading other people’s writing about translation can give you ideas for how to handle problems you encounter. I suggested some books to start with on the Translation Resources page.

6. Get in-depth knowledge of the relevant field(s).

This may sound like a no-brainer. If you’re going to spend your career translating court documents, duh, you need to learn about law. But in less cut-and-dried fields I find people don’t always think about this. For example, a literary translator needs to have a strong literary background, with in-depth knowledge of major literary works and schools of literary thought. And an anime translator absolutely must have good knowledge of anime. You need to actually study it in a disciplined way, because it’s your field. You need to learn about the animation process itself (it’ll come up in interviews and extras if not the actual show), and about anime and its history in general (to get started, see the Becoming an Anime Expert page). Finally, the cultures and histories of the relevant countries are necessary fields of knowledge for ALL translators. I don’t care if you’re translating a great work of literature or a restaurant menu, you absolutely must have some foundation in the cultures behind all the languages/locations you’re working with. Yes, that includes your own.

7. Get a little bit of knowledge about the irrelevant fields.

Hey, like we’ve said, we’re the five-minute experts on everything. So pretty much anything you learn about in any capacity will probably come in handy eventually. Take the opportunities to learn about things, and just generally pay attention to what’s going on around you (especially the way people are talking) and file it away for later.

8. Have awareness of popular culture.

If you’re like me you find keeping up with popular culture and current events kind of a pain. But the fact is, it’s going to come up. Anything the world is preoccupied with works its way into everything. So keep your eyes open. Listen to the radio on your drive to work. Just find some way to pay a little attention to what’s going on. I always end up failing to read the newspaper, so I read TIME magazine–cover-to-cover so I get the news and the random.

9. Get creativity (yes, it can be a skill).

Scientists have been telling us for a while that creativity is a learned behavior, and it’s true. The more you practice brainstorming new and different language-play ideas, the more creative you are in your translation work. What are the common problems for every translator? What are the common translation problems in your specific language? When you run across examples of them in your daily life, take a moment and try to brainstorm ways to deal with them. Sometimes you do even better in this daily-life brainstorming than on your actual work, because there’s no pressure. What I’ll do is, when I’m reading comics in Japanese and I come across a really thorny issue, I’ll ask myself how I would’ve handled it. If I think of a joke in Japanese, I ask myself how I could make a translation of it work in English. Another thing you can do is look at other translations to/from your languages. Maybe you always handle puns in the same way. Does another translator handle them differently? Maybe that can break you out of the box and get you thinking in new ways.

10. Put thought into your work setup.

Translation is inherently uncomfortable because it often involves sitting on your butt for long periods of time, crouched over your desk peering at text. It can also be extremely inefficient if there’s a problem with your workspace or your equipment. You need to futz around with various different setups physically, to make sure sitting in that chair isn’t killing you, or to find out that moving your computer monitor up a few inches saves your life. And for goodness’ sake, get up and take a walk once in a while. It’ll save your spine and reboot your brain. You also need to futz around until you find a comfortable mental setup on your computer–if you’re translating from video, maybe there’s a video playback program that fits your habits better, for example. Little changes like that will boost your efficiency. Whether you’re a religious computer user or you’re one of the few holdouts who translates with pen and paper, you need to become very proficient in computing in all the languages you use. Clients will expect that and demand it. And there will be times when it’s just the only way to be efficient. There are all kinds of complications in computing in other alphabets, especially Asian alphabets, and the issues vary from operating system to operating system, program to program. Make sure that if nothing else you figure all of that out in whatever internet browsers you’re likely to encounter and in Microsoft Word.

Well, that’s about the size of it. If I were to say anything else, I think it would be that you can’t go wrong to take a linguistics course. Any aspiring translator still in college can probably benefit from some background courses in ling. Learning about language as a general system has greatly helped me develop my skills in all areas of translation, from as basic as language learning to as advanced as finding the intersections and deviances between languages and everything in between.

Author bio

Sarah “Alys” Lindholm is a Japanese to English translator of audiovisual media, academic papers, and other fun things. In addition to her freelance business, she is currently the Translation Manager at Funimation, where she spends her days acquiring new gray hairs and making sure your anime launches on time.

What are ATA’s Mastermind Groups?

Preview blog post for Next Level: The ATA Business Practices Blog

 The following post is a preview of a new blogging venture by the ATA Business Practices Education Committee. Next Level: The ATA Business Practices Blog will provide helpful information about business practices for established translators and interpreters (those with five or more years of experience). If you have moved beyond the “newbie” stage or are curious about what to expect in your future career, check us out! We expect to launch in the next few months and look forward to building a community that seeks to improve our T&I businesses together. For more information or to submit a query, contact us at atabizpractices@gmail.com.

Mastermind groups are small peer-based groups formed to learn more about a specific topic. The members of Mastermind groups help each other solve problems and develop their professional objectives by sharing input and advice. The groups’ core value is the synergy of energy, motivation, and commitment, as well as everyone’s willingness to learn and grow together.

The ATA Mentoring Committee is introducing the new Mastermind concept for ATA in 2021 as part of a broader effort to expand benefits for long-term members. The application process will open every January. The pilot roll-out for the groups is planned for the spring of 2021.

The term “Mastermind” may suggest a connection to the concept of a masterclass, in which highly qualified experts share their knowledge as instructors. Mastermind groups are the exact opposite—instead of a group of people learning from one expert, the groups are self-guided and choose their own activities. Mastermind groups offer a combination of brainstorming, education, peer accountability, and support. Members challenge each other to set strong goals and, more importantly, to accomplish them by holding each other accountable and sharing resources and tips.

What does that look like? It means that professional peers, people who are at approximately the same level of professional experience, get together regularly to learn more about a specific topic together. The meetings follow a defined outline, which helps to share time fairly and ensures equal speaking opportunities for all members.

The group size is relatively small, typically around six people. When you think of a 60-minute meeting, a group of six gives everybody enough time to speak for five to ten minutes. Participation matters a lot in Mastermind groups. All members are expected to come fully prepared and to engage in meaningful conversation with the other group members.

The idea of Mastermind groups originated from the process of matching mentors and mentees. Although we match 30 mentor/mentee pairs of ATA members every year (https://www.atanet.org/careers/mentoring.php), the Mentoring Committee saw an unmet need for an in-depth discussion of more advanced learning topics.

Developed as a benefit for more experienced members who want to grow their translation or interpretation businesses, the new Mastermind groups at ATA will be offered once a year. ATA members can register by completing a survey form (open until January 31st). The information to be provided will include desired fields of learning and some information about professional experience. The groups will be open exclusively to ATA members and are expected to run for 6 months.

Tess Whitty and Dorothee Racette recorded a free webinar on November 5, 2020, to explain the primary responsibilities of leading a Mastermind group. The recording is available here.

We will initially offer five or six topics a year but are open to suggestions for special issues ATA members want to discuss. The groups will run from February to July. ATA will not be directly involved in scheduling or running the groups. We will expect the groups to follow shared guidelines so everyone has equal learning opportunities. The Mentoring Committee has compiled a manual with practical resources the groups can use.

Based on the responses we received after the 2020 conference and the webinar presentation, we already know there is interest in groups to discuss: Marketing to direct clients, Building a freelance website, Advanced use of CAT tools, and Building a market for a new specialization. The Mentoring Committee will put people with the same interests in contact and provide instructions for the next steps. Training will be offered to people who are interested in serving as group facilitators.

At least two years of professional experience are required to participate in ATA Mastermind groups. The concept is not an ideal fit for beginners who are still learning about the industry and their careers. A mentor-mentee group, professional development courses, or the Savvy Newcomer blog are more beneficial options for beginners.

The regular group meetings will include elements not typically addressed in a class or presentation: giving each other feedback, sharing what you learned, or pursuing specific questions. No one in the group, including the facilitator, has to be an expert on the subject matter. Activities such as selling your products and services, discussing unrelated concerns, or “hogging” everyone’s time will be firmly discouraged. Groups will decide independently where and how to meet. Venues can include Zoom, Google Meet, or similar programs.

What Does it Take to be a Mastermind Group Participant?

Before and during the first meeting, members will agree on group rules, expectations, and guidelines. That includes setting a single, definite focus for the group and clarifying the outcome everyone is looking to achieve. Confidentiality is another critical concern—be sure to talk about what everyone can and cannot share.

Mastermind group work doesn’t end after a meeting. Everyone makes time for action, learning, and research between meetings. The group can also decide on shared activities outside of meetings, such as reading an article or chapter of a book together. Groups may invite outside speakers on specific topics or arrange for presentations. The most crucial point is that activities are planned jointly and that everyone takes an active role in the conversations. Leaning back and letting others do the work is not acceptable.

Group Facilitators

When you fill out your participation survey, you have the option to volunteer as a group facilitator. Mastermind group facilitators start and run groups. They help the group dive deeply into discussions and work with members to create success by holding each other accountable.

Facilitators do NOT have to be an expert on the subject.

They will NOT be expected to teach about the topic.

Qualifications include an interest in learning about the topic and a willingness to network with peers in other language pairs/fields/locations. Mastermind group facilitation is a 6-month commitment.

Benefits:

  • An ideal way to try something new
  • No previous leadership experience required
  • The same level of professional experience as group members
  • No expectation of teaching or being an expert in a topic

Group participants are eligible to earn up to 10 continuing education points (1 CE point for every 2 hours of meeting time). Mastermind groups will be asked to keep attendance records to document CE claims.

Facilitating a Mastermind group can also help to expand your network beyond your language pair or division. Because all participants are ATA members, you will learn more about other ATA membership benefits and division activities.

The Mentoring Committee is excited to offer Mastermind groups as a new membership benefit in 2021. With your active participation and feedback, we hope to roll out a more extensive variety of groups in 2022. Questions or suggestions? The Mentoring Committee is looking forward to hearing from you! They can be reached at mentoring@atanet.org.

Author bios

Tess Whitty has been an English-Swedish freelance translator since 2003. She is also the current chair of the ATA Business Practices Education Committee. With her degree in International Marketing and background as marketing manager, she also enjoys sharing her marketing knowledge and experience with other freelance translators as an award-winning speaker, trainer, consultant, author and podcaster.

Dorothee Racette has been a full-time freelance GER < > EN translator for over 25 years. She served as ATA President from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, she established her own coaching business, Take Back My Day, to help individuals and organizations solve problems related to workflow and time management. As a certified productivity coach (CPC), she now divides her time between translating and coaching.