How to Break into a Career in Translation: Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Rosario Charo Welle

There is much to be learned from our colleagues, but it can be intimidating to strike up a conversation with the “pros.” For that reason, we at Savvy have done the work for you and are excited to announce our new interview series, “Linguist in the Spotlight,” where we pick the brains of experienced translators and interpreters and bring their stories right to your screen. We hope their stories and sound advice will inspire you and perhaps even encourage you to ditch the fear of introducing yourself at an upcoming event.

We kick off the series with an interview with Rosario Charo Welle, ATA Spanish Division Administrator and English-Spanish translator with more than 20 years of experience translating in the fields of education, marketing, public media and communications, and health care. Charo shares the story of how she pursued a career in translation despite (and in some cases, thanks to) some of life’s greatest obstacles; her favorite tool for reviewing her own work (you might be surprised!); her favorite project to date; and one thing she wishes she had known 25 years ago.

A serendipitous start: From a personal loss and an intercontinental move to future gains

What got me started in Translation and Interpreting (T&I) was my exposure to foreign languages and becoming bilingual while living in my native Dominican Republic. While I was in high school, I studied English as a second language at UNAPEC Academy of English. I remember how the passion for languages sparked as I found myself excelling at my English lessons. After high school, I pursued a degree in Modern Languages at the Universidad Tecnológica de Santiago. Two years later, a sudden personal loss forced me to put my career on hold. Meanwhile, I worked for an NGO where my duties included translating environmental documents. It was then that I fell in love with the intellectual challenge of taking a Spanish text and going through the process of conveying its meaning in English.

Hence, in 1993, I started my first translation business in partnership with my sister, who was also bilingual. However, we dissolved the business that same year, this time due to happier circumstances that brought me to the United States. In 2000, after a seven-year hiatus, I resumed my translation calling and accepted a job as the in-house translator for my local school district. There, I worked as a translator, community interpreter, and cultural liaison. I served as an interpreter trainer for the district’s Special Education department, and set the district’s standards and guidelines for translation, which included creating formal glossaries. I learned the ropes of translating and interpreting in the areas of education, communications, and marketing. Eight years later, I felt ready to become a freelancer again, and began translating for direct clients and collaborating with colleagues. From 2008 to 2012, I was a part of the language access department of Children’s Medical Center Dallas. I worked for them on an hourly basis and gained valuable experience through the translation, editing, and proofreading of health-care documents used primarily for patient education.

On her favorite project, and the underestimated challenges of translating for education

One advantage of specialization is that it gives translators and interpreters the freedom to choose projects they find meaningful. I am fortunate to work in fields oriented toward nurturing, empowering, informing, educating, and caring for audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Therefore, I have participated in many meaningful projects. If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the Sesame Workshop’s Little Children Big Challenges Community Guide. It gives me great satisfaction and a sense of pride to have contributed as a Spanish proofreader to the production of a resource that has reached and impacted a large segment of the communities in the United States.

Translators and interpreters working in education and community relations understand that, while texts in these fields may seem simple to an outsider, many are complex and challenging. That is, rendering the intended meaning within the appropriate context for the receiving audience is an involved process that entails a thorough understanding of and insight into the subtle differences between the source and target languages and cultures. This particular experience was rewarding in several aspects, including the opportunity to work on a diverse team of recognized professionals for a widely renowned nonprofit organization.

What keeps her invested, a common misconception, and the successful translator’s nature

My favorite aspect of translation is the intellectual and creative challenge of transforming the source text into meaning for the audience that will receive my translation. This leads me to touch on the common misconception that if one is bilingual or a polyglot, then one can automatically become a translator. This is far from the truth, since, in addition to the ability to speak more than one language proficiently, there are other attributes that, I dare say, should be second nature when performing our jobs. These include curiosity, perspective, creativity, critical thinking, research skills, and a passion for learning and for other cultures, to name a few. The combination of these elements facilitates the translated message in such a way that the author and the reader become inevitably engaged in the dialogue. Consequently, in my process, I involve analysis, research, critical thinking, creativity, and ethics to convey meaning accurately and without bias.

One of her favorite tools for reviewing translations

Translators and interpreters of the 21st century enjoy many advantages, thanks to the Digital Age. We can utilize software and applications that make us more productive and marketable. There are some that have become almost indispensable for my day-to-day work and help me deliver quality and accuracy. One of my favorites is the ReadAloud text-to-speech tool, which allows me to implement excellent quality control when editing and proofreading. Particularly when it comes to large volume of words, this app (which is compatible with Windows 10) relieves the tediousness of reading nonstop. For instance, it reads my English content to me aloud while I carefully and simultaneously read the Spanish translation in search of omissions, typos, redundancies, and conceptual and syntactical inconsistencies. I especially like that it reads the content directly from my clipboard without the need to paste it into the application. This app is functional and essential.

Advice for new translators, and her plans for the future

What I wish I had known when I started out (besides having the same level of proficiency in my two working languages), is that it was fundamental to invest time and effort from the very beginning in formal training. Whether it is majoring in T&I, completing a certificate of studies in T&I, or becoming certified, anyone who wants to start in the industry should consider seeking venues to acquire professional training. After I was already working as a translator in the United States, I realized the need to formalize my skills if I wanted to brand myself as a professional. I found the American Translators Association and its Spanish Language Division, whose many mentors led me to local T&I trainings and the translation program at New York University. Investing my time in formal training has made a big difference in my career. And, as a lifelong learner, I am already planning to pursue a graduate program that will further enhance my translation skills.

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

Rosario Charo Welle is a freelance Spanish-English translator and editor, serving direct clients and partnering with colleagues. For the past 17 years, her working expertise has been concentrated in the fields of education (Pre-K-12), public media and communications, marketing, and health care.

A member of ATA since 2001, she is the current Administrator of its Spanish Language Division (SPD) and leader of its Leadership Council and committees. Charo graduated magna cum laude with a BA in Communications from the University of Denver and holds a Certificate in Translation Studies from New York University. Email: charowelle@veraswords.com.

Book review: Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies

Reblogged from the ATA’s Spanish Language Division blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

In order to set the context of what translation is, I will quote the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) description of translation performance:

Translation is the process of transferring text from one language into another. It is a complex skill requiring several abilities.

The term “translation” is normally reserved for written renditions of written materials. Translation is thereby distinct from interpretation, which produces a spoken equivalent in another language. While translation and interpretation skills overlap to some degree, the following applies only to document-to-document renderings.

A successful translation is one that conveys the explicit and implicit meaning of the source language into the target language as fully and accurately as possible. From the standpoint of the user, the translation must also meet the prescribed specifications and deadlines.

Competence in two languages is necessary but not sufficient for any translation task. Though the translator must be able to (1) read and comprehend the source language and (2) write comprehensibly in the target language, the translator must also be able to (3) choose the equivalent expression in the target language that both fully conveys and best matches the meaning intended in the source language (referred to as congruity judgment).

A weakness in any of these three abilities will influence performance adversely and have a negative impact on the utility of the product. Therefore, all three abilities must be considered when assessing translation skills.

Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product, and familiarity with both the subject matter and the socio‑cultural aspects of the source and target languages. Given previous knowledge of these factors or appropriate training, an individual with limited skills may in certain instances be able to produce renditions of various texts that might be useful for specific purposes. On the other hand, an otherwise skilled translator who lacks subject matter knowledge or who is unfamiliar with certain socio-cultural aspects will often provide an erroneous translation.

“ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Translation Performance,” Preface, Interagency Language Roundtable, http://www.govtilr.org/Skills/AdoptedILRTranslationGuidelines.htm.

On page 2, Moros says “all theory affects practice, and all practices produce theory” and indicates that it is almost impossible for historians to work in an unbiased manner. I will call this implicit bias.

As translators, we are constantly developing theories whether we realize it or not. The decisions we make today are often the same as the ones we made yesterday and the ones we will make tomorrow. Whether or not we go to the trouble to write them down so we can share them with others in a theoretical framework is another matter, but as we discuss our edits we often find we did in fact have reasons for translating the way we did! That is called theory. I have seen this in listserv discussions many times… Translators are practitioners who in fact produce theory.

Implicit bias: When I studied to be a teacher in Argentina, the Social Studies professor required that we study history from two books with opposite perspectives to make sure we were exposed to two opposite biases! As translators, we are expected to shed our implicit bias when we approach a translation and read the material we translate with the implicit bias of the author. That takes special skill. Then we must consider the implicit biases of our readers and the words that will speak to them, so that we can communicate our message to them in the proper way. Can a machine do that?

In order to translate without implicit bias, we must become visible. We must be able to ask questions. We make choices and generate thoughts on how to handle problems. We cannot develop theories about how to translate a text or develop a style sheet for an organization without consulting with our clients. This is how humans are different from machines.

Today, according to Moros, translators are trained in a mechanistic way, reminiscent of Taylorism. Taylor coined the phrase “task management.” This is assembly-line work theory, which has been applied to factory work. Taylor proposed that workers get paid by the piece (does this remind you of being paid by the word?). The unions were able to convince Congress that this “efficiency” was not effective and should not apply in government-run factories (page 24).

What are some of the problems with this piece-rate system? According to Moros, the piece-rate system is hurting translation rates. In a large translation project, for example, a company would ask a translator to provide a discount, yet charge the end client the same rate for every word. However, the translator is the one paying for the translation tool!  Translation quality suffers and so does the pay. (page 26) In my opinion, this generally also assumes the work will be done faster. The ILR description of translation quoted above says, “Various non‑linguistic factors have an impact on performance, such as the time allotted to deliver the product.”

Another problem with the Taylorist perspective on translation is viewing translators as interchangeable. For example, at times translators are required to interact with a translation memory program that a large organization has created; such organization put a document together ignoring sections that may or may not match the document in question. This trains translators to simply not be concerned with the quality of their work, since it is not a priority for the people who they interact with directly. In any event, this model is simply not one that can be applied many times.

Moros proposes some alternatives to Taylorist translation training, starting on page 61. He recommends that translators become visible, understanding that they are creating truth and knowledge, and that they understand the concepts of meaning, transfer of meaning, text, author, authorship responsibility, ideology, and colonialism.

Moros reminds us that reading is contextual, and understanding varies depending on the context. Therefore, translators must take responsibility for their text as authors of the translated text. In this process of becoming authors of the translated text, every decision must be justified. In an ideal world, translators must be able to communicate with the requester of the translation and, whenever possible, with the author. It is essential to know the purpose of the translation and who the readers will be in order to translate the document properly.

However, as Moros reminds us, the Toledo Translation School, in its second period, did things right. King Alfonso X of Castile, called the Wise, directed that translation would be done in groups. This is reminiscent of the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM International) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) translation standards, which include the role of a bilingual editor (another equally qualified translator), not doing a back translation, but as part of the quality improvement process.

These are just some highlights of what Moros shares in Deconstructing Traditional Notions in Translation Studies: Two exemplary cases that challenge thinking regarding translation history and teaching translation, LAP Lambert Academic Publishing (2011-05-17). The full book is worth the read! The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is 978-3-8443-9565-5. Happy reading!

Buddies Welcome Newbies at #ATA58

This year, Buddies Welcome Newbies celebrates its fifth anniversary, and as part of the celebrations, the team is introducing a few new surprises!

After its debut in San Antonio in 2013, led by Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz, Buddies Welcome Newbies has grown to become a well-known event right before the Welcome Celebration of the ATA conference. Designed as an ice breaker for those attending the conference for the first – or even the second – time, it is the place to get your gears in motion, in a fun, comfortable way.

Buddies Welcome Newbies (BWN) is a part of The Savvy Newcomer, where we are constantly innovating, and putting new ideas to the test. New this year is Jamie’s role as official leader of the BWN program, with yours truly in a supporting role.

Based on our experience from previous years, we approached ATA Headquarters and suggested including BWN as part of the event choices in the registration form, instead of having a separate link, page, etc. Fast forward to now and the results are amazing: More than 300 attendees registered as of today!

However, if you missed that one question during registration, and are interested in being a part of this event, do not despair! We will be happy to send you a link to register. Just send us an email at atasavvynewcomer@atanet.org, and we will get back with you.

Another novelty this year is the unveiling of our new seasonal blog ATA Conference Newcomer Blog, packed with resources for newbies and buddies alike. We thought waiting until Wednesday the 25th to share the myriad of things we want to tell you was kind of mean, plus, we could not possibly do it in 45 minutes! So, check it out, if you have not done so already, and be sure to leave us a comment to let us know how we are doing.

Also new in this fifth edition of Newbies Welcome Buddies is the opportunity to earn 2.0 CEPs by participating as a Buddy! But, as the saying goes: “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” so the core of the BWN event continues to be the same.

What is Buddies Welcome Newbies, you ask? The answer is simple:

A Newbie is anyone who is new to the American Translators Association, to translation or interpreting in general, or a new conference attendee.

Buddies are the life of this event – experienced conference attendees, many of them seasoned T&I professionals, who donate their time and expertise for the benefit of Newbies. All our planning, ideas, and enthusiasm would mean nothing if we did not have the support of our awesome Buddies to make all this a reality.

During our opening session, Buddies and Newbies are paired up (the final ratio of Buddies to Newbies will depend on the number of participants in attendance), and off they go to enjoy the conference with the following “assignments”:

  • Newbies and their Buddies make their own plans to attend a conference session together, have a meal together, etc. The number of activities and frequency is up to you.
  • Attend the wrap-up session on Saturday October 28, for even more great information on what to do next and to hear presentations from guest speakers.

Pretty simple, huh? Yet, very powerful, as it can make a big difference in the life of new conference attendees, and who knows, maybe make a friend or two in the process.Of course, we have a few more surprises up our sleeves so you will have to come to both the opening session and the wrap-up to see the magic for yourself!

See you soon in D.C.!

The Extraordinary Translator and Interpreter: A Mini-Survey from #ATA57

In just one week, nearly 2,000 translators and interpreters will convene at ATA’s 58th Annual Conference. Memories of last year’s event abound, and The Savvy Newcomer is pleased to present the results of a mini-survey we conducted at the 57th Annual Conference in San Francisco whose goal was to examine trends in the backgrounds of translators and interpreters, particularly those who have enjoyed long careers in the field.

Some of the aspects we looked at in the survey were: highest level of education, areas of study, how often translators and interpreters transition to these fields from a prior career, and for those who have transitioned, the ways in which their prior professional experience has influenced their careers as linguists.

The survey, and who responded

To conduct this survey, postcard questionnaires were handed out randomly to attendees at the Conference. We received a total of 35 completed postcards, which were processed by our team and evaluated for trends. What we found surprised us. To start, here is a breakdown of the basic demographics of our sample:

  • Translator, interpreter, or both?: 13 translators, 13 translator-interpreters, 4 interpreters, 5 no response
  • Length of T&I career: Average of 13.85 years (range: 1 to 44 years)
  • Language combinations: Overwhelmingly Spanish-English—in one direction or bidirectional (32 respondents, 91.4%); but French (2), German (2), Japanese (1), and Portuguese (1) were also listed in combination with either English or Spanish.
  • Number of language pairs: The majority had one working language pair (32, 91.4%), whereas only 3 (8.57%) had two or more language pairs.

Translators and interpreters appear to be highly educated—well beyond the general population

Some of the most compelling findings were in relation to prior studies completed by those surveyed. Of those who responded to the question “What is your highest level of educational achievement?”, 82.86% (29) had earned an associate’s degree or higher (the remaining 5 respondents had completed university courses, but 4 did not specify whether they had completed a degree). A striking 47.5% (16) reported having earned a master’s degree as their highest educational achievement, while approximately 25%* (9) held at least a bachelor’s. (*The responses of the 4 mentioned above who did not specify their highest university degree suggested they had earned at least a bachelor’s, which would bring the total of bachelor’s to 36.43%.) One respondent held a PhD (1), and another was a doctoral candidate (1) at the time of the survey.

Respondents had earned degrees in 16 different countries (with some overlap): Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, France, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, Venezuela, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Prior studies: from A to T

There were a total 29 prior fields of study reported, including T&I. Seven (20%) reported having studied T&I, of whom one held a master’s in translation and another a bachelor’s, whereas the other 5 reported having participated in a certificate or other non-degree program. Most fascinating was the incredible variety of areas of study beyond T&I itself. There was truly a range from A to Z (well, to T for translation, to be precise!): from art history to social work, advertising to computer programming, finance to music, education to philosophy, and interior design to hotel management. We also saw journalism, linguistics, psychology, law, anthropology, and geography. Of the 29 fields reported, 9 had some overlap: engineering (4, 11.42%), business (3, 8.57%), education (8.57%), Spanish or English (8.57%), literature (8.57%), advertising (2, 5.71%), archaeology (5.71%), biology (5.71%), and political science (5.71%).

Getting a leg up from prior careers or studies

Most respondents shared stories of how past professional experience and academia had bolstered their careers in T&I. Below are just a few examples—some expected, and others less so:

  • Engineering and biology (master’s): Academic knowledge leveraged in medical translation
  • Political science, philosophy, economics, journalism (master’s): Benefit of strong research skills and experience reading foreign-language sources
  • Psychology (master’s): Communication and listening skills, understanding of human behavior
  • Chemical engineering, literature (master’s): Grasp of “implicit information” in source texts
  • Finance (bachelor’s): The ins and outs of working as an independent contractor
  • Social work, hotel management, law: Understanding international clients and medical content
  • Mechanical engineering: Context for technical translation
  • Social science, geography/geographic information systems (GIS), anthropology: Appreciation of the importance of language access after working with low-income, at-risk families and inmates
  • Advertising: Marketing one’s own business

Making the switch to T&I

The reasons respondents gave for switching from another career to T&I were varied: While some felt the need for a change and decided to intentionally put their language skills to use, others seemed to find themselves in the career inadvertently and never left.

Some found a need in the community (years translating or interpreting in parentheses; T=translator, I=interpreter, T-I=translator-interpreter):

  • “Somebody heard me at the hospital helping my mom” (13 years, I)
  • “The need of people who speak Spanish” (20 years, T-I)
  • “Increasing need in community where I worked” (3 years, T)

Others had “dabbled” in T&I as part of a past career and apparently discovered a passion for it:

  • “Already working as bilingual aide, I was hired as translator” (16 years, T-I)
  • “Part-time job interpreting, liked it a lot” (7 years, I; 4 years, T)
  • “Through my work as a Spanish instructor because I started proofing” (3 years, T)

Yet others saw an opportunity to make some extra cash, and for some, the work became a lifelong career:

  • “Needed money in grad school” (37 years, T)
  • “Became a freelancer because I quit my other job” (20 years, T)
  • “Plans for retirement” (2 years, T)
  • “At the suggestion of a friend, because I couldn’t find professional work in the US (and I wasn’t going to make coffee)” (14 years, I)

Considering the relatively small sample of 35 respondents, the variation in experiences observed was remarkable, leading us to conclude that the individuals behind the professions of T&I, the paths that led them there, and their specialized knowledge, are as diverse as the languages they speak and the countries they hail from. Aside from their current careers, the one thing they seemed to have in common was an impressive level of formal education.

To think that these 35 individuals make up only a tiny fraction of the attendees at the ATA Conference each year brings into perspective just how magnificent our colleagues are. Whether you have plans to attend a local conference or meet-up this fall, or plan to join the ATA Conference in Washington, DC, you can be sure you will be in extraordinary company.