Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Maryam Abdi

In this second installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series, Maryam Abdi, Somali-English translator and interpreter specializing in law, reminisces about how and why she ultimately chose a career in translation and interpreting (T&I) over law school, the elements of successful entrepreneurship for translators and interpreters, why she encourages new translators to think beyond their passions when it comes to specializing, and the pros and cons of working in a language of lesser diffusion.

Law-school hopeful turned translator-interpreter

In my third year of university, I interned at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office and I found myself—like many aspiring lawyers—stuck doing clerical work. I wanted to get a “taste” of the legal profession before making the big investment of attending law school. I figured the best way to get my feet wet was to work as a court interpreter and legal translator. I had an excellent grasp of my language pairs (I grew up bicultural and bilingual) and proceeded to research how to become a freelance translator and interpreter. To launch my translation career, I applied to translation agencies while simultaneously working on my translation and interpreting skills.

After several months of experience, I enrolled in the California Court Interpreters Program to take the exam and get registered as a court interpreter. The learning curve was steep, since I was building my interpreting skills from scratch. It was challenging, but I loved the process every step of the way, because I was determined to succeed. After I graduated from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) with a year of interpreting and translation experience under my belt, I came to the decision to not go to law school. At the time, the market was flooded with new law school graduates, and jobs for attorneys were on the decline. There was high demand for my skills as a Somali translator and interpreter, and the outlook of employment in the translation industry was very promising.

Two passions are better than one, and recognition for her pro bono work as a translator-interpreter

In primary and secondary school, I would spend hours teaching myself languages. In university, I decided early on to pursue a career in law. What I love about working as a court interpreter and legal translator is being able to combine my two passions: law and languages. Besides the perks of being location independent, I find the most gratifying part of my work is helping Somali speakers navigate the legal system and exercise their civil rights. I’m passionate about language access for persons with limited English proficiency. Since 2009, I’ve been volunteering my interpreting and translation services to pro bono attorneys representing victims of human rights abuses. One of my proudest moments was being awarded The State Bar of California Wiley W. Manuel Certificate for Pro Bono Legal Services for my interpreting and translation volunteer work. In one year, I volunteered over 100 hours in my spare time while running a full-time translation practice.

In hindsight, the importance of entrepreneurial skills for translators and interpreters

Instead of trying to figure things out on my own, I wish I would’ve reached out to more freelance translators in the beginning to learn from their experiences. Some of the biggest challenges I dealt with early on stemmed from my lack of entrepreneurial skills. Universities prepare students to become employees and don’t teach the skills necessary to run a business. The number of freelancers, contractors and temp workers is on the rise worldwide. According to the personal finance company Intuit, by 2020 more than 60 million members of the US workforce alone will be contingent workers; full-time jobs are on the decline. Translators who strive for success and longevity in their careers must aim for mastery in their profession and learn to negotiate, build a network, sell, and effectively communicate with clients.

Advice on how to avoid pitfalls in one’s early career and choose a specialization—wisely

Besides working on the mastery of translation and interpreting skills (which is a lifelong pursuit), my tip to newbies is to carve out a lucrative niche for themselves so they can find quality clients. On average, a lot of new translators spend too much time tweaking their website, designing business cards and agonizing over their rates; these are all important components of running a successful translation business, but they aren’t what should be focused on initially.

Instead, translators and interpreters should test their specialization to see if there’s sufficient demand for their language pairs in their specialization. This requires them to “listen to the market” by talking to others with the same language pairs, project managers or potential clients in order to gauge demand. Choosing a specialization haphazardly by following a passion is how many translators find themselves struggling to find clients. It’s difficult to create demand. Strategically selecting an area of expertise takes more work up front, but helps many translators avoid “dead-end” specializations and clients that don’t have the ability or the desire to pay for quality translation services.

The challenges and rewards of working in a language of lesser diffusion, and the growing competitiveness in T&I

I work in a niche language. Unlike widely spoken languages, there are limited resources available in the Somali language. For example, most of the dictionaries are outdated and haven’t kept up with modern Somali. This poses a challenge for many Somali interpreters and translators who want to improve their language skills. In the beginning of my career, I tried to enroll in interpreting and translation certificate programs, but realized they were all created for more prominent languages. I also noticed there was a limited number of online and offline courses available to translators and interpreters of languages of lesser diffusion. Although this may appear to be a disadvantage, working in a less common language has helped me think outside of the box when it comes to maintaining my interpreting and translation skills.

Over the years, I’ve created a number of glossaries for my specialization that I’ve shared with other Somali interpreters and translators. Creating glossaries and reference guides has significantly boosted my translation and interpreting skills. Collaborating and consulting with other Somali translators in my specialization and having my work reviewed by colleagues has also been tremendously helpful in refining my professional language skills.

I also try to learn from other industries as much as possible, especially from my target market. I do this by taking continuing legal education workshops, which have dramatically improved my background knowledge in my niche. The barrier to entry in the translation industry is low, and the profession is only going to get more and more competitive in the near future. I have found that high-value clients want to work with translators and interpreters who are experts in their industries. Simply being “good enough” as an interpreter or translator isn’t sufficient to break into the premium market. By taking continuing education courses created for my target market, I’ve not only positioned myself as an expert in my specialization, but I’ve improved my professional language skills.

Maryam Abdi is a registered Somali court interpreter and the owner of Expert Somali Translations, a boutique firm offering Somali > English translations and cultural consulting services to legal and government sectors. Maryam holds a bachelor’s degree in political science/international relations from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She is a recipient of the State Bar of California’s Wiley M. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Legal Services, for her volunteer work as an interpreter and translator for victims of human-rights abuses.

Using SlideShare to Embed PowerPoints in a Website

SlideShare is a slide hosting service owned by LinkedIn that allows users to upload presentations, either privately or publicly, to a website. This tool can be used for a variety of applications, including to upload presentations of useful resources for sharing with the public or a select audience, as well as to share sales and advertising information with your target audience. For instance, we used SlideShare to embed the Buddies Welcome Newbies introductory slideshow into this Savvy Newcomer post in 2016.

To get started using SlideShare, go to https://www.slideshare.net/ and click “Login” in the top right corner. Since SlideShare is owned by LinkedIn, you can log in using your LinkedIn or Facebook credentials. I recommend using your LinkedIn login so you can easily and quickly upload slideshows to your LinkedIn profile and share useful resources with your connections!

Once you have logged in, click the orange “Upload” button in the top right corner of the screen. You can drag and drop or navigate to upload an existing PowerPoint, PDF, OpenOffice Presentation, Word document, or other supported file. Now that you have selected a file, be sure to give it an appropriate title, description, and category so that people will be able to discern the purpose and contents of your file. You can choose to make the upload public or private, depending on how you want to use it.

Public files can be found and browsed by anyone with a SlideShare account, while private files can only be viewed by individuals with the private link and password you send out after the slideshow is published. If you want to share the slideshow with select others, be sure to choose “Private – anyone with link” from the dropdown menu at this stage. You can also add tags, which are keywords that are relevant to the contents of your upload or to the people who will be viewing it. This will allow others to find your upload more easily in search results. Next, click “Publish.”

Now that your document has been published, all you need to do is embed it in your desired webpage. You can share slideshows and other documents by embedding SlideShare files in blog articles, your own company website, a LinkedIn post, and more. To embed the file into another site, click the “Share” button under the SlideShare player while on your newly uploaded file page. You will see a variety of sharing options, including email, embedding, WordPress shortcode, and a direct link. To embed the file in a webpage, select all of the text in brackets (<>) under the Embed header and “Copy” it.

Now, go to the code page for the webpage on which you would like to embed the slideshow and “Paste” this text. Once you have saved or updated the code, you should see the slideshow appear on the site as an embedded file. You will be able to see how many slides there are, click through each slide, and share the slideshow with other users (if the privacy settings allow). You may have to work within the settings of your website or blog’s layout and design menu to adjust the size of the slideshow on the page. If the site on which you want to embed the file is a WordPress site or blog, you can use the “WordPress” code option instead of the “Embed” code.

To change whether your slideshow is public or private, go back to the page that shows your file in SlideShare. By clicking “Privacy Settings” under the slideshow player, you can adjust the visibility of the upload and choose whether or not you want users to be able to download your file.

SlideShare offers a multitude of ideas on how to use their tool via slideshows, provided by both users and SlideShare itself. We encourage you to take a look and see how this service may be useful for your blogging, social media, advertising, or file-sharing needs!

Readers, how have you used SlideShare or how do you hope to use it in the future? We would love to hear your ideas!

Header image: Pixabay

Advice for Beginners: Specialization

By Judy Jenner
Post reblogged from Translation Times blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

Many beginning interpreters oftentimes ask us about specialization and whether it’s essential that they specialize. We get many of these questions from Judy’s students at the Spanish/English translation certificate program at University of San Diego-Extension and from Dagy’s mentees. We thought it might be helpful to give a short summary on translation specialization.

One project does not equal specialization. This is a classic mistake that we also made early in our careers. Just because you have done a project (or two or three) in a specific area doesn’t mean that’s a specialization. You should really have in-depth knowledge.

Choose wisely. A specialization is an area that you know very, very well and that you can confidently say you are an expert in. Remember that if you choose a specific area, say chemistry or finance, it’s best to have significant experience, including perhaps a graduate degree and work experience outside the T&I field, in that specific area. You will be competing with colleagues who have both experience and credentials, so it’s important that you are prepared. For instance, we have a dear friend and colleague who has a doctorate in chemistry. Naturally, Karen Tkaczyk’s area of specialization is chemistry.

Non-specializations. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything. It looks quite unprofessional to say that you specialize in everything, so we suggest staying away from that approach. Also be sure to put some thought into areas that you don’t want to work in at all because you are not qualified, interested, or both. For instance, we once got a call from a client who really wanted to hire us to translate a physics text. We don’t know anything about physics, even though we took eight years of it, and even though we were flattered, we politely declined and recommended a colleague. That project would have been a disaster. We also wisely stay away from in-depth medical translations.

It’s OK not to have one. It’s not a bad thing to not have a specialization or significant experience in any area at the beginning of your career. Everyone starts out without experience (we did, too), and we wouldn’t recommend lying about any experience you have. However, think about experience outside the T&I field: perhaps you were a Little League coach and thus know a lot about baseball or volunteered at your local Habitat for Humanity and thus know a bit about non-profits. The experience doesn’t have to be in both languages, but any background and educational credentials will come in handy. For instance, Judy’s graduate degree is in business management, so business translations were a natural fit for her. We had also done previous copywriting work (before we started our business, that is), so we felt that the advertising field might be a good specialization (and we were right).

Add one! It might also very well happen that you will add specializations throughout your career, which is a good thing. We recommend choosing closely related fields so you don’t have to invest too much time and resources.

Getting faster. As a general rule, the more specialized you are, the faster you will be able to translate because you will be very familiar with the terminology. For instance, we have colleagues who only translate clinical trials, real estate purchase contracts or patents. They have usually amassed large glossaries and translation memories and spent little time researching and lots of time translation, thus positively affecting their bottom line.

We think this is a good start, but would love to hear from both colleagues and newcomers. Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

Local Conferences: The Block Parties of the Language Industry

Are you a member of your local translators and interpreters association? Have you ever attended a local conference? There is no question that a large-scale conference like that of the ATA is worth attending at least once in your career, but conferences of its scope come with a price tag and can require significant travel.

Luckily, you do not have to travel far or break the bank to find inspiration, meet new colleagues, and improve your skills and knowledge. To highlight the value of local conferences, The Savvy Newcomer is bringing you a series of guest posts featuring reflections by conference-goers who have kept it local. In the first post, Jillian Droste, member of the Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI), reflects on her experience at the organization’s 5th annual conference in Portland, Oregon this summer.

         As small, intimate, and relatively informal events for networking and continuing education, local translation and interpreting conferences are as warm and inviting as neighborhood block parties. Much like a neighborhood gathering, local conferences provide the perfect opportunity for new and experienced professionals to mingle and learn within their regional cohort. This year’s Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI) conference was a perfect example of just this sort of reunion.

An Easy Step in the Right Direction

Neighborhood block parties encourage individuals and families to step outside of their own backyards and join others in a celebration of community. Local conferences achieve this same goal with respect to translators and interpreters, proving especially important to those of us who fit the stereotype of the introverted translator. I readily admit that my comfort zone is at home, with my dogs, working independently. And yet, I know my business will not grow itself in the quiet of my office. Fortunately, local conferences are among the least daunting of those opportunities designed for professional development, continuing education, and networking.

Mentally preparing myself for this one-day conference was far easier than anticipating an event that would take me away from home for multiple days. The event’s affordable cost further contributed to the ease of attending, as did the location. Attending a conference over the weekend in my hometown meant that I did not need to plan for time off work, purchase a plane ticket, or book a hotel room.

This is not to say we should all succumb to introverted tendencies and forever avoid large events. But if this important step in career-building is something you would rather put off out of intimidation or logistical complications, it may be the perfect time to check out your own local events. You can ease your fears, and your transition into this branch of the professional world, by attending a local conference now and working up to a larger event later.

Designed to Facilitate Networking

         Though we may not think of them as such, neighborhood block parties are, at least in part, networking events. Sure, neighbors come together to celebrate neighborliness, and probably good weather, but they also undoubtedly intend to vet neighbors, scout for babysitters, or seek new friendships. Block parties bring people from the same area together in a neutral setting, making it easier for folks to connect. Local conferences work from the same premise.

By volunteering at the registration table at this year’s OSTI conference, I enjoyed a head start in forming new connections with other local language professionals. I recommend this to anyone looking for an extra way to feel involved. As a volunteer, I was immediately connected to the conference organizer, members of the board, and a number of regular conference attendees.

Once the volunteer shift came to an end, I easily found more opportunities to get to know other attendees. Conference-goers enjoyed breakfast and lunch together in a beautiful hall full of friendly faces. Outside of mealtimes, the limited number of presentations at each hour further enabled connection among attendees with similar goals and interests. It is easy to assume that a conference with more workshops is always preferable, but with fewer options, there was less movement between presentations. With this, conference-goers had more time to bond with a fairly consistent group of individuals and were able to engage in more in-depth conversations before and after presentations.

Small Size Means Greater Participation

         Neighborhood block parties often have games and activities to entertain young kids. While there were no games, per se, at this conference, the event’s smaller size resulted in more opportunities for creativity and active engagement. One presenter used minor costume changes to simultaneously represent the distinct perspectives of independent contractors and project managers. Another captured the attention of attendees of an otherwise dense medical presentation about anticoagulants by guiding them through the creation of a human hemostatic plug.

Presenters were able to get immediate feedback from attendees and make small adjustments to adapt their material to issues specific to the actual audience. Of equal importance, the smaller audience size ensured that attendees were able to ask questions and more easily approach speakers after their presentations. Attendees were also able to benefit from more direct contact with fellow conference-goers and presenters.

Conferences as Leadership Opportunities

         Local conferences serve as the perfect venue for translators and interpreters to develop their presence as industry experts by delivering presentations, addressing attendees as candidates for the board, or by filling other essential roles during the conference. As with any event in which people are brought together, whether it is a block party or a conference, leaders are essential.

Beyond requiring leaders to make the event itself a reality, the OSTI conference served as a springboard for future leadership opportunities for attendees, who were encouraged to propose OSTI events and submit workshop proposals for the following year’s conference. Moreover, the other characteristics that made this event so inviting—its small size, the ease of attending, the more casual atmosphere—made the path toward securing a leadership role feel more immediately attainable.

What Are You Waiting For?

There is no doubt that this conference will be a regular event in my fall calendar. In fact, I have already saved the date for next year. If you are a Pacific Northwest translator, interpreter, project manager, or other individual involved in the industry, I encourage you to join us! If you do not live in the area, take a moment to find your own local events. For a small price and minimal effort you will find yourself connecting, participating, and feeling inspired at an event that—truly—is as friendly as a block party. I hope to see you there!

Author bio

Jillian Droste is a Spanish to English translator with an MA in Translation and Interpreting from the University of Illinois. Since earning her degree in 2016, she has translated marketing, academic, and medical texts with an increasing focus on medical materials. A member of the ATA and OSTI, Jillian values continuing education and community engagement.

When not translating, she enjoys interpreting for The Red Cross and a local medical clinic in an effort to increase access to health care. Outside of work, she can be found reading, snuggling with her dogs, or crouched in the dirt struggling to understand the intricacies of first-time gardening. Reach her at info@sentidotranslation.com.

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.