Eight Unusual Tips for Newcomers

By Steven Marzuola & The Savvy Newcomer

dialog-148815_640As you might already know, online groups are an excellent source for discussing the everyday challenges we face as professionals. One such group in LinkedIn recently sparked a great conversation, and one of its contributors, Steven Marzuola, offered excellent – and often unspoken – tips for aspiring translators and interpreters.

In today’s post we have summarized these tips for the benefit of our readers. We hope that you will find them as useful and interesting as we did.

  1. If someone offers to mentor you, or even offers you a low-paying job as an assistant, take it. One of my first opportunities was with an agency that needed someone in my area of specialization (oil and gas). They realized that a document I had given them was especially well-formatted (as well as correct) and asked me to work in the office for what turned into several months. The pay was extremely low, but the experience was invaluable: I learned about pricing, and the art of dealing with customers and translators.
  2. Never underestimate the power of collaboration. This in-house opportunity also introduced me to other translators, who sometimes delivered their material in writing or on floppy disks (this was a long time ago!). Then, when they needed help on something, they would call. One of them ended up taking me under his wing, and sent me assignments from Spanish > English. Then, he got busy and sent me some English > Spanish assignments. But he insisted on proofreading them. So I would print the pages, double-spaced, and fax them to him. He would add markups by hand and send them back, and then we would speak about them by telephone. He charged me for this, but it was one of the best investments I ever made.
  3. Identify a specialty and promote it. Let your colleagues know that you have experience or education in field X. This depends on where you live and what types of jobs you have had. Unfortunately, it’s also something that younger people usually lack (but which we older ones can appreciate!)
  4. Network. Join a local or national association, and go to their meetings and participate in online groups. The best and most rewarding ongoing contacts are frequently other translators, including some of your competitors in the same language pair. The good ones will stay busy and need someone to share the workload. When you’re busy, return the favor.
  5. Join online groups and ask interesting questions, or answer them. This is more easily done in this day and era, and perhaps it takes a bit of time to build a certain online reputation, but in the meantime you will reap the benefits of participating in interesting exchanges – such as this one! And don’t be afraid of asking questions; we have all started somewhere, somehow. Oftentimes, what seems like a rather naive question can provoke really good conversations.
  6. Show prospective customers (especially agencies) that you are a professional. Spend a few dollars and get a customized email address. Anybody can use gmail.com or hotmail.com; set yourself apart. Also, a web site or a Facebook page where you can say a little about yourself.
  7. It’s okay to have another job but keep it separate from your language business. One of the most unprofessional things I ever saw was at a translators/interpreters association meeting, where someone handed me a business card. It had their interpreting contact information on one side, and their other business on the other side. She was a realtor or sold Amway products, something like that. There are some customers who might be interested; I have met some who are successful, especially in less-frequently used languages (Somali, Vietnamese). But to others, it looks like desperation or indecision. Good customers want specialists.And last but not least, one of the most difficult pills to swallow, even for seasoned professionals:
  8. Learn to appreciate those who criticize you. That’s where you learn. My favorite customers are picky customers. The ones who don’t care are the ones who will quickly switch to another translator for another reason such as price or convenience.

As always, we are all ears for our readers and we welcome your comments. How did you start? Have you practiced some of these tips yourself? We would love to hear from you!

About the author: Steven Marzuola grew up in Venezuela, where he worked in the oilfield equipment and service business. He holds a degree in engineering and has held leadership positions in ATA and HITA (Houston Interpreters and Translators Association). 

5 thoughts on “Eight Unusual Tips for Newcomers

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  2. Thanks for this! I am a young (Spanish>English) translator working with agencies and doing all different kinds of documents, from marketing to birth certificates,etc. Like you mentioned, I don’t have a lot of specific job experience that can lead me to a specific “field of expertise.” How can I choose one when it feels like I don’t have anywhere to start?

    • Molly, funny you should ask! Just yesterday I had a conversation with a colleague who is dealing with a potentially devastating financial hit from a client changing its practices.

      I think we always need to keep in mind that any particular client may drop us at any time for any reason, and may never hear the reason. So… diversifying is really important. However, you have to be prepared to do this!

      Here is what I am doing and what I have done. Pick something you are interested in. I love a couple of fields: economics and medicine. So… I’m subscribed to the Financial Times and América Economía (the Spanish equivalent, which is not a translation at all, but a regional financial magazine in Spanish). I also recently subscribed to DiarioMedico.com to explore what is going on in the medical world. That keeps me reading articles of interest in those fields, and when a translation in them comes along, I’m ready.

      One of my uncles told my kids this, back when they were about 14: “Study something you love. Don’t study something for the money. You will never be good enough to make money at something you aren’t really interested in anyway, and you will just be frustrated.” This uncle was a very successful accountant, and had worked as an auditor for a multinational company in several countries. He had seen many frustrated accountants, who got into it because of the money and utterly failed.

      So… read up on things you are interested in! When you get an offer to do a translation in an interesting field, go buy some books about the subject, just for kicks! I just got some books in the mail because I’m exploring epidemiology issues. I got something right away as an e-book, but today I got some cool stuff in the mail:
      Epidemiología Básica, by the Organización Panamericana de la Salud (mostly a translation)
      Epidemiología, published by Eudeba (the University of Buenos Aires publishing house – original material in Spanish)
      While I was browsing the Eudeba site, I couldn’t resist these books:
      Fausto (a gaucho version of Faust that I read in school. Lots of fun!)
      Las culturas precolombinas (just because history is fun)
      Escribir: Apuntes sobre una práctica (as a translator, refreshing some ideas to improve my writing skills might not be a bad thing to do!)

      This looks like a long response, but I hope you got some ideas out of it. Take advantage of your downtime to explore some of these things, as long as they are fun. Then you’ll be ready for whatever you want to do!

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