Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Corinne McKay

This fourth installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview series features Corinne McKay, French-to-English translator and current president of the American Translators Association (ATA). If Corinne’s name is familiar, it may be thanks not only to her visible role in the ATA, but to the fact that she is a regular contributor to The Savvy Newcomer and also the author of what many consider to be the quintessential guide for aspiring freelance translators, How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator. Read on to discover why you could say Corinne was born to translate, how her time spent in Nepal and Switzerland ended up benefitting her translation work years later, and why the formula for freelance success may be simpler than you think.

A birthday to match her calling, and her long-term dedication to the profession at large

In 2002, I had a master’s degree in French literature, a baby, and the desire to find a job where I could use French and work from home while my daughter was little. I quickly gravitated toward translation, and found my calling (proof: my birthday is International Translation Day!). In those early years, I really relied on my local translators’ association—the small but mighty Colorado Translators Association—and on the contacts I made in ATA. I became ATA-certified in 2003 and attended my first conference in 2004, and then began moving up the volunteer ranks, serving as Colorado Translators Association president, ATA French Language Division administrator, and finally joining the ATA Board in 2012.

Mountaineering and the unlikely connection between time spent in Nepal and a French book translation

My favorite project from the past several years was being selected by Mountaineers Books (a US-based publisher of outdoor adventure literature and guidebooks) to translate two mountaineering memoirs. The first was Ang Tharkay and Basil P. Norton’s Sherpa: The Memoir of Ang Tharkay, and the second was Erhard Loretan and Jean Ammann’s Night Naked: A Climber’s Autobiography. These projects were fascinating from a few points of view: I was able to combine my love of and interest in languages and mountains (my husband and I spent four months in Nepal after we got married, and he’s also half Swiss, so I’ve visited many of the places mentioned in Erhard Loretan’s book), and I was able to help bring to life the words of two authors who are no longer alive. Ang Tharkay died of natural causes, and Erhard Loretan was killed in a mountaineering accident. So that was gratifying: to be contacted by Ang Tharkay’s family members who had never really heard his story before. Night Naked was also shortlisted for the 2017 Boardman Tasker Award for Mountain Literature; although it didn’t win, it is actually an honor—to me at least!—just to be nominated, and I was proud that it was the only work in translation to be nominated.

A word of advice on success, from the person who wrote the book on the topic

So much of succeeding in your first few years as a freelancer is just showing up. You need excellent language skills; you need to be a good writer (or speaker!); you need to target specializations that are marketable and that you know a lot about and/or enjoy researching and reading about. But in addition to that, you just need to do the boring, tedious, repetitive work that allows you to develop a steady base of regular clients who send you work, so that you can spend your time working rather than looking for work. I get so many emails from translators who say something like, “I’m so discouraged! I’ve sent out 25 emails to potential clients and only two have responded! What am I doing wrong?” To which I respond that during my first year as a freelancer, I contacted over 400 potential clients (and tracked them on paper… I still have the index cards to prove it!) and still, it took about 18 months until I was earning anything close to a full-time income. If your mindset is that you would be so great at this job, if only someone would consistently funnel you a steady stream of high-paying, interesting work, then you should find an in-house job instead of trying to be a freelancer. That sounds harsh, but it took me a long time to accept that very few translators enjoy marketing or looking for work in general; but an ability to force yourself to do that is what differentiates the happy and successful people from those who are just translating what lands in the inbox.

A work in progress: On constantly honing one’s skills and discovering new territory

I always ask clients for feedback on every translation. Some of my clients have in-house translation departments, or the clients themselves speak enough of both languages to give feedback. I stress that even if their feedback is negative, it helps me improve. I also commit to ongoing professional development: taking Coursera classes in my specializations, participating in ATA webinars, and attending lots of sessions at the conference every year. I’m currently working on improving my interpreting—in a sense, that’s not difficult, because I’m starting from close to zero!—but it’s a good way to maintain and improve my spoken French, which is a critical skill since I work with lots of direct clients who don’t speak any English. My “baby” daughter who was my motivation to start a freelance business is now a sophomore in high school, so I’d like to actively pursue interpreting when she goes to college in a few years.

For clients not already knocking on her door, an experiment in handwritten notes

I have a pretty active web and social media presence, so I’m fortunate in that a significant percentage of my clients have found me online. I also actively network with other translators and we refer work to each other. Finally, I try to send out at least one marketing contact every day or every few days to a client I don’t know but would like to work for. My primary marketing method is warm emails, but I’m currently experimenting with handwritten notes. I can report back on how that goes!

Image credit: Pixabay

Corinne McKay, CT is an ATA-certified French-to-English translator and the current president of ATA. She has worked as a freelancer since 2002, translating for the international development, corporate communications/content marketing and non-fiction book sectors. Corinne also writes and teaches for other freelancers; her book How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator has sold over 11,000 copies, and her blog Thoughts on Translation was voted the best blog about translation in the 2016 ProZ.com community choice awards. She will serve as ATA president through 2019.

Pursuing the Translation Dream: What to Know After the Phone Rings

As a new translator, you have prepared yourself long and hard to take on clients, and now the phone is ringing—metaphorically speaking. So, how do you respond?

This post is part two of a five-part series on how to assess your readiness to become a successful translator, inspired by the ATA’s Self-Evaluation Questionnaire for Translators.

If you have not already, check out the first post on what all translators should know before the phone rings. We also encourage you to explore the ATA questionnaire itself—you can fill it out on the computer to determine which areas you are already strong in and which you might consider working on.

In each post in this series, we delve into several questions from the questionnaire and offer additional insights. In today’s post, we explore section 2: “Professional Product and Services (What I need to know after the phone rings).”

This section includes several cardinal rules for independent contractors, no matter the profession: Honor deadlines without fail (or notify the client as soon as possible of your inability to do so), confirm receipt of materials, follow instructions, know how to collect overdue payments, and invest time, effort, and funds to broaden your knowledge and skillset.

In this post, we will focus on some of the meatier questions the questionnaire encourages new translators to consider:

Do I discuss fees and terms with potential clients confidently, without hesitation or cumbersome excuses and apologies?

Confidence is key for independent contractors, who exist in a sea of other options. Being confident can be as simple as having the conviction that your work and time are valuable, and making this apparent to clients by how you communicate with them.

So, when exactly does confidence come into play for a translator? When it comes to negotiating fees or contracts, sending a simple and factual message without beating around the bush or sounding apologetic will make you stand out as a professional who recognizes his or her abilities and worth.

Of course, there are times when being apologetic is appropriate (e.g., a deadline completely slips your mind until the client notifies you the project is overdue), but beware of behaving sheepishly when you have nothing to be sorry for.

If you do not know where to start, pay attention to examples of tasteful confidence in others and take a cue. As one of my professors used to say, “Fake it ’til you become it.” If you demonstrate confidence, soon enough you will not only be showing it; you will start to truly feel it, especially when others begin to respond.

Do I secure a written agreement for the work before I start the job? (If not, am I aware of the risks? Which risks am I willing to accept?)

If you do not use a contract when offering translation services, you are not alone. Half of the translators surveyed by lawyer-linguist Paula Arturo do not use one at all, and 64.1% do not use their own, leaving both groups vulnerable to disputes involving issues such as project scope and nonpayment. The absence of a contract—or the use of a poor one—can even result in litigation.

Not only will having a contract help protect your business and set expectations for the work to be done, which means peace of mind for both you and the client, but, as Paula writes in her recent post on translation contracts, it can also help cover potential attorney’s fees and combat deprofessionalization.

A great resource when drafting your own contract is the ATA Translation Job Model Contract. This template is a helpful starting point, but keep in mind that it may need customization. When you are ready, consider seeking legal advice to maximize the effectiveness of your contract. Personally, I have used a local university’s legal clinic that offers discounted services to small businesses when I have needed to consult with an attorney, including to draft service agreements. Research resources that may be available in your area.

Am I aware of my limitations? (Do I decline projects which I cannot do well?)

Especially when you are just starting out, you may feel pressured to accept any work that comes your way. It can be tempting, but taking work beyond your limits is not only ethically dubious; it is also likely to cause anxiety and cost you more time and effort. You may hear from the client after the fact if they have been embarrassed by a poor translation. In a worst-case scenario, a poor translation could even cause real harm to a company or an individual.

In the end, it is not worth risking your reputation and your pride to accept work beyond your current skillset. The wisest course of action is to review the source document as thoroughly as possible before accepting the assignment and to turn it down if you are in doubt. Do not feel guilty—the client will thank you, and you can rest easy knowing you did the right thing.

So, what should you do when you see yourself obliged to turn down a job? Clients will appreciate a referral to a better suited translator, if you happen to know one. If you are asking yourself, “Well, how do I find work suited to me?”, Corinne McKay offers some helpful tips in this post.

Do I have convenient access to translation tools, state-of-the-art software, and high-speed Internet service?

Let me begin with an example of inconvenient access: Until recently, my favorite CAT tool was only installed on my desktop computer. Most of my translation memories (TMs) and glossaries were also stored only on that one immobile machine, limiting my ability to work efficiently on projects when traveling. I decided this had to change before the recent holidays, when I had travel plans, and lo and behold—not only was migrating all of my data and software easier than I had imagined, I was able to accept work over the holidays without thinking twice.

It can be hard to ditch old habits, but taking stock of areas where you could benefit from convenience, a better tool (whether a faster computer, a second screen, a higher-end CAT tool, or a CAT tool, period), you may be surprised at how much more productive you will be once you break out of your comfort zone. So, reconsider that tiny screen, the ergonomics of your current equipment, and the repetitive research you may be doing instead of using a TM or glossary. Have no idea where to begin when it comes to CAT tools? Check out this digest that explains the ABCs of CAT tools and tips for investing in one.

Do I keep an electronic copy for potential future corrections, revisions, or additions? For how long? (Do I inquire about returning background materials to the client upon completion of the job?)

When possible, most translators maintain copies of their work. There are a variety of reasons for this: You may be asked to make changes after the fact, or come across a similar translation in the future that would benefit from past work. If you do choose to reference previous translations, just be certain that your contract allows you to store them, and avoid including any confidential or proprietary information in the new translation if it is for a different end client.

In another scenario altogether, you may find that the client has introduced errors into your translation after the fact, in which case you could be faced with having to confirm that the errors were not your own—another good reason to have old work on hand.

Now it is your turn to try out some of these tips on how to “answer the phone” before the next post, where we will discuss how to nurture existing professional relationships and “keep the phone ringing.” Let me know how it goes in a comment below!

Image source: Pixabay

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.

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

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.

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.