How I got off to a fast start as a freelance translator

How I got off to a fast start as a freelance translator

By Linda Kramer

After being employed for over ten years, I longed for more freedom in my life. During my maternity leave (which here in Sweden is a whopping 18 months) I decided to take the plunge and become a freelance translator. And I’m not going to lie, it was scary. Thoughts of how I would survive without the security of a steady paycheck kept me awake at night. But I longed for something more. I longed for freedom—the freedom to choose where, when and who I work for, the freedom to say yes or no to a project, and the freedom to decide how much or how little I want to work.

Now I have been translating for one year and I have a steady stream of work I enjoy in my area of expertise, I have a strong network, and I have a solid foundation and potential to continue building my translation career. Upon reflection, there are some specific things I did that I felt made a big difference in getting off to a good start and helping me to find my niche in this diverse industry. I’ll share some of my thoughts with you and hope you will find them useful.

Build a network

Although you might find some jobs bidding on online job boards like Proz without leaving the house, I suggest you start working on expanding your network and find someone who can serve as a mentor. Before I even landed my first client, I was lucky enough to be introduced to David Friedman. He was kind enough to sit down with me and answer the numerous questions I had about being a freelance translator. He also introduced me to other local translators so I could get more support, input, constructive criticism and encouragement as I started out. This definitely made me feel more confident as I dove into the translation world. David and the other established translators I met shared some of the mistakes they made in their early days, in the hopes I would not have to make the same mistakes. I still made some, but I definitely got the feeling that I managed to avoid several potential mistakes and establish myself fairly quickly.

I joined my local translators association, the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ), as soon as possible and immediately started volunteering to help organize events such as the International Translation Day event in Lund. I realized that being a part of an industry association and getting involved in its activities is a great way to build your network for several reasons.

First of all, you meet other people who know your business, who can answer questions and who might even serve as a mentor. Secondly, established translators inevitably get requests for projects they cannot do on their own, either because they are too busy or because they are unable to (if it falls outside their area of expertise or is for a different language combination). A lot of times, these translators prefer to recommend a suitable translator to their client, as making a good referral builds their own credibility and reliability. So the more translators that know you and what you are good at, the greater the chance you will get useful referrals.

Know your strengths

I went into the translation business with the mindset that I could translate anything. Just give me a text and I will sort it out, being a resourceful gal that knows how to do online research. However, I quickly discovered that I’m not really cut out to handle all texts. My test translations for translation agencies were either hit or miss depending on the type of source text. And I really did not enjoy translating legal or technical texts one bit. But I aced all my marketing tests. I could draw on my own professional marketing background, and they were fun to do! So know your strengths and what specializations you should emphasize to your clients. Face it, nobody wants an all-round handyman to renovate their kitchen – everybody wants the kitchen specialist.

Establish an online presence

Before I even started my freelance business last year, the first thing I thought was “I need to get a website”. More and more people look for products and services online than ever before and most people have come to expect that any professionally run business will have a website. You don’t necessarily have to spend a lot of money to get a fancy website. I created my own for free by just spending a couple of days learning how to create my own WordPress site from a free template. And the time I spent on it has paid off, as I can see from the statistics that a lot of new clients visit my website before they contact me.

Not only does having a website signal to potential clients that you are a professional, it is helpful in other ways too. It is an advertisement for your business that is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And it can answer a lot of the questions that clients might have regarding your language combinations and areas of specializations. A short simple website can serve you well in the meantime, even if you would like to have a fancy website with lots of bells and whistles in the long term.

This has been an exciting first year and I still can’t believe I’m fortunate enough to be able to do this for a living. I hope that you will find my thoughts on starting out useful and wish you the best of luck.

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Author bio

Linda KramerLinda Kramer is an English to Swedish translator specialized in marketing and e-commerce. In the past she has worked as a marketing coordinator and a project manager for online companies in the fashion industry. She has an M.A. in marketing from Växjö University. She is currently based in southern Sweden, but she has lived in both Irvine, California and Liverpool, UK. You can visit her website at: Twitter: @lindakkramer

My Transition from College to Professional Life: A whole new kind of juggling act

by Cynthia Eby

From College to Professional LifeJust a little under six months ago, on June 13 of this year, I graduated from college at Seattle Pacific University, with a major in Linguistics and Cultural Studies and a minor in Spanish. Over those months my life has changed in many ways, some of which were quite unexpected and difficult to handle.

Before graduation, I remember one conversation I had when I was chatting with the Area Coordinator for the campus apartments where I lived. As we talked, he compared life in college and after graduation to a juggling act. In college, he said, you’re juggling a whole bunch of tennis balls at the same time, but they’re small and light. After college you aren’t juggling as many items, but each one is bigger and heavier. I didn’t really think too much about that conversation until long afterward, but I remembered it recently and I think he may have had a point.

The specific items I’ve been juggling over the past few months have certainly changed, and in many ways that I had not predicted. The main change that I did expect was the change from school to work, although I didn’t expect it to be so hard or take so long to figure out. After I graduated and the insanity of college subsided, however, I was able to slow down and notice that there are other important juggling balls I need to pay attention to. These were almost counter-intuitive to the transition to work that I wanted to do after graduation: taking a break to just rest, and then dealing with some health issues that I had been ignoring for too long. But even though it was frustrating at times, I had to deal with them before I could even hope to begin working with a regular frequency.


The item I most expected to be thrown into my juggling routine, although it took the most time to materialize fully, was work. In July, I started working part-time for my mom, Helen Eby, as her administrative assistant. Although the other things I was juggling interfered significantly, I have worked for her at some level almost every month since then—gaining exposure to various things I could pursue further and being given time to think about what I really want to do. It’s a gift to be able to have this time with her as my boss, since dealing with my health would have made working for anyone else nearly impossible.


This item was thrown into the juggling mix in such a normal way that I didn’t really think about it much before or even during the process, but it was important nonetheless. I came home from college so exhausted that all I could do for the first few months was crash. I did some things in the meantime—reading, talking to friends, a little bit of work, trying to reorganize my room so that it felt like my own space again—but I mostly rested and recovered from the insanity of college life. However, because I had done this every summer after working my tail off during the school year, it just seemed like the natural thing to do at the time.


Finally, a much heavier item landed in my routine, pushing some of the smaller items I have not mentioned out of the way and even pushing work almost entirely out: treating health problems which I had ignored through most of college. I had known that they were there and had intended to deal with them after graduation, but I hadn’t realized how much they got in the way of my everyday life before I fixed them. Dealing with these issues took time and large amounts of patience. I waited months to have appointments with doctors and then to schedule tests afterwards—followed by a few more weeks of experimentation before we could get effective medication. Finally, as I grew most tired of waiting at the beginning of November, I finished with this process and had a system of medicines that worked.

What I Learned

By the end of November, my patience had worn thin as I continued to juggle these few—but heavy—items. I was frustrated that I had not been able to do as I wished and work steadily, especially as I watched some of my friends appear to be much more successful in their post-graduation lives. It was difficult to make myself take a step back some days, breathe, and remember that it doesn’t matter if this is normal, what matters is that I need it. And it must not be too uncommon, since student loans come with a six-month grace period—which I have needed—with no questions asked.

Taking a step back from the less immediately pressing item—work—for a few months does not mean that I am weak or incapable, I have learned, it means that I am strong enough to know what I need. It means that I will be more prepared to really step in and work more when I can. It’s not easy to take time to care for my health, but it is important to start my adult life on the most firm footing possible.

It’s the same way juggling physical objects: If you don’t start simply, adding just one tennis ball at a time, you’ll never be able to juggle five bowling pins with ease.

Header image credit: Stokpic
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The story of a U.S. Intern in France

By Kimberley Hunt

Paris stamp for Kim postI’m Kimberley, currently living in Paris as an intern at a translation agency. I’m also a French translation student at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. In Paris, I translate and proofread for the company’s finance division, which means I spend a lot of time reading annual reports and frantically searching glossaries for investment fund terminology with my colleagues. While translation remains my favorite task, it is always fascinating to proofread an excellent translator and see exactly how a tricky turn of phrase was expertly transformed into English.

My roommates, two other Middlebury Institute students, and I have a rule: speak only French. Why? Because at the moment, we are in France, and we can always speak English when we go back to the US. Speaking only French at home has quickly become second nature, and everyone at work is always surprised to learn that we really do speak French with each other. A scribbled list of new words and expressions is tacked up in the kitchen, covered in post-it notes. I do find it difficult to hold a breakfast conversation en français, sleepily sipping coffee and staring into my cereal bowl, but I’m a terrible early morning conversationalist in English, too.

Plus, speaking only French is a wonderful excuse to watch really terrible French reality TV for the sake of “language learning.” For one, we are instantly connected to French people discussing it on the metro, in cafés, and at dinner parties. Integrating into a foreign culture can be a tricky business, but it is made much simpler when I can chime in, “Did you see last night’s episode?” and poke fun at the contestants. We also learn myriads of new vocabulary, including words that don’t come up at work or in a language textbook, and some that maybe shouldn’t be repeated in polite company.

I could write an entire blog about French reality TV, but back to work, where our apartment rules no longer apply. At work, I never know what language I should be speaking. Sometimes I feel like I can’t speak any language anymore – French and English have both flown out the window and into the Seine and the only thing I have left is a whimsical mélange of invented words, ridiculous portmanteaux of French and English. I am constantly applying Helen Eby’s wisdom from her post a few months ago, especially given that once, I invented a fourteen-letter word in French during a sight translation class (récompensation, in case anyone’s curious).

I can say without a doubt that language switching is definitely heightened while working in France. As a member of the team that translates into English, so I speak English with my colleagues every day. This goes beyond shoptalk; we often play the game “Bizarre or British?” to determine whether a word is an unfamiliar but common British English term, or is it just a bad translation?

I am constantly going back and forth between French, American English and British English, and my brain is in overdrive to keep up. But unlike me, all the project managers at my company have no problem juggling many things at once. They are masters at their jobs, expertly balancing deadlines and clients and translators without breaking a sweat. I, however, sweat profusely.

Where I really panic is every time the phone rings at my desk at work. The phone ringing could mean a multitude of things, and all of them challenging.

  1. “For some reason, the translator couldn’t get Trados to work, so you can just figure that out for her, right? Perfect, thanks!” Cue the hour-long battle trying to generate target files and decode error messages written in part English, part French, part long strings of error codes that I Google desperately hoping to find a solution before the deadline.
  2. “The translator said whatever he had trouble understanding, he left in French and marked in red.” Naively, I open the document with optimism, only to be greeted with something far more similar to a Picasso painting—highlights in every color of the rainbow, formatting all over the place—than a translated document.
  3. “Do you have time to translate this teeny tiny text in the next twenty minutes? It’s only a few lines… and by a few I mean a few hundred…”

(Disclaimer: these three scenarios usually happen to me at least once a day, and sometimes all before lunch.)

While I am trying to understand the project manager’s requests and deciding how to respond, things only get worse when I answer in French and they respond in English with “Okay, thanks, bye!” It throws me for a loop every time. Once I spent five minutes trying to figure out why a project manager sent me a one word email— “Nice!” —Fancy city in the south of France? Subject of a new translation? Upcoming vacation destination? Or is that where I’m going to end up if I don’t meet this deadline? Doesn’t seem too terrible to me, unless he’s going to throw me in the Mediterranean… until I realize that he wrote to me in English. Whoops.

Working in an environment where language is fluid and always changing can be a challenge, but the linguistic gymnastics gives me an entirely new perspective on translation. Making judgment calls is much more natural because I make them all day, playing with both languages on an intrinsic level in everyday communication rather than just in translation.  But possibly the most important thing I’ve learned while my brain is humming away in both languages is that meaning and clarity can always be gleaned from even the most linguistically complicated, confusing beginning.

Feeling lazy? A sure-fire way not to get work

By Riccardo Schiaffino
Reblogged from About Translation blog with permission from the author

Feeling lazy? A sure-fire way not to get workNovice translators often get advice on how to get work and how to successfully conduct their freelance business. Several leading translators, in fact, have published books aimed at less experienced colleagues (among these books, I especially recommend those by Corinne McKay, the Jenner twins and Chris Durban).

However, what if you feel lazy, don’t really want to receive work, but, for some reason, you have to make a show of looking for it? Maybe your significant other has been nagging you to send your résumé to your prospects, and when you temporized by saying “I need to research them first”, she answered by providing you with a list of 7,600 translation agencies and a paid subscription to Payment Practices.

What then: Are you doomed to the drudgery of toil? Not to worry: Here you’ll find a 10-point proven strategy to make sure no translation company in their right mind will ever send projects your way (and it works for direct customers, too):

  1. Be full of it: Write a bombastic cover message for your résumé. Feel free to add implausible claims (“…I am a Vogon native speaker, but can also easily translate into Klingon, as I spent two weeks on vacation there once, and I specialize in all subjects…”). A patronizing and condescending tone is also very helpful in turning prospects away (“…as you should know, language translation is a profession only a selected few can undertake…”).
  2. Deliberately misspell your cover message, and add some egregious error of grammar, syntax, punctuation and usage (very effective, for instance, is to claim “I have challenges to provide high-quality service and meeting deadlines,” as in an application I received some time ago).

Bonus material: If you don’t know how to write a thoroughly off-putting cover message, take heart: Here is a real masterpiece I received (with a few details changed to protect the sender) that you can use as a template:

“Good morning!
I hereby request the following question, I saw this email and you were recruiting freelance translators, I wonder if that offer is still open?
I am a young Portuguese who have a graduation in Portuguese and Dutch by the faculty of letters of Coimbra. And for three years I teached English in Portugal. Over these three years, at home, I did a translation of various texts, literary and non-literary, for example: user guides , how to apply a product; how to put a machine to work in a factory; the warning letters and simple letters; poems; short stories; emails with requests; cookery recipes; medical prescription; college and University diplomas and etc.
I´m available and able to make in these three languages translation. I can also translate from Italian to Portuguese and Spanish to Portuguese, because I had a year of Italian and Spanish in University.
I am currently living in Burma.
My work as a translator will be done at home in the computer and then I send my translations through my email for your company.
If you are interested in my services as a freelance translator, could you tell me what email can I send my CV?
Please contact me at (address) for any further information.
Best regards,
Jane A. Translator”

  1. Don’t mention your language pair in the title of your message. Let your prospects guess.
  2. Don’t mention your language pair in the header of your résumé, either. If you really feel compelled to add it, the bottom of page three (possibly under “other information and personal interests”) should do nicely. If they finally get there, your prospects will be happy to discover you don’t translate in a language they are interested in.
  3. If you have worked as a translator in the past, do include every detail of all projects you ever did (in fact, list all language assignments you did since middle school, for good measure). Remember: Your goal is to bore your prospect, and a seven-page single-spaced résumé should easily do the trick.
  4. Wide margins and a legible layout are for chumps. Use the narrowest margins your word processor lets you get away with, don’t indent between paragraphs, and don’t use any font other than Arial Narrow (8 points maximum). If your prospects cannot read your résumé, they will not be tempted to hire you.
  5. If (as you should) you are writing your résumé in a language which is not your own, make sure not to have it revised by a native speaker: She could accidentally correct all the errors you have worked so hard to add.
  6. In the unfortunate case that a prospect, despite your efforts, answers your message and asks you to take a short translation test, be original: don’t just say you don’t do free tests (they might respect you for that), and certainly don’t accept to translate the test and do your best on it. Instead, accept the test, use Gurgle Translate, don’t spell-check, and send the test late (if they gave you a deadline), or not at all (if they didn’t).
  7. If you decide to take a test, ignore any instructions that come with it: following them would waste your time, and you might unfortunately find in them some suggestion of how your prospect would like you to proceed. You want to show you are an independent spirit, not someone who meekly accepts to do what he is tasked to do.
  8. And finally: Now that we live in a Web 2.0 world, with plenty of social media available to show what you really think to all and sundry, let your personality shine under your real name. Badmouth translation companies and belittle other translators on AmateurZ and BabbleBook. Suggest plenty of erroneous terms in online translation fora (in fact, suggest them in at least three different languages you don’t know). Display a righteous attitude (better yet, a paranoid one), and let everybody know that all translation companies (and all direct customers, for that matter), are out to get you to work for free, that all other translators are infinitely worse than you, that of course translators can and should translate from their second language into their third one, and that the sole reason for university translation departments the whole word over is to churn out plenty of lemmings ready to jump off a cliff and take all the work away from you.

P.S. This will be the subject for another article, but learn to be very rude on the phone, especially if some project manager calls you.

NOTE: This article, together with many others from several prominent translators, was written for Mox II: What they don’t tell you about translation, the new collection of Mox cartoons by Alejandro Moreno-Ramos. Mox II was published today: go and order it – it is the perfect gift for any translator.

How to make the most of your last year at university? 7 essential steps for translation students.


By Marta Stelmaszak

My last year at university as a translation student was a blast. I was thrilled to see how the quality of my translations has improved over the years, my head was full of translation theory knowledge and I was excited to be thinking about developing my future career. But I was also a bit, just a bit anxious about graduating and feeling the responsibility for my own growth. I did my best in the last year of study, drawing from great experience and useful tips provided by my tutors.
However, looking back on it now, there are some things I wish I took into account then, some actions I wish I took and some plans I wish I made. This is why I wanted to appeal to you, last year translation student, and encourage you to do the following 7 things that will significantly improve your experience when transitioning from student life to professional life. Continue reading

Buddies Welcome Newbies at #ata55

By The Savvy Newcomer Team

belt-311820_1280The pre-conference event that was a resounding success last year, Buddies Welcome Newbies, is back this year and it promises to be an even bigger event!

Led by Helen Eby and Jamie Hartz, with the support of lots of volunteers, this program is designed as an ice breaker for those attending the Conference for the first – or even the second – time. The ATA Annual Conference is the biggest T&I event in the US, and walking around without knowing anyone can be a bit overwhelming.

In the same spirit of this blog, aimed at newcomers to the profession, Buddies Welcome Newbies is the session to attend if you are either a newcomer or an inexperienced conference attendee (or both!). Helen and Jamie have become the Fairy Godmothers of the Newbies and this session is sure to offer some great tips to help you navigate the Conference.

The plan is simple:

  • Attend the opening session of Buddies Welcome Newbies.
  • After the wonderful presentation given by Helen and Jamie, jam-packed with cool tips, Newbies are paired up with Buddies (final ratio will depend on number of participants in attendance).
  • 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 for even more great information on what to do next and listen to presentations from guest speakers.

This year’s response has been tremendous and to this date, we have 60 registered buddies and 129 registered newbies. Haven’t registered yet? Not to worry, here is the link to the Buddies Welcome Newbies.

Although we often advertise this event as a great session for Newbies – and the benefits for them are apparent – the real stars of the program are the Buddies. We just can’t do it without their help, dedication, and willingness. A big shout-out to all our Buddies!

Registrations are still coming in, and we know they will continue even until the day of the event, but we wanted to take this opportunity to review some of the comments we have received so far, and address them the best we can.

Learn new skills Skills take time, but you will find lots of sessions that get you started thinking about how to do that! You may even find training programs represented in the booths!
Meet people Now, that’s easy! There are 1500 of them!
Tips about the ATA Certification Exam Hm… Scary. Yep. Many fail. You, of course, won’t! But really, just relax and do your best. Your business can go on whether or not you are certified!
Network Go to the Division dinners, the Résumé Exchange, the Brainstorm Networking right before the Business Practices happy hour, and see how you can connect with others!
Learn more about my field 175 sessions… Need we say more?
Negotiating and pricing techniques Sit down – coffee or tea in hand -, open your Conference program and study it! You are sure to find more than one session on the subject.
Tips from a friendly colleague, choosing sessions Your Buddy will be awesome for this! Buddies are there to help you break the ice with this scary crowd for a couple of days. Later, you might stay connected, or not! Maybe you will stay connected in a lighthearted way for a long time, no commitments.
I’m introverted Most of us are more introverted than we care to admit… Good thing you admit it! Just assume others are also looking for a friend. Your Buddy can help you at the opening banquet.
How to make the best of the conference This is our specialty! We are awesome at this! We set you up with a friend, who of course has all the answers (or not) but you will meet a friendly crowd. Just grab anyone with a red ribbon later in the conference, since they are the friendliest bunch in town!

Helen likes to go to these kinds of sessions:

Speakers she promised to support.

Topics she disagrees with.

Issues she is curious about.

Chances to just geek out (she did start out college as a med school student)

Take a session off and visit the booths when there is nobody there.

Take a session off to just go to something fun. An art museum, a walk along the lake, whatever. Take a break!

What you make out of the Conference is up to you, and your Buddy will be a friendly face who can provide general guidelines as to what to do, how to navigate the Conference, and perhaps share a tip or two about the trade; don’t expect him or her to be a Mentor, though!

So, get your notepad, tablet or whatever gadget you use for writing stuff down, and get ready to make the most out of your conference experience!

And don’t forget to leave us your comments below to tell us about your experience before or after the Conference!

ATA Business Smarts – The Midsummer Slump

Reblogged from ATA Business Practices

Dear Business Smarts:

During the past two weeks, very little work has come in. My regular clients all seem to have gone on a collective beach vacation. Even though I usually have a steady amount of work, I have had to search the online marketplaces for assignments, without much success. I feel like a fraud sitting in my office and not making any money. What should I do?
— Unemployed Workaholic in New York

Dear Unemployed:

Fluctuations in workload, and an ebbing of the tide during the summertime, are inescapable parts of every freelancer’s life. Here are some suggestions for things to do during what seems to be the inevitable “midsummer lull,” which is a perfect time to address many of the management and business chores small business owners often neglect:

Catch Up
  • Make sure you have sent an invoice for every job and logged every payment that has come in. Balance your checkbook and order new checks if you are about to run out.
  • Check that you have current versions of all your essential software: now is the time to spend a couple of hours downloading those enormous upgrade files. Run a utility to defragment your main hard drive. Delete any application programs you never use, along with their preference files and other baggage; there are utilities for this, too.
  • Double-check that your virus protection software is up-to-date, and scan for undetected malware.
  • Enter useful terminology into your translation memory system or terminology management program.
  • Even in the age of Google, you might still want to order some new dictionaries or reference books. Check through those discussion list printouts and book reviews you stuffed into a folder a few months ago.
  • Look through your Internet browser bookmarks or favorites to see whether there are any useful sites you have not visited recently.
  • Check your supplies of printer paper, toner, staples, etc.
Clean Up
  • Do something about all the stuff that piled up around the office while you had no time to do anything but work.
  • Sort through your e-mail IN box and confirm that every meancial records for seven years, but anything older can now be recycled. Be sure to shred all documents that include confidential data, such as your Social Security number.
  • If you have not decided to keep copies of every translation you have ever done, add the old ones to the recycling bin.ssage requiring a response has been answered.
  • The IRS requires that you retain financial records for seven years, but anything older can now be recycled. Be sure to shred all documents that include confidential data, such as your Social Security number.
  • If you have not decided to keep copies of every translation you have ever done, add the old ones to the recycling bin.
  • Are you happy with your present assortment of clients? Are some of them more trouble than they are worth? Consider refining your client mix using the “portfolio management techniques” discussed in this column a few months ago.
  • Are there new subject areas you would like to explore so that you can expand your expertise and take on new kinds of work?
  • Think about the types of translations you love and hate (engineering drawings? magazine articles? lab reports?) and act accordingly.
  • Is your work life in balance with the rest of your life? Are you spending enough time with your family and friends, and on other activities that make you a well-rounded human being?
  • Are you making enough money from your translation or interpretation work? How does your income contribute to the family budget?
  • This is the perfect time to consider your tax situation: should your estimated payments be raised or lowered? How do your business expenses look at mid-year?
Do Not…

… panic. Your favorite client has not forgotten about you, and the phone will ring again.
… check your e-mail every 10 minutes to see whether new work has come in (besides, your
computer is busy downloading all that updated software).
… accept work at a lower rate, or work with clients you do not like, just because there is a
temporary hole in your job calendar.

  • Talk to the people you live with.
  • Pull some weeds out of the flowerbeds.
  • Read a book.
  • Take a walk.
  • Find a new restaurant and go out on a date with your significant other.
  • Buy yourself a nice plant for the office.
  • Go for a bicycle ride.

Keep a folder around to collect “downtime” ideas. Then, the next time you are buried up to your eyeballs in assignments and are wondering how much more coffee you can drink, you can actually look forward to having a little well-deserved time off.

Newbies and Buddies Survey: The Results Are In

checklist-154274_1280By Helen EbyJamie Hartz

Last year’s American Translators Association annual conference in San Antonio was the first to host two new sessions called “Buddies Welcome Newbies”. The Buddies and Newbies sessions were the brainchild of a few volunteers and some very eager supporters, and the events made such a successful debut last year that they will be taking place again at this year’s conference.

In this program, newcomers (both to the translation/interpreting professions and to the conference) are paired up with experienced translators, or “buddies”, at an opening session on the first day of the conference. The suggested commitment is simple: meet your partner at the opening session, have a meal with your partner (continental breakfast works), go to one session together (there are about 150 sessions to choose from), and come to the “where do we go from here?” presentation on the last day. We accommodate special requests when possible.

Newbies are able to ask questions and ease their minds early on, while buddies have the opportunity to meet someone new and contribute to the future of the profession. At the “where do we go from here?” session, we have a set of guest speakers from different divisions and chapters, talk about how to follow up on contacts, and give people the opportunity to ask any other pending questions. At this session, one of the “buddies” said, “Hey, this helps us oldsters too!”

As a matter of fact, some Newbies said that having this session helped them decide to come to San Antonio! The concept of meeting 1,500 people at once had been feeling overwhelming. In practice, we saw newbies and buddies going out for lunch together, people who wanted a buddy but couldn’t get to the opening session stopped us in the hallways, newbies wanting a buddy stopped us asking for green ribbons and a buddy, and some experienced attendees told us they really wished this had been available for them.

However, we wanted to make sure what the results really were. In March, the leaders of the Newbies and Buddies sessions at the ATA Conference conducted an online survey to poll registered attendees about the events. The goal was to hear from newbies and buddies themselves what their experiences had been and what, in their opinions, the positives and negatives were. In the interest of preparing for the upcoming 55th annual ATA conference in Chicago, and specifically the Newbies and Buddies sessions that will take place once again this year, the highlights of the survey results are compiled below.


59 of the participants responded.  33 were experienced, or “buddies”, and 25 were “newbies”. Of these responses, there were only 10 respondents who had worked in the translation and/or interpreting industry for fewer than 4 years (most, in fact, had 10+ years of experience). 78% of respondents were translators, 10% were interpreters, and 2 of them were students. We had noticed that our “newbies” were new to the Conference, but not to the field, and this confirmed it.


Newbies: 88% of newbies in the survey felt that having a buddy helped them at least somewhat. Responses from newbies to the question “How did having a buddy at the conference help you?” included comments on how their buddy introduced them to new people, made them feel welcome, answered their many questions, gave them someone to eat a meal with or call if they had questions, and gave them insights into the industry. Unfortunately, 41% of newbies reported that they did not stay in touch with their buddy at all after the Conference. 61% reported staying in touch for one week to 2 months, and 18% are still in touch with their buddy. Hopefully these numbers will improve next year!

Buddies: 84% of buddies felt that having a newbie enriched their experience at the conference. Buddies expressed that having a newbie helped them to see the conference from a different perspective, gave them a chance to meet someone new, reminded them of their own first conference or getting started in the industry, and generally gave them a good feeling about helping someone else. 40% of buddies reported still being in touch with their newbie.

In general, both newbies and buddies appreciated having someone to talk to. It helped to break the ice early on, and many felt that the benefit in this event was not just for the newbies, but that buddies could find value in having a newbie as well.

Points for improvement

The chaotic nature of the first Buddies Welcome Newbies session was one of the main criticisms of last year’s event. Having never done this sort of thing at the conference, handling the unexpected massive response was a challenge! There was no standing room in the room. People were sitting on the floor!  Next year, plans will be in place to make the opening session less stressful and a more satisfactory experience all-around—including the spatial requirements, number of ribbons available, and manner in which buddies and newbies are paired up.

This year’s Newbies and Buddies event is bound to be a success, as we know that newbies will continue to arrive looking for someone to turn to, and buddies, we trust, will be more than willing to lend a helping hand.

Both Newbies and Buddies are necessary for this event to continue to be a success! To register for this year’s Buddies Welcome Newbies event (registration is optional but recommended), click here. Last year we had about 1.5 newbies per buddy registered for the event, and we suspect that at the event it became even more lopsided… We look forward to helping again this year!

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 or; 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). 

Direct clients… the freelancer’s dream

By Helen Eby

We all want to work with direct clients… or say we do. Why?

I have heard many translators wish they could connect with direct clients in a “the grass is always greener” kind of way. I like working with direct clients, and such work comes with its own set of joys and challenges. However, it is a complex issue.

Some joys Some challenges
  • More intimate teamwork.
  • Ability to find out the purpose of the translation and make it fit that purpose more precisely.
  • Visiting the client’s office to see how we can enhance the client’s mission.
  • It isn’t just about the money.
  • We grow as we become an organization’s translator of reference.
  • Our clients may look for ways to support our mission.
  • The relationship develops slowly. It takes years to develop a reciprocal partnership.
  • We absorb the risk of non-payment.
  • To be able to offer a full service, we have to subcontract editing and other tasks, so we must develop a more complete team.
  • Our price needs to reflect additional costs, such as project management time, client development time, and subcontracting a reviewer.
  • We need a referral network for assignments that go beyond the scope of what we can handle. Doing work that isn’t up to our usual standards is a great way to lose trust!

icon-41335_640To develop a true sense of teamwork with a client, we need to be able to articulate our role and our expectations clearly. We have to assume that our client is not fully informed about the translation process, its complexities, or our needs as their partners. I have developed a worksheet based on the ASTM Standards. I introduce it during an initial conversation with the client so we know what to expect from each other.Why use the ASTM? And what does that spell anyway?

ASTM International, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), is a globally recognized leader in the development and delivery of international voluntary consensus standards.

From the About ASTM International page.

I use the ASTM Standard Guide for Quality Assurance in Translation as a foundation for this worksheet because the ASTM Standards are developed by producers from many different sectors of the translation field. The ASTM requires that at least 50% of the voters be users of our services, which ensures that it is a process that meets the needs of clients and is peer-reviewed by colleagues. Because of this, it is highly respected around the world.

The Guide has sections on what translation is, who the Guide is for, how to select a translation service provider, the different phases of the translation project (see page 3 of my worksheet), and how to develop specifications for a project (that is a big part of my worksheet).

My personal worksheet asks questions like:

  • Who was the source text originally written for?
  • Who will the translation be written for?
  • How much will we have to modify the original text for it to serve the new target audience?
  • Who will do the non-translation work, such as desktop publishing, modification of graphics, etc.?
  • Are there any restrictions on where the work could be done? For example, an attorney or a hospital may want a document to be translated at their office for confidentiality reasons.
  • Will the requestor have a member of his team provide an in-house review? If so, who will make the final decisions about the translated text?
  • Has the requestor produced other documents in this target language that we should be consistent with?
  • How will we communicate during the translation process?
  • Will the translator be identified in the final document?
  • Of course, we talk about payment issues… This is usually the last thing I talk about because the preceding conversation helps us both understand the complexities of the project.

The last page of my worksheet explains my translation process to the requestor. Knowing there is a thoughtful approach to meeting their needs leads the client to respond, “You are a professional!”Using this worksheet, based on the ASTM Standards, has helped my clients and my other partners know that we are not creating a process all by ourselves. We are following a process and working with people according to established best practices, which have been shown to work best for clients and for requestors alike. That is how we develop solid teamwork with clients, whether they are direct clients or translation companies.

More on Helen Eby: After starting to use this checklist, Helen Eby joined the ASTM and is now the Technical Contact for Subcommittee F43.03 on Language Translation. The current Standard is now under review. In the ASTM process, every voice must be given full consideration, and Helen has learned a lot through this position.