What professors don’t teach you about translating professionally

During my undergraduate degree in translation, I felt like I was very prepared for a career in translation. I excelled in my language classes and the translation classes prepared me to thoroughly read a translation brief and identify tone, audience, and purpose so that I could carefully craft a beautiful translation. What more is there to know?

Oh, how unprepared was I… While translation programs are great when it comes to language mediation and translation theory, they seem to be lacking in the areas of client acquisition, marketing, payment practices, and starting a freelance business. (This is my personal experience; however, I have heard similar thoughts from other newly graduated translators.)

As a recent graduate and newbie freelance translator, I felt lost when it came to anything outside the realm of language. So, through lots of research in forums, books, blogs, and translators’ websites, I learned the fundamentals of being a professional translator. I am still learning, but here are some of the concepts that I wish I had known before I graduated:

You will not be translating for 40 hours a week

When I imagined working as a freelancer, I thought of myself translating away for eight hours a day. Little did I know that a lot of my time would actually be spent talking with clients, managing invoices, surfing translation job boards, updating/creating my website, and much more. I really only spend about half my time translating.

You will be an entrepreneur

Freelancing sounds amazing; you don’t have a boss and you work the hours you want. In that same regard though, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Learning to manage my time took a while and motivating myself to get up early to work even if I don’t have a project to do that day is hard.

Success doesn’t happen overnight

Getting established as a freelancer takes time. Sometimes you will work for a client that has a tight deadline and you will stay up late and wake up early to finish the project. Yet other times, you will not have any paid work in the pipeline. I learned that putting myself out there often was absolutely necessary if I wanted to find more agencies to work with. Patience is a trait I have been learning to lean on.

You should file as a business and pay taxes

As an entrepreneur, you will have to organize your own business. Whether you decide to create an LLC, a corporation, or a sole proprietorship, you must establish your business in the state that you do business in. Make sure that you do your research to figure out which business filing is best for you. Being a business owner was something I never even thought about during my studies.

You will also have to do your own taxes for the business and pay yearly, quarterly, etc. This can seem very daunting, so hiring a professional accountant to help might not be such a bad idea.

You have to find your own clients

As I said before, you have to keep putting yourself out there, because otherwise no one will know that you even exist. I cannot count the number of agencies I have contacted asking if they need translators in my language pair and then heard nothing back. Researching prospects takes a lot of time but will be worth it.

This also means that having a website and an online presence is essential so that potential clients can find you. Even just having an updated and professional LinkedIn profile is important.

Money matters

I didn’t have one class that talked about what we were all wondering about: money. In the translation industry, it is almost taboo to talk about what to charge because of price fixing. Yet this means that when I started out I didn’t know if I should be charging 2 cookies a word or 20 cookies a word, or if I should charge by the hour. How could I calculate that? Through more research and the help of Corinne McKay’s ‘Deciding what to charge’ worksheet I was able to realistically get an idea of what I can charge and still pay rent.

Accepting payments is also something I never thought about. I’d do the project, the client would send the money, and that’s it. Not so simple. Some agencies only send payments through PayPal or TransferWise, but others will pay you through bank wire transfer. Figure out which option works best for you and your clients. Sometimes wire transfers are too expensive, and PayPal doesn’t accept all currencies. In the end, it takes money to make money, so finding a completely free option might be hard or unsafe.

In reality, the argument for why translation programs don’t teach about the business side of translation is that they are teaching you how to translate, not how to run a business, which I understand as well. So, to the translators who are still pursuing a degree in translation: ask your professors questions about the profession while you still have the time. I sat down with one of my advisors and asked a lot of questions at the end of my last semester, which helped immensely. Read through the great resources for translators out there (The Savvy Newcomer!) and start networking with established translators who may be able to guide you in your first year.

About the author

Olivia Albrecht is a French and Spanish to English translator and copywriter specialized in marketing and tourism. She has a B.S. from Kent State University in translation studies and is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in digital marketing. She splits her time between living in Canton, Ohio, US and Cali, Colombia. You can find out more about Olivia on her website at www.oneglobetranslation.com or on Twitter at @OneGlobeTR.

 

Five Things That Bother Me As A Translator

“Translations? Is that a thing?”

In 2016 I started a BA in Translations. It was a new, exciting experience for me, being able to study something that I had decided to do in high school, but had to put off for two years because, you know, life. However, with my decision to become a translator—and eventually working as one—came a lot of things that bothered me, and still do. Let us see, shall we?

  1. “Translations? Is that a thing?” When I told people that I was studying translations, about 60% replied with these questions. Yes, of course it is a thing. You read Harry Potter in Spanish, right? How do you think that happened? As awesome as it sounds, Hermione did not magically convert the books to other languages.
  2. “Does it really take four years to learn how to get one text from one language to the other? Don’t you just need to know the language and that is it?” No! There is a reason we study for four years. Do you know how many different translations the word “consideration” has? It is a nightmare. You are not translating 24/7 for four years; you have to learn punctuation, Spanish and English sentence analysis, and if you want to major in something, you have to study everything related to that major (like literature, medical English or private law.) So, no. Two years is not enough. Hell, four years is not enough.
  3. “Hey, you are a translator. What does *random Spanish word* mean?” Wow, I did not know I had suddenly morphed into a dictionary. Just because I work as someone who translates a text into another language does not mean I know the translation of every word. Again, do you know how many translations “consideration” has?
  4. “I heard you graduated! Can you give me an estimate of how much this translation will cost? Oh, I am going to go for someone cheaper.” I hate disloyal competition! I have been working freelance since before I graduated, and I would either do the projects for free or get paid in Starbucks. Now, I’ve found out that not only is competition tough, but other translators are willing to basically give their work away by how little they are charging their clients. I gave someone an estimate which was less than half of what I would normally charge, basically giving them my work for free, but they thought it was too expensive. I lost my first client as a graduate because of unfair competition, and I’m pretty bothered by that.
  5. “Hi! I am very interested in your CV and think you will make a great addition to our team. Do you have experience? *five days go by* Sorry, we have decided to move on with more experienced candidates.” How am I supposed to gain experience when no one will hire me because I have no experience? It is just like those job ads that say “Entry level” but require 3-5 years of experience. It makes no sense.

In 2020 I graduated as a translator. Some people have a knack for science, others for arts, and others, like me, for languages. No, it is not easy. But with hard work and lots of coffee, you get the job done. I may never be rid of the questions you see above, or the disloyal competition out there, but, at the end of the day, I love what I do; and even though all these things bothered me—and some still do—, getting the right translation of the word “consideration” is so rewarding. There is no better feeling.

Of course, this is just my experience. As a recent graduate I would love to know what other frustrations translators have (either graduates or translators who are well into the business). Also, veterans, if you have any tips based on your experience, please let me know. I really want a job.

About the author

Samantha Biscomb is an English-Spanish translator, graduated from the University of Montevideo, Uruguay. She has been working freelance since 2018 because no company will hire her given that she has no experience working in a company. It bothers her.

Mentoring and Beyond: Business support by and for peers within ATA

The American Translators Association (ATA) set up its current mentoring program in 2011, and since then an estimated 240 mentor/mentee pairs have worked together to jointly explore the business side of translation and interpreting. The program has been a big success, so much so that the Mentoring Committee, which is part of ATA’s Business Practices Education Committee, is working to offer new avenues of support. This article provides a short overview of the different program offerings, categorized by level of business experience in the T&I industry.

Beginners: Starting out in a new profession can be a bewildering experience. You have more questions than answers and everyone around you appears to know so much more. At that stage, it can be hard to know what to ask. “How do I get my foot in the door?” may be a burning question on your mind as a new freelancer, but it is not specific enough for a fruitful mentoring relationship. The Savvy Newcomer program provides information for members who are new to ATA and the profession. Its community and shared discussions are a great starting point. You may actually discover that many questions have already been answered in detail, and The Savvy Newcomer team can help you find this information. You can start by visiting the Resources page to see some links that have proven helpful at this career stage.

Mid-career: Once you’ve learned the ropes and established your business, there will be new questions on your mind. You may want to explore specializations, advanced marketing, or software products. Several options are available at that stage:

Apply to be a mentee in the Mentoring Program: ATA members with a few years of experience may apply to work one-on-one with a seasoned ATA member who will meet with them monthly to explore specific concerns. Applicants are encouraged to define actionable goals in order to be paired with an experienced colleague who has a proven record of achieving these goals. Past examples of such goals include time management, deepening knowledge in a field of specialization, financial planning, staying organized, etc. Further information can be found on the Mentoring Program webpage and applications may be submitted until March 6, 2020.

New Masterminds Program: The Mentoring Committee is also working on a new, peer-to-peer offer for ATA members with 2-5 years of professional experience. The independent groups will choose a defined topic, such as “Marketing for freelance translators.” The committee is currently developing the ground rules for such groups and will offer training and guidance for establishing and running Mastermind groups in the summer/fall of 2020.

Advanced career: ATA members who have been working in the industry for several decades may encounter completely new professional situations. How can they keep learning, stay current on new developments, and open up new income streams? At that stage, the following options may be open:

Apply to be a mentor in the Mentoring Program: Experienced translators and interpreters have reported that sharing their knowledge and experience as a mentor is beneficial in several ways. Not only are mentors helping junior colleagues learn more about the business of translation, but they also can learn about new professional challenges and innovative programs. Certified mentors receive CE points for their active involvement. Further information for mentors can be found on the Mentoring Program webpage as well.

Advanced Mastermind Groups: The new Masterminds program (see above), which is designed to facilitate intensive discussions and goal-setting among peers, will also be of interest to ATA members with fully matured businesses. The new groups will be a place to explore questions such as “work opportunities for highly experienced translators” or “getting ready to retire.” Further information on the program will be available in the summer/fall of 2020.

About the authors

Susanne van Eyl is a past chair of ATA’s Mentoring Committee and has been a driving force in designing the program in its current format. She has benefited from the program both as a mentor and a mentee. Dorothee Racette is a past president of ATA and has been a mentor in the program since 2013.

Attending your clients’ conferences

Have you ever been told, “go where your clients go,” “meet your clients face-to-face,” or “attend an industry event”? Have you been interested, but not sure where to start?

Attending your potential clients’ conferences can be very rewarding: you learn new terminology, get familiar with the industry, meet potential clients, and promote your services. The list goes on! However, conferences can be overwhelming, and putting yourself out there can seem intimidating.

Have you considered attending with a colleague? Do you think attending alone would be a better fit?

Earlier this year, Veronika Dimichelis and Jessica Hartstein teamed up and attended an international conference together, and Veronika attended a local symposium alone just a few weeks later.

We hope this article gives you some food for thought on how you can make the most of attending large, non-translation industry conferences and find new ways of partnering up with colleagues.

Choose the right client conference

We chose to attend the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) together since we both worked in the oil and gas industry in the past. This is an international oil and gas conference and tradeshow with 2,470 exhibitors and 60,000 attendees from 100+ countries. We had both attended this event in the past through our former employers, so we knew what to expect and excitedly anticipated running into old co-workers.

Of note, many non-technical companies attend and exhibit at events like this; you can find people to talk to even if you’re not working with technical subjects. Think: communication experts, law firms, and even environmental and human trafficking NGOs.

A few weeks later, Veronika attended a local Human Resources symposium with 2,000 attendees and around 100 exhibitors. She is a trained HR professional; it’s one of her areas of specialization and she knows the subject matter. Given her experience in this field, she found it easy to connect with people and start conversations around common challenges and focus areas.

Fly solo or go with a colleague?

Jessica initiated the buddy approach with OTC. She approached Veronika because she felt like they had similar communication styles and knew she’d be comfortable talking to prospective clients with Veronika. Keep in mind that while you and your buddy may work for yourselves and offer separate services, you are likely to reflect on each other to prospective clients.

In our case, we have completely disparate language pairs, and this meant we would never feel in competition, but teaming up with someone in your same language pair or with your opposite language pair may be the right fit for you.

The pros of attending with someone else are that you may feel more comfortable striking up conversations, you have a chance to learn from the other’s experience, you can vouch for each other’s professionalism, and it may simply be the crutch that gets you to the event!

The cons, if not managed well, could be that you talk to fewer people, take backstage to your colleague, or are less efficient with your time. Toward the end of our visit, we had to split up because the tradeshow was so large, there was no way to get to every exhibit we wanted to otherwise.

Preparation

Rather than just punching the address into your GPS and winging it, it’s worth the effort to think about what your main objective is in attending the event. You are making a time and financial investment to attend the conference, so be strategic.

For example, is your biggest priority to find potential clients? To improve your understanding of the subject matter? To get inspired and find new ideas for services you can offer or markets you can target? Or is it to catch up with former colleagues or to position yourself as an expert in the field? Once you’ve determined your main goal, look at the events with that goal in mind.

In our case, OTC is a 4-day event, but we set aside enough time to be in the tradeshow for about 4 hours. Our hope was to connect with companies who work in Spanish-speaking countries (Jessica) and Russia (Veronika). We individually looked at the exhibitor’s list and took note of which companies we thought would be a good fit for ourselves, and then compared our lists beforehand. With over 2,000 exhibitors located in two different arenas, it’s important to have a game plan!

We also wanted to bump into former colleagues to let them know what we were doing and to get a chance to learn about what they were up to now. We reached out to the people we knew and stopped by their booths. It was an excellent opportunity to reconnect and introduce each other to people who know the value of professional translators.

As Veronika prepared for the HR Symposium, she looked at the exhibitors’ list, reviewed their promotional materials, and took note of companies that work in Russia or offer services that have to do with relocation or international assignments. She also made a list of presentations related to topics that she worked with as an HR manager in the past. The HR Symposium was a relatively small event, so she felt that she had to be comfortable asking questions and contributing to the discussion after the presentations.

The day of the event

Go prepared with an elevator pitch that specifically targets that industry or even the companies of greatest interest to you. Prepare a few good conversation-starters and avoid using T&I jargon. For example, clients are unlikely to be familiar with “source language” and “target language.” A simple “do you have English documents you need translated into Russian?” would probably get you the information you need or start a conversation where you can help them learn more about the industry.

Neither of us is pushy, and while many companies at OTC need or use translation services, we both knew that the exhibitors had their own priorities, and our services were not what they were targeting at this event. Thus, we were respectful of people’s time, engaged in conversations about their international presence, and provided information about T&I wherever we could. In fact, Veronika very politely pointed out to an exhibitor that was trying to present an international face with a multilingual display that they had made a significant error in Russian. We could see him immediately appreciate the need for professional translators, and we’re fairly certain he went back and told his team about that to improve the display for his next tradeshow.

At the HR Symposium, Veronika focused on participating in conversations with other participants, primarily about international assignments and intercultural challenges that arise when operating in different countries. She could relate to examples and challenges discussed and could share her own experience as an HR professional and a translator.

At a “niche” event like this, she really stood out as the only translator in the room, and most people were interested in learning how translation works and why translators want to stay abreast of trends and focus areas in the fields of their specialization.

Conclusion

There is no one right way to attend client conferences. The only thing for certain is that NOT attending is a missed opportunity. Of course, it’s important to set realistic expectations for what success will look like to you.

Is it fair to think you’ll have 10 new and fantastic clients sending you work immediately after one day at a conference? No! Both of us have the long-game in mind and feel that attending client conferences is one component of that.

At the very least, this is a chance to be better informed about your potential clients’ interests, challenge yourself to step out of the T&I bubble, and practice talking about what you do with confidence.

We will definitely be attending more client events in the future, both together and separately. We hope you will, too!

Image source: Unsplash

Authors’ bios:

Veronika Demichelis is an ATA-certified English>Russian translator based in Houston, TX. She holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics and Intercultural Communication and an MBA in Human Resources Management, and specializes in corporate communication, HR, and social responsibility.

She serves on the ATA Membership Committee and is the co-host for the Smart Habits for Translators podcast and Director for Professional Development for Houston Interpreters and Translators Association.

Jessica Hartstein is an ATA-Certified Translator (Spanish>English, French>English) and a Texas Master Licensed Court Interpreter (Spanish-English). She holds an MA in Conference Interpreting and Translation Studies from the University of Leeds and graduated Cum Laude with a BA from Rice University.

Prior to working freelance, she held full-time, in-house translation positions at a marketing firm in Luxembourg and an oil and gas engineering company in Houston. Jessica specializes in legal, medical, asylum, and oil and gas translation and interpreting projects. She has been fortunate to have lived abroad in Spain, China, Japan, England, and Luxembourg.

The Monterey Institute: A Translator’s Tale

The purpose of this post is to help you answer the question: Is it worth it for me to get a degree in translation? By degree, I mean a formal, one- or two-year academic program that teaches the theory and practice of translation. Clearly, the answer to the question will depend on the individual and their circumstances. To help you decide, I will describe my experiences at the two-year master’s degree program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey in California (MIIS), way back in the late eighties.

Two caveats come with this post. First and foremost, as I’ve just said, I attended the institute back in the Jurassic Period, when it was still known as the Monterey Institute. I’m sure the school has changed its curriculum and its entire program to some degree. Yet I still think it will be valid for me to talk about the teaching methods, the organization of the program, and the benefits I derived from attending.

The second caveat is that you should not assume I believe that a specialized degree in translation is the only way to go. A fair number of us have arrived at the destination of professional translation through many a winding turn and side road. I am certain that plenty of excellent translators out there never attended such a program. For me, however, the experience proved essential.

When I was at the Monterey Institute, the translation and interpretation program was divided into two years of two semesters each. Candidates had to pass a screening process that included demonstrating fluency in at least one other language, their B language. Your A language is your native language (not necessarily English), a third language is your C language, and so on.

The first year was devoted to honing English skills through exercises that taught us how to analyze a text, and introducing us to the various methods of interpretation: sight translation, consecutive interpreting, and simultaneous interpreting. We also learned how to translate. Translators who learn on the job can certainly figure out an approach to their craft, but I am grateful that I had experts teaching me exactly how to read a text, how many passes to go through to produce a final translation, and what each pass should consist of.

At the end of the first year, I opted for the translation-only track. Classes consisted of small groups of six or seven students; we would go around in a circle reading aloud one section of a translation we had prepared in advance as homework. One class was technical translation into and out of the foreign language; the other was general texts in the same two directions. “Technical” texts included anything from an article on local area networks to a description of the Chernobyl disaster. “General” texts tended toward international affairs and politics because many of the teachers worked for the European Union. They were practicing translators and interpreters, able to give us critical exposure to real-life skills and methods.

Meeting in small groups meant everyone had to participate, and everyone was able to receive feedback from professionals. Working into our B and C languages provided useful insights into why those languages use the styles they do, and how to go about molding them to fit the usage norms of our native languages. I think it would be difficult or impossible to reproduce these aspects of the program on your own.

The Monterey Institute teaches students to be generalists, on the theory that if you know how to research a topic and how to translate, the specializations will come as you build your career. This training contrasts with that of translators who have received degrees in a specialized field such as law or biology, most likely in their native language, and then learned how to translate as they went along. Ideally, a student would have both types of education, in a much longer academic program combining undergraduate and graduate studies. But life is rarely ideal. A college education requires a great deal of time and money. My own view is that while a master’s degree in translation is not essential to becoming a translator, a bachelor’s degree certainly is. Four years of undergraduate work provide the exposure to the wide breadth of basic knowledge that translators need to understand the texts they are translating.

Another benefit of the Monterey program is what I think of as the network effect. Because of the professional connections with the EU and Brussels, graduates often moved to Brussels with their degrees to begin work. When a friend from my class and I did the same, we had three instant contacts in the city to show us the ropes. As with any college program, you get to know a group of people, and they become potential job connections, along with the school’s alumni.

A graduate degree program is not feasible for everyone. I was fortunate to have attended the Monterey Institute; I learned lessons and gained experiences that I never would have otherwise. Luckily for all of us, a plethora of online and in-person training programs and courses also exists to help us perfect our craft.

Image credit: Pixabay

Author bio

After graduating from the Monterey Institute, Diana Rhudick worked briefly in Brussels as a translator before returning to the States to teach and start her freelance career. Following a short stint as a translation agency project manager, she began her own translation and editing business.

Currently, she divides her time between her freelance work and project management for a boutique translation company.