Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Izumi Suzuki

The five interviewees featured so far in our “Linguist in the Spotlight” series possess a collective 100-plus years of experience. This week’s interviewee boasts nearly half that on her own. Izumi Suzuki, who has worked an impressive 40 years as a translator and interpreter, is an ATA-certified translator in Japanese<>English (both directions!), as well as a certified court interpreter.

Of Izumi’s several specializations, at least one may surprise readers: classical ballet. (Read on to learn about her own dance career!) Her other areas of expertise include the perhaps less artistic, but no less formidable, areas of production control, quality assurance, and the automotive industry.

To highlight Izumi’s long-term commitment to the professions (she’s one of about 600 ATA “life members”), and to glean insight from her significant experience, we asked her to share what has kept her going all these years. As someone who has adapted to tremendous change in the professions over the decades, she also offers advice on how newcomers can cope with an evolving landscape in the fields of translation and interpreting.

On what has motivated her long-term ATA membership and commitment to the professions all these years

First of all, I joined ATA to take the certification exam. Then I went to a conference and attended Japanese Language Division sessions. I was blown away by the fact that so many Americans were speaking fluently in Japanese, and the sessions offered me so much to learn. The proverb that came to mind was「井の中の蛙大海を知らず」: “A frog in the well cannot conceive of the ocean.” I met many colleagues, made many friends, and learned so much from them. I have also received many jobs since I became certified.

Then I was asked to be a grader, later the division administrator, and finally, a member of the ATA Board. The more I got involved, the more I learned, and the more friends I made. These volunteer activities benefit not only other members, but the volunteers themselves. Currently, I serve as a member of ATA’s Interpreting Policy Advisory Committee (IPAC) and the Certification Committee. The results we get from these committee activities are rewards to me.

Advice for newcomers on how to adapt to advancing technology: If you can’t beat them, join them

When I started translating, I used a typewriter, then a word processor, then a computer. Now I use memoQ. As new software emerges to make translation more efficient and more accurate, new translators should adapt to whatever technological changes come in. Given the progression of AI translation, proofreaders will be needed more and more in the not-too-far future, and translators must be ready.

In interpreting, technologies are coming in, too, such as remote interpreting. New interpreters should be prepared to use devices that support that type of interpreting. Also, mastering note-taking using iPad, etc. would help, too.

However, the fundamental skills for translation/interpreting will not change, and we should keep striving to improve our skills.

Classical ballet, or the story of how a Japanese translator came to translate French

My favorite project has been translation work for the Royal Academy of Dance in England. I am a former ballet dancer (I still take classes almost every day), so I know the exact meaning of ballet terms, all of which are in French.

I occasionally translate materials for ballet-teacher training. Since I teach ballet from time to time, I thoroughly enjoy the content that I translate. This is my dream job. What would be even dreamier would be to interpret for a famous dance company when they visit Japan. I’m still waiting.

What is your favorite part of your work as a translator-interpreter?

I was trained as an interpreter, so I prefer interpreting. Interpreting will make you meet new people, which I love. It’s not just meeting people—you become that person that you are interpreting for a short time. In other words, you live his/her life, just like an actor does, and you get paid for it. What a luxury it is! I have met people who are the best in their fields, and I can always learn a lot from them.

A useful tip for budding interpreters and translators: Know your limits, but don’t limit your opportunities

Do not take an interpreting job if you don’t think you can handle it. In case you do have to take such a job (like when a client is desperate and says they don’t mind even if it’s not your area), make it clear that your knowledge is limited and that you need materials to study beforehand. If no materials are available, then you’d better reject the job. Once you get materials, study hard, ask someone who knows the subject, and memorize terminology.

This applies to translation, too. You may think that you have time to research and check your translation via the internet, but usually there is a deadline. You may lose time for sleep. Then the job is no longer worth doing, and your product will not be good.

To break into a new area, I recommend teaming up with someone who knows the subject so that you can learn. As you do it over and over, you’ll become good at it sooner or later. The most important thing is to GET INTERESTED in the subject once you take a job. This will motivate you to keep going.

Ms. Suzuki established Suzuki-Myers with her late husband, Steve D. Myers, in 1984. She is certified in Japanese<>English translation by the ATA. Currently, she serves as a member of the ATA Certification Committee and the Interpreting Policy Advisory Committee.

Ms. Suzuki is also a state-certified J<>E court interpreter. She is a founding member and former president and board advisor of the Michigan Translators/Interpreters Network) (MiTIN), an ATA chapter. She is a member of the Interpreting Committee of the Japan Association of Translators (JAT) and the National Association of Judiciary Interpreters and Translators (NAJIT). She is also Secretary of the Japan America Society of Michigan and Southwestern Ontario.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with David Rumsey

Following our most recent “Linguist in the Spotlight” interview (with current ATA President Corinne McKay), we could not be happier to have had the opportunity to speak to immediate past president of ATA, David Rumsey. A Swedish-, Danish-, and Norwegian-to-English translator for nearly 30 years, David has a wealth of knowledge about the profession (which, by the way, he fell into by accident!) that he graciously shares with us. Read on to hear his perspective on what it was like to translate pre-Google, why translators should invest in their education, what he has gained from his involvement in professional associations, and the value of venturing out from behind our computer screens. He also reveals some underutilized CAT and Outlook features for organization and productivity.

His “accidental” introduction to a nearly 30-year career

 Like many translators my age, I actually got started by accident. I was a graduate student working in Scandinavian history, and a translation agency contacted the department looking for somebody who could translate a document on a Danish garbage-disposal system. I found the translation projects fun and challenging, and ultimately more financially profitable than pursuing my PhD. Since that point in 1990, I never looked back.

Vodka and heavy-metal music: Some of his most memorable projects over the years

 In the mid-1990s, when single-malt whiskey became a fad in the US, I translated documents from a large alcohol company that had a strategic plan to create a line of premium vodkas, even though they knew that there was actually no difference in terms of the distillation process. Sure enough, a few years later, a whole host of “premium vodkas” arrived on the shelves. Another interesting project was the history of Swedish heavy-metal music. Not that I’m a fan, but it was a very interesting project!

A few of his favorite things about a career in translation

The flexibility cannot be beat. However, the fact that each project is unique and the profession provides ongoing learning opportunities. I love learning about new developments in the field of energy and technology.

A piece of advice for new translators: Never stop learning

Invest in your education and continue to learn about subjects that interest you so that you can write clearly about them as a translator. Being a translator or interpreter is a lifelong learning practice.

What it was like to translate before Google, and a lesson learned

I learned early on, within the first year of my career, not to accept projects that I did not feel comfortable translating. At the time, I felt pressure to accept any and all projects, even in fields that I was not conversant in. There was a lot of “guessing” in terms of the terminology in that case. But this was long before there was even Google. The results were, shall we say, less than satisfying for the customer. I was very grateful that the project manager provided the feedback and was understanding. A lesson learned: if you don’t feel like you have a good understanding of the document, don’t accept it.

Visibility: The value of networking and association databases

At this point, most people either find me through referrals or through various association databases. I still get lots of projects from the ATA database.

Getting out from behind the screen: The benefit of meeting colleagues in person

Being involved with the ATA has helped me to network with people who can provide support and augment my own skills. Even before I became part of the ATA Board of Directors, I attended the ATA Conference and Nordic Division activities regularly. I learn so much from other translators about how they run their business, how they approach translation challenges, and tips for terminology and technology resources. Meeting your colleagues in person is so much more valuable than online, behind the screen. I always come away from the ATA Conference so energized about my profession.

Unexpected lessons learned through membership and participation in professional associations

Obviously I have been involved with the American Translators Association the most. In addition to being a board member and president from 2015 to 2017, I was also involved in the certification program and the Nordic Division, and was a regular conference attendee. Besides the contacts and professional development opportunities in terms of translation, my volunteering at ATA also fostered new skills unrelated to translation that I still use. These can include leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, interpersonal communication skills, time management skills, and even website skills, etc.

I am also a member of the Swedish Association of Professional Translators (SFÖ). I enjoy attending their events because it helps keep me up to date in terms of my Swedish language skills.

Oft-overlooked tools: The power of term management, plus some Outlook hacks

In terms of CAT tools, I think that terminology software is severely underutilized. Although we might not benefit from a high level of repetition between projects from various clients, we might benefit enormously from a detailed terminology program that we can use with regular word-processing programs and not just translation programs.  My MultiTerm database is quite large and I can keep it open separately when working on all kinds of projects. At the very minimum, it’s important for translators to start to collect and manage terminology.

In addition, I really enjoy working with Microsoft Outlook, which allows me to flag messages in different colors to indicate whether they are in the bidding stage, confirmed, or overdue. I can schedule them on a calendar with reminders.  Outlook also allows you to create specific autoreplies and to move messages with specific keywords or from specific people and place them in specific folders or perform specific actions on them. Outlook is an incredibly powerful tool if you work with it as a mail client, and even as an online webmail program.

David Rumsey is the immediate past president of the American Translators Association (2015-2017). Since entering the profession in 1990, David has worked on all sides of the language industry: on the agency side as a project manager at two US-based agencies, on the client side as a project manager in the localization department at a large software firm, and always as a freelance Scandinavian>English translator in the fields of energy, technology and medicine. He works from his home on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada. He can be reached through www.northcountrytranslation.com.

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.

Linguist in the Spotlight: An Interview with Frieda Ruppaner-Lind

English-to-German and German-to-English translator Frieda Ruppaner-Lind is among those intrepid linguists who count their experience not in years, but decades: in her case, three of them. Indeed, translation has existed for at least as long as the Rosetta Stone, but few would disagree that the act of translating itself has never changed more than it has over the past few decades. For that reason, there is a certain respect for our colleagues who have experienced the rapid evolution firsthand.

Frieda, whom we interview in this third installment of our “Linguist in the Spotlight” series, may not have chiseled her translations in stone, but she did once use a DOS-based CAT tool!

Read on to hear her thoughts on the importance of research in translation, why we could all stand to read more, and a sometimes-overlooked resource translators should secure before working with direct clients. You can also learn more about her specialization in technology, medicine, and business in her 2015 interview with Caduceus, a publication of the American Translators Association’s Medical Division.

On finding a career in language and going solo

Growing up in Germany near the Swiss border, not very far from France and Italy, it was taken for granted that people spoke at least French, understood Swiss German, or spoke some English. Throughout secondary school I studied French, Latin, and English and discovered that my talent for languages far exceeded the one for math and sciences. Several years later, with a degree in translation and after moving to the US, I worked in-house for a large manufacturer for one year and then embarked on a freelance career.

Her favorite thing about translating

Doing research! This is one of the most interesting aspects of our work—not only does it help us produce quality translations, but we also learn so much about new technologies, procedures, and broaden our horizons.

Advice for newcomers: learn, network, and plan ahead

  • Learning never ends. Keep your curiosity for learning new things and be a voracious reader—you never know when and how your work can benefit from that. And don’t forget—network with colleagues, join groups, chapters, etc.
  • If you are looking for direct clients or already have some, have a game plan. Learn about them and their products and make sure you have a couple of qualified colleagues that can cover for you and/or edit your work.

Ways to improve one’s translation skills

I love to read, whether books, magazines or online. I also subscribe to a medical newsletter in German to learn about the latest procedures and technologies. In addition, I attend ATA and regional conferences and workshops.

How she gets clients, or the value of being visible

I have long-standing relationships with a few agencies and network with other English-German colleagues—I either recommend them or they recommend me. My best direct client found me in the ATA directory, as have most of the agencies I work with.

Her favorite venue for networking and why

It’s still the ATA conference and our chapter conference. You meet both colleagues and agencies and get out of your comfort zone.

The value of belonging to professional associations

I am a member of ATA, a regional ATA chapter, and the German BDÜ (German Federal Association of Interpreters and Translators). The main benefit is networking and exposure to potential clients.

Translation tools of the past and present

I have had many favorite CAT tools over the years. My first one was XL8 and it was DOS based! Now I am dating myself. In fact, the first translation I worked on in the US ended up being the first and last I ever did on a typewriter; I then purchased an Apple III and had to go to Germany to get the German version of Apple Writer III. This was in the early eighties. (Without computers, I probably wouldn’t have remained in this line of business.) I am now happily using Trados Studio and sometimes memoQ and love the additional apps for Studio.

Image credit: Pixabay

Frieda Ruppaner-Lind has been a full-time English-German freelance translator for three decades. She is a graduate of the Translators and Interpreters Institute at the University of Heidelberg with a degree in translation for English and Spanish and is ATA-certified from English into German and German into English. Her main areas of specialization are technology, including medical technology, and related areas. She has been active in ATA both on the regional and national level for many years as chapter president, ATA committee chair, and ATA board member in addition to giving presentations at regional events and the ATA conference.

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.