Starting at square one as a translator or interpreter: What does it take?

From time to time we at The Savvy Newcomer receive questions from our readers that make for great blog post topics. This is one of them! Here’s a question from one of our readers who’s just starting to pursue an interest in languages and wants to know how to get started.

Q: Is there any advice you could give for someone who is starting out at square one, wanting to learn another language, with the end goal of interpreting? This may be a wild question, but I have always had an interest in other languages, and cultures, so interpreting and translation work are very attractive vocations to me. How would you recommend someone starting to make that career shift?  And do you happen to know what languages are in demand, or the most useful to know?  Are there any language schools you would recommend?

A: Thanks for asking! The Savvy Newcomer has a couple of posts that may be of interest (How to become a translator or interpreter, Translation/interpreting schools, Interview with student interpreters) but it sounds like you need a bit more direction on the front end as you consider learning a language and go about getting started.

One of the key requirements is a very strong language background. Interpreting and translation, based on quite a few testing results I have seen, require skills beyond the minimum requirements of Advanced High on the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) scale.

To reach that level, people usually have to get far beyond what can be accomplished in the institutional setting in the US. It generally involves at least a year in a foreign country, immersed in the language, not spending their time with the other US students who are there doing immersion programs but going to local choirs, doing some kind of local volunteer work, etc. beyond their academic work to get into the community.

However, even a very high ACTFL score is not a guarantee of translational action skills (the ability to convert the message from one language to another, whether orally or in writing). Interpreting and translation both require congruency judgment, which is an extra skill on top of that. It goes beyond being a walking dictionary. Asking any of us translators what a word means would leave us flummoxed. However, when we are given a problem to solve in context, our brains start clicking and we can be helpful.

Language proficiency is an essential prerequisite. Without language proficiency, there is not much basis for cultural understanding, according to the ILR (Interagency Language Roundtable) guidelines, and culture is part of the written code. For example, Americans have a tendency to sign a business letter “Pete”, but that would never fly in Argentina. It would be “Mr. Peter Brown,” and the letter would be in the formal usted (you). Anything else would just not go. So you need to understand the culture it is going to as well.

Interpreting and translating, though they purport to leave the person who does the language transfer invisible and not change the message at all, by necessity have to make these minimal adjustments so the message reaches the audience the way the original speaker or writer intended it to get there. Otherwise, it is disrespectful to the speaker or writer. We understand that and generally are doing what I would call “transcreation very light” invisibly. Clients do not like translations where this does not happen.

For example, if a client were to accidentally write “the ocean is full of fresh water,” they would call me out if I translated it that way. They would say I made a mistake in my translation. So I translate it as “the ocean is full of salt water.” I also send them a note, saying I translated it this way, and if they want it to say “fresh water” I can put it back but I would like them to be aware of the issue in the source text.

Of course, this does not apply to some translations submitted to the court as evidence. But even then, we translate so the courts can understand the writing. We typically do not reproduce grammatical mistakes to make the text illegible. It’s very hard to do, and we run the risk of overdoing it and making it a caricature… and getting sued.

So translation is more complicated than it looks. We have to consider a lot of things when you look under the hood, and we carry a lot of responsibility in the language transfer. We take it seriously. These are the opinions I’ve formed from years of experience and from conversations about these topics with my clients.

Readers, what questions do you have about getting started?

Image source: Pixabay

The Benefits of Mentoring

Photo Credit: Pexels

This post was originally published on the Ben Translates blog. It is reposted with permission from the author.

This week, I was informed that I have been selected as one of 30 mentees for the 2017-2018 class of the American Translators Association mentoring program. I am delighted to have been chosen for this opportunity and look forward to the chance to learn from an industry veteran.

The ATA Mentoring Program has been around for nearly 20 years and was completely revamped in 2012. Each class starts at the beginning of April and runs through March 31st of the following year. Mentors assist mentees with topics ranging from business practices, rate negotiation, breaking into a certain area of the industry, and much more. They do not tutor mentees or help them to become better translators, often because they do not work in the same language pairs and are instead paired based on goals and personality. Another benefit of the program is that mentees and mentors all participate in a discussion group for sharing questions, best practices, and other advice across the 30 mentor-mentee pairs.

No matter the field, mentoring offers a unique opportunity for shared learning and growth. I have been running a successful translation business for nearly four years and have been working in the industry for six. That said, there is always more to learn and I am absolutely thrilled to be a mentee this year.

There are many benefits of mentoring for both the mentor and the mentee. Here are merely eight of them that apply across industries:

For the mentee:

1. Self-Reflection

It often takes someone asking you to think critically about what you do and why you do it to prompt you to have this conversation with yourself. Having a mentor encourages mentees to reflect on their practice and their goals and to intimate what it is that they want to accomplish.

2. Advice and Encouragement

Are you even doing this right? Could you be doing it better? Mentors can provide great advice about where improvements can be made and provide encouragement for things you already do well.

3. Support and Networking

It never hurts to expand your network. Having a mentor can give you privileged access to influential people in other networks, thereby increasing learning opportunities and support from others in your profession.

4. Professional Development

Experienced mentors can help mentees build better business practices, learn new skills, and become more effective.

For the mentor:

5. Giving Back

Many people were helped out or lifted up by an influential person sometime during their careers. Becoming a mentor means having the opportunity to do the same for someone else.

6. Increased Confidence

By sharing their expertise, mentors can experience increased confidence about their own work. By reminding mentees of what they are doing well, mentors have the same opportunity to reflect on what they do well, too.

7. Two-Way Learning

The cliché about the master learning from the student is true: collaborating with a mentee can teach mentors about new methods or practices that can re-energize their own work.

8. Fresh Perspective

There may not be a better way to gain fresh perspective about what you do than by helping another person through the challenges that you may have once experienced. Chances are that mentees are also experiencing a few things that mentors never dealt with, and working through them together can provide a fresh and meaningful perspective.

I am eager to share my mentoring experience over the coming year with you. For more information on the ATA mentoring program, click here. A free ATA webinar about the mentoring program may also be downloaded here (you will be prompted to save it to your computer).

Have you benefited from the guidance of a mentor? Please share your experience in the comments section.

ATA Written and Keyboarded exams: A personal account

by Helen Eby

ATA Written and Keyboarded examsI prepared for the ATA Translation Certification exam with my Oregon Society of Translators and Interpreters (OSTI) colleagues. The exam has an overall pass rate of under 20%, which varies by language pair and exam year. We took our preparation seriously.

On the ATA exam, every point counts against you. ATA has published a list of errors they check against and a rubric that explains how they assign points to each error. To pass, you cannot accumulate more than 17 points. If you do, you fail! In our OSTI study program, we spent 25 online sessions plus a couple of in-person meetings working on how to internalize these rubrics. This made us all better translators and interpreters.

Some comments from study group members who took the exam in Bend, Oregon:

“I found the test to be very challenging even with our preparations. You can tell they intentionally set the bar very high! Although I can’t pinpoint seeing any specific tripwire on the test that we tackled in our group, it’s clear that our hard work left me much more prepared than I would have been otherwise.” Emily Safrin

“I feel the same way; I found the exam more difficult than the different practice tests I worked on through the study group. Even though I work on a different language pair, the group discussions about the English source texts helped me regarding terminology or tricky sentences.” Myriam Grandchamp

Personally, I was encouraged. I had good scores on my practice tests. I was taking the exam in both directions (Spanish<>English) and had taken two tests in each of my language pairs. For my Spanish to English practice test, I had a score of 12 on one text and 12 on the second text. For my English to Spanish practice test, I had a score of 13 on one text and 11 on the second one I took. Better yet, I knew that my colleagues were also well prepared. Some had decided to take the exam in 2017 and some were taking it this year. We had a good understanding of what we were facing.

Keyboarded exam, September 11, 2016

Keyboarded exams are a new development for ATA. Test-takers are allowed to bring their own computers to the site, but have to save the translation onto a USB provided by ATA, not onto their hard drives. The guidelines for the computerized exam are listed here. See this link for a list of approved and banned websites.

I took the keyboarded exam from English into Spanish in Philadelphia. I had spent the previous day at the Delaware Valley Translators Association (DVTA) conference, enjoying being at an event where I had no responsibilities, being just one of the crowd. There, Tony Guerra, the DVTA president, reminded us that certified translators earn an average of $10,000 more per year than non-certified translators. The pressure was on! But I was relaxed.

Before the exam, I had done some things that helped me focus on good writing. I had just attended the Editorial Freelancers Association conference in New York, which focused on copy editing. I also spent a lot of time reading good literature on my iPad the week before.

Instead of carrying a load of dictionaries from the West Coast, I used the bookmarks on the OSTI resources page and on the Mosqueteras site, a blog focused on good Spanish writing, as my references. That was why we had been setting them up over the year! I also had a few of my favorite quick reference hard copy books.

What did I do during the keyboarded exam?

  1. I started by reading the text, just like I do with every single translation I work on.
  2. I looked for challenges, both in terms of words and in terms of sentence structure. I made a chart of how I would solve those on a sheet of paper before I got started. I actually spent about 45 minutes doing that research on each text before I started writing.
  3. Then I translated the mandatory text. Of course, I found extra things to research, and I changed my mind about a few of the solutions, but my research helped a lot.
  4. I took a break to clear my head. I moved on to the draft of the second translation and repeated steps 1 to 3 with the next text. I had to choose between texts B and C, which were different specialties.
  5. Then I took another break. I colored with some markers I had taken, so I could somehow separate from the translation task.
  6. Then I reviewed the two texts, in order.
  7. Another break. Then I reviewed both texts again.

What did I find in the review process?

I noticed that my typing was bad. I was fixing typos right up until the end of the three hours! Not having spell check affected my ability to type well.

We had to work in WordPad, which does not have a spell check, but I could check terms in online dictionaries. So I did! In some cases, that led me to a better solution.

I used the online resources available effectively. It was certainly nice to not have to travel with a suitcase full of books! However, having a few hard copy books was very helpful.

I also took creative breaks by coloring and doing pushups against the wall on my way back from the bathroom. This helped clear my head from the translation and look at it with fresh eyes. The proctors who observed me coloring told me they had never seen that before. (For online exams, there is one proctor for every five test-takers, to keep an eye on what is on the computer screens.)

Written exam, September 25, 2016

I took the written exam from Spanish to English in Bend, Oregon. Here, I was taking the exam with my friends. It was fun! I walked in with my suitcase full of dictionaries. Because of my practice test results, I felt confident. Regardless, I spent some time the night before reading good literature, so my brain would be tuned into good English and Spanish.

My translation process was similar to the one I had experimented with in Philadelphia. It was fresh in my mind, since I had taken the exam two weeks before. The breaks helped.

In this exam, I didn’t have to worry about typos. I just had to worry about my handwriting. Honestly, it’s just as bad! And I scratched my paper up so much that I really missed the option of doing a cut and paste so the grader could read a clean document. I have attended some sessions where we have been told to not fret over handing over a clean document. They would rather have us focus on just finishing the job. So I did.

Results

While I waited for the results, it was helpful to remind myself that I am just as good a translator today as I was yesterday. In November I learned that I passed the Spanish to English certification exam and did not pass the English to Spanish certification exam. I also recently passed an exam administered by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services, so I am now a Washington State certified English to Spanish Document Translator (see this link for more information).

As my study group focused on cracking the certification code, we were focusing on the details of what makes a translation better. Now that I am certified, as I do my regular work as a translator and reviewer of other people’s work, I feel that we should use the ATA list of errors and the flowchart for error point decisions to help us grow and to provide better peer review. Thank you, ATA, for providing a great framework for professional growth! I plan to keep using it.

Header image credit: tookapic

How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA: Go to Your First ATA Conference

ATA 57th Annual ConferenceWelcome to the fourth and final article in the series How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA. This time, I’ll be talking about why you should attend your first ATA conference this year, what you can expect and some tips for success.

This year’s annual conference, ATA57, will be held in San Francisco, California from November 2-5, 2016. Over 1,500 translators and interpreters will attend the conference, so your chances of networking and creating meaningful connections are pretty high! Not only that, but you’ll have the option to attend over 175 educational sessions. I went to my first conference last year and have nothing but good things to say about my experience.

Registration and Opening Ceremony

From the second you arrive, you’ll feel the warm welcome from conference organizers. Pass by the registration booth to get your nametag, which will have a bright “FIRST TIME ATTENDEE” flag attached to the bottom. I thought of this tag as a ‘get out of jail free card’ to use during the whole conference. Use it as a free pass to ask as many questions as you want, walk up to strangers and strike up conversation by saying “I’m alone and new!” and wander around looking lost without feeling silly about it.

The opening ceremony is the first step to get everyone pumped up and for an extra boost of newbie confidence before diving headfirst into four days of networking and learning. Last year, I was pleasantly surprised by the huge emphasis the ATA President put on welcoming and helping newbies in her speech. She got me to walk out of the auditorium with my head held high!

Buddies Welcome Newbies

As a first-timer, you absolutely must go to the “Buddies Welcome Newbies” session. This program is designed as an icebreaker for those attending the conference for the first – or even the second – time. The session starts off with some tips for success and ends with you being matched up with a buddy, someone who has attended the conference before and who will answer any questions you may have. Your buddy is also there as a kind of support for you throughout the entire four days, someone to say hi to in the hallways or to approach during a coffee break if you’re alone.

Networking Events

Most divisions hold a dinner or networking event at the conference. If you’re a member of a division, make sure to attend whatever it is they’ve planned – you’ll already have something to talk about with other members, so it’s the perfect place to feel at home within the bustle of the conference.

Using Social Media

If you’re on Twitter, follow and participate in the #ATA57 hash tag. At last year’s conference I met someone who is now a dear friend and colleague through tweeting: “I love your tweets about this session, would you like to meet at the next coffee break?”

Financial Worries?

There are plenty of ways to make the conference more affordable. First off, make sure you register by September 23, 2016 for a discounted price. Last year and this year, I’m staying within walking distance of the conference hotel for half the price. Last year I also ate the majority of my meals at the Whole Foods buffet for under $10.

I’ll be honest, I haven’t quite made back my investment in last year’s conference with paid work, but I did manage to get some work from two new agencies and started collaborating with other freelancers I met at the conference on direct client work. My freelance reach has broadened, and I now have a long list of people I can go to when I have questions (linguistic or business-related) or refer work to when I can’t take it on.

Make the Most of it

There’s anywhere between three and five one-hour educational sessions every day and last year I only skipped out on one hour. I also attended every single networking event I could in the evenings. In short, I was busy for about 15 hours every day. My recommendation would be… do exactly this! If it’s your first year, you’ve got to test the bugs and see what you like and what you don’t like. Thanks to last year’s over-effort, this year I know what I’m okay with skipping and what I consider to be my best investment of time and energy.

I was really nervous to be the new kid on the block, but use that “first-time attendee” flag to your benefit. I was so surprised to feel so accepted at the conference. Our profession is full of great, compassionate people who are excited and willing to accept newcomers. I couldn’t encourage you more to take the leap, make the investment and head to San Francisco this 2016!

You can learn more about ATA57 here https://www.atanet.org/conf/2016/ and sign up for the Buddies Welcome Newbies session here http://www.atanet.org/events/newbies.php.

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/

How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA: Small Resources that Add Up to Big Benefits

Welcome to the third article in the series How to Have a Super First Year in the ATA. This time, I’ll be talking about all the small resources offered by the ATA that add up to big benefits towards the end of your first year.

List Yourself in the ATA Directory

Make yourself findable! Direct clients and agencies alike use the online ATA directory to find professional translators like you. Take the time to complete your profile fully. Include your language combinations, specializations, CAT tools, where you live… even the currencies you accept! Write a descriptive summary and upload your updated résumé. The best way to differentiate yourself is by becoming certified, but if that’s not on your to-do list, becoming a Voting Member is another way to make your profile stand out among the list of translators. (https://www.atanet.org/membership/membershipdirectory.php)

Become a Voting Member

Voting membership opens doors to your participation in the association—from voting in elections to serving as a member of a committee. ATA active or corresponding membership, that is, voting membership, is available to associate members who either pass the ATA certification exam or go through Active Membership Review. For readers who are not ATA certified, the application form to become a voting member is available here: (http://www.atanet.org/membership/memb_review_online.php)

Join a Division

There are currently 20 ATA divisions ranging from language to specialization divisions. Your ATA dues include membership in any or all of its divisions, so you can join as many as you’d like. Many have their own newsletter and/or listserv and host a networking event at the ATA conference. (http://www.atanet.org/divisions/about_divisions.php)

Business Practices Listserv

This listserv is all about creating community, networking and getting advice from your colleagues. You can ask questions, post answers, make suggestions and recommendations, or simply read the digest of what everyone else is talking about. From tax regulations to tips on how to deal with an abusive agency, the listserv is a great resource for any translator. Become a member of the business practices listserv here: (http://www.atanet.org/business_practices/bp_listserv.php)

Attend Your First ATA Conference

ATA 57This year’s annual conference, ATA57, will be held in San Francisco, California from November 2-5, 2016. Over 1,800 translators and interpreters will attend the conference, so your chances of networking and creating meaningful connections are pretty high! Not only that, but you’ll have the option to attend over 160 educational sessions. I went to my first conference last year and have nothing but good things to say about it. My next article in this series will be all about the ATA conference, so be sure to check back for a full recap of my first-timer experience in a couple of months. You can learn more about ATA57 here: (https://www.atanet.org/conf/2016/)

ATA provides you with a number of opportunities to make the most of your membership. All I can do is encourage you to invest some time and take advantage of every single one of these great resources. It’s what helped me feel like I form a part of a larger community of like-minded professionals.

About the author

Molly YurickMolly Yurick is a Spanish to English translator specialized in the tourism, hospitality and airline industries. In the past she has worked as a medical interpreter in Minnesota and as a cultural ambassador for the Ministry of Education in Spain. She has a B.A. in Spanish and Global Studies and a Certificate in Medical Interpreting from the University of Minnesota. She is currently living in northern Spain. You can visit her website at: http://yuricktranslations.com/