Breaking into a Career in Translation and Interpreting: What Next? Services and Specialization

This post is the third (read the first post here and the second post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

What services should I offer?

Many translators provide more than just translation services. Since many are self-employed, it can be helpful to offer related services in order to differentiate yourself, serve customers’ needs, and bring in extra income.

Here are some of the many ancillary services translators may offer:

  • Bilingual editing: Reviewing another translator’s work by comparing the source and target texts for accuracy and consistency, and checking the target text itself for precision, structure, and flow.
  • Monolingual editing: Reviewing a non-translated document for all of the above-mentioned characteristics.
  • Transcreation: Translation of a text that involves recreating part or all of the document for use in the target language and culture.
  • Proofreading: Reviewing a monolingual or translated document for proper writing conventions, including grammar, spelling, sentence structure, agreement, and punctuation.
  • Transcription: Creating a written transcript from a spoken audio or video file (may be mono- or multilingual).
  • Interpreting: Orally rendering communication from one language to another (https://najit.org/resources/the-profession/).
  • Content/copywriting: Writing text (creating new content) for advertising or marketing purposes.
  • Localization: Adapting a product or content to a specific locale or market (https://www.gala-global.org/industry/intro-language-industry/what-localization).
  • Copyediting: Reviewing raw text for issues such as errors and ambiguities to prepare it for publication in print or online (https://www.sfep.org.uk/about/faqs/what-is-copy-editing/.
  • DTP (Desktop Publishing): Formatting and adjusting the layout of a document for publication in print or online.

When deciding what services to offer, you may want to consider tasks you have performed in the past—perhaps a previous employer had you interpret, or colleagues and friends have asked you to provide summary translations of newspaper articles or other documents. You may have been the go-to proofreader for your office or done some desktop publishing as a side job or for other purposes. Along with your past experience, think about particular strengths you may have that could pair with certain services: If you are a good creative writer, then transcreation may be up your alley. If you have a keen eye for mechanical errors and grammar, perhaps you are well suited to proofreading and copyediting services. If you prefer to work with the spoken word, then interpreting is more likely to be for you.

You may also want to consider your current software and hardware setup when deciding what services to offer. Translators often use an array of software tools to assist them as they work. These will be addressed at length in a later post, but translators often use CAT (computer-assisted translation) tools, editors may use computerized proofreading assistants, and transcribers often use audio editing software and transcription applications to aid in their work.

What should I specialize in?

The first question to ask yourself when it comes to specialization is, “What area do I know a lot about?” Many translators focus on just one or a limited number of areas of expertise rather than attempting to be a jack-of-all-trades. Having and stating specialization(s) gives your clients confidence that you are knowledgeable about the material you are translating, and it can even help you command higher rates as a result.

Specializing can be as simple as having had a previous career in the legal field or volunteering as a candy striper in the hospital for many years. Some ways to develop your specializations or continue to learn about them include attending university classes (online or in person), following journals on the subject matter, and reading in order to develop specialized glossaries.

A few common specializations in the translation industry include:

  • Medical (e.g., clinical trials)
  • Legal (e.g., partnership agreements)
  • Business (e.g., sales proposals)
  • Marketing (e.g., brochures)
  • Software (e.g., computer programs)
  • Tourism/hospitality (e.g., guidebooks)

When you are just getting started, you can choose to indicate your preferred subject areas by listing specializations on your business card, résumé, and/or LinkedIn profile, or you can choose to work with more general topics until you have gained more experience and feel comfortable stating a specialization.

Readers, do you have any other services or specializations you offer that weren’t mentioned here, or tips on how to decide when you’re just getting started? We’d love to hear them!

Image source: Pixabay

Advice for Beginners: Specialization

By Judy Jenner
Post reblogged from Translation Times blog with permission by the author, incl. the image

Many beginning interpreters oftentimes ask us about specialization and whether it’s essential that they specialize. We get many of these questions from Judy’s students at the Spanish/English translation certificate program at University of San Diego-Extension and from Dagy’s mentees. We thought it might be helpful to give a short summary on translation specialization.

One project does not equal specialization. This is a classic mistake that we also made early in our careers. Just because you have done a project (or two or three) in a specific area doesn’t mean that’s a specialization. You should really have in-depth knowledge.

Choose wisely. A specialization is an area that you know very, very well and that you can confidently say you are an expert in. Remember that if you choose a specific area, say chemistry or finance, it’s best to have significant experience, including perhaps a graduate degree and work experience outside the T&I field, in that specific area. You will be competing with colleagues who have both experience and credentials, so it’s important that you are prepared. For instance, we have a dear friend and colleague who has a doctorate in chemistry. Naturally, Karen Tkaczyk’s area of specialization is chemistry.

Non-specializations. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything. It looks quite unprofessional to say that you specialize in everything, so we suggest staying away from that approach. Also be sure to put some thought into areas that you don’t want to work in at all because you are not qualified, interested, or both. For instance, we once got a call from a client who really wanted to hire us to translate a physics text. We don’t know anything about physics, even though we took eight years of it, and even though we were flattered, we politely declined and recommended a colleague. That project would have been a disaster. We also wisely stay away from in-depth medical translations.

It’s OK not to have one. It’s not a bad thing to not have a specialization or significant experience in any area at the beginning of your career. Everyone starts out without experience (we did, too), and we wouldn’t recommend lying about any experience you have. However, think about experience outside the T&I field: perhaps you were a Little League coach and thus know a lot about baseball or volunteered at your local Habitat for Humanity and thus know a bit about non-profits. The experience doesn’t have to be in both languages, but any background and educational credentials will come in handy. For instance, Judy’s graduate degree is in business management, so business translations were a natural fit for her. We had also done previous copywriting work (before we started our business, that is), so we felt that the advertising field might be a good specialization (and we were right).

Add one! It might also very well happen that you will add specializations throughout your career, which is a good thing. We recommend choosing closely related fields so you don’t have to invest too much time and resources.

Getting faster. As a general rule, the more specialized you are, the faster you will be able to translate because you will be very familiar with the terminology. For instance, we have colleagues who only translate clinical trials, real estate purchase contracts or patents. They have usually amassed large glossaries and translation memories and spent little time researching and lots of time translation, thus positively affecting their bottom line.

We think this is a good start, but would love to hear from both colleagues and newcomers. Join the conversation by leaving a comment!

How to Break into a Career in Translation: Starting from Scratch

This post is the second (read the first post here) in a series of five posts written in response to questions we at The Savvy Newcomer have received, sometimes from people within the translation world, but also from bilingual friends and family who are interested in translation and interpreting (T&I). Our hope is that this series will serve as a guide for people who are considering a career in T&I and want to know where to begin.

Starting your freelance translation business from scratch can be a daunting task. Below are a few of the most fundamental questions to ask yourself as you begin to think about building your business.

Do I need further training to become a translator?

There is no one “right” way to become a translator, but most professionals feel it is important to have at least one of the following two qualifications: a) experience (could be from a previous job or volunteer position), or b) training (from an academic program in translation or at least education in another language).

If you are interested in becoming a translator but do not have much experience, taking a course may be a good place to begin. You can find translation courses at many major colleges and universities, some of which are offered online. If you enjoy the first course and want to pursue a career in translation, it may be of benefit to you to meet other translators and get a feel for what it takes to become one. You can even ask them how they got started. If you decide academic training is the best route for you, checking out the schools we have featured in guest posts here at The Savvy Newcomer may be a good place to start.

Academic programs in translation and interpreting range from certificates to PhD’s, and may be either online or in person. No gold standard exists for individuals entering the translation field, and some translators start off with a few years of experience from other sources and then get a degree in the field later on in their careers. It just depends on your situation! Getting a degree or certificate in translation can help to develop your skills, lend credibility to your resume, and give you a network of colleagues and classmates to support you as you get started with your career.

How can I get experience with translation?

There are several ways to get experience when you know another language but have no experience. One is to work with another translator who has at least a few years of work under his or her belt. If you know someone who is willing to work with you and edit your work, this is a great way to learn the ins and outs of translating without worrying about making a big mistake! You could act as a sort of intern or apprentice for this translator, who would provide you feedback and ensure the translation is accurate and ready for delivery.

Another way to get experience as a translator is to volunteer. Some charities and non-profit organizations may have small and low-risk documents that need to be translated (for instance, letters from a sponsored child to his or her sponsor, or brief and informal messages to connections in other countries). It can be hard for these organizations to afford translation of this kind, so they will often seek volunteer translators to help out. Groups like The Rosetta Foundation work to connect organizations with willing translators. Another volunteer opportunity exists in conjunction with the well-known TED Talks, which recruits volunteer translators to subtitle videos into other languages to help inspiration and ideas spread across borders.

How do I find clients when I am ready?

Once you have some experience or training in translation, you are ready to begin looking for clients. For the most part, translators who are just getting started will work with translation agencies that receive requests from a variety of different companies and source each project to the right translator for the job. You may eventually work directly with companies that need your services, but this involves a different level of client education and collaboration. To begin working with translation agencies, consider some of the following techniques for finding clients:

  • Cold emails/form submissions: Find the websites of different translation agencies and search for instructions on submitting your resume to be considered for freelance work. Each company will probably have different instructions—some may ask you to submit a form online, while others will provide an email address where you can send your resume and cover letter.
  • Directories: After you join professional associations such as ATA, NAJIT, or local associations (see a list of local associations here: http://www.atanet.org/chaptersandgroups/index.php), you can usually list your services on the association’s membership directory. This is an opportunity for clients to find you and contact you about your services.
  • Conferences: Many associations hold annual conferences attended by both freelancers and translation agencies (for instance, ATA is holding its 58th Annual Conference at the end of October 2017: www.atanet.org/conf/2017). Oftentimes you can meet agency representatives at booths or networking events and make a personal connection that could lead to freelance work in the future.
  • Contacts: One of the most common ways to find clients is by word of mouth. Translators may refer other translators for work they think suits them, so networking with contacts of all kinds (colleagues, classmates, friends, and family) can help spread the word about your services and let people know you are open for business.

We hope you have learned something new from this post about starting from scratch! Stay tuned for the next article in this series, Services and Specialization.

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

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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

Technology Considerations for Beginning Translators

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By Tommy Tomolonis

Translators are expected to fulfill many roles in today’s market. In addition to being linguistic experts, translators are also expected to be experts in business, marketing, and, of course, technology, just to name a few. This can be a daunting task, but below are some technology tips and considerations for newcomers to the translation field.

The first consideration for a professional translator is the home setup. A translator needs to have a reliable computer with enough processing power and memory to efficiently handle some of today’s more memory-hungry translation tools.

A computer is only as good as its support system, however, and the first member of this support team is the anti-virus program. There are a lot of options out there, but the better options are the ones that constantly scan your computer for problems. These typically run in the background while you work and don’t slow down your computer as much as full system scans. Regardless of whether or not your anti-virus is constantly scanning for problems, you should also schedule your computer to run a system scan on a regular basis. If these scans significantly slow down your computer, schedule them for times when you aren’t working. Finally, don’t rely on your anti-virus to protect you from everything. Make sure you are also careful of your activities online. Using a work computer to visit potentially dangerous sites could compromise the security of your system and lead to a number of problems.

The next support member for your computer is the Internet connection. Make sure yours is high-speed and reliable. If you work on a laptop, also remember that wired connections are usually faster than wireless ones. One note of warning: free wireless connections in internet cafés, hotel lobbies, airports, etc. are typically not secure. Confidential information—yours or your client’s—can be hacked when you use these open access services.

The next two members of your computer’s support team are not so obvious, but they can save you a lot of stress when you need them: a backup drive and an uninterruptable power supply (UPS). It’s a great practice to back up your data on a regular basis, just in case something gets by that anti-virus. You can either back up your data to an external drive, or you can purchase space online. Just make sure that you’re not violating any non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements by uploading content to an online site, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Microsoft OneDrive. Finally, a UPS is your best friend during storms. A UPS provides protection from power surges, just like a surge protector, but it does more than that: it also contains a battery that will allow you to continue working, even when you’ve lost power. A low-end UPS is only about $50 and can provide you with those precious 10-20 minutes you’ll need to successfully save your work, close your programs, and properly shut down your machine.

With a reliable computer setup, it’s time to talk software. Every translator will need the basics: an e-mail application, an office suite, and a translation tool. We’ve all been using e-mail for a while now, but when you plan to work professionally, make sure your e-mail address reflects it. An e-mail address is one of the first things clients see, and it can be a real deterrent when choosing which translator to select. In addition to a good e-mail user name, start using out-of-office replies, like the Vacation Responder in Gmail. These are useful for times when you aren’t working or when you’re on vacation. Clients and project managers use large pools of translators, so letting them know when you’re unavailable saves them time, and they’ll remember you for it.

An office suite is essential since most translatable file formats are word processing files, such as DOC and DOCX from Microsoft Office. Regardless of which office suite you buy, get used to working with formatting. You can display a document’s formatting in Word by clicking the ¶ button on the home tab on the ribbon. Knowing how a document is formatted will help you on projects where you have to mimic the source formatting and improve the overall look of your documents. Just understanding the difference between soft and hard returns, for example, will greatly help your translation tool segment a file. Learning to work with tables will also prevent spending unnecessary time fumbling with tabs and spaces. Viewing documents with the formatting turned on can take some time to get used to, but it soon becomes second nature.

In addition to an office suite, professional translators today need to know at least one translation tool. These tools, often called Computer Assisted Translation (CAT) tools or Translation Environment Tools (TEnTs), are an essential part of a translator’s arsenal. The most essential of these tools involve the use of Translation Memory (TM). There are a lot of options out there for TM tools, and your choice of tool should be based on your needs as no one tool is best for everyone. Some tools require larger up-front investments, while others can be purchased on a monthly basis. If you don’t have a lot of work yet, you may want to start with a less expensive option at first until your business grows. Some tools even have free webinars that you can watch to learn how to use them better. Regardless of your choice, don’t be afraid of it. Invest the time to learn your tool, and you’ll soon see the benefits. For more in-depth reviews and comparisons of tools, check out GALA’s LT Advisor and the Translator’s Toolbox, a guide that goes into much more detail than I can cover here. Finally, join the LT Division of the ATA and take advantage of the knowledge of other beginners and long-time veterans.

While some of this information may seem basic, you’d be surprised how often it is overlooked. No PM wants to hear the dreaded “computer problem” excuse to explain late deliveries, so make sure your setup is reliable and you know your tools well. Your technological reliability can be one of many reasons that clients come back to you project after project.

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About the author: Tommy has an MA in Translation (Spanish) from Kent University and is working on his MSc in Multilingual Computing and Localisation from the University of Limerick. He is certified in SDL Trados Studio and currently serves as the Assistant Administrator of the ATA’s Language Technology Division. Tommy is also an active participant in ASTM standards. He has worked as an interpreter, translator, and project manager, and he now works as the Quality and Technology Manager for CETRA Language Solutions in Philadelphia.