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


By Marta Stelmaszak

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

Eight Unusual Tips for Newcomers

By Steven Marzuola & The Savvy Newcomer

dialog-148815_640As you might already know, online groups are an excellent source for discussing the everyday challenges we face as professionals. One such group in LinkedIn recently sparked a great conversation, and one of its contributors, Steven Marzuola, offered excellent – and often unspoken – tips for aspiring translators and interpreters.

In today’s post we have summarized these tips for the benefit of our readers. We hope that you will find them as useful and interesting as we did.

  1. If someone offers to mentor you, or even offers you a low-paying job as an assistant, take it. One of my first opportunities was with an agency that needed someone in my area of specialization (oil and gas). They realized that a document I had given them was especially well-formatted (as well as correct) and asked me to work in the office for what turned into several months. The pay was extremely low, but the experience was invaluable: I learned about pricing, and the art of dealing with customers and translators.
  2. Never underestimate the power of collaboration. This in-house opportunity also introduced me to other translators, who sometimes delivered their material in writing or on floppy disks (this was a long time ago!). Then, when they needed help on something, they would call. One of them ended up taking me under his wing, and sent me assignments from Spanish > English. Then, he got busy and sent me some English > Spanish assignments. But he insisted on proofreading them. So I would print the pages, double-spaced, and fax them to him. He would add markups by hand and send them back, and then we would speak about them by telephone. He charged me for this, but it was one of the best investments I ever made.
  3. Identify a specialty and promote it. Let your colleagues know that you have experience or education in field X. This depends on where you live and what types of jobs you have had. Unfortunately, it’s also something that younger people usually lack (but which we older ones can appreciate!)
  4. Network. Join a local or national association, and go to their meetings and participate in online groups. The best and most rewarding ongoing contacts are frequently other translators, including some of your competitors in the same language pair. The good ones will stay busy and need someone to share the workload. When you’re busy, return the favor.
  5. Join online groups and ask interesting questions, or answer them. This is more easily done in this day and era, and perhaps it takes a bit of time to build a certain online reputation, but in the meantime you will reap the benefits of participating in interesting exchanges – such as this one! And don’t be afraid of asking questions; we have all started somewhere, somehow. Oftentimes, what seems like a rather naive question can provoke really good conversations.
  6. Show prospective customers (especially agencies) that you are a professional. Spend a few dollars and get a customized email address. Anybody can use or; set yourself apart. Also, a web site or a Facebook page where you can say a little about yourself.
  7. It’s okay to have another job but keep it separate from your language business. One of the most unprofessional things I ever saw was at a translators/interpreters association meeting, where someone handed me a business card. It had their interpreting contact information on one side, and their other business on the other side. She was a realtor or sold Amway products, something like that. There are some customers who might be interested; I have met some who are successful, especially in less-frequently used languages (Somali, Vietnamese). But to others, it looks like desperation or indecision. Good customers want specialists.And last but not least, one of the most difficult pills to swallow, even for seasoned professionals:
  8. Learn to appreciate those who criticize you. That’s where you learn. My favorite customers are picky customers. The ones who don’t care are the ones who will quickly switch to another translator for another reason such as price or convenience.

As always, we are all ears for our readers and we welcome your comments. How did you start? Have you practiced some of these tips yourself? We would love to hear from you!

About the author: Steven Marzuola grew up in Venezuela, where he worked in the oilfield equipment and service business. He holds a degree in engineering and has held leadership positions in ATA and HITA (Houston Interpreters and Translators Association). 

Technology Considerations for Beginning Translators


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.

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.


To the Shy Networker

By Evelyn Yang Garland

character-156426_1280There I was, at a well-attended networking event… hiding in the restroom! I hated to schmooze with a room full of strangers. I forced myself to attend that event for one reason only—I was looking for a job, and the one piece of advice that I kept getting was that I needed to network.

That is a true story. If similar things have never happened to you, congratulations to you—enjoy networking! If the joyful craving for networking is not in your blood yet, read on.

Over the years, I have come to enjoy networking. Thinking back, among the myriad advice and tips I obtained from different sources, a few of them made real, significant differences. I want to share them with you so that you also can enjoy networking without having to spend as much unpleasant time learning as I did.

One common fear among newcomers (and some veterans) is that the people they want to meet will be too busy to talk to them. These people are often well connected in a group, so they never lack conversation partners. As a result, it seems hard to break into a conversation with them.

The truth is: the most effective networkers are delighted to meet new people and are open to new discussions. They do not limit their conversation to those who are apparently useful to them. They listen to you. They want to learn about you. And they try to be helpful—by making introductions for you, suggesting resources to you, or simply saving you from the boredom of wandering around all by yourself. They understand that meaningful relationships are fostered when both sides are keenly interested in learning about and helping the other.

I am not suggesting that it is always easy to start or join a conversation. After all, we do engage in intense discussions from time to time in public and do not wish to be interrupted. So watch for signs that suggest openness to conversation, such as eye contact and open postures. A skilled networker, even when he is already talking with a few others, often displays an open gesture to welcome new people to join the conversation. If you have been waiting for a while on the outskirts to join a conversation and no one attempts to bring you in, make your exit quietly and gracefully. Consider it their loss to miss the opportunity of meeting someone new.

One thing that works well for me is to create my own mini-networking events. Ask someone whether you could have lunch together, schedule a chat with a new contact over the next coffee break, or invite a couple of random people to join you for a walk in the evening. Feel free to come up with more creative ideas. These mini-networking events can be nice complements to larger networking events, especially if schmoozing in a loud, large crowd is not your favorite activity.

Another fear among new entrants in a particular field is the feeling of not having much to contribute in a conversation. You are the newbie there. You get lost when jargons like “PM” and “TM” pop up. You have no solution to offer when people discuss issues in their work, no comment to make on future challenges for the profession, no anecdote to provide new insights. You wonder: why would anyone want to talk to me? And you fear: they do not care to talk with me.

Do not let this fear get in your way. People do not expect newcomers to be the ultimate sources of solutions and insights. Many seasoned professionals are happy to see new faces and offer help. After all, we were all once the new kid on the block. We never forget the unease of trying to be part of a new group. We are forever grateful to the first strangers who smiled at us and invited us to join their warm conversations.

If, however, you do want to give back to those who welcomed you into their conversations—right then or later—here are a few ideas that do not require deep understanding or extensive experience in your profession. Offer to connect them with someone you know who shares their interest. Share an interesting article you come across later. Send them information on a good event. Refer a job to them (if they do freelance work or are in transition). Do not worry that they already had the information or contact—people are just as happy to know that you are thinking of them.

Someday, you will be a respected professional, a seasoned networker, and a center of conversations. When that day comes, remember to stretch out a hand to the novices, invite them to join your conversation, and help ease their way into the profession.

This is the best way to give back.

About the author: Evelyn Yang Garland owns and manages Acta Chinese Language Services, a growing translation company specializing in Chinese translation for business, legal, and government clients. She also spends a significant portion of her time translating and interpreting. Evelyn is an ATA-certified English-Chinese translator and Maryland court-certified Mandarin interpreter based in the Washington, DC area. She truly enjoys both the technical and business aspects of translation.

Bilingualism – Part I

letters-66953_1920Today we will begin with Part I of a series of three articles about Bilingualism. Our guest author, Ms. M. Eta Trabing, walks us through a truly fascinating description of what being bilingual means, and how to apply this knowledge in the working world. She offers help with the most daunting question we all language people face at some point: “Translator or Interpreter?”, as well as practical aspects of being a language professional. In short, she covers all the basics any Savvy Newcomer should be looking for.

By M. Eta Trabing, Berkana Language LLC –

Being bilingual …

  • Is just the first step to becoming a bilingual adult in the working world.
  • Does not mean that you must know every single word in English or in your foreign language (about half a million words in each of the world’s major languages).
  • Does mean that you can communicate in two languages – but at different levels of language proficiency.
  • Think of it this way – you may have two hands, but that does not mean that you are automatically an accomplished pianist. It takes years of training and experience to become a good professional interpreter or translator or pianist.
  • Means you will need to know both your languages at the college graduate level, for most kinds of work. Probably one language will always be stronger/better than the other.
  • There are few truly bilingual people – depends on your home life and education growing up (if you lived in a bilingual household and went to a bilingual school from kindergarten through high school or college – you can be truly bilingual). That doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot more to learn!

How does one know a language?

You may know a language as well as…

  •  A tourist (“Dos cervezas, por favor.”)
  • A 2nd grade school child – who knows about 2,000 words and is learning grammar, reading and writing.
  • A migrant field laborer – who knows about 5,000 words in his language and is trying to learn English so as to fit in better wherever he is living. He probably went to work at 8 or 9 years of age to help his family survive, he barely learned to write, he has no problem with giving change in two currencies, and at 20, has little non-working time to learn words for abstract concepts in either language.
  • A high-school graduate – will know about 80,000 words, if she studied well and came from a home where education is valued – possibly half of that if schooling was sporadic or not emphasized in the home. Sadly, businesses in the U.S. are and have been having trouble hiring employees straight from high school, because a high percentage of them cannot read or spell properly.
  • A college graduate – will have not just four years more living experience, but words for a particular chosen career – around 150,000 words in one language. Although he/she may know another language quite well also. Some colleges are giving up the foreign language requirement – it is deemed unnecessary. What a shame!
  • A college professor – has much experience in his particular field, but not necessarily in fields other than his own, but many more years of living experience – over 200,000 words in one language; unless teaching another language – then probably equal in both.
  • A writer – about the same as a college professor or lawyer or doctor, again in special fields and in one language, although a number of writers can and do write in more than one language.
  • At each level, the vocabulary and the knowledge grows, and it doesn’t matter how or where you obtain that knowledge, as long as you get it.
  • But at whatever level you are (except the tourist example), you still know the language. You just might not know it well enough to be able to work in it. Working in a language requires adult language proficiency.
  • Professional interpreters need and are expected to know two languages at the university postgraduate level, and must learn many subjects superficially, and 3 or 4 in great depth – their specialties.

Translator or Interpreter?

Translators work with the written language, but usually translate only into their dominant language. This means: books, documents, brochures, letters, instruction books, and anything else written that someone needs in another language. Must be able to write correctly in the target language.

Interpreters work with the spoken language so must be able to speak well in both languages at the level of an educated monolingual speaker. This means: in court, in depositions and hearings, in hospitals and clinics, for Child Protective Services, for state/federal/local agencies and in any situation in which two people cannot communicate and need help.

Interpreters and translators must also know local dialects and regionalisms, and the latest terminology in all their chosen fields. People who only speak a local dialect may also need an interpreter occasionally. People who speak the local version of “Spanglish” may also need help reading a book or speaking to someone who does not speak that version of Spanglish.

Few people are both translators and interpreters – most prefer one or the other, and it depends on their skills and their personalities. Interpreters prefer to speak fast and think fast and move fast and be where the action is, and interpreting by its very nature is never absolutely perfect; translators prefer to think more in depth, have the time to do more research, and prefer to be perfectionists; and they don’t mind sitting in front of a computer all day! Many more specifics for translators and interpreters are available on this blog and in the ATA Chronicle.


Check out Part II and Part III of this series.