Words to a new translator

8 11 2012

One of the WordPress prompts for writing on your blog has inspired me to write today’s post. It made me realize that, although writing a letter to myself personally is out of the scope of this blog, there is a lot that I could say to myself in hindsight when I started up in the translation profession. I hope this is useful for new and experienced translators alike.

Dear Karen,

You are taking the first steps in a profession filled with advantages – you’ll be able to work from home, you’ll be your own boss, you’ll be able to travel and live anywhere in the world (all you’ll need is your laptop and Internet connection)… You’ll determine how much you charge for what you do, how many hours you work a day and how often, etc.

In addition, you’ll be able to work with languages, which you are passionate about and working with different topics and texts will give you an unparalleled opportunity and insight into lots of industries and varied topics. You cannot anticipate how much you’ll learn!

Also, you will be able to establish your own relationships with your clients, you’ll be able to set the pace of the type of company and human interactions you want. Whatever you envisage, that will be your business (and I can let you in on a secret here, you’ll love it!).

I know this sounds great and, knowing you like I do, you’re probably already way ahead imagining a life of fulfillment and enjoyment lived from the comfort of your living room. Well, it will come, but first there is some advice that could make getting there a bit easier.

First of all, think of yourself as a business. Research prices, call translation agencies and find out how much they charge and etc. I know you’ll think of that in time, but you could seriously benefit from thinking of that sooner rather than later. You don’t want to overcharge, but you don’t want to undersell yourself as well. Sometimes charging a fair price for what you do is a way of telling prospect clients that you know your worth and they’ll respect you for that.

Do not accept unreasonable deadlines! I mean it Karen, not even if it is a first time client and you want to bring them on board! Even if you manage to deliver a quality job within the unreasonable deadline, you will have lowered the standard of your work and that is the only thing that you can NEVER do. Take my word for it, one day you will be proud of having no complaints from your clients!

Do not be afraid of contacting people to offer your services. I know you don’t want to annoy anyone, but if you do it sensibly – i.e. keep your messages short, don’t pester them and respect the ones who ask you not to be contacted -, they will thank you for bringing your services to their attention.

Get out there! I know you love your books and texts, but the more you expose yourself to the cultures and languages you work with, the better you’ll be at your job. Do not succumb to the temptation of spending day in and day out in front of the computer, language is about knowing how people construe meaning, and insight into that comes from exposure to people (that is, talking to people!). That will also make your life a lot more fun, trust me!

Many of the clients you have today will stick with you and recommend you, they’ll be the foundation of your future success. You are well aware that speaking a language that someone else doesn’t creates a gap for a wide variety of services, you can act as a translator and interpreter, but there are a lot of other things that you can do. Your approach of trying to help your clients whatever their language needs are will take you to sugar cane fields to help carbon asset sales negotiations, will take you to focus groups rooms, will have you doing SEO for websites launching in Brazil and will have you managing entire market research projects, in addition to your translation and interpretation duties. Sometimes it will feel like you are way out of your depth, but don’t panic. What you are doing intuitively now will pay dividends! You will establish life-long relationships with your clients and the skills and knowledge you’ll acquire from this will be invaluable. Eventually you’ll get to focus on translation and your company alone, but that will come naturally.

One more thing, when choosing people to work with you, treasure the people who are professional and driven, even when they are not brilliant to begin with. You can help them develop their translation skills, but you cannot teach someone to behave ethically and value your business. The most valuable people to you will be the ones who are reliable, punctual, capable of understanding and following instructions and as committed to the success of your business as yourself. NEVER hire anyone on their translation skills alone.

Finally, enjoy it. You won’t always have money, and for some time you won’t even have work everyday, but you will stick with it (with invaluable help and support from your family, friends and clients) and it will pay off. Now that you know that, just keep doing what you like, learn as much as you can and work hard. I’ll see you in five years!

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Translating Poetry

5 11 2012

As an experienced and specialist translator I must say I don’t often get asked to translate challenging topics (deadlines, however, are always challenging). There is little novelty in terms of vocabulary and topics after you’ve been translating medical and business articles for so long.

Anyway, last week I was faced with the unusual challenge of translating poetry. My client is a Portuguese artist who wrote about the issue of alcoholism in Portugal. His book uses images and poems to convey the extent of the problem, the domestic violence that follows and etc.

I had time and decided to take on the challenge of adapting the poems to English. My first approach was to have a 1 hour session on skype with my client to make sure I was understanding what he meant by the artwork and the poems. I must say that I found it very interesting, because discussing poems is not usually a part of my routine.

Following this conversation, I sat down and translated line by line of each poem. I then sent this initial version of the translation along with a few remaining questions to my client, who made comments and helped me with the unclear meanings.

Whilst I was waiting for my client’s feedback, I did a bit of research on English poems to get into the mindset and rhythm of poems in this language.

I then went back to the poems with a different approach, now looking at them as a whole, not isolated verses, to feel whether there was a rhythm to the reading, whether it was understandable in English, etc. I must say I was very please with the result (and so seemed the client!).

It is fantastic as a translator when I have the opportunity to work closely with my clients to convey their message. I am able to connect to the client and the project and this makes the work so much more interesting and personal for me.

One important aspect of ensuring the success of this project was making sure the client understood that I am not a poet, therefore I could translate what he meant and make it sound natural in English, but I could not transform it into English poems.

In any case, I don’t think the poems should sound like English poems anyway, because they are the thoughts of a Portuguese poet looking into some of the most significant social issues in his country. The poems have to convey some of his Portuguese soul, some of his way of feeling and expressing himself. If he sounds like an Englishman, it makes no sense…

I believe that this is the main difference between translating medical and business reports and poems. With the first, your goal is accuracy, ensuring everything is translated with precision and the professional tone is maintained; whereas with the second, your goal is to convey the emotion, but you still want the voice of the poet to pervade the translation. I cannot thank my client enough for the challenge and for his confidence in me. I had a thoroughly enjoyable week at work!





Change Outpaces Learning

1 11 2012

This talk raises a very important issue that things are changing faster than we can process them. Hence we are playing catch-up with the world and often find ourselves living quite literally in the past.

One aspect of this that I  believe is relevant for small business owners and self-employed people like me is that sometimes we create innovation, because we put two and two together, but we are outdated for our own ideas. That is, we come up with something innovative, but because we live by outdated rules we reject it. Something within us tells us that we have a good idea anyway, so we develop a “love-hate” relationship with our own prospects. We spend years fighting our idea until our maturity and knowledge finally catch up with it and we “make peace” with our own projects. What I ask myself is, where could I be now had I accepted that I may not fully understand it and got on with it, instead of fighting my instincts for so long?

Ironically, after so many years of society putting logic and knowledge first; it seems that those who are the most sensitive and intuitive, i.e. those who are willing to take action despite not fully understanding what their instincts or ideas – or whatever you call it – are telling them to do seem to be better equipped to be successful in a world that changes faster than we can.

As small business owners, we are in charge of our processes and vision. Hence, we can implement changes more easily and tend to be more tuned to our area of expertise, so we are actually in a better position, if we believe so and follow our instincts, to compete in this fast changing world than many of the large corporations of the past. Isn’t that something to think about?