Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Advice to younger translators

I find myself at times writing about what younger translators, who are just entering our profession, should or should not do... about tools, about rates, about professional practices. In my mind I see this as sound advice backed up by years of experience. Others might disagree and see mine as the outdated and out-of-touch opinions of someone too old to understand what it is like entering our profession today.

When I begun translating professionally, our world was different: our market was local, limited to the city or town where we lived. Our tools were primitive: my first translations were all written on a typewriter: word processors and PCs arrived only a few years later for me. Our choices of reference materials were limited to the dictionaries we had painstakingly collected ourselves, or, if we were lucky enough to live in a big city, to the books available in the local libraries. There was no Internet, and fax machines were innovations that enticed enterprising translators with the mirage of offering their services to more distant agencies (but to send a fax out of town you had to pay exorbitant long-distance phone charges).

Now we live in a work of computer aided translation, translation management systems, and our clients (and competitors) span the entire globe.

But I believe that the very fact of having witnessed such changes in our profession gives me insight in what beginning translators should do to enter the market.

Just a few suggestions:

  • Be professional in the way you approach prospects. 
  • Learn about our profession: this doesn't simply mean learn well another language, nor does it mean learn how to translate. It means learn more about business practices in the translation world, more about professional associations, more about the new wonderful resources available from our computer screens - from the wealth of reference, to such things as lists of translation companies and how they are rated by other translators. 
  • Learn the technical side of our profession: learn about the tools available to translators, and about those that translation clients use. 
  • Learn to specialize: becoming a real specialist in a few selected fields will increase your chances of becoming an in-demand translator. 
  • Learn to keep professionally up to date. 
  • Learn to improve the way you write in your native language: translation is writing, and you should perfect your skills as a writer. 
  • Learn to improve the way you write in the language you clients or prospects use: translation is communication, and you must lean how to communicate effectively with your network of prospects, clients and colleagues. 
  • Especially when you are complaining about something, learn to decant your messages. You may be right in complaining, but a complaint written in anger and fired off too quickly could further damage your relationship with a client, prospect or colleague. Important messages should be written, then left aside for some time, reexamined with a cooler head, and only then, if it still looks like a good idea, sent. 
  • Find a way to receive sound advice: advice about your translation, by other (more experienced) translators, but also advice about your communications. As translators we work alone, and to communicate only remotely, through email, text messages and so on. It is easy to write something that is then misinterpreted or misunderstood by your recipient: what you wrote thinking it would elicit a smile may easily cause offense. If you can, have your important communications be read and vetted by a more unbiased pair of eyes. 
  • Learn that it is not important to boast of your accomplishment, but rather to inquire how you can help your prospect solve a problem. Be an aid, a problem solver, not a know-it-all that likes to show off his talents or accomplishments.

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