What drove you to become a translator? Love of languages? Passion for intercultural communication? Or maybe an inherent flair for sifting through synonyms and finding one that’s just right? For many of us, it’s the profession’s agility and vastness that are most alluring, rewarding, and unique: the ability to pair translation or interpreting up with any of your passions, vocations, hobbies, or areas of expertise.
Think of translation as a universal soldier – a multi-tool that is not only a fascinating and fast-evolving field in itself, but is also a match to your interests; a sidekick to your grand ideas; a lifetime supporter of whatever forces you out of bed in the morning.
Along with the usual pairings—technical translation, court interpreting, medical translation, and translation of fiction—what other domains could benefit from linguistic diversity? More importantly, how can translation complement and enhance your life outside work?
The path to finding how translation can serve you lies within. You have to ask yourself how the unique professional skills you’ve mastered over years translate into your life at large—and find your unique pairing.
What do you like most about translation or interpreting? Is it doing background research? Editing your first draft? Since both translation and interpreting involve multiple stages and rely on diverse skills, you might gravitate towards one facet of the profession over another. While you might not have the luxury of pushing aside your least favourite tasks in a work environment, if translation or interpreting is more than a means of bringing home the bacon, doing what you love leads to a much deeper fulfillment.
What are you passionate about outside of work? In other words, what would you do on a Saturday morning if you had nothing planned? Listen to your authentic self and take some time to ponder this question. Discovering what truly makes you happy—trends, peer pressure, and money aside—is instrumental to leading a happy life. Next step is prioritizing your hobbies to identify those you’re most keen on nurturing.
Find your unique mix. Now that you’ve taken some time to single out your biggest passions, pair them up with what you love about translation or interpreting. There can—and should be—an overlap between professional and personal lives, the middle ground that marries your vocation with hobbies, causes you support, ideas worth sharing. As a result of this unique mix bearing your name, you’ll be getting the best of both worlds—fueling your passions with your expertise in translation or interpreting.
Among many perks of being a translator or interpreter, your ability to spread ideas across cultures and continents, educate, and shape the way we relate to each other will always apply to anything you do outside business hours. Are you passionate about hockey? Video games? Cooking? Start a bilingual blog where you share your favourite recipes; comment on the translation of video games; teach hockey terminology in your second language. When you use your skills as a translator or interpreter to give your hobbies a kick and your ideas a voice, you will create a greater level of satisfaction in what you do all while elevating your career and advancing your interests.
?Are you looking to establish and build a new career as a translator or interpreter or are you an already an established professional looking for ways to continue your professional development? Interested in becoming more actively engaged in your chosen field of translation or interpretation? Membership in a professional association has numerous benefits for both early career translators and interpreters and more seasoned professionals.
Some of the benefits of joining a professional association are practical and tangible. A professional association is a trusted source for clients seeking translators and interpreters, so being included in a respected association’s directory will make it easy for prospective clients to find you. Membership, whether at an associate or certified level, also designates you as a professional in your field. This indicates to prospective clients and employers that you have a certain level of experience and training. ATIA members undergo an application and certification process tailored to their specialization. There are five categories of ATIA membership: Translator, Court Interpreter, Community Interpreter, Medical Interpreter, and Conference Interpreter, and members may attain certification in multiple categories.
In addition to standardized membership requirements and certification, many associations offer professional development opportunities and resources such as seminars and webinars. ATIA has offered webinars in topics ranging from exam preparation, to how to freelance as a translator, to elevating your English grammar skills, as well as mini-courses on different specializations within the field of translation and interpretation.
Other advantages of involvement in a professional association, such as collegiality and a deeper engagement with your chosen field, are less tangible but are still important to developing a successful and rewarding career. For younger professionals, joining an organization opens opportunities to network, learn their new industry, and access a degree of professionalization while building early career experience. It is often recent graduates and new professionals who are most likely to seek and utilize networking opportunities, but experienced professionals should not underestimate the importance of collegiality and connection. Participating in a professional association is a way to maintain and develop professional connections and to stay in touch with industry developments and news. Ongoing learning and active engagement keep skills fresh and careers dynamic.
? Professional organizations, whether at a provincial level such as the ATIA or national, contribute to the health and strength of the entire professional field. By developing and implementing standardized certifications and Codes of Ethics, professional associations maintain the quality and consistency of the field, protecting the interests of both clients and providers. Standardized certification and regulation ensures that the expertise that translators and interpreters work hard to attain is recognized as a profession. It also ensures that clients and employers are able to connect with consistent, quality services. A professional association’s strength is in its members, though! Each individual who joins a professional association contributes to making that association a robust and active presence in its field.
The Association of Translators and Interpreters of Alberta is itself a member of the Canadian Translators, Terminologists and Interpreters Council (CTTIC), and through the CTTIC is affiliated with the International Federation of Translators (FIT). To find out more about the ATIA membership categories and the membership process, check out the Membership page. ?
As a new translator starting out or a seasoned professional who likes to keep things simple, it might be the case that you decide you want to work for a Language Service Provider (LSP) or translation agency rather than seeking out clients directly. Whatever your reasons for pursuing work with an LSP, there are some important tips that can make your time with them more productive and mutually successful.
Recently, ATIA held a webinar with the CEO of Alpha Translations Canada, Michele Hecken. Michele went through a ton of introductory tips for working with LSPs and we are picking out and adding to our favourites for all of you.
Deliver on what you promise to.
This might sound obvious but the snowball effect when working for LSPs is very real. The more solid work you produce, the more you will be offered. And the busier you will be. Note that LSPs sift through hundreds and hundreds of translation CVs regularly so your position there is always a bit tenuous, but one way to have job security is to be reliable for quality translations delivered on-tie, every time. As harsh as that sounds, this is the world of working for LSPs. They are usually producing work globally and generally have a very large translator database. Everyone has off-days but there is less opportunity to come back from a few of those when working for an LSP simply because of the size of these organizations and how in-demand they are by clients and professionals alike. Stay consistent and manage your time to deliver quality translations regularly.
This might seem counter-intuitive because you would think that the more types of translations you do would *translate* into more types of work offered, but this is generally not the case. The more you specialize in specific types of translations, the more work you are likely to build up in your area of expertise. You might even garner a reputation as the go-to translator for that specialization. Never be afraid to turn down translation work that you are not qualified to attend to – the LSP will likely respect your knowledge of your own boundaries and will appreciate that you don’t take on anything that is outside your areas of expertise, which could result in subpar translations.
Embrace the technological revolution!
Translations-by-hand are still often seen as the best method for accuracy but they may be more time-consuming than you or the LSP you work for would like. At ATIA, we know folks who recommend avoiding machine translations wherever possible. At the same time, there are some technological tools which make your work a lot easier – especially for everything but the translation itself! Use appropriate software for formatting, scheduling your work, storing your work, and invoicing at the end of the day. We have written about this previously, so be sure to check out the best online tools for professional translators.
Stay in your lane.
Knowing your place as a translator is important for keeping yourself sane and on-track. It isn’t your job to work on source texts so if you find errors, don’t edit them. Simply translate to the best of your ability the meaning of the text. You can introduce a translator’s note to draw attention to project manager about the original errors who can then advise the client.
If you have dabbled a bit in freelance work or are thinking about making it your career, there are some important points to consider when it comes to taking the plunge! While not all of these will be true for everyone and even if you don’t resonate with these, that shouldn’t deter you from trying out freelance work if you are inclined, the following list includes many of the characteristics freelancers commonly report as being important to do well in their work. So without further ado, here are the signs you might be cut out for freelance work:
You can focus.
This is a big one. Yes, some procrastination is inevitable and there are some folks who work best under pressure so procrastination can become a motivational and even inspiring tool to get quality work done. However, for most people, translation and writing work takes several drafts and time to percolate which means that leaving everything to the last minute or working on multiple projects simultaneously (thereby distracting you from all of them) means that your work can leave a lot to be desired. You have to be able to make lists of priorities and execute those items according to what is the most needed and most urgent. Spreading yourself too thin over a number of tasks or getting distracted by other things is a recipe for a mess!
You can be many different things to many different people.
Being a freelance translator does not mean that you will only be freelance translating. It also means that sometimes you are doing marketing work, networking and outreach, administrative assistant work, book-keeping, accounting and so forth. You have to be able to move between these positions fairly seamlessly and according to the contexts in which you find yourself.
You are willing to cultivate relationships.
The importance of being willing to cultivate long-term relationships with clients, businesses, organizations and groups that are relevant to your area of work cannot be underestimated. You don’t have to be a networking all-star but you do have to keep on top of community events you are invited to, social media interactions and the like. Frankly, this task is easier now than ever before because connection with others can be had at the click of a mouse.
You can conquer “impostor syndrome”. You believe in yourself and your work.
Being paralyzed by fear or perfectionism will only make your work harder and more stressful. Be open to constructive feedback and be sure to always check your work, but don’t become obsessed with every single detail. You should be able to produce polished work without having an emotional weighing of your self-worth tied to it. Remember you are a trained professional with skills and expertise to offer. If you don’t know something, learn it or admit it and move on!
You believe the rewards of freelance work outweigh the risk.
Freelancing is not without risks – particularly a sense of job security and perhaps a steady paycheque. But if you are willing to trade those things for all the benefits of being your own boss, being able to work from anywhere in the world, and choosing what work you put out into the world, you are unlikely to be disappointed. Plus if you have been making fairly decent money on the side for a while from freelancing, taking the plunge might not be so scary after all. Just imagine how much ore work you could get by focusing on what you do entirely.
You are willing to do *some* things for free.
This is a touchy subject but it is important to realize that there are plenty of things you will do to manage your business that you aren’t directly paid for. Unless you are making loads of cash, you are unlikely to be able to pull a salary from your profit to pay yourself for the management of the business beyond the actual freelance work itself. Returning emails, taking calls, arranging meetings and the like are all things that you can’t really invoice someone for. Depending on how you bill, whether by word or by hour, there is the chance that you can factor some of that overall time into how you do invoice though. It is important to measure how long you spend doing unpaid/non-invoiced work for your business because if you end up losing out of deals because you are spending so much time doing the nitty-gritty, it might be worth your while to subcontract some of that out to someone else.
You have healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with stress.
There is going to be a time when all things converge at once and you are going to feel like you have to stay up until 2am every night for over a week to get everything done. How you deal with this matters. One of the number one reasons that folks leave the freelancing world is that they are unable to cope with the unique stresses it brings: from accommodating difficult client requests to feeling like you are working around the clock, from feeling like you can never clock out to giving up any semblance of a weekend. Be good about setting time boundaries so your work doesn’t bleed into every aspect of your life including recreational and family time. Make sure you can recognize when things start to get too hair for you and you need to take a breather. Figure out ways that you can make things more manageable, and know when to approach clients for more time, if needed.
You know how to say “No.”
This is another big one…especially when you are first starting out. Who wants to turn down work? At the same time, we can’t all do everything. We have areas of specialization and work-life balance to consider, among other things. Your limits are really up to you. Spend some time thinking about what you are doing with your life and your goals for the year or five-year period. Is the work you are doing helping you to achieve those goals?
You work well solo from home.
Most freelancers work from home or in public spaces like coffeeshops or libraries. Some get to the point of being so busy that they are able to rent an office space to meet clients and complete their work at. For the rest of us, working well, solo, from home is crucial to our success. If it really bothers you to be alone all the time, consider going to a monthly meet-up of freelancers for coffee where you can share your experiences and network, or meet a fellow freelancer for a work session at a coffee shop – just make sure you don’t end up distracting each other too much!
You have developed organizational methods that work for you.
There are plenty of other signs that a career in freelancing could be for you but ultimately you are the best determiner of that fact. What works for one freelancer, doesn’t work for everyone and over time, you will develop the organizational methods that work best for you. Some freelancers work best with a paper wall calendar and to-do lists on sticky notes, others are digital all the way. Whatever keeps you on track and ensures that your work gets done on-time and well is what you should stick with!