“What do you want to be when you grow up?” The range of answers is huge. From the most ordinary ones like “I want to be a doctor”; “I want to be a teacher”; “I want to be a soccer player” to the most surreal certainties like ““I want to be an astronaut” or “I want to be a princess…”, children have the gift of surprising us with their flights of imagination. However, no matter how creative they are, we seldom hear an innocent: “I want to be a translator”.
In my case, I have always known I had to work with languages, but I was never very sure how. When I finally decided to be a translator, there was no more room for innocent imaginings. So what should you do when your decision to be a translator is pondered and serious?
For many of you, this point may seem irrelevant But the thing is, in order to translate you don’t just need to be fluent in two languages. You need to master two realities. Without this mastery, the translator will inevitably remain “stuck” to the source content, unable to clearly and faithfully transpose the required message. This textual detachment is achieved by means of a number of translation techniques learned via the appropriate training. The truth is that not everyone who knows two languages can translate well; it must be learned. So make sure you get good training. Otherwise, you run the risk of seeing rain falling “in pitchers” and no one knowing where to run to!
The “ID” of any rookie in the world of work is a CV. So if you are already in possession of the appropriate knowledge and are starting out in your career, take the time to draw up a good CV. You will easily find some guides and pointers on how to write a CV. There is a variety of models to choose from Think of all the experience and relevant knowledge you have acquired over the years and present yourself. Creativity has no limits…
If you want to start somewhere, just translate! As in any profession, experience is worth its weight in gold. So get busy. Search. Send our your CV. Take on projects. If you wait for a big challenge or for something more interesting to come along, it may never arrive. It takes time. Starting out is never easy, so it’s essential to put yourself out there and to gain experience. Today you may be out of work, tomorrow you’ll have a project, then two or three… The next thing you know, there won’t just be projects but regular clients. Translation can be lonely work in a way but there are, or there should be, no physical limitations to prevent you from communicating. Get experience, make contacts, acquire new knowledge; in short, earn the trust of your future clients. Translate, and you will see that this is good for your wallet as well as your CV.
When in doubt, ask; when not in doubt… ask anyway! A good translator has to be curious, eager for knowledge, a perpetual student Always surrounded by books, articles, reference manuals, dictionaries – these must be the translator’s best friends If you don’t know how to translate a particular term or what a word in the source content means, consult an expert in that field. Are you working on a legal text? Then you might want advice from a lawyer. Talking about medical terminology? Get in touch with a doctor. You have questions about the project? Speak to your client. Working in partnership translates into professionalism and adds a touch of quality to your work. Above all, do a lot of research. Study, ask, question, investigate, confirm… And not only when you don’t know, but also when you think you do know!
It is not enough to search; you must know how to search. When you aren’t sure about something, don’t be content with the first answer that comes up. You don’t just need an answer, you need the right answer. For example, when searching the Internet for a specific term, confirm that the entries you find are in European Portuguese and not Brazilian Portuguese (if you translate into European Portuguese); whether the source is nationally or internationally recognized; whether there are many entries confirming what you suspect… Use reliable dictionaries. Consult your client’s website (when applicable). As with everything in life, be selective and always prepared to justify your choice.
Translating is perhaps a little bit like learning to drive. The techniques are learned while training, but only experience gives us the versatility and the knowledge we need to develop as professionals. Sometimes driving goes smoothly, at other times accidents happen. So it is best to have someone by your side on your first trips Ask for advice from professionals who have more experience in your field. It might be a colleague, a teacher, a supervisor in your workplace. Listen to the voice of experience Attention to detail and mental elasticity in translation are aspects that come with practice, so don’t get discouraged if someone lists a number of points to be improved. It’s all part of the process. Accept criticism and earn your wings so that you can fly. The destination is yours!
You have probably lost count of the times someone told you to always read the source content before starting to translate Good advice! Yes, you should read and perhaps re-read the text to be translated before starting to work. This is even more important at the beginning of your career But always, always remember to read and re-read the final version of the document before delivering it to your client. Make sure it is true to the original, that there are no spelling mistakes, that the formatting is the same as in the source text; in short, make sure that it isn’t missing a single comma (literally This will show professionalism and your client will appreciate it. A point in your favour!
Above all, you must respect your client. Always remember who is paying you. Before taking on a job, make sure you understand all the requirements and that you are in a position to fulfil them. Then, just do your job. Whether it is the deadline, the quality or the specific terms and conditions of the translation, respect what is asked from you. Naturally, if you are asked to keep the content confidential, you cannot announce to the world the interesting facts you found out about the patent translation you are working on, for instance. I repeat: always remember who is paying you!
If you do not feel comfortable with a certain topic you are asked to translate, if you consider the translation conditions are not the best or if you think someone is taking advantage of your inexperience, learn to say “No”. Just because you are starting out in your career, you don’t have to accept everything. Know your limits and value yourself. After all, professionalism is not measured in years of experience. Above all, you are already a professional in your own right.
With everything in life, it is important to invest. I’m sorry if this is not what you wanted to hear, but it is nevertheless a fact. Whether it is a question of acquiring knowledge or tools or of socializing with colleagues (preferably all three), all of these are sources of enrichment. In a world like ours, revolutionized by new technology and in a constant state of change, it is crucial to always stay up to date with the latest developments: good training, innovative software that helps you optimize your time, a tool that enables you to immediately access old projects on a specific topic, an unusual translation technique, a complex term base… However, don’t forget to invest in human relationships too. They often hold answers you might not even know you are looking for! So invest; if you don’t, you might easily feel that though you have just started you are already out of date.
As with everything in life, don’t give up as soon as you hit the first setback. The translation market is vast, but it is difficult and highly unpredictable. Especially if you are a freelance translator, you will go through periods of “stagnation” where you don’t know what the future holds for you. Be persistent, send out your CV, do translation tests, do your best and if necessary persist some more, send out more CVs, do more translation tests and go on doing your best. No one said it would be easy, just that “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”!
Last but not least, if you have to spend the rest of your life doing something (or trying to do it), at least enjoy it and make it worthwhile. Translation has the charm of placing a variety of themes and paths in front of us. It isn’t always easy to choose, but as far as possible specialize in fields that appeal to you, for they will enable you to produce your best work. Those fields will also be the ones you find most satisfying and fulfilling, both personally and professionally.