Getting Started: 10 Tips

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We oftentimes get questions about how to get started in the profession, and that's a long answer. Actually, part of this blog is dedicated to answering precisely that question, and we have a long list of articles that we've marked for beginners. However, a dear friend of ours recently asked us to compile 10 tips on what one needs to do to get started (he was thinking about become a translator). We came up with these 10 tips/ideas, but of course there are hundreds more. These tips have nothing to do with language skills (we will assume everyone has those), but have to do with building a business and a career once you already have the necessary skills.

1) Read some fantastic books that will answer most of your questions about the world of translation. These books weren't around 15 years ago, so you are in luck if you are getting started now. Our all-time favorite is Corinne McKay's How to succeed as a freelance translator, and we hear our book The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation isn't bad, either.    These two books should help solve 90% of your initial questions.
2)  Invest in your education. There are many fantastic courses available for translators, and many are even online. For the Spanish/English pair, may we suggest UCSD-Extension, where Judy teaches?
3) Become a member of a professional association. Or two. Or three. The ATA has a great membership directory that clients can use to find vendors (read: translators).
4) Read the 650+ entries on this blog to get some good insight into the joys and challenges of translation. Then discover other fantastic blogs. We've listed them on our blog roll on the right-hand side of this blog.
5) Build your website and get an associated professional e-mail address. Don't tinker with it too long--it will never be perfect, and you can always change it later. Done is better than perfect.
6) Attend industry conferences and meet your peers. There just is no substitute, and translators need a network of colleagues to succeed. So go out and build it. Be sure to also join e-mail lists (listservs) that many associations offer.
7) Invest in your set-up. We are in the lucky position that starting a translation services business requires minimal investment, but there will be some (a few thousand, perhaps) you need to buy a great computer, dictionaries, CAT tools, etc.
8) Keep in mind that starting a translation business is no different than starting out any other business, but perhaps with less risk because the investment you need to make is low and you have no overhead. Remember that it will take time to build a business. It's never instantaneous.
8) Go to where the clients are. You need to get out of the house and network. If you are a legal translator, go to events where there will be lots of lawyers, such as bar association meetings, etc. 
9) Create a good pricing structure. Don't underprice everyone just because you are getting started, as that will affect you and everyone else in both the short and the long run. Do the math to see how much you need to make to have a thriving business, and charge the rate that gets you there. Not everyone will want to work with you, but you don't need thousands of clients.
10) Dedicate time to administrative and promotional work. Unless you work only with translation agencies, which essentially do all the client acquisition work for you, you must do the sales and marketing functions yourself. In the beginning, this will take up a big part of your time, but as you progress in your career it will be less so.

What would you like to add, dear colleagues?


Quack, Quack: A Museum for a Translator

Image: http://www.erika-fuchs.de/erika-fuchs/
One of our dear German translator colleagues recently shared a gem of information with us: there's now a museum in Germany that honors a translator (yes, one translator). 

The English->German translator is none than the amazing late Erika Fuchs, who translated all things Disney comics (specifically, Carl Barks' comics featuring Mickey Mouse) for more than 30 years. She's well-known and beloved in the German translation world, and her work was truly groundbreaking and brought Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck to German-speaking audiences. In fact, our first encounters with the mouse and the duck were courtesy of Erika Fuchs, and that was long before we knew what translation even was and understood that she had opened up a world to us kids that we wouldn't otherwise have had access to. Ms. Fuchs was known for her exquisitely crafted translations that matched each cartoon character's personality and quirks. She was also a master at avoiding literal translations, and was quite free in her approach, yielding highly idiomatic results that generations of kids were addicted to (we were as well). 

If anyone deserves a medal for her work, it's certainly Erika Fuchs (and she received several during her lifetime). We would never have dreamed that she would have an entire museum dedicated to her, but it's official! The small town of Schwarzenbach an der Saale (in Germany), where Ms. Fuchs lived for more than 50 years, now has a museum dedicated to her. Here's the German-language link to it.

Did any of our lovely colleagues also fall in love with Mickey Mouse as kids because of Ms. Fuchs' translations? Please share your stories with us!

Interpreting: Anatomy of a Deposition

Today's quick blog post is a link to a video Judy recorded for Speechpool a few months ago. It's about what happens during deposition proceedings. While the video was recorded to practice interpreting, the content covers exactly what happens during a deposition, which is why many interpreters have found it helpful to prepare for this type of proceedings. We love this, as we are killing two birds with one stone here! We have had several requests to make the video available outside of Speechpool, so here it is.

There will be a second part to this video coming soon--stay tuned!


We hope you find this useful! It's been our experience that most court interpreter training focuses on proceedings that happen in actual court, which makes sense. However, in many stages, cases are also handled outside of court (arbitration, mediation, depositions, etc.), but relatively little information is available about these processes. We are hence trying to fill in the gaps here in terms of information so our colleagues can prepare for these kinds of assignments. Enjoy!

Improve your Sight Translation: Quick Tip

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Today's quick tip doesn't really directly relate to interpreting technique, but it has everything to do with preparation. As many of our readers know, sight translation (despite its name, it's considered a form of interpreting) is very frequently used in court settings. While we learn at university and at prep courses that we should never, ever start sight translating until we've read the entire document, the reality is that most of the time things move so quickly that we just don't have time to do so. The best we usually can do is to scan the text a few sentences ahead while we sight translate sentence by sentence.

Now, the best way to get better at this is to be a fast reader. Yes, mom was right: reading is good for many, many things, including sight translation. The faster you read, the better you will be at crafting good sight translation, even when under pressure. Of course we don't just mean superficial reading, but reading to really understand the texts. To practice that, we read high-level texts (good newspapers, such as the New York Times and non-fiction), and after reading a paragraph or two, we put away the reading materials and ask ourselves: have we really understood what we just read? And then we try to give a brief summary.

Needless to say, the more you read, the faster you usually get, which will benefit your sight translation. And yes, we'd say your summer reading by the pool definitely counts--everything counts!

What do you think, dear colleagues?

The Pro Bono Factor

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Happy Friday! For today's quick post, we wanted to talk about the lovely colleagues we hire as contractors for projects every week.  We recently realized that they have many things in common. The one that stands out the most (in addition to excellent language skills, of course) is that the vast majority of them are active in their translator and interpreter associations or do some other sort of volunteer work.

It's not that we specifically look for colleagues with volunteer experience or that it's a requirement at all, but we tend to naturally gravitate towards those linguists who not only want to earn a good living, but who also want to give back to their communities and to the world. We've both always done a lot of pro bono work ourselves, and we appreciate others who do as well. Going good can also be good for you! We think it says something very powerful about a linguist when she or he is donating some time to make the world better for everyone. 

We recently looked through our contractor list, and sure enough: pretty much all of them have been on the boards of their local translator/interpreter organization, and many have done lots of other pro bono work in other sectors.

We've worked with the same colleagues for years (sorry, not accepting applications), but if we were looking for say, someone, to translate something from English into Romanian, and we can think of two translators for that language pair (we actually can!), and all other things being equal, we'd probably pick the one translator who is more active in the industry. It also helps that of course those linguists who are more active in the industry (speak: pro bono) are more visible, which makes it easier for us to remember them.

What do you think, dear colleagues? If you'd like to chime in, please leave a comment below. Have a great weekend.

Interpreting Tip: Try This

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For today's quick and short post about interpreting (which will take you less than three minutes to read), we'd like to share an easy technique that should help you improve your interpreting skills. It's a true-and-tried technique, but one that we also frequently forget about. Whenever we do remember to do it, we feel that our subsequent interpreting renditions are stronger.

The technique is called shadowing. Most of you will know what that means, but let us elaborate just in case. Shadowing means that you will listen to an audio recording via headphones and repeat what the speaker says in the same language word by word, trying to lag at least a full thought behind the speaker. This sounds easy, but some speakers are so fast that shadowing in itself (let alone interpreting) is a huge challenge. We purposely choose fast speakers (court hearings and especially trials on YouTube work very well) to make this as difficult as possible. It's still less draining than actual interpreting, so we try to do some 45 minutes of this. And we can really tell the difference if we do an interpreting practice session right after. In our experience, shadowing helps us with improve our pronunciation and speed, and repeating the same phrases over and over again during practice puts them the tip of your tongue for actual interpreting work, as we have found.

So try it, dear colleagues. We recommend doing this in both source and target (or in several source languages if you have them). What do you think? Have you tried it? Do you have some videos you like to interpret that you'd like to share? We'd be delighted to hear from you. 

Do Nothing

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We oftentimes hear from our lovely colleagues that they are stuck in a situation that they don't like, mainly that they don't receive the rates that they deserve. This is a common complaint not only in our industry, but in many other industries. In our book and on this blog, we have given advice for many years on how to get what you want from your business, including the rates that you want. However, what many don't think about is that changing a current situation to a better situation requires something crucial: changing something.  Doing nothing and changing nothing won't change the status quo.

We know that change is difficult, but if you don't like your current work situation (or even just a small portion of it), you have to change something. Doing the same thing over and over will give you the same result (presumably) that you have been getting and that you don't want. So change something, even if it's something small. If you don't like a current client, take the risk of not accepting any more work from him or her and look for a better client. If a client isn't paying you, write a strongly worded letter asking for payment. If you don't get paid, don't work for them anymore even if they promise they will do better with payment next time (which you've probably heard before). 

Yes, we are aware that some of these strategies are risky and may not yield the results that you want, but in order to be successful and put yourself in the situation that you want to be in, you have to take some risk. No one is successful (at least that we know of) without taking some risk, even if it's just a quantum of risk. Take baby steps and don't be too hard on yourself, but our main point here is: as a freelance linguist, you have the ability to change things. Try it and see what happens. No one else can do it for you, and it's almost impossible to change others, such as your clients, but you can change what you do and what kind of client you pursue. We have taken plenty of risks and not all of them have worked out, but we have stuck to our number one rule: we ask for and get the rates that we charge, but we don't get them for all potential clients, which is fine.

You always have the option of doing nothing. But if you don't like the status quo, you are going to have to make some changes.

What do you think, dear colleagues? We would love to hear your thoughts on today's quick post. 


A Career-Preserving Skill

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For today's quick post, we wanted to focus on a skill that's relatively easy to master.  All it takes is a few sentences, sincerity, and heart. However, its importance and impact are often forgotten.

All translators and interpreters are human, and as such, we make mistakes (see our previous post on Judy's mistake of the month). During some point in your career, you will make mistakes. Plenty of mistakes. We all do. They key is avoiding making the same one twice. The other key is making sure you apologize. 
Here are some thoughts in easy-to-read format:

  • Just do it, do it quickly, and mean it.
  • Be sincere and offer solutions.
  • As mortifying as it is to make mistakes, they happen. They are part of business, and part of life.
  • Take responsibility and accept that making mistakes is normal and human. 
  • Offer a discount if necessary and count your lucky stars if you client doesn't take you up on it.
  • It doesn't matter if it's a translation error, administrative error, if someone else made the error and somehow you are involved: 
    • apologize quickly
    • explain how you can fix the situation
    • and move on.

What do you think, dear colleagues? Meaningful and truthful apologies usually go a long way, even if sometimes all you can offer is: "Sorry about the oversight. While I investigate what happened here, let me offer my sincere apologies and a 10% discount on this project." We'd love to hear your thoughts!


Ouch: Mistake of the Month

Because few things are as fun as poking fun at ourselves, we wanted to do a quick post with this month's utterly horrifying mistake. We make many errors, but try not to make the same ones twice. This one was Judy's, so we will let her tell the story.

A few weeks ago, Dagy had the unique opportunity to interpret at an OPEC conference (English booth), and I was to be the back-up interpreter (I also did get to interpret). The setting in Vienna's regal Imperial Palace (Hofburg) was amazing, and the permanent booths were top-notch. As a US-based interpreter, I am usually quite impressed by anything resembling a permanent booth. We checked out the other booths, which are located on the third floor high above the stage, to meet our colleagues from the Spanish and Russian booths, but no one was there, so we reviewed our materials and got ready for the big moment. After we had sat down, a distinguished-looking gentleman walked in, extended his hand (without introducing himself), smiled, and said (in Spanish) that he was delighted to see us. I thought, don't ask me why, that this lovely gentleman was the colleague from the Spanish booth because no one else every ventures up there, so I immediately went into very casual small talk, and yes, I addressed him informally. As if I knew him. As if we were colleagues. As opposed to English, in Spanish we've got two pronouns, the formal usted and the informal (which I used). Among colleagues, we usually use the latter. 
The rest of the morning went better.

The only problem here was that this gentleman wasn't a fellow interpreter, but an ambassador to Austria of a South American country. Dagy had the good fortune of getting a glimpse of his badge, which had been facing away from me, and recognized the name immediately (research pays off; as the badge doesn't say "ambassador," either). She immediately greeted the ambassador with something appropriate along the lines of "Good morning, Your Excellency." This is of course when I realized my error and I was completely utterly mortified. However, the ambassador didn't miss a beat, didn't take offense at all, and just chatted away. I did recover enough to thank him for coming upstairs and for hiring us (yes, he hired us!), and exchange some other pleasantries. So yes, I committed a pretty big faux pas at a high diplomatic level, and I lived to tell about it. It's a nice reminder that people at the top can be very kind and forgiving, and I am grateful for it. I was pretty sure I'd never hear the end of this one from Dagy, and now that we've shared it here, I am guaranteed that it will last forever!

What about you, dear colleagues? Care to share your favorite mistake? We won't tell. Oh wait, this is a public blog....


Webinar: No Pain, No Pain (Active Marketing)

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Happy Friday! Judy is very excited to present another webinar on June 9, 2015 (yes, that's in 10 days).

She will present a 90-minute webinar for ASETRAD, the Spanish Association of Translators, Copyeditors and Interpreters. Note: all links to ASETRAD from this blog entry lead to Spanish-only pages, but here's a link to the English-language homepage. The topic is a popular and often requested one: it's all about how to work with those elusive direct clients. The presentation's full title is: No Pain, No Gain: Active Marketing to Direct Clients. Hint: it's a bit of work to find them (hence the title of the webinar), but it's worth it. 

The webinar is hosted by ASETRAD and will commence at 6 p.m. Central European Summer Time (US Pacific + 9 hours; check the time zone relative to where you are here). While Judy has given many presentations in Spanish, this one will be in English to allow for a bigger audience and because it also allows ASETRAD to offer webinars in a language other than Spanish. There will be a 15-minute Q&A period after the 75-minute presentation. The webinar will be run via GoToWebinar. The fee for non-members is EUR 45, while ASETRAD members can join for only EUR 20. There's also a special EUR 30 fee for members of other associations; including ATA members (Spanish-language link to sign-up page).

We look forward to "seeing" you there! Please let us know if you have any questions. If we cannot answer your question, we will be happy to send it to the lovely organizers, who do indeed have all the answers.
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The entrepreneurial linguists and translating twins blog about the business of translation from Las Vegas and Vienna.

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