Translation is a Profession, Too.

Part 3


In Part 1 of Translation is a Profession, Too, we looked at one of the quintessential conundrums in the translation profession: that despite having all the hallmarks of a profession, translators are not accorded the respect, and often not the level of payment, that a professional should be able to expect. We analysed the causes for this situation, enumerated what it means to be a professional, and looked at the two key pitfalls – the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and Impostor Syndrome.


In Part 2 we looked at some of the methods and resources a young translator can use to edge towards true professionalism, to earn respect, and to earn a higher income. In Part 3 we’ll look at the last four items on that list of methods and resources, leaving you with a complete user manual for succeeding in the translation industry.



Post-grad courses


The selection is quite wide, despite the small sphere. Here in Russia you have a choice of MA, Diploma, or intensive certificate programmes. For MAs look to any of the big universities. For diplomas there is the St Petersburg School of Conference Interpreting and Translation, there’s the Moscow one, Astrakhan has one, too. Farther afield there’s Geneva, and Monterey (if you’ve got lots of money). For certificates in specific areas, you can join a RuFilms course. TFR offers intensive trainings, and there are many more.





There are a decent number of translation associations you can join – or just follow on Facebook, to stay informed. Here’s just a brief list:



A bit of time spent on Google will give you a whole load more, some of which will be better for you geographically, monetarily, or in regards to your areas of specialisation.





In a sense, modifying your behaviour is the easiest, because it’s free, and it comes from within you. But it’s also the hardest for you to do, because it means changing the way you behave, from your smallest habits, upwards. All the other options discussed rely on other people, other systems, other organisations. This relies on you. How much do you want to be among the best?


Grisha was a student of mine three or four years ago at the St Petersburg School of Conference Interpreting and Translation. Watching this young man’s star rise has been glorious. And while we’ve mostly talked about translators in these articles, he is an interpreter. But we’ll forgive him that, because his example is so vivid 😉


Let’s have a look at Grisha behaving like a professional. Here he is doing some consecutive interpreting.


Look at everything. First of all, the way he’s dressed. He’s dressing to match the person he’s interpreting for. You shouldn’t be better-dressed than the person you’re working for. You also shouldn’t be worse-dressed. So you have to be able to analyse an order in advance, and ask the relevant questions to get detailed information.


Look at what he’s doing with his microphone; he’s not holding it close to his mouth, where it might pick up his breathing. He’s not waving it around, in danger of knocking it on something – he’s just carefully holding it at the ready for when he needs it.


He’s got a pen and paper in his hands. Probably – because he’s very good – he’s actually got strong enough audio retention skills to not actually need a pen and paper, but it’s there in case – he’ll make notes in his own shorthand, if the speaker goes on too long.


Let’s have another look at clues to tell you that you’re dealing with a professional. This is a great example of successful mirroring.



Here he is dressed in sporting clothes. Look at his body language. It’s not the quiet formal approach, it’s “I’m amongst footballers”.




Here he is at some socialite event, looking suave in his black tie, standing close, but not creepily close to the lady he’s interpreting for. Dress up to the event – you’ll be treated like a professional. Imagine if he’d turned up in a suit and tie, he would stand out as the rookie interpreter, whereas he is the professional, blending in.





Meet Vasya.



He ‘loves’ translating. And he loves the fact he earns money from it. The problem with Vasya is that some company came to him and said: “Can you translate this brochure into English? It’s for an exhibition.” Vasya says: “English? Umm… Yeah, of course, I can. Yeah. I got high marks in English at school.”


The brochure is going to be published. Thousands of copies. It’s going to be seen by lots of people. And Vasya’s volunteering to translate into a language in which he is not native, and doesn’t have much practice. He didn’t think this through, because he wanted the money. Lots of people saw what he did. They laughed.




Here, a true story: we went to an exhibition recently saw this stand, with typos and calques all over it.



We mentioned them to the people on the stand. They were embarrassed. Somebody didn’t give the job to a professional; it certainly wasn’t edited or proofread after the translation. All to save, what, $10?


Why does this matter? Because if they don’t care about the details like this – what does that say about their attitude to the details of the work you employ them to do, or the details in the machines they manufacture?


Choosing to specialise in specific areas means you need to learn how to say “No, thanks.” to work. Yep, that’s saying ‘no’ to people who want to give you money. Madness, eh?


But surely the greater madness is to take on the mantle of a professional – someone who bears the responsibility of the work they do, who charges rates commensurate with their skill level, to whom matters of great sensitivity can be entrusted – and screw it all up by working on projects in which that person does not specialise?


If you choose to specialise, the time will come when you will have to email a client and say that you can’t take a job because you are too busy with something else; or because you don’t specialise in that sphere. But don’t leave it at that – earn some karma points, and recommend a colleague who is a specialist in that area. You never know, you might even earn a glass of wine from your colleague.


Start specialising in a sphere, and you’ll become known as the person who does magic in that sphere. But if you take everything that comes to you, you’ll become known as the person who takes the worst jobs. Clients will ask themselves: “Can we pay him less for that job? He’ll take anything.” They’ll pay you less and less, you’ll take more and more. And then you’ll spontaneously combust. Or implode. Either way, it’ll be ugly.


So, specialise, be public about your specialisations, gather contacts of other similar-minded professionals whom you can recommend if people come to you with inappropriate work, and you’ll quickly rise to the top, with happy clients, grateful colleagues, and a satisfying work-life balance for you.


Simple, right? It’s just not easy.

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Will Hackett-Jones

Co-Founder & Partner

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