How NOT To Become a Translator: a (useful) point of view, by Per N. Dohler (and some other scattered thoughts)

Translation- and interpreting-related blogs are more frequent than one expects, trust me: they’re just the web’s best kept secret!

Twitter has undoubtely become a life saver and an invaluable tool for doing just that: searching and be searched.

But before talking about the main topic, I have to start with a preamble.

It links up to my recent interview on Italians in fuga, a useful blog by Aldo Mencaraglia on Italians’ experiences living and working abroad – in Italian; will post a translation of the interview soon, no worries 🙂 

After only 2 days the interview went live on Aldo’s blog, I have been literally inundated by odd requests for tips and… employment. Yes, I know very well that visibility (and spam) is part of being constantly exposed on the Internet, and I always welcome CVs and enquiries, but THESE requests were somewhat ‘peculiar’.

An example? (Italics by me)

“Hello Valeria, I am an Italian archeologist (v impressed, I do think it is a though profession which requires a massive dedication, to start with) and I speak decent Spanish. I have never had nothing to do with translation before (not joking, it reads more or less like this) nor have a degree in the field, but I thought you may be interested in my CV anyway. I would really like to move to the UK and work with you, in any way you may deem appropriate.”

Apart from being surprised, I also felt terrible for the job market situation in my native country – which is indeed dreadful. Having said that, unfortunately, I don’t feel in the position to work with people based on a random non-translation-related yet remarkable skill, nor to give away tips on how to go and live abroad – because my business is, as you know… translations!

IMHO, I strongly believe that a) professionally speaking, one needs a solid university background in translation and/or interpreting or equivalent valuable experience and b) on how to move and work abroad, all I can say (apart from the usual tips everybody can find browsing the web) is that it’s something you learn on the way, while doing it (at least in my experience). Some sort of: book a flight, leave everything behind and try it for youself.

In this framework, today I happened to come across the webpage of the Translation Journal and was delighted by the post below – also mentioned in the title – because it reminds me of this ‘random-request-for-work’ experience I’ve just had to deal with.

In particular, I would like to quote a few points I have selected from it and that I consider truly essential for everyone willing to enter the translation world: 

(© Copyright Translation Journal and the Author 2003):


Appendix 1: How To Be a Translator

I am afraid more people than care to admit it have taken an equally long time and equally circuitous routes in becoming translators. If you are just starting out, save yourself some valuable time. Do not emulate our haphazard paths. Instead, proceed as follows:

Take a sober inventory of what you bring to the job. All of us—all of us!—have learned interesting things in our lives, which might be useful in one way or another when translating in various fields. But if you lack certain essentials—for example, if you are not a good writer in your native language—then do consider pursuing a different path.

Take a sober inventory of what you still need to acquire. Then acquire it. Spend some time on training first—it need not be in translation as such—specialty fields are just as important for many. Allow yourself some time abroad; read, read, read; and listen, listen, listen.

Seek out colleagues wherever you can. Good places to look are Internet “hangouts” for translators and (yes) translators’ associations. Collaborate whenever you have a chance. Edit and be edited, even if you hate editing. Above all, keep your mind open.

Think of yourself as a businessperson first and foremost. Be dependable. Be available. Be visible. Be serious. Market yourself. Stick to deadlines religiously.

Don’t guess what your customer needs—if you aren’t 100% sure, ask. If you don’t like what you hear, say no.

If you are called upon to do something you cannot do, say no. But if you do engage in a contract, abide by its terms.

Determine where you want to go. Ask yourself: What would I like my professional life to be, say, ten years from now? From time to time, calibrate the things you do on a daily basis against that overall goal.


Click here for the entire content. I thought these tips are more than worth sharing,… thanks Per!


How do you write e-mails? A few golden rules for the perfect business correspondence (and a bit of fun)

I’ve always loved drawing but then the passion for languages took over somehow and even though my Art teacher was all excited about the possibility my parents would agree to send me to an artistic high school, that never happened and… you know what I did instead.

Unfortunately, I was extremely good at reproducing still natures and portraits – pretty classic, in the end – but never put my back into comics.

Funny comic strips are the best, some can be so entertaining! And the Internet is an endless source of beautifully witty comics and, surprise surprise… based-on-true-story topics 🙂

The ones I am in love with right now are from The Oatmeal, a very cunning, extra funny website who will keep you entertained for hours and hours. I’ll go back to that in a sec. If you cannot wait, click here now!

But let’s keep on track… the title: how do you write e-mails?

E-mails are tricky, and especially in a business environment, good e-mail writing skills are certainly a plus.

The tone is of course more colloquial than a hard copy letter but still, scripta manent and when talking to clients, some of the golden rules are:

  • be polite – use the relevant Dear and Best regards, without being OTT though. Still, keeping in mind everybody likes a bit of nicety
  • always write a short subject – not a whole poem though, just the main point or a hint of the topic
  • always double-check the address before clicking ‘send’ – otherwise you’ll end up spending hours wondering why Mr. Smith didn’t get back to you just yet…
  • be careful with the CC – if you are a fan of mass e-mails, remember you may be invading other recipients’ privacy. The safest move? Go for the ‘mysterious’ but discreet enough BCC option
  • do not pack the e-mail body with bolds, CAPS or italics – even though in some cases these are useful to stress your point and
  • do not forget Caps and punctuation where required – so a good balance between this and the previous point
  • always have a clear, neat signature with your name, logo and so on (but make sure it is not too long or big, or people will go crazy looking for your telephone number…)
  • KISS (keep it short and simple or straightforward) yet professional – nobody likes an overwhelming amount of words in a random order or smileys all over the place
  • keep bullet point lists to a minimum (I think we are there now…) or you will come across as a bit too obsessed by order and A-Z lists ( = control freak?)

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Have a laugh at this

Ciao ciao


Italian gestures – aka the art of waving hands around (too much)

Everybody knows that Italy’s peculiar in all its aspects (one for all: its Prime Minister…). But what is more typical and cultural-bound than Italian gestures?

Several years ago – oh my, time flies! – I was told by an English mother tongue that my English was truly great. I was so happy and cheerful, really! … until the person added this: ‘if only you stopped moving your hands SO much…’


As I said, time ticks by and well, I now know it’s a good thing, that your culture is innerly what you are. Now I get to appreciate the fact that one can truly remain Italian (or English or French or Danish and so on and so forth) even when away from the homeland for long time.

And that it’s something you need to be proud of.

Hence, my post. These pictures are not totally ‘politically correct’ and possibly not very elegant (mild swearing is involved) but I did find them funny and fairly true….


Hope you do too.

Ciao ciao,


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