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!


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