How Successful Translators Keep Themselves in TipTop Shape

January 20, 2023
How Successful Translators Keep Themselves in TipTop Shape

Hello there! Happy 2023 to you and yours! 

As we enter the new year, it is once again an opportunity for change, transformation, improvement, and discovery. During this time, it is common tradition for some to make resolutions that will encourage positive breakthroughs in their lives, ranging from personal to professional matters.

Last year, Tomedes spoke with some of the best translators in the business for their experiences and advice in the hopes of being able to help any aspiring new translator in their career. But somehow, we feel that we haven’t explored all the potential factors that can make or break one’s work within the industry.

So, once again, we asked a range of translators in different languages and fields a few more questions focused on career development and relationships. Their replies are considerate and thought-provoking, and they have been kind enough to share their insights with us. 

We hope that the additional wisdom from expert colleagues will be able to help potential new translators to make and commit to their decisions in the burgeoning journey of their career. Click here to check out Part 1 of this blog.

But for now, here’s what we learned.

Are Formal Certifications Necessary?

Across the board, most translators think it’s a great idea.

“Absolutely,” says Beatrice Carlini (Italian, English, French). “Often in the field it is said that the same way in music being able to read the notes is not equal to being able to play the piano. Knowing two languages does not make you a translator or an interpreter.”

Giulia Brugnetti (Italian, English, Spanish) adds more detail to this opinion. “Without formal education in translation you might study to [an] expert level in another field, but that does not guarantee that you will have an expert grasp in terms of language structure and you may end up not knowing how the language works exactly; the do’s and don'ts (especially for languages which follow more prescriptive rules). You may stick too closely to the source language without realising it or, the opposite, not have sufficient understanding to spot false friends, for example.”

Pedro Ivo Caldas (Portuguese, English) notes that formal training in the translation industry doesn’t just include learning how to speak and understand the target languages. It also “allows individuals to be “exposed to different theories and techniques—which eventually becomes second nature” but also “learn how to research, strategize, apply specific knowledge about the use of CAT tools and explore different editing approaches,” making the process much more comfortable overall.

The main reason for formal training, as stated by Loic Ebodé (English, Spanish, French), is “demonstrating [one’s] expertise and setting [one] apart from other candidates.” Pia Myeong-Jin Lampert (English, German) believes that certifications “ensure that the quality of the translation meets the highest standards, especially when paired with professional and/or subject-specific qualifications.”

Aysha Mousa (English, Arabic) elaborates on the idea by saying, “I believe that translation qualifications and certifications are significant because they […] show potential employers that they [translators] are committed to their professional development. Certifications are great references to show the ability and credibility of a translator or translation agency. In other words, certification would show that the translator is an expert in the field.”

Ana Catarina Lopes (English, Portuguese) agrees since, “most LSPs require the translators who they work with to have formal translation certifications or training.” Direct clients “might not be so demanding in this field, but they look for proof that they will get professional and quality service.”

For Helene Walters-Steinberg (French, English), certifications lend an additional level of legitimacy. “Anyone can call themselves a translator and it is difficult for customers to check how good a translator is before hiring them. Having a [degree] in translation and belonging to a professional association such as CIOL or ITI is proof that the translator is a professional. It’s even better if they have the Chartered Linguist designation as that way you know they have undergone additional checks and have kept up-to-date with their CPD.”

And in Williams Eda’s (English, French, Japanese) opinion, qualifications are a sign of the translator’s readiness, saying that the “certifications and qualifications show that the translator has undergone specific training in the field of translation chosen by him/her, and that as a result of this specific training, he/she has succeeded in getting by.”

Olguy Jean Baptiste (English, French, Haitian Creole) even goes as far as thinking that it must be a requirement in some areas, such as the law and medical fields, since “poor translation in these two areas can have tremendous consequences.”

But for some translators, having formal training and certifications in translation is an overall benefit only at the beginning of one’s career. For Mustafa Keshkeia (English, Arabic), a translation career also requires training and mentoring in order to “familiarize oneself with the practicalities of translation, handle any difficulties or challenges, and assure the overall accuracy, readability, coherence and quality of the final product.” 

Meanwhile, Francesca Perozziello (English, French, Italian) believes that having “an entrepreneurial mindset” alongside your certifications is important when starting a career. She explains: “If you want to be a successful translator, you have to […] continue to study and learn, manage relationships with your clients and fellow translators and, above all, have the humility to learn from your mistakes.”

On the other hand, other translators believe that formal certifications are not a strict requirement for the job.

Gillian Morris (French, English) believes that while qualifications are extremely helpful in a translation career, a person “needs a natural skill in translation and writing.” Nadia-Anastasia Fahmi (English, Greek, French) agrees. “Translation is basically an art form. […] No matter how many certifications you amass, if you don’t have the talent for words, they will mean nothing.”

And besides, as Mélanie Mós (English, French, Portuguese) shares, while formal qualification is always a plus, there are “some good professionals who have no formal qualifications and they are really good in what they do.”

Kirill Tcypin (English, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian) notes that, in his experience, “there was no agency/client that asked me about [his formal qualifications]”. Petr Čermoch (English, Czech), despite having no formal translation education, is still able to do his job through creativity and the years of experience he has under his belt. 

In his words, “there is always something you can do to make up for the things you lack.” Kiran B (English, Telugu) even highlights that it’s the “non-certified translators that dominate the industry.” 

Siddharth Chandrashekhar (Spanish, English, Hindi) has this point of view when it comes to formal certifications: “While having professional qualifications does help, according to me, it is by no means an imperative. I started out my career without any prior translation certifications. The best way to get started is to keep translating on one’s own. As you get better, start approaching people/companies for work. You may do a translation course/certification on the way, but once you get a break, you will be able to get better with constant practice.”

On the other hand, Volkan Dede (English, Turkish) advises to take a more pragmatic approach when it comes to starting a translation career. “I always say that this depends on the market in which you're working. We have almost too many translation departments at universities in Türkiye. They have to mean something, though, don't they? For my language pair, I'd prioritize formal university education, but this could be entirely different in a country where there are credible institutions providing other certifications. I also think that a good balance is necessary. I hold BA and MA degrees in translation, and it's frustrating when an agency or a client completely ignores my academic endeavors and asks for a specific certification.” 

But as Gisela Böhnisch (English, German) observes, there’s no one set path into becoming a translator. She has taken the university route when it comes to her career, but other people don’t necessarily do the same thing. “Other linguists have taken the opposite route. They may have a degree in their specialisation, such as engineering or law, and would add on a language certification in order to combine the two into a successful translation career. Translation skills really are life skills in many ways and are very transferable.”

Gabriela Alves (English-Portuguese) sums it up best. “Being a translator doesn’t mean simply being fluent in another language. Formal translation courses or certifications are able to provide you with great knowledge, but you must do your own research and find what the best fit for you is, not everyone will follow the same path.”

 

Navigating Client Relationships

In any career, customers are a significant metric of success. Translation, as a practice, tends to be more direct and personal with interaction as part of its service provision. As a front-facing job, it’s beneficial for translators to ensure that their relationships with clients are the best that they can be.

The translators we asked have a few ideas on how to go about it.

The first ingredient for good client relations, and perhaps the most obvious one, is communication. As Gillian Morris (French, English) puts it, translators “also play the client role half the time, so I know that communication between linguists and clients is key to successful translations.”

But the aspects of communication they emphasize the most vary wildly.

For some, the method is more important. As Aysha Mousa (English, Arabic) says, “I establish open, consistent lines of communication with my clients. I offer them multiple ways to get in touch with me, such as a cell phone number and email address. I establish regular communication to assess the project and answer any questions. I inform them that I am available to speak with them should they need me to show my care about them.”

For others, being responsive takes center stage. Giada Atzeni (English, Spanish, Italian) opts for “an informal style, but still professional. I try to answer as quickly as I can.” Pia Myeong-Jin Lampert (English, German) adds this quality alongside a few others, such as “reliability, honesty, directness, and efficiency.”

But some translators advise being proactive in their approach. Kirill Tcypin (English, Korean, Simplified Chinese, Russian) shares, “if I am out of office at my usual time I will always notify them in advance.”

Helene Walters-Steinberg (French, English) takes her proactiveness a step further. She cites this example: “For instance, when the postal strikes delayed delivery of certified translations, I offered to post a new copy of translations for free to customers or to go in-person to the post office to send the translations with the tracked next day delivery service (charging customers for the postage, but not for the time spend reissuing the translations and going to/from the post office).”

Gabriela Alves (English-Portuguese) has a different method. For her, using “clear, straightforward, honest communication” in order to align expectations and understand one another is the way to go for a good relationship. It also “ensures the project is carried out in a successful manner.”

And she’s not alone in her line of thinking, as Gisela Böhnisch (English, German) shares in detail: “Getting a clear idea of what my client’s brief entails and what their priorities are is essential before I start working on a project. […] Of course, clients are often under pressure themselves to deliver projects within a narrow time frame and details can get lost along the way. This is why I am always extra careful to point out anything that might get in the way of delivering on time while also respecting their busy schedule, e.g. grouping questions about the source text rather than sending them one by one. It is a partnership after all and my own success reflects positively on them and vice versa.”

Understanding the client on a deeper level, on the other hand, is Beatrice Carlini’s (Italian, English, French) priority when it comes to client interactions. “The usual features such as politeness, responsiveness, punctuality and accuracy are obviously paramount, however I often noticed that what is even more important is having a genuine interest for the client’s business and for the parties at stake, rather than just focusing on the single project. This genuine interest needs to translate (no pun intended) into actions, such as carrying out research into a brand’s mission and ethics, or a client’s business and current challenges. This is what I strive to do as a translator.”

This can come in different flavors. Some translators opt for a more intimate, personal touch. For Alexis Sariñana (English, Spanish), this comes in the way of “taking a few minutes to see how [the client is] doing or to send a personalized message that shows I care about [the client] before we dig into our jobs”. Meanwhile, Olguy Jean Baptiste (English, French, Haitian Creole) asks his client about their health, day, holidays, night or weekend, since “we are not robots anyway.” 

But for others, like Ana Catarina Lopes (English, Portuguese), there is a way to understand a client’s situation without going over the line of professionalism. “We should not be totally oblivious to the impact that each other’s personal lives might have on our work life. For example, if you have a sick child at home, or if you are dealing with urgent personal matters, you should let the other party know that and if any arrangements regarding due dates, email response time, etc., might be made.”

Because, as Mélanie Mós (English, French, Portuguese) reveals, “Not all clients are easy. You should work with people who see you as a human being, a human being that makes mistakes.” 

Loic Ebodé (English, Spanish, French) reminds us that a primary focus for translators is ensuring client satisfaction. To that end, he “strives to adhere to their instructions and deliver quality work in a timely manner.” Kiran B (English, Telugu) states likewise, with “timely & quality translations” required for maintaining good relations with clients.

Meanwhile, Volkan Dede (English, Turkish) provides a perspective that is more straightforward. “In the end, it's their translation. They get to decide what happens. Difficult situations usually arise from different opinions about terminology or style. I always find evidence to support my idea, but I don't make it a thing. The final decision belongs to them.”

However, Francesca Perozziello (English, French, Italian) has a more optimistic point of view. “I always bear in mind that, on the other side of the screen, there’s a human being, not only a keyboard or an email address. It may seem obvious, but taking this in mind helps in all human relations, both with our clients and fellow translators. It is good to get more points of view on the same topics. Although we belong to different cultures and specialize in different fields, I like to say, quoting Daft Punk, that ‘We’re human, after all’.”

Petr Čermoch (English, Czech) adds, “Those who work with me know that I am big on maintaining friendly relationships with my clients. Being human. Being helpful. Asking for feedback, letting them know that a project fell through and that I will be available next week if they need anything.” 

He also stresses that setting boundaries with work, and in extension, to clients, also contributes to a healthier, better working relationship. “I stand by my working hours and only rarely work outside them. Having these boundaries invites respect and communicates value.”

Giulia Brugnetti (Italian, English, Spanish) even gives a helpful tip: “Do not contact your clients when you do not wish to be contacted (weekends, bank holidays, in the middle of the night). Why not schedule your emails instead?”

And according to Nadia-Anastasia Fahmi, there’s no shame in refusing to do a project altogether. “I am not afraid to reject politely any job for which I believe I don’t have the necessary qualifications. Clients really appreciate this.”

This is the type of straightforwardness that Mustafa Keshkeia (English, Arabic) believes is an “ethical business approach” that can encourage higher levels of trust and respect in the long run. Pedro Ivo Caldas (Portuguese, English) gets into more detail: “Straightforwardness is all about upholding your principles, knowing your worth when setting your rate and assessing the feasibility of the project, considering the triad: time, quality, and cost.”

For Williams Eda (English, French, Japanese), a good relationship with clients starts with oneself. “My relationship with my clients is based on proof and competence. That is to say that before gaining the confidence of the customer, I must imperatively make my proofs such [as] my strategy of conquest. This being done, the customer will have total confidence in my skills, and even if he notices mistakes, he will not [demand] a verbal trial but rather a request for correction, which is already good in a relationship.”

And Siddharth Chandrashekhar (Spanish, English, Hindi) sums it up best:

“Before my client’s expectations from me, I first make sure that I fulfill expectations from myself, i.e. punctuality, dedication, seriousness and sincerity. Only after all this does managing clients’ expectations come into the picture. In order to maintain good, healthy working relationships with clients, it is very important to make sure that your tone is respectful while communicating with the client. Also, sometimes you as a translator need to be assertive with the clients and give realistic updates of your progress, especially if the work is in bulk quantity. If you are true to yourself, your clients will appreciate that and believe you.” 

 

Conclusion

As discovered, while there are several common pit stops that people go to during their journey to success, the roads undertaken for the trip can be numerous. Some prefer to go through the more well-traversed highways of formal education and training, while others prefer to find their own way through the translation wilderness, gaining personalized experiences and skills along the way.

But despite the variety of roads, there is no right or wrong path to choose. And when it comes to success, good interaction with your potential clients is just as important as one’s personal capabilities and talents. Through communication, proactiveness, client understanding, recognition of humanity, boundary setting, and the upholding of expectations, translators will be able to maintain a positive relationship with other people, and their success in the translation industry becomes less of a possibility and more of a definite thing.

By Ofer Tirosh

Ofer Tirosh is the founder and CEO of Tomedes, a language technology and translation company that supports business growth through a range of innovative localization strategies. He has been helping companies reach their global goals since 2007.

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