So, you want to be a translator?

I will spare you the boring introduction and get right to the point.

Let’s start with the ‘to use or not to use translation memory software’ dilemma that no doubt frequently weighs on your mind.

People often ask me if they are any good and which is the best on the market. Well, to start with, you need to invest in them (and I don’t mean money, although they can be quite expensive!).

Their benefits depend what you put into them (quite literally!) – they are only as good as your previous translation work and the memory provided by clients (usually received with anxious optimism: ‘let’s see what we got here’).

The easiest way of explaining it (I am oversimplifying here) is that you are recycling all your previous work and you can easily see (in context) how you translated that particular term 50 pages ago or last year.

So, even if the client doesn’t oblige you to use it you can still benefit from it, especially if the source document is in a word format, for example.

When a client does require you to use it either a) they simply want to add your work to their translation memory or b) they already have a translation memory for a particular client and they want your work to be consistent, and of course c) for you to charge them less for matches.

This is just one aspect. If you add the additional hurdle of working with a language combination where the limited commercial ties lead to reduced business or commercial translation work, you soon realize you cannot afford to be too picky about the subject matter of the translation you take on.

However, learning to say no when the topic is too technical and beyond your expertise, or the deadline is so unrealistic that even Dictation won’t help you do a decent job, is the hardest lesson of all.

Without stating the obvious, doing a decent job is crucial for your reputation. Put simply, you stand to lose so much more in the long run.

Having professional liability insurance is also important, since you are only human after all! And I promise you (I am speaking from experience here) the Project Managers will not hold it against you if you decline a job because it’s not your area of expertise. On the contrary – they will respect you as a professional.

Going back to the issue of deadlines, it takes a while to figure out that constantly doing small, time-pressured translations is not particularly lucrative, nor do they offer solid work experience that will help you cope with 30k+ projects – so, make sure to factor in additional time if you just took on your first large project.

Either way, you may have noticed by now that with our language combination (Romanian <>English) we are not blessed with particularly good bilingual dictionaries: many of them do not offer a context for the equivalent term (Dictionar tehnic), or any information on the frequency of that term in the target language and quite often they won’t even specify if that’s the correct term in British English or American English.

This means additional time spent on double checking the term in parallel texts and making sure the source is reliable (not someone’s blog or tabloid as they may not be particularly selective or scientific when they use legal terminology- quite often it will be a calque).

So, if you are fairly new to this (either a recent graduate, or former Court Interpreter disillusioned with privatisation of the service) it’s important to start with small steps; do your research and double- (triple-, quadruple-…) check before you submit a translation.

Perhaps most importantly: don’t be afraid to ask questions if you feel you have not been provided with enough information. These information gaps could be the audience or the purpose of the translation, or simply acronyms that are opaque and specific to that particular organisation (although do research them first as it is an essential part of your job as a translator!).

Very quickly you will realise ‘scripta manent’ takes on a slightly menacing meaning. Beware proof-reader feedback (especially over-zealous ones) and be prepared to justify your choices but also learn to accept feedback constructively. Think of it as a collaboration; there is nothing wrong with the proof-reader bringing something to the table. Perhaps the best tip is to find a good professional colleague you can trust, and you are happy to work with and ask for feedback as a routine and of course make sure to return the favour when needed.

Diana Singureanu (BA MA MCIL RPSI)




  1. Excellent article, I recently wrote a similar one (in Spanish) on how to become a professional translator. A passionate profession without doubt, full of satisfactions

  2. Florencia Pistritto DPSI

    Loved the article, so straight to the point and excellent advice. Thank you for posting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *