Frank self-assessment of both linguistic and business skills are necessary in order to be successful as a freelance translator. BY ADA LUZ RESTREPO

Do you find yourself translating documents at work because your co-workers know you speak Mandarin? Or find yourself serving as “interpreter” between your Mexican family and American husband who doesn’t speak Spanish? People admire your abilities to speak two languages and help others who are still living in a monolingual world; but have you asked yourself if you are truly bilingual and truly bicultural?
These were some of the topics covered during the “Getting Started in Translation and Interpretation,” workshop organized by the NCTA, which took place on Saturday, September 19, at the San Francisco State University downtown campus.

The harsh reality of being a translator and interpreter was emphasized by panelist Jackie Noh, who has more than 20 years of experience in both fields and a Masters Degree in Interpreting from the Monterey Institute. Noh asked the attendees to be “brutally honest” with themselves. You should not only ask yourself whether you are truly bilingual or bicultural but also if you really have what it takes to succeed in the interpretation business. According to Noh, the first step on the road to becoming a translator and/or interpreter is to honestly assess your capabilities. “There is this general thought that interpreting is easy, that anybody can do it,” said Noh, who also described the responsibilities of being an interpreter and pointed out the many ways you can begin a career in the field. Noh listed the certifications provided by organizations like the National Center for State Court, the National Association of Judiciary Translators and Interpreters (NAJIT) and the U.S. State Department as steps to becoming an interpreter.

Once you have assessed your capabilities, you need to assess whether or not you are prepared to freelance as a translator or interpreter.
Karen Tkaczyk, the second panelist at the “Getting Started” workshop and a freelance translator who works from French and Spanish into English, addressed perhaps the most challenging issue of all for aspiring translators: working freelance. Are you ready to be self-employed? Can you afford to run a small business? Do you have the resources to work on your own? Of course, you must love to write. Because translators write for a living, Tkaczyk stressed that they must “have passion for words.” She also talked about the difficult step of putting yourself out there through networking and marketing. “Peer networking is a major source of referrals,” Tkaczyk said. Her advice included looking into Internet networking, use forums such as ProZ. com, and joining associations like NCTA. On the marketing side, make sure you have an attractive Curriculum Vitae, have what Tkaczyk calls “Internet presence” and reach your target audiences (agencies, direct clients, etc.) in a professional way.

Getting started in this industry is not easy, but it’s not impossible either. Agencies are a great way to get your foot in the door. Dagmar Dolatschko, owner of Peritus Precision Translations, offered the agency perspective. Before knocking on the agency’s door, she strongly recommends that aspiring translators or interpreters volunteer in organizations they care about. “This way you can practice your skill, get samples and references and use their websites,” explained Dolatschko, adding that you have to be able to take feedback. “Be open-minded, be willing to be edited,” expressed Dolatschko. She also suggested working for “reduced rates” in exchange for mentorship from an editor.
When you feel you have enough experience on your resume, reach out to an agency—but never overstate your abilities. Dolatschko warns about this common mistake. She says that agencies will reject those who claim they “can translate from 10 languages into English, fluently!” The same goes for “those who can translate anything!” Other ways to ruin your chances include common spelling and grammar mistakes.
Now that you know being bilingual is simply not enough to become a successful translator or interpreter, are you ready for the challenge? How hard are you willing to work to make a career out of your passion for languages? ALR