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Beginner questions from a recent academic
Thread poster: T. Mark Humphries

T. Mark Humphries  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:16
French to English
Jul 2, 2013

Greetings all,

After two years banging my head trying to land a tenure-track job in French & Francophone Studies, I've decided to leave academia. I'm published, I have fantastic student evaluations, and I've worked for the last two years as a Visiting Assistant at a small but well-known liberal arts university in New England. Unlike the adjuncts who make up most universities' rosters these days, for those two years I was lucky enough to have a proper salary and benefits, but I was also obliged to live on the other side of the country from my new wife and ended up handing most of that salary to Southwest Airlines. I'm living happily in Houston with my wife now, and am undertaking the process of a career change.

Whether translation becomes full-time or not will depend on how well I perform in the industry, but I will say that as a former academic, the autonomy, self-reliance, and flexibility of the work schedule appeal to me greatly.

I have a PhD in French and Francophone Studies, I've taught advanced translation courses at the university level (which involved translation and assessment of texts from a host of different genres), I've subtitled a film, I've done a series of administrative translations in the context of a university Study Abroad program, and perhaps my most extensive translation was 400 pages and in the wrong direction (English to French) for a lawsuit one of the defendants of which was the Bank of Montréal, and thus the entirety of the documentation had to be in French for deposition to Québecois courts. My French is quasi-native, and I lived in Paris for eight years.

All that to say that there's little I don't know about the craft, but unfortunately I know very little about the business. I have questions:

1) CAT tools. I took a look at the comparisons, and was seriously considering investing in Trados. However, I work on a Mac, and while compatibility can be jerry-rigged, doing so seems like far more trouble than it's worth. I find the cloud-based MemSource particularly appealing, but WordFast Classic gets some nice reviews as well. Could anyone venture a recommendation? And am I hamstringing myself by not getting Trados?

2) Beyond bidding for jobs that appear on this site, is it best just to carpet-bomb translation agencies with cover letters and resumes?

3) Fields of expertise: At some point I'd like to work for direct clients, as I've been given to understand that's a bit more lucrative. I've done literary and legal translations, and I moonlight as a blogger for a mobile app consultancy firm. However, since I'm in Houston, I'd like to break into both medical and oil and gas. How does one go about establishing a field of expertise without prior credentials? I'm quite happy to grind it out in the beginning, but I suspect the hardest step here is finding someone willing to say "yes" (so I can get the work, do a good job, have them say so, so I can pass on to other potential clients that the first one said so). And yes, I know my profile here still needs some work.

This certainly doesn't exhaust my list of questions, but these are the most pressing ones. And I apologize for the length of the backstory, but I thought it might be helpful for people to be able to situate my circumstances.

And I'd also like to thank in advance anyone with the time, kindness, and generosity to respond. I've lurked on this site for years, and it always heartens me how helpful everyone is around here.


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:16
Russian to English
+ ...
Hi. With your university teaching experience and language studies background Jul 2, 2013

I think you will do exceptionally good in literary translation. Since you have mentioned some experience in the legal field -- it might be worth exploring, especially that there are vast opportunities in the legal field, and literary background is really something desirable in any type of legal translation, but you may need to study the legal systems of the French-speaking countries in comparison with the American legal system

As for CAT tools, I am not really a big enthusiast or them, not to say expert, but I think Worfast looks kind of nice.

It is funny because I also had a Professor at my university who travelled every week from the South West using exactly the same airline. He has been one of the most inspiring people in the creative writing field from whom I really learned a lot. It might have had something to do with the airline -- I am just kidding. Good luck.

[Edited at 2013-07-02 15:55 GMT]


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 12:16
English to Russian
+ ...
Just an opinion Jul 2, 2013

The following is merely my personal opinion based on a 28-year career, your mileage may vary.

1) CAT tools.

Serious clients care about confidentiality of their documents, which may not be guaranteed if you use a cloud-based solution. Also, as a freelancer, you may want to do at least some of your work at a place without a broadband Internet connection - that's another reason to stay away from cloud solutions.

Regarding the choice of local CAT tools, just try them and choose what you like. Personally, I consider add-on tools to your standard office software (e.g. WordFast Classic, Anaphraseus or the old Trados Workbench of pre-Studio era) to be vastly superior to countless two-column standalone tools.

2) Beyond bidding for jobs that appear on this site, is it best just to carpet-bomb translation agencies with cover letters and resumes?

No!!! This way, you'll be popular among bottom-feeders but may get blacklisted by serious agencies. Create a strong specialized resume with a "unique selling proposition" and send it to those agencies that want your specific skill set.

3) Fields of expertise: I'd like to break into both medical and oil and gas. How does one go about establishing a field of expertise without prior credentials?

The only reliable way to become a really good translator in a highly specialized field such as either of these is to actually get some professional knowledge in that field. I don't mean you need to be an M.D. or even an L.V.N. to become a good medical translator, but reading half a dozen med school textbooks and making sure you understand them is a possible way to go. Any other informal background, like having grown up in a family of doctors or being married to one, would definitely help as well. Serious agencies mostly look at your test translations rather than your credentials, and if your tests are really good, you'll get noticed fairly soon. Later on, satisfied clients will recommend you to new clients.


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 11:16
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Thanks for the background, T Mark Jul 2, 2013

T. Mark Humphries wrote:
I apologize for the length of the backstory, but I thought it might be helpful for people to be able to situate my circumstances.

It's really essential if we're to help you with specifics rather than just opting for the usual generalities. That text demonstrates clearly that you have a mature attitude to the business and extremely good writing skills. So I think we can play down the horror story of possible failure.

As for your specific questions:

1) CAT tools: I'm not an expert but to some extent it depends on the type of texts you're going to be translating. They don't all need Trados, not by a long way.

2) marketing: No, I don't think the carpet-bomb approach is the best. I'd say that you should approach selected outsourcers, the ones who are listed on this site as happy to receive applications or whose websites are set up for it. Also, contact local ones personally. Then there are other portals that may be worth trying (though I've never had much luck with them personally). But remember that the secret to success here at ProZ.com is in getting the client to come to you. Visit the Site Guidance Centre http://www.proz.com/guidance-center for help on that.

3) Fields of expertise: It might be best to start with just the areas you know you can do, and have proof of. After a while, your other specialisations will fall into place, or you'll find ways of helping them.

Good luck!


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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:16
Russian to English
+ ...
I think you should look for direct clients in the literary field and even in the legal field. Jul 2, 2013

In the legal field it is possible to get in touch with some good translation companies that will give you a lot of work. Not in the literary field, really.

I agree that in order for a more literature-oriented person to get into the medical or oil fields you must really have some interest in those fields and read some academic books in both languages related to them, and only when you see that there are just a few words in a chapter that you have to check, you may be about ready to set on your professional career in that field.

[Edited at 2013-07-02 16:32 GMT]


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Anton Konashenok  Identity Verified
Czech Republic
Local time: 12:16
English to Russian
+ ...
Speaking of literary translations... Jul 2, 2013

Unfortunately, specializing exclusively as a literary translator is rarely a good career choice - although very rewarding from a creative point of view, literary translations tend to gravitate towards the bottom of the rate scale, all other things being equal.

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 06:16
Russian to English
+ ...
I personally don't believe it to be the case --only if they let the publishers Jul 2, 2013

or agents -- not to say outsourcers (this is a totally ridiculous concept-- outsourcing literary translation) to treat them this way and they don't treat their work seriously, but rather as some sort of a hobby, being ready to die or even pay the publisher to put their name on the cover and translate any type of nonsense as long as it it later published.

[Edited at 2013-07-02 16:58 GMT]


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Sarah Elizabeth
Italy
Local time: 12:16
Italian to English
similar backstory Jul 2, 2013

Hi Mark,

I started out as an academic, although I began working full-time as a freelance translator right after completing my PhD (History of Art, 2010), and I use my academic training and background directly in my work as a translator.

1. CAT tools: most of my translation work is for publishing houses, but I nevertheless use Trados Studio for virutally every project, large or small. Mostly because 1. it helps with terminology management (I use Multiterm and the concordance function religiously) and 2. I like the two-column translation environment (I have a large, second monitor where I keep the original document displayed).

2. Jobs: I would not recommend carpet-bombing agencies (it is basically spam and treated as such) and second Sheila's advice to view the secret to success on this site as getting the clients to come to you (as opposed to putting much stock in the "bidding for jobs" side of things).

3. Fields of expertise: does academic translation not appeal to you?

Best of luck!



[Edited at 2013-07-02 17:28 GMT]


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T. Mark Humphries  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:16
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks everybody... Jul 2, 2013

I've been browsing around this forum quite a bit today, and indeed it does appear that the "carpet-bomb" approach to marketing is frowned upon.

As for literary translations, I'll very definitely offer my services should such opportunities arise, but I wouldn't low-ball a rate quote in exchange for prestige. At this juncture, it's more important to me that I make a living than a name for myself.

3) Fields of expertise: It might be best to start with just the areas you know you can do, and have proof of. After a while, your other specialisations will fall into place, or you'll find ways of helping them.


That sounds like sound advice.

I'm sure to have more questions as I continue down this path, but I would like to thank everyone who's responded.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:16
English to Polish
+ ...
Red five, I'm going in! Jul 2, 2013

Iiiiiiiincoming!

Well, Mark, as frowned-upon as it may be, there is nothing like the smell of fresh napalm in the morning. You spray it over a hundred agencies to get perhaps five to reply to you, one or two of which may eventually hand in some spoils. Carpet-bombing is sometimes similar to dropping off land-mines from a-high: they cast root in an agency's inbox until trees grow on them, but eventually the agency just might realise that once upon a time there was that translator who charged more than the agency was willing to pay but looked darn good. Or specialised in that eccentric field or language nobody normally cared about.

It's probably important to remember that, unlike artillery, the lighter the propaganda is the farther it will carry, so no epic parchments, just enough to cover the essentials but not enough to lose the interest. Add a juicy link or two to taste, sprinkle with degrees and achievements, stir and send.

Regarding your other concerns:

– those 400 pages in high-profile EN-FR litigation translation (L1-L2 FTW! I do it every day) are probably about 800 standard pages, which means more or less 200K words, which is a really hefty chunk of legal translation to put on your résumé (I am a specialised legal translator with a law degree and still don't have anything like that to brag about, for comparison);
– eight years spent in France enhance your credibility greatly, as does the fact of having taught its literature and culture, which are the most important factors in philologists' claimed superiority over other translators;
– Trados is kind of a must; land a promo (50% off every now and then), write it off, wipe the tears;
– other CATs have the occasional power to determine whether you will get the job or not (formats are typically compatible and exchangeable, but that's kinda like hiring a non-native speaker, it makes you look bad even if it doesn't matter a zilch in pratice);
– your claim to expertise in Literary (a defined field in the Proz.com directory) is beyond challenge, and you might get away with Law, Finance etc.; basically pick fields you really feel confident it and are confident that your confidence will translate into concrete results;
– take sweet time and build a good, good profile; CSS works, which enables some very cool web typography with which to imbue your About me with a dinstictly academic character like a couple of other docs and profs have done before you.

Good hunting!


[Edited at 2013-07-02 18:38 GMT]


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Djschinx
German to English
Academic translations Jul 2, 2013

I can't really comment on CAT tools as I've never used them, and never been asked to by a client either - the full version of Adobe would be more useful to me as I get a lot of pdf files - otherwise Word and Powerpoint. I specialise in art, humanities, general business. I think for anything more technical, CAT is probably essential nowadays, and looks good on the resume - anyone I know who has joined the business in the last 2-3 years immediately bought Trados, I guess it's become a standard and is well known.

I mainly wanted to point out that there are quite a few agencies out there that specialise in academic translations, some of which only accept translators with a minimum of a Masters so your PhD would be very good there. Google USA/UK/AUS, its usually fairly obvious which ones are trustworthy. Direct clients can include post-grads, academics, researchers - word of mouth can be great, if you have any contacts use them! And maybe look at universities in France/Canada, see if you can find any relevant contact details, upcoming conferences and seminars can be interesting too - people might need papers/speeches/lectures translated or edited. It hasn't happened me so often but a few times I accidently came across ads on the websites of particular faculties at different German universities.

More and more stuff is being digitalised and put online, thus more interest in having it translated into English to make it more accessible to a wider audience. Academic work can be interesting and better paid, especially if you get to work directly for a university or research centre - you don't have to limit yourself to that area of course but with your qualifications I would definitely try it. Everything from translating dissertations, theses, articles for journals, books, essays, research - but also catalogues for exhibitions, museums, cultural centres, and even job applications which for academics can be quite lengthy and include excerpts of work as you no doubt already know! I don't know much about legal translations but based on what you've said, definitely worth investigating too, there is well-paid work in that area for sure.

Once you manage to build up a few clients, you could work on the other areas you are interested in, if necessary do some evening classes or just read up on them as others have suggested, look at local businesses' websites, and of course companies with connections to any countries where French is spoken. As I mentioned I also do "business" translations, one of my clients works in the petrochemical/oil/gas etc industries - I would never take on a highly specialised text on petrochemicals, but for my client I am perfectly capable of translating press releases, website content etc. - to be honest work that anyone who's a reasonably decent translator could do - but I've translated somewhat more specialised content for them too, reports, articles, case studies etc. and have got to know quite a bit about the area and the terminology - I don't actually want to specialise any further in these areas but think this has provided me with a good basis if I did - could be worth trying to get a foot in that way.

All I intended writing at the beginning was - google academic translations!! Hope something I said is of use Good luck!


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Balasubramaniam L.  Identity Verified
India
Local time: 16:46
Member (2006)
English to Hindi
+ ...
My best wishes and a few words of caution Jul 3, 2013

You are exceptionally talented and qualified and deserve to make a success of your translation career.

But as you say, knowing the craft well and being an astute businessman (translator-businessman, that is) are different things.

Ours, unfortunately, is not a profession that cares much for quality or talent; it places its bets more on the cost factor. That is, the cheaper translator more often than not walks away with the prize. In such circumstances, being highly talented or qualified, won't cut much ice with our PMs who keep a tight watch on the budget and invariably opt for a less talented, less qualified, but cheaper translator for the job on hand. You could of course try to compete on these terms, but that will be self-defeating, and unsatisfying for you.

You will somehow have to cut this Gordian knot. The solution may be in the direction of niche marketing - literary translation being one avenue to explore. Talk directly with publishers/authors with a firm proposal.

Since you should operate in the high-end of the market, you should try to get direct clients, rather than work for agencies. So, rather than carpet-bombing agencies, do a more focused marketing aimed at prospective direct clients - publishing houses, authors, law firms, and so on.

Since you write so well, you could also think in terms of a dual career in writing and translating. Both can be made to pay well, as I know from personal experience.


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Łukasz Gos-Furmankiewicz  Identity Verified
Poland
Local time: 12:16
English to Polish
+ ...
Worse Jul 3, 2013

Balasubramaniam L. wrote:

Ours, unfortunately, is not a profession that cares much for quality or talent; it places its bets more on the cost factor. That is, the cheaper translator more often than not walks away with the prize. In such circumstances, being highly talented or qualified, won't cut much ice with our PMs who keep a tight watch on the budget and invariably opt for a less talented, less qualified, but cheaper translator for the job on hand. You could of course try to compete on these terms, but that will be self-defeating, and unsatisfying for you.


Worse, sir, one can get in trouble with the revs for being too good of a translator, actually.


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LEXpert  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 05:16
Member (2008)
Croatian to English
+ ...
A couple tips Jul 3, 2013

1) Trados and Macs - Many threads on this already, of course, but, in general, Trados (or any other Windows-only software) should run just fine on a Mac with Windows installed, either with a dual-boot system (Bootcamp) or a virtual machine (e.g., Parallels or VMFusion). That's not exactly "jerry-rigging" - you are running actually Windows. Of course, you'll need a Windows license. And you'll probably want at least 8 GB of RAM, an upgrade easily done yourself on most machines from 4 GB for about 75 USD.

2) Medical translation - Make friends with medical professionals who are familiar with the source language, so that you have someone to call for that pesky, no-context abbreviation or seemingly impenetrable handwritten note. I'm lucky, having grown up in medical family - my father studied and trained as a physician in both of my source languages, and spent his career working as a physician in my target language, so he has been a good reference of last resort.


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Recep Kurt  Identity Verified
Turkey
Local time: 14:16
Member (2011)
English to Turkish
+ ...
Food for thought Jul 3, 2013

Hello Mark,

I would say that with your background you might wanna check resources that might present some business opportunities, for example:

http://www.law.lsu.edu/index.cfm?geaux=ccls.publications
http://www.circonlex.com/en/legal-translation-publications.html
http://www.ctdj.ca/index.cfm?Repertoire_No=2137989592&Voir=menu&M=3101
http://www.utexas.edu/law/academics/centers/transnational/work_new/french/case.php?id=1253
http://wordstodeeds.com/2013/06/21/job-opportunity-jurist-linguist-bordeaux-france/
http://www.redlinels.com/2013/06/10/french-legal-translation/

Might wanna get in touch with publishers that publish books translated from French...

Just give it a thought, you should be able to come up with plenty of ideas about getting translation jobs.

Good luck!


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