Concerns about specialization, ATA-certification, and my experience
Thread poster: JoshuaV-M

JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
Aug 15, 2015

Hello to all of you. As I have mentioned before, I am a Spanish to English translator who has worked for an agency in Mexico City for the last year and a half. I really enjoy my job, but I also really miss my hometown of Seattle. I hope to move here again with my wife as soon as I can find viable translation work there, a fact that I think might be dependent on finding a clear specialization.

Here in Mexico, I have been very well-respected by my agency to the degree that my employer happily served as one of my references when I recently applied for distance-learning MA translation programs. Based on that, along with the fact that I had been working professionally in translation for nearly a year and had been living and immersed in the most populous country where my source language is natively spoken even before that, I believed that I would have a good deal of cachet when writing to Seattle agencies for informational interviews in anticipation of my 2014 holiday visit. I wasn't asking for a job, and I made it known that I was living in Mexico City but was interested in relocating to Seattle. For that reason, I wanted to talk with people from these agencies to get a sense of the translation industry in Seattle and the differences between the industry there and in Mexico City so that I would have the opportunity to adjust accordingly and ensure my employability in Seattle in the future.

When almost no one wrote me back, I was devastated. The one person whom I recall to have written me back (after I had left Seattle no less, despite the fact that I had clearly delineated in my message the dates when I would be there) said very little apart from mentioning something about her agency generally hiring certified translators (I assume she referred to ATA certification). In short, the whole situation really deflated the confidence I had developed in my identity as a translator thanks to my Mexico City job, leaving it largely limited to the context of said job.

Regarding that, for those of you who translate in the USA (particularly those of you who translate from Spanish to English), do you think it is necessary to be ATA-certified to be considered for an agency? I do intend to get certified at some point, and I have thought about taking some practice tests to calibrate my readiness.

Anyway, as implied above, I think that I need some kind of specialization to be able to get to where I want to be. The usual advice I see is to specialize in what you studied when what you studied was not translation itself. I majored in history as an undergrad. Is there work in this field? If not, is there any humanities-type field with a good supply of work?

If the answer to that last question is no, I believe there is still hope for me, as I have noticed that I really enjoy translating contracts. Now, considering that I will be starting my translation master's program in January, I will have neither the time nor money to go to law school. However, I have thought about taking some CEU (Continuing Education Unit) courses on law to help give me a foundation for English legal terminology. Could this be a valid means to attain a specialization?

I am feeling a little bit lost right now. I would love to have some input from you guys about these concerns. Thanks for your time!

[Edited at 2015-08-15 16:12 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-08-15 19:33 GMT]


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Lincoln Hui  Identity Verified
Hong Kong
Local time: 12:39
Member
Chinese to English
+ ...
Emails Aug 15, 2015

Unless you have some sort of connection to the recipient (direct or otherwise), most emails are not replied to. Especially if it was not addressed to a specific individual. If your email was even read at all, the agency could hardly have placed much importance on the inquiry of one translator out of many in the world.

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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Some follow-up questions Aug 15, 2015

Lincoln Hui wrote:

Unless you have some sort of connection to the recipient (direct or otherwise), most emails are not replied to. Especially if it was not addressed to a specific individual. If your email was even read at all, the agency could hardly have placed much importance on the inquiry of one translator out of many in the world.


Hi Lincoln, thanks for your response! So, are you saying that I shouldn't feel so bad about being ignored in this case? In turn, do you have any ideas about how I might avoid having this happen again? I am also wondering if it might have had to do with the time of the year, as it was right before Christmas when a lot of people were surely on vacation. For this very reason and others, I am planning to make my annual visit in January instead of December, and I am thinking of writing to agencies with greater notice this time (last year, I wrote them at the very end of November, and I arrived in Seattle on the 11th of December, I believe).

When you say that "the agency could hardly have placed much importance on the inquiry of one translator out of many in the world," are you imagining my messages having been directed primarily toward nationwide or multinational agencies? I ask because, if my memory serves me right, only one of the agencies was an international one and the rest were local with no offices outside Seattle. Does that change anything about your point, or does what you wrote hold? In any case, I will try to make sure that my messages do not begin with “To whom it may concern” the next time around.

Additionally, do you have any advice regarding my original questions about a) the importance of ATA certification in the US market and b) the specializations and means to acquire more specializations that I wrote about?

I look forward to any further insight you have, especially with respect to my questions. Thanks for your time!


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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:39
Spanish to English
+ ...
What are your goals? Aug 16, 2015

I mean, are you looking for another in-house job or do you want to freelance?

I had a really hard time finding any work after moving back to the states from Argentina, but I worked in-house for a vehicle finance company (part of Toyota) in Missouri for a couple of years and made $13.20 per hour.

Emailing them probably isn't the best route to take for contacting these agencies. I personally receive 10+ CVs and resumes a day, most of them fake, and I don't even bother opening them anymore. And I'm not even a real agency! I would call them. Also keep in mind that, if you're looking for freelance work, you don't necessarily have to look for local agencies. I mean, my best agency client is in New Zealand.

I really prefer working with direct clients.


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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Triston Aug 16, 2015

Triston Goodwin wrote:

I mean, are you looking for another in-house job or do you want to freelance?

I had a really hard time finding any work after moving back to the states from Argentina, but I worked in-house for a vehicle finance company (part of Toyota) in Missouri for a couple of years and made $13.20 per hour.

Emailing them probably isn't the best route to take for contacting these agencies. I personally receive 10+ CVs and resumes a day, most of them fake, and I don't even bother opening them anymore. And I'm not even a real agency! I would call them. Also keep in mind that, if you're looking for freelance work, you don't necessarily have to look for local agencies. I mean, my best agency client is in New Zealand.

I really prefer working with direct clients.


Thanks for your input Triston! As for my goals, I would like to be truly freelance some day, with direct clients and all, which is why I am trying to build up my credentials with the master's I'm starting in January, as well as possible courses from various sources.

I wouldn't exactly call my current work in-house, as I work from home as a contractor and am free to seek work wherever I want (it's just that no other agency in Mexico that I've contacted seems to want to pay me what I am currently earning per word, plus my workflow has been fairly consistent lately). However, if working from home for agencies could give me what I need to have the standard of living I would like in Seattle, I would be open to that while I establish myself.

I see you work in the same language pair. Are you ATA certified? Also, I see that you do legal translation, which is one of the things I mentioned I enjoy (I really love translating contracts, even though I am more of a humanities kind of guy who wishes he could earn a living doing only literary translation), although I would like to strengthen my knowledge base first before advertising it as a specialization. What kind of credentials, if any, do you think I would need to get into that?

It's funny that you mention working for a financial company that is part of Toyota, as I have just been given some documents to translate for exactly that. If you don't mind me asking, how long did it take you to find work after returning to the US, and how many rejections did you face in the interim?

I like your idea of calling the agencies and trying to plan things that way.

Your post has been helpful and encouraging, and I look forward to further comments on your part. Thanks!


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:39
English to Spanish
+ ...
Some considerations Aug 16, 2015

1.- What subject fields do you translate in now in your current job? In which directions?
2.- I would highly recommend translation of legal documents which is one of my major fields. I live on the US-Mexico border and such work never ceases.
3.- I cannot give any opinion of ATA certification because I have never considered it. They just continue to suck money out of you. For me U.S. Federal Court Certification (as a court interpreter which I do not do) has been most valuable. The job description does include translation. They charge for the exam now, but once you pass it it is yours for a lifetime with no further fees. It is a very difficult exam, but from that comes its worth.
4.- As a native English-speaker your advantage in Mexico would be translating into English, and there is a lot of work there. But you should also work on doing credible work into Spanish.
5.- It would be extremely important to start broadening your client base, because just working for one agency, even though it is good to you, is dangerous. You don't want all your eggs in one basket.
Good luck!


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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:39
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Legal Aug 17, 2015

Have you considered getting a paralegal certificate or degree? I think that might be more useful than the Translation MA if you are interested in specializing in legal translation.





[Edited at 2015-08-17 17:46 GMT]


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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Hello Henry Aug 17, 2015

Henry Hinds wrote:

1.- What subject fields do you translate in now in your current job? In which directions?
2.- I would highly recommend translation of legal documents which is one of my major fields. I live on the US-Mexico border and such work never ceases.
3.- I cannot give any opinion of ATA certification because I have never considered it. They just continue to suck money out of you. For me U.S. Federal Court Certification (as a court interpreter which I do not do) has been most valuable. The job description does include translation. They charge for the exam now, but once you pass it it is yours for a lifetime with no further fees. It is a very difficult exam, but from that comes its worth.
4.- As a native English-speaker your advantage in Mexico would be translating into English, and there is a lot of work there. But you should also work on doing credible work into Spanish.
5.- It would be extremely important to start broadening your client base, because just working for one agency, even though it is good to you, is dangerous. You don't want all your eggs in one basket.
Good luck!


Hello Henry, thanks for this supportive, which I will address point by point.

1. I've translated a good deal of pharmaceutical documents, government documents (for both the federal government and the local government of Mexico City), UN documents (mostly about climate change), some publicity documents, a few contracts, etc. I have only translated into English, as I am against translating into a second language as a matter of principle.

2. Sounds like a good possibility. I was thinking of taking some CEU courses on legal terminology (in English as well as in Spanish, although I haven't been able to find any such online courses for Spanish legal language, but please PM me if you know of any) and other related topics to build up my understanding of the law and its language.

3. That sounds like a good option some time in the future, as I think that the exhaustive requirements are a bit beyond my knowledge of law right now. It would be great if there were a version of it that was focused only on translation, but I will definitely consider this for the future.

4. You seem to be right about there being work; as regards into-Spanish translation, see point 1.

5. I do indeed want to do this, but I'm not sure if now is the time to do it. I am happy with my progress and the respect I've earned at my agency (which I would describe as being good to me, not to mention providing satisfying pay for where I am right now). I've done some work that my friend who lives in Argentina has farmed out to me when he doesn't feel like doing it (mostly charters or articles of incorporation), but that has been a very minimal portion of my income.

By the way, considering that the fact that I am American seems to give me a certain level of prestige in Mexico as a translator that I wouldn't have anywhere else, do you have any advice about how I might start seeking out direct clients?

Thanks for the good wishes! I appreciate your comments.

[Edited at 2015-08-17 03:31 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-08-17 18:38 GMT]

[Edited at 2015-08-17 18:40 GMT]


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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
Thanks Michele Aug 17, 2015

Michele Fauble wrote:

Have you considered getting a paralegal certificate or degree? I think that might be more useful than the Translation MA if you are interested in specializing in legal translation.

EDITED TO REMOVE LINK



Hey there Michele, thanks for the suggestion. Now, I am not sure just how much I am interested in law in general to pursue such a program. Plus, I am already enrolled to begin my MA in translation program in January, and I am very excited about it. I am hoping that specialization possibilities will become a little clearer as I advance in my program. That said, I am thinking of taking different courses on the side where I can find them to build up my expertise in the terminology of different fields.

Do you live in Seattle by the way? I am just wondering because the link you posted is from the UW.

Thanks!

[Edited at 2015-08-17 18:40 GMT]


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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
So... Aug 17, 2015

Am I right in supposing that there is no such thing as lucrative translation work in the humanities? What about for translating academic papers (specifically in my ESP-ENG language pair)?

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Michele Fauble  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 21:39
Member (2006)
Norwegian to English
+ ...
Link Aug 17, 2015

JoshuaV-M wrote:

Do you live in Seattle by the way? I am just wondering because the link you posted is from the UW.

Thanks!


No, I live in Tucson. I just posted a link (now deleted per moderator's request) from Seattle because that's where you want to relocate.


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JoshuaV-M
Mexico
Local time: 22:39
Spanish to English
TOPIC STARTER
I want to repeat this question which means a lot to me but may have been lost in the back-and-forth Aug 19, 2015

JoshuaV-M wrote:

Am I right in supposing that there is no such thing as lucrative translation work in the humanities? What about for translating academic papers (specifically in my ESP-ENG language pair)?


I was also wondering about translation for the tourism industry as a possible way to make good use of my BA in History (since tourist sites are often historic sites).

[Edited at 2015-08-19 03:35 GMT]


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