Advice for a newbie - qualifications, experience...
Thread poster: Guillaume Brownlie Pacteau

Guillaume Brownlie Pacteau  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
Member (2016)
French to English
Jan 7, 2016

First of all, let me wish you a prosperous and happy new year!

I am considering a professional move into the world of Translation and, like so many before I am sure, am overwhelmed by the wealth of information, data, courses, certifications and diplomas available.

I am 46, French born and bred, lived in France until the age of 23 when I came over to live and work in the UK. I am educated (in France) to Business Administration (Hons) with a post graduate year in Export and Logistics. I have had a good career in Export and Transport in Commercial and Managerial positions, but find myself at a crossroad career-wise looking for a career change.

I have financial security and time to allow me to study and would be happy to work on a freelance/self employed basis, and would be happy with a growing limited income to supplement our current financial position.

I consider myself bi-lingual English / French, but, over the last couple of years had to make an effort to regain my French skills that were slowly diminishing. I live, work, read and write day to day in English, and speak, write and read in French as often as possible too.

I believe that my business skills would naturally direct me towards commercial / marketing and general business translations.

I believe that it is essential for me to obtain a qualification, and I am looking for advice as to your thoughts on the path to follow...

MA Translation
Dip Trans
Other avenues?

Your thoughts are welcome!

I have taken on board the obvious 'chicken and egg' scenario faced by all beginners in the industry... no work without experience and therefore no opportunities to gain experience...

How did you get started? Pro bono work? Reduced rates? Work experience? Networking?

Your feedback, advice and thoughts on the above (and anything else!) would be appreciated!

Thanks in advance!

Guillaume


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Jane Phillips  Identity Verified
France
Local time: 09:17
Member (2013)
French to English
This was my route... Jan 7, 2016

I took the same decision as you about 6 years ago. I moved from the UK to France in 1991 so considered myself almost bilingual although I do still have odd gender problems in French (which annoys me intensely). I took a distance-learning Master in translation studies course in the UK over three years (the only way I could afford to fund it and have the time to do the work) graduating in 2012. I enjoyed the course was delighted (and surprised) with the marks I had but once it was over was hit with a wave of lack of confidence and the knowledge that there were already so many French>English translators on the market.

I offered my services free of charge to a number of associations and charities who either never replied or said they would "keep my details on file".

I emailed or completed the online registration forms for all the French-based translation agencies listed on Proz, stating clearly that I was a beginner but with a lifetime of experience in French and English and offering a rate that was about half the 'standard' French>English rate (after all why should anyway a beginner the same rate as an experienced professional). Five agencies gave me work (one of whom I am still working for).

Since then I have increased my rates, becoming too expensive for many agencies, but others are happy to pay me at a correct professional level. I have now been working full-time as a translator since last June (until then I had continued part-time with my previous profession) and if for 2016 my earnings are at the same level as during that period (pro-rata) I will exceed the amount allowed for anyone working in France as an "auto-entrepreneur" - something I would not have thought possible only a year ago.

Having been accepted as a member of the P network on Proz (despite the debate about what that is really worth) and having been a member for over 2 years, I have recently found agencies contacting me rather than me chasing after them.

For the moment I now need to: increase my rates for those agencies still paying below what I feel should be a professional rate for a French-based translator (23% social charges, etc, etc), develop a true specialisation, reduce my hours. But I'm earning my living which is a good start!

I would add that I have the advantages of no debts, owning the roof over my head and the children being all grown up and (sort of) independent.

So good luck !

Jane


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Dittebd
Denmark
Local time: 09:17
Member (2013)
German to Danish
+ ...
If you're not bothered about making money.. Jan 7, 2016

If you're not bothered about making money or doing serious assignments, you can offer your services on online platforms like upwork, o-desk and so on. The rates are absolutely rubbish, but it's an easy way to get some experience in the industry as no one cares about diplomas and qualifications on those sites. I started off there myself and did quite a bit of work there until I discovered ProZ and moved on to serious clients and decent rates.

Since then things have only gone from strength to strength and after around a year I was able to quit my part time office job and live off translating completely. Having said that, I do have a linguistic uni degree on my CV and translate into a small language (Danish) which surely has made things easier.

Anyway I wish you good luck!

[Edited at 2016-01-07 14:06 GMT]


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Guillaume Brownlie Pacteau  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
Member (2016)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Merci! Jan 7, 2016

Thank you both for your replies.

Very encouraging feedback!

Guillaume


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
You have every chance of success Jan 8, 2016

Being financially stable enough to be able to do without income, or even spend money on training, gives you a ttremendous advantage. It takes time to set up a business on a solid footing and approach your new career as a professional rather than as a piece-worker.

My recommendation would be:

- Spend time (and maybe money) preparing a business structure. Nothing much needs to be done in the UK, legally, but you'll need a website, an active presence online, a CV-type document to send agencies, business cards... You'll also need to learn how to invoice, a little about recovery procedures (just in case), tax returns, bookkeeping... Also, make sure you know your rights so agencies don't take advantage of you.

- Embark on an MA or simply a basic certificate. I can recommend the one I did (see my profile - I prefer not to advertise directly). The Dip Trans requires some experience. There's nothing to stop you working before any qualification - it's rarely a prerequisite.

- As soon as you are ready, start contacting those agencies who have a great reputation and specialise in what you do. Quote totally professional rates and terms and stick to them. The fact that you're new to translating is no reason to quote stupidly low rates. You will earn less per hour from a normal rate anyway, maybe a stupidly low hourly rate, because you'll spend more time researching and checking. But the client will get as much value from the finished text. Never accept tight deadlines to start with as that could well compromise quality.

You could do worse than spend many hours here on ProZ.com as there's a tremendous amount of information here. Visit the Site Guidance Centre (under the About tab) and go through everything you find there. Maybe make this site your first place for meeting clients - it has great Google search ranking. Attend the free webinar on meeting clients here, peruse the Wikis, learn about scams, find out why you should pay for membership and earn KudoZ points... Just be aware that the site is for everyone: hobby translators rub shoulders with serious professionals; bottom-feeding agencies post jobs for crazy volumes, yesterday, for peanut payment in three months' time, while at the same time specialist agencies search the directory for experts and then contact them through their profiles. This reflects the translation industry/profession as a whole and is why correct market positioning from the start is so important. Don't get sucked into the peanut pit.


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Guillaume Brownlie Pacteau  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
Member (2016)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Merci! Jan 8, 2016

Thank you Sheila for your very comprehensive reply and recommendations!

[Edited at 2016-01-08 22:47 GMT]


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Cecile T.  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
English to French
Je vous comprends! Feb 16, 2016

Hello / Bonjour Guillaume,

I applaud all the advice given above and will follow it myself.

I wanted to give my support from a fellow Frenchie living in Glasgow who is also starting in this new career, although I have been teaching French and looking at grammar and difference in thinking and speaking/writing for years, but you have real and solid commercial experience so I wish you success in your career move.

If you want to share the good and the bad feelings or any opinion and findings about this new challenge, feel free to message me.

I am presently reading a lot of Proz forum posts and have downloaded some webinars. I am also starting to read "How to success as a freelance-translator" by Corinne McKay and have 4 books on "stylistique" and "syntax" challenges for the English to French translator on my coffee tables staring out at me every day trying to terrorize me.

To be honest, I feel that if I never slept and stayed up all night every night reading about translation, online and in books, I would still find I don't know half of it and continue to feel overwhelmed by the jungle (jargon, training, approaching agencies and so on) and not feel very self-confident. I guess we must be patient and persevere and believe we can do it

I am sure you will get jobs

[Edited at 2016-02-16 18:54 GMT]


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Texte Style
Local time: 09:17
French to English
To be honest Feb 17, 2016

Cecile Tess wrote:

To be honest, I feel that if I never slept and stayed up all night every night reading about translation, online and in books, I would still find I don't know half of it and continue to feel overwhelmed by the jungle (jargon, training, approaching agencies and so on) and not feel very self-confident. I guess we must be patient and persevere and believe we can do it


Proz didn't even exist when I moved into translation, and I had never studied it, nor read any of the theory. I hadn't even been to university except for a few months before I had to drop out for various reasons.

I still cannot claim to know anything much about the theory except that I can get by perfectly well without it. I attended classes to get a masters and caught up on much needed shut-eye through the theory classes. Pretty sure my snores were at a higher intellectual level than most of the students' questions.
And I really didn't learn anything useful in any of the other classes either. I would actually go as far as to say my attending the classes was more beneficial to the other students than to me, since I would often back up what the teacher said with examples encountered while working in an agency.

It's rather like learning to drive. That pink card doesn't mean you can drive, only that you are sufficiently competent to be allowed to learn to drive without the hunky instructor sitting next to you. You learn to translate by translating, so you might as well just take the plunge!


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Guillaume Brownlie Pacteau  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
Member (2016)
French to English
TOPIC STARTER
Good afternoon Feb 17, 2016

Cécile, nice to hear from you. I read your initial post the other day and was going to send you a PM as our posts were so similar... I hadn't noticed that you were based in Glasgow.

The world of translation is a bit of a minefield, and you could do worst than to follow the advice given in this thread (or others) by experienced translators. I certainly have!

Texte Style - thanks for highlighting a different approach to the industry.

[Edited at 2016-02-17 17:13 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-02-18 09:39 GMT]


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Cecile T.  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
English to French
different cultures, different approaches on how to be a good translator Feb 18, 2016

TextStyle, I find your experience and opinion to be quite "anglo-saxon" and there is nothing wrong this that, especially if one does a technical translation (no flights of literary writing), and into English.

As a French native, I find the two languages to be almost extreme opposites. I don't think one could be a good translator into French without making sure one's academic or school knowledge of French (grammar) is excellent, and also an exposure to literary French in order to absorb style, etc.. This is because of the nature of French, being a grammar-based language, where words cannot be played around and added one behind the other to make up a new expression, as in English, where there is an important reliance on vocabulary and lthe language is extremely elastic and can afford to be ambiguous and vague (from a French/Italian/German perspective) when French needs to identify precisely every subject and object in a sentence. Example: in a document describing architectural deficiencies, English uses "design" often, and the reader unconsciously makes the work of imagining/guessing what exactly is referred to, when in French such vagueness is impossible, the document has to mention "bâtiments", "conception",signalétique", "espace" and "aménagement"! Then, the grammar/syntax comes and complicates things further. In English, I find grammar to be one of the most minimalist in all languages (tenses, agreement, modes, cases, gender, syntax). In the end, an English sentence of a few words can become a two-lines French sentence.

Similarly, an English-language novel nowadays will typically be made of short sentences; try to write a paragraph in English "in European style" (from a Polish, Italian, French or Spanish native angle), that is, with sentences that can take up to 4 lines in a paragraph, using ponctuation a lot, to convey detail and nuance, and an English-native reader will find it heavy and unreadable!
I used to attend writers meetings here in the UK and I cannot count the number of times when fellow amateur writers - all English natives - were scribbling frantically, all busy to chop down my French-felt long sentences One even told me that sentences could not be longer than one line and a half!


I just wanted to say that for non-technical translation and for a language like French, I think that either a good training/education or being self-educated and cultured path is required. That means understanding how both language work: linguistic etc. No need to have a PhD or even a Master but exposure to good French writing and continuous grammar self-testing is really necessary.

I used to translate articles online for social media and naturally I was convinced I was excellent, because it "was me", until I started this online course and my French tutor really awakened me to the challenges and artistic gymnastics of English>French translation.

Guillaume, there is a Translators Meetup group in Edinburgh which I joined.

On the prospects of jobs, I am personally a bit worried that unless one has a scientific or highly technical background (biotechnologies, medicine, aerospace, physics for renewable energies or the nuclear industry), an IT or a legal background, the work for French companies will be scarce.

I am presently researching booming areas in France and they re the ones I mentioned above: anything to do with research basically is doing well in France. Alas, I don't know for you Guillaume, but for me, I am not a scientist nor an IT geek (really wish I was) so I keep thinking about what I could specialize in.

[Edited at 2016-02-18 12:58 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 08:17
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Seems the same requirement in any language: excellence Feb 18, 2016

Cecile Tess wrote:
I don't think one could be a good translator into French without making sure one's academic or school knowledge of French (grammar) is excellent, and also an exposure to literary French in order to absorb style, etc.

I'm sure no really professional translator in any language pair would disagree with that, Cecile. I don't think your explanations of the differences between our two languages hold water at all though. There are undoubtedly many differences, but only those who have a high level of knowledge of the structure of their native language and how to express themselves in writing should ever consider becoming translators. The idea that you can somehow make English up as you go along (I know - that isn't what you said) is just so wrong. Grammatical rules are simply mechanics and should have been acquired by a potential translator into French during all those years of education.

In the end, an English sentence of a few words can become a two-lines French sentence.

Very true in many cases, and I believe that a certain expansion is inevitable. However, writing concisely and clearly is a skill, not something that English natives are somehow born with. You can find plenty of examples of poorly written multi-line English sentences. And those who write long-winded French sentences are often seen as pompous and self-important by better French writers nowadays. I really don't see that it's necessarily easier to write concisely than wordily, just better.

I just wanted to say that for non-technical translation and for a language like French, I think that either a good training/education or being self-educated and cultured path is required.

Well of course, that goes without saying, for English, French, and every other language. Translators repeat over and over again that knowing two languages doesn't mean you can translate.

On the prospects of jobs, I am personally a bit worried that unless one has a scientific or highly technical background (biotechnologies, medicine, aerospace, physics for renewable energies or the nuclear industry), an IT or a legal background, the work for French companies will be scarce.

On the contrary, I would have thought that specialists around the world who can't understand English technical texts are few and far between. But import/export companies always, by definition, need multilingual materials, and the latest trends in Anglo-Saxon management techniques seem to be of great interest to speakers of other languages. To be honest, I think there's likely to be enough work in ANY subject area between our two languages to support the amount of work one single freelancer can get through. You really don't need to hunt down a booming sector to find a few thousand words per week to translate. Once you get a reputation for doing it better than the next translator, you'll find you have a queue.


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Cecile T.  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
English to French
I hope you are right, Sheila Feb 18, 2016

Yes I hope you are right about job prospects. I am looking at jobs posted on Proz as well as sectors doing well in France, hence why I am currently thinking that it is mostly highly technical fields that require a lot of translation.

About the difference between both languages, I just feel that it does not take as long to learn to master English, in writing especially, as it does to learn French or Polish.
To teach English, one needs a TEFL, a short course, to teach French in schools or French institutes abroad, one needs a Master most of the time, and I was asked to have in addition, modules in linguistic.

As for long sentences, it is just the way people in Europe think, not a pompous thing, although I do see why you would say this (it can be the talent of the pompous person to drown people in obscure language and lose most readers' attention by making extra long sentences). We like to add detail and comparisons, and a lot of it, in the same idea-bullet. An example, after living here for years, when I start speaking on the phone to a public service employee, I always unconsciously regress to "being French and talking to a French person" and I am launching myself into long sentences, which are only the beginning of my story and the person sometimes cuts me, not to interrupt me, but thinking I have told them the reason of my call, after 5 words!! They are somehow only used to hear very few words, end of the story, not 3 or 4 sentences. I know we could argue all day about the need to make life easier for call centre people etc., but I also know that when I am in France or say, I meet an Italian person, it goes more smoothly and they want detail, comment, etc. and they also start themselves to expand.

In novels, literature, etc., long sentences are the same way to communicate as is done orally. I miss it and lately found that Martin Amis still uses long sentences, a rare thing for an anglo-saxon writer. I say "still" because up until 1950, literature included longer sentences, more adjectives etc. Now, open any book in Waterstones, and it is short sentences, sometimes just words to evoke an immediate, hyper real situation, a bit like the shocker-start of TV series, but I am getting lost here, apologies.


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Texte Style
Local time: 09:17
French to English
Thank you Sheila Feb 18, 2016

Sheila Wilson wrote:

Cecile Tess wrote:
I don't think one could be a good translator into French without making sure one's academic or school knowledge of French (grammar) is excellent, and also an exposure to literary French in order to absorb style, etc.

I'm sure no really professional translator in any language pair would disagree with that, Cecile. I don't think your explanations of the differences between our two languages hold water at all though. There are undoubtedly many differences, but only those who have a high level of knowledge of the structure of their native language and how to express themselves in writing should ever consider becoming translators. The idea that you can somehow make English up as you go along (I know - that isn't what you said) is just so wrong. Grammatical rules are simply mechanics and should have been acquired by a potential translator into French during all those years of education.

In the end, an English sentence of a few words can become a two-lines French sentence.

Very true in many cases, and I believe that a certain expansion is inevitable. However, writing concisely and clearly is a skill, not something that English natives are somehow born with. You can find plenty of examples of poorly written multi-line English sentences. And those who write long-winded French sentences are often seen as pompous and self-important by better French writers nowadays. I really don't see that it's necessarily easier to write concisely than wordily, just better.

I just wanted to say that for non-technical translation and for a language like French, I think that either a good training/education or being self-educated and cultured path is required.

Well of course, that goes without saying, for English, French, and every other language. Translators repeat over and over again that knowing two languages doesn't mean you can translate.

On the prospects of jobs, I am personally a bit worried that unless one has a scientific or highly technical background (biotechnologies, medicine, aerospace, physics for renewable energies or the nuclear industry), an IT or a legal background, the work for French companies will be scarce.

On the contrary, I would have thought that specialists around the world who can't understand English technical texts are few and far between. But import/export companies always, by definition, need multilingual materials, and the latest trends in Anglo-Saxon management techniques seem to be of great interest to speakers of other languages. To be honest, I think there's likely to be enough work in ANY subject area between our two languages to support the amount of work one single freelancer can get through. You really don't need to hunt down a booming sector to find a few thousand words per week to translate. Once you get a reputation for doing it better than the next translator, you'll find you have a queue.


Thank you Sheila, I see we're on the same wavelength yet again

I would like to point out though that I am not a technical translator. While there is a certain amount of technical knowledge in some sectors like textiles and cosmetics, it's not nuts and bolts, and there's plenty of waxing lyrical about lingerie brimming with sex appeal and lipstick enhancing the wearer's kissability stakes and so on. You need to have a feel for the type of language used (or read a lot of stuff on .co.uk websites to absorb the feel). I didn't need to go to school to find that out. I was told by one of my very first clients that an American customer of theirs laughed at my translation, and from that moment on I strived very hard never to write a laughable sentence, always asking myself whether a native speaker would say that.

Certainly native English speakers don't have to have "grammar lessons" like the French at school, that doesn't mean it's any easier to write well in English. The English educational system lets pupils learn to write by writing, whereas in France children learn to write by being dictated to. I remember a school report where a teacher praised my "refreshing originality" (my daughter is very much like me in this respect but was never given any such praise at school in France, I don't think she was ever given an opportunity to let it shine). I think this might explain why I was able to start doing creative translation without any training except what I had soaked up by dint of being a total bookworm.


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Cecile T.  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 08:17
English to French
writing Feb 18, 2016

Texte Style wrote:



Certainly native English speakers don't have to have "grammar lessons" like the French at school, that doesn't mean it's any easier to write well in English. The English educational system lets pupils learn to write by writing, whereas in France children learn to write by being dictated to. I remember a school report where a teacher praised my "refreshing originality" (my daughter is very much like me in this respect but was never given any such praise at school in France, I don't think she was ever given an opportunity to let it shine). I think this might explain why I was able to start doing creative translation without any training except what I had soaked up by dint of being a total bookworm.



Ok we are not going to have a British vs French education battle here! I used to be a language teachers in British schools and I still have friends who are British teachers in French schools and we could spend a long time arguing which culture best teaches children about language. Creativity is definitely way more encouraged in British schools, however I won't go in detail about the absence of real grammar teaching in the UK system in primary schools and most of secondary schools, with the result that even people with high university qualifications find it hard to learn a foreign language, as the concept of gender, case and even the word "verb" or "conjunction" is alien to them. Both have strengths and weaknesses.

As you say, Text Style, lingerie etc. translating is nota linguistic work of art. It is terminology and advertising, by the sound of it. I was initially referring to writing documents, like economic articles, sociology essays, etc. Or maybe I wasn't clear, if so, I apologise.


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