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Looking for career advice
Thread poster: Michael Sowell
Michael Sowell
United States
Local time: 19:08
Spanish to English
Nov 22, 2016

Hello,

I would like some assistance in determining the next step to take in my career path, and how best to accrue the experience necessary to find work as a linguist. I have a Bachelor's degree in Spanish with a minor in biblical languages. I even took courses in French and Chinese and studied a little Arabic on the side for fun. I'm currently working to become fluent in French as well. I very much enjoy the study of language but I began my studies in a very idealistic way, not thinking ahead to what might have been more practical. I now work as a bilingual customer service representative and I'm finding it difficult to find opportunities in which my language skills are the primary factor in my day to day responsibilities. I do not currently have the financial security to invest in additional higher education, though I would very much like to at some point in the future. I'm not even sure I want to be a translator but I know that I don't want to be a customer service representative anymore.

How should I develop a specialization area, if I am to become a translator?

How can I build up experience?

What's the market like for translators in general and how can I better gauge it in specific locations?

Do any of you have any information on how best to find job postings for native English speakers in other countries?

Should I take a language certification test? Is this worth it?

Am I doomed to simply get my alternate certification and become a Spanish Teacher? I never intended to become a teacher, but I enjoy one on one tutoring and teaching adults in general. I'm not incredibly fond of children, nor public education.

I know being a native English speaker who speaks Spanish fluently must be useful in some capacity, somewhere. I feel stuck, and its very frustrating. I very much appreciate any advice you have to offer.

Cal

[Edited at 2016-11-23 04:40 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:08
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Some pointers Nov 23, 2016

Cal5511 wrote:
I know being a native English speaker who speaks Spanish fluently must be useful in some capacity, somewhere. I feel stuck, and its very frustrating. I very much appreciate any advice you have to offer.

Taking the last thing you wrote first, I'd been mentally congratulating you on your grasp of written English (as an English to Spanish translator) until I read that. So, first I should remind you of what you no doubt know: as a freelance translator between two FIGS languages, you're just one of tens of thousands (or more? I'm not good with statistics). There's an enormous market but with all those competitors it follows that we should only do what we really excel at. Do anything else and your only bargaining point will be price - and that isn't good with so many 'amateurs' around. Now, I don't know what your level of Spanish is but as a native speaker of English I'm guessing that you write more easily in English. I'm talking not about easy texts but about writing in every register, mastering every nuance, every idiom etc. Well, maybe not every one (when you teach English you learn to avoid absolutes). And from the other side of the coin, do you think you can write better Spanish than a native Spanish speaker?

How should I develop a specialization area, if I am to become a translator?

Some people will say you need to go for a high-paying specialisation such as medical or legal. But if I were looking for a quality translation in those areas I'd look for someone with medical or legal experience who can translate, not a translator who's read a few books on the subject. I think you can earn a good living in pretty much whatever subject area interests you, as long as you make yourself known as a/the goto person. After all, you only need a couple of thousand words per day. You can gain a specialisation from any source - courses, own research, working life, interests, hobbies... Maybe yours would be religion? I know exactly who I'd go to for that subject area in English to Spanish: http://www.proz.com/translator/21487. I've never had any direct dealings with Ana but she's come to my attention often enough that I actually remember her.

How can I build up experience?

Wherever and whenever you can. Crowd-sourcing projects are the best to start with, I imagine, as you'll get feedback - not all of it correct, mind you. Have a look at the TED videos for a start. Or you can translate things that interest you, e.g. a blog or a club's website - but get permission first. Please don't volunteer to translate for free for companies, only for non-profit sources. Also, become active on this site in the KudoZ area. You'll get feedback there while helping the community. You'll also help yourself to become more visible to clients here, when you're ready for that.

What's the market like for translators in general and how can I better gauge it in specific locations?

Location doesn't matter a jot! That's only for interpreters and maybe those who certify official translations (birth certificates etc). When I moved to Spain from France I only lost one translation client. I now do a lot of English monolingual work and I invoice clients in just about every country around the world (but rarely here in Spain!). Most agencies offer a whole range of languages regardless of where they're located and everything's done by email or online interfaces.

Do any of you have any information on how best to find job postings for native English speakers in other countries?

You're thinking of physically relocating? I'm sure there are opportunities for bilingual salaried jobs all over the world. Monster.es/fr etc website? Most translators everywhere are freelancers though.

Should I take a language certification test? Is this worth it?

You presumably have one for Spanish i.e. your degree? If not then, yes, do the DELE, and the French equivalent, the DELF/DALF. For a translation qualification you could do worse than the basic one I did which doesn't cost too much, doesn't take too much of your time (or at least, it's flexible) and can be done from home. See my profile (to avoid advertising).


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Learning languages not the same as mastering writing in them Nov 23, 2016

First, do you have a first name? Are you a young male, young female, middle-aged person perhaps? How long have you been working at that position you described? How many years have you devoted to studying each language (Arabic for fun)?

Aside from English, your native language, do you excel at writing in any other language? (Sheila made some pointed and useful questions already).

If your answer to the last question is no (that you don't excel at writing in a given foreign language), I suggest you avoid translation as a career. Speaking a language fluently is just a part of being a translator, and not the most important, in my 25 years of experience.

The marketplace is already full of amateurs who think their fluency in one or more foreign languages is an immediate and automatic qualification to begin translating. Even for a beginning translator, it will take him/her 5-10 years to find her footing in the field (writing styles, specializations, suitable clients, etc.).

From what I've read in your posting, you don't qualify as a beginner translator. What else are you very good at? And my questions about name, gender, age, etc. are important. I'm not trying to pigeonhole you, but career advice is different for men than for women (in my experience, again), and is also dependent on age and overall experience, all of which you give only a faint and broad-brushed glimpse.

Good luck.


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Tomás Cano Binder, BA, CT  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 02:08
Member (2005)
English to Spanish
+ ...
Avoid nicknames! Nov 23, 2016

Use your real name in translator portal profiles. That's the best first step in your translation career, in my opinion. Only then you will be taken seriously by fellow translators and potential customers.

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Gabriele Demuth  Identity Verified
United Kingdom
Local time: 01:08
Member (2014)
English to German
Puzzled! Nov 23, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:

From what I've read in your posting, you don't qualify as a beginner translator. What else are you very good at? And my questions about name, gender, age, etc. are important. I'm not trying to pigeonhole you, but career advice is different for men than for women (in my experience, again), and is also dependent on age and overall experience, all of which you give only a faint and broad-brushed glimpse.


How is career advice different for men and women?!

And I always thought I could choose my career according to my talents, abilities, interests...?

[Edited at 2016-11-23 18:41 GMT]


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:08
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
Disagree Nov 23, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:

First, do you have a first name? Are you a young male, young female, middle-aged person perhaps? How long have you been working at that position you described? How many years have you devoted to studying each language (Arabic for fun)?

Aside from English, your native language, do you excel at writing in any other language? (Sheila made some pointed and useful questions already).

If your answer to the last question is no (that you don't excel at writing in a given foreign language), I suggest you avoid translation as a career. Speaking a language fluently is just a part of being a translator, and not the most important, in my 25 years of experience.

The marketplace is already full of amateurs who think their fluency in one or more foreign languages is an immediate and automatic qualification to begin translating. Even for a beginning translator, it will take him/her 5-10 years to find her footing in the field (writing styles, specializations, suitable clients, etc.).

From what I've read in your posting, you don't qualify as a beginner translator. What else are you very good at? And my questions about name, gender, age, etc. are important. I'm not trying to pigeonhole you, but career advice is different for men than for women (in my experience, again), and is also dependent on age and overall experience, all of which you give only a faint and broad-brushed glimpse.

Good luck.


I disagree with much of the content and tone of the above post, and I hope the OP ignores this if he/she is truly interested in translation. The ability to write in a foreign language is far less important than reading comprehension to a translator, unless one intends to translate into the foreign language (I would advise you to change your profile language pair from English to Spanish to Spanish to English). This is not to diminish the importance of overall language skills such as writing and speaking, but I would not say the OP's current inability (if that's true) to write at a native level in Spanish will make or break his/her career.

From what the OP posted (i.e. fluency in Spanish, which I assume includes good reading comprehension), I've concluded exactly the opposite of Mario--you are qualified to begin work as a translator. By that I mean that I would put your name out there, and see if you can get some easy projects that you can do well (diplomas, birth certificates, simple email correspondence, etc.) and that will be reviewed by a more experienced translator before delivery to the end client. See how you like the work, and then let things develop organically. Don't take on projects that you are not very confident in. Professionalism is born at the start of a new endeavor, not during it, and so build good habits now when it comes to turning down work you can't do.

NOW I do think others have been correct in cautioning that you're just one of millions of bilingual Spanish/English speakers, and you are certainly not entitled to anything. I'd also say that Mario's 5-10 year timeline is probably just about right if you attack this seriously, and have a real talent for marketing yourself and translating. And even with all of that, you're going to need a bit of a luck, especially in your language pair. Small business is full of failure stories, and if you want stability or a guarantee for the future, freelance translation is not the way to go. But from the little information you've provided, it does sound like you're qualified as a beginning translator, and at least that's a start!























translation career.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Excellent tip Nov 23, 2016

Tomás Cano Binder, CT wrote:

Use your real name in translator portal profiles. That's the best first step in your translation career, in my opinion. Only then you will be taken seriously by fellow translators and potential customers.


Even though I don't get the bulk of my clientele through Proz, I do keep a nice-looking Proz profile because today clients can scour the Internet, social media websites and simply do a google search to check on a name. If you're using a nickname or some alphanumeric username, most reasonable clients and colleagues will wonder, puzzled, what you got to hide?


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
I see it quite simply Nov 23, 2016

Gabriele Demuth wrote:

Mario Chavez wrote:

From what I've read in your posting, you don't qualify as a beginner translator. What else are you very good at? And my questions about name, gender, age, etc. are important. I'm not trying to pigeonhole you, but career advice is different for men than for women (in my experience, again), and is also dependent on age and overall experience, all of which you give only a faint and broad-brushed glimpse.


How is career advice different for men and women?!

And I always thought I could choose my career according to my talents, abilities, interests...?

[Edited at 2016-11-23 18:41 GMT]


In some cultures, countries and societies, never mind some family units, a person may have more options to go outside, interact, etc. if he is a man or a woman. What if the person in question is a single mom with kids, with little time or opportunity to mingle with colleagues, let alone set aside time to visit customers?

Most female translators I've known and observed in my long career tend to be very gregarious and look for chances to go out, professionally dressed, and network, interact, find their niche.

I can't surmise or assume that this cal555 person is a man or a woman. Even if he or she is fluent in Spanish, I won't assume that this person is from a particular part of Mexico, Colombia or Spain, as I have no way of knowing. Besides, ladies tend to hit it off more easily with other ladies in our profession. When a female translator contacts me and asks me for advice I don't have, but I know someone who does, I refer her to another, perhaps more experienced female translator. But that's just me.


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
Sorry, but writing is at the heart of the matter Nov 23, 2016

With respect, Preston, you are wrong. Writing skills, especially excellent writing skills, are at the heart of, and are essential to, translation as a profession.

Reading comprehension can only go so far. Sooner or later you will have to produce: write, draft, pen, dabble a piece, short or long. If you are not fully confident in your writing abilities —and that includes a very good hold of grammar, syntax, styles, etc.— then don't translate for pay until you acquire that confidence by continuous practice. Not weeks, not months, but years of practice. And this practice should start as soon as you discover that you love to write.

As for the original poster or OP, I take his/her words at face value: he or she is looking for a way to capitalize his/her language skills, yet he/she makes no mention of writing or wanting to write. So, I would find her disqualified a priori to do any kind of paid or professional translation.

Does my advice sound harsh and tough and discouraging? I truly hope so.


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:08
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
Please do not misrepresent what I said Nov 23, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:

With respect, Preston, you are wrong. Writing skills, especially excellent writing skills, are at the heart of, and are essential to, translation as a profession.

Reading comprehension can only go so far. Sooner or later you will have to produce: write, draft, pen, dabble a piece, short or long. If you are not fully confident in your writing abilities —and that includes a very good hold of grammar, syntax, styles, etc.— then don't translate for pay until you acquire that confidence by continuous practice. Not weeks, not months, but years of practice. And this practice should start as soon as you discover that you love to write.

As for the original poster or OP, I take his/her words at face value: he or she is looking for a way to capitalize his/her language skills, yet he/she makes no mention of writing or wanting to write. So, I would find her disqualified a priori to do any kind of paid or professional translation.

Does my advice sound harsh and tough and discouraging? I truly hope so.


My objection was to your statement that the OP needs to be able to write well in their foreign language. If you had posted that the OP should be able to write well in their native language, we obviously would have been in full agreement--I think everyone on this site would agree that being able to write in your target (i.e. native language for most) language is of the utmost importance. So please elaborate: did you mean to write "target language" above, not "foreign language"?

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:44 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:47 GMT]


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Mario Chavez  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:08
English to Spanish
+ ...
No misrepresentation made Nov 24, 2016

Preston Decker wrote:

Mario Chavez wrote:

With respect, Preston, you are wrong. Writing skills, especially excellent writing skills, are at the heart of, and are essential to, translation as a profession.

Reading comprehension can only go so far. Sooner or later you will have to produce: write, draft, pen, dabble a piece, short or long. If you are not fully confident in your writing abilities —and that includes a very good hold of grammar, syntax, styles, etc.— then don't translate for pay until you acquire that confidence by continuous practice. Not weeks, not months, but years of practice. And this practice should start as soon as you discover that you love to write.

As for the original poster or OP, I take his/her words at face value: he or she is looking for a way to capitalize his/her language skills, yet he/she makes no mention of writing or wanting to write. So, I would find her disqualified a priori to do any kind of paid or professional translation.

Does my advice sound harsh and tough and discouraging? I truly hope so.


My objection was to your statement that the OP needs to be able to write well in their foreign language. If you had posted that the OP should be able to write well in their native language, we obviously would have been in full agreement--I think everyone on this site would agree that being able to write in your target (i.e. native language for most) language is of the utmost importance. So please elaborate: did you mean to write "target language" above, not "foreign language"?

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:44 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:47 GMT]



Preston, I wasn't misrepresenting anything. I didn't quote you. You surely are aware of the meaning of “misrepresentation,” particularly its legal sense. I would tread carefully before using such a strong word. Say I misunderstood, didn't read the whole bit, etc., but don't use a word that intends a meaning absent from what I actually wrote.

Now, I'm quoting myself: Aside from English, your native language, do you excel at writing in any other language? A second reading clarifies my intent: I am assuming that this OP (original poster) excels already at his/her native tongue in writing. This is Translation 101: you should know your native tongue like the back of your hand, especially in writing. Without a strong foundation in writing with ease and confidence in your native tongue, how do you expect to do it in a target (foreign) language? If the bilingual person is asymmetrical in his/her writing skills, she will have serious trouble understanding lexicogrammatical nuance, levels of meaning, register, etc. This is not a matter of opinion, however. I've translated for 25 years at a professional level, I have taught translation courses, and I try to keep abreast on how translation theories apply to our everyday work.


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Preston Decker  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 20:08
Member (2013)
Chinese to English
RE Nov 24, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:

Preston Decker wrote:

Mario Chavez wrote:

With respect, Preston, you are wrong. Writing skills, especially excellent writing skills, are at the heart of, and are essential to, translation as a profession.

Reading comprehension can only go so far. Sooner or later you will have to produce: write, draft, pen, dabble a piece, short or long. If you are not fully confident in your writing abilities —and that includes a very good hold of grammar, syntax, styles, etc.— then don't translate for pay until you acquire that confidence by continuous practice. Not weeks, not months, but years of practice. And this practice should start as soon as you discover that you love to write.

As for the original poster or OP, I take his/her words at face value: he or she is looking for a way to capitalize his/her language skills, yet he/she makes no mention of writing or wanting to write. So, I would find her disqualified a priori to do any kind of paid or professional translation.

Does my advice sound harsh and tough and discouraging? I truly hope so.


My objection was to your statement that the OP needs to be able to write well in their foreign language. If you had posted that the OP should be able to write well in their native language, we obviously would have been in full agreement--I think everyone on this site would agree that being able to write in your target (i.e. native language for most) language is of the utmost importance. So please elaborate: did you mean to write "target language" above, not "foreign language"?

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:44 GMT]

[Edited at 2016-11-23 20:47 GMT]



Preston, I wasn't misrepresenting anything. I didn't quote you. You surely are aware of the meaning of “misrepresentation,” particularly its legal sense. I would tread carefully before using such a strong word. Say I misunderstood, didn't read the whole bit, etc., but don't use a word that intends a meaning absent from what I actually wrote.

Now, I'm quoting myself: Aside from English, your native language, do you excel at writing in any other language? A second reading clarifies my intent: I am assuming that this OP (original poster) excels already at his/her native tongue in writing. This is Translation 101: you should know your native tongue like the back of your hand, especially in writing. Without a strong foundation in writing with ease and confidence in your native tongue, how do you expect to do it in a target (foreign) language? If the bilingual person is asymmetrical in his/her writing skills, she will have serious trouble understanding lexicogrammatical nuance, levels of meaning, register, etc. This is not a matter of opinion, however. I've translated for 25 years at a professional level, I have taught translation courses, and I try to keep abreast on how translation theories apply to our everyday work.


Unfortunately you forced my hand on this one Marco. Your post gave the impression that I had asserted that writing skills are not important to a translator, while what I had actually stated is my belief that the OP does not need to be able to write at a native level in their foreign language to begin translating. My clients and colleagues read these forums, and I cannot afford to have them think that I do not value strong writing skills, thus the strong response. I do not wish to belabor the point or go back and forth on this, and this will be my last post on that matter.

In regards to our disagreement on foreign (target) language writing skills, we'll just have to agree to disagree. I feel very strongly that the OP does not necessarily need to be able to write at a high level (read: near native) in his/her foreign language to begin translating into his/her mother tongue, you feel the opposite, and at least now the OP knows there is disagreement within the industry in regards to this.

[Edited at 2016-11-24 02:54 GMT]


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Maria S. Loose, LL.M.  Identity Verified
Belgium
Local time: 02:08
German to English
+ ...
top-notch writing skills in your source language are not essential Nov 24, 2016

I am with Preston: a translator does not need to have near-native level writing skills in his/her source language, although this might be desirable. I know lots of translators who don't write well in their source language. My own writing skills in Dutch are very basic, although I understand everything I read. Lots of my colleagues here in the European Institutions translate from up to eight languages into English but they are not able to produce fit-for-purpose texts in these languages themselves.
Then, of course, if you are looking for direct clients from your source language countries, your writing skills in your source language better be top notch, because people outside this industry don't distinguish between active and passive languages. They would never believe that you are able to translate from your source language if you are unable to write (or speak) this language correctly.

[Edited at 2016-11-24 13:46 GMT]


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Sheila Wilson  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 01:08
Member (2007)
English
+ ...
Harsh and inappropriate judgement, IMHO Nov 24, 2016

Mario Chavez wrote:
I take his/her words at face value: he or she is looking for a way to capitalize his/her language skills, yet he/she makes no mention of writing or wanting to write. So, I would find her disqualified a priori to do any kind of paid or professional translation.

Guilty by omission? Just for omitting to mention something in a forum post? Goodness, I'm glad you're a translator and not a judge.

Gabriele Demuth wrote:
How is career advice different for men and women?!
Mario Chavez wrote:
In some cultures, countries and societies, never mind some family units, a person may have more options to go outside, interact, etc. if he is a man or a woman.

That may be true in a few cultures dominated by religion etc, but the poster has entered United States as their place of business and I don't believe that type of culture exists there outside of the Amish and similar areas.

What if the person in question is a single mom with kids, with little time or opportunity to mingle with colleagues, let alone set aside time to visit customers?

And what if the person in question is a single pop with kids? What century are you living in?

Mario Chavez wrote:
Most female translators I've known and observed in my long career tend to be very gregarious and look for chances to go out, professionally dressed, and network, interact, find their niche.
But that's just me.

Indeed it is, Mario - just you. You'll be saying next that women should only translate in subject areas such as cosmetics and baby-care, and stay well away from engineering, etc . (I sincerely hope that can be taken as a joke.)


Maria S. Loose, LL.M. wrote:
I am with Preston: a translator does not need to have near-native level writing skills in his/her source language, although this might be desirable. I know lots of translators who don't write well in their source language. My own writing skills in Dutch are very basic, although I understand everything I read. Lots of my colleagues here in the European Institutions translate from up to eight languages into English but they are not able to produce fit-for-purpose texts in these languages themselves.

I can just about imagine an interpreter only having minimal ability to write in their second language. Translators spend half their lives reading in their source language, and they need a high level of grammar etc to enable them to parse complicated sentences, so it would be reasonable to expect them to be able to produce intelligible texts too. But perfect ones? No, I agree with you, Maria, and with Preston: that definitely isn't a requirement of the job. I know my own French emails (BTW: Thank heavens we don't write letters any more! Fellow Brits will understand what I mean by that ) to clients vary between fine and "translatese" - depending on the complexity of what I want to say and whether I'm tired/wide-awake, feeling poorly/well etc. Fortunately, they're all happy to accept that.


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Arianne Farah  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 20:08
Member (2008)
English to French
Thinking completely outside the box... Nov 24, 2016

Have you considered working in guest services on a cruise ship? The job requirements are usually English + other languages, preferably Spanish, French, German, Chinese & Arabic. You get to travel the world & you're paid tax free. You'd probably need a degree/diploma in hospitality, but your language skills would definitely be an asset.

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