When I was a translation student many moons ago in Dublin (and indeed, as a translation intern in Munich), the one thing that frustrated me the most was the fact that I could not speak to a real-life actual translator about translation or what was it like to be a freelancer – the real nuts and bolts about the business side of things, for example. Translation lecturers can only teach you so much, after all.
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There are a lot of misconceptions about what is involved in translation, so I firmly believe it is important to promote our profession in a good and honest light. Encouraging new talent is always worthwhile. I received help when I started out and I wanted to return the favour down the line. In my case, I participate in a mentoring scheme which my old university runs in conjunction with a local chamber of commerce. Many mentors, myself included, like the warm fuzzy glow of helping someone. In my case, mentoring has helped me establish professional links to my old university and to a chamber of commerce.
Assuming you would like to be a mentor to a "newbie" translator, I would advise that you should be most selective about your choice of mentee. This is CRUCIAL. Many newbies want our help and support but it is impossible to help them all. You have enough to do without wasting your valuable time on someone who seems to think translation is an easy number and who sees this as an opportunity to take advantage.
Your role as a mentor is to offer support and guidance. It is not your place to set up their business for them or anything like that. Mentoring a newbie should not be a long-term arrangement - I recommend that mentorship should last between 6 to 12 months, no more than that.
Mentoring does not mean you should not hold their hand all the time. This will not do them any favours because the newbie has to learn to stand on their own two feet eventually. You should not be expected to give them work (unless it is at your own discretion) or to show them every single little thing. That may sound harsh, but it is necessary to point this out. They have to build up their own client database - not help themselves to yours. In the past, I have met people who said they wanted to be translators and basically wanted to nab my client list off me! That approach is not the way forward for a successful mentorship!
If a novice translator approaches you for guidance, then I advise the following, based on my own experience.
- Meet them face-to-face if possible, or establish regular phone/IM/e-mail contact. If you have a good personal rapport, then you will know whether this person is worth the time & effort. By talking to them, you will know if they are genuine & serious. Most importantly, you will know if they have what it takes.
- It is absolutely vital to lay down some ground rules about what you both want to get out of this mentoring relationship. Both of you must be clear about each other’s objectives and be confident that you share these objectives if this is going to work.
- What does the mentee want out of it? What are their goals? Do they want help with getting contacts, business advice, software training, marketing, practice their language skills, do they want you to proofread their work, do they want to help out with your workload? There are loads of reasons, but these would be the main ones. A lot of the time, the mentee just wants to be reassured that they're doing the right thing by going freelance and that their work is good enough. Are you prepared to be the shoulder they’ll cry on?
So how do you actually mentor the mentee? Usually, it will be up to you to manage the progress of the mentorship. Mentors are usually pretty busy, while the mentee could be sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring. It is important for the mentee to respect the mentor’s other professional commitments and not cross the line between asking a couple of questions to pestering them with all sorts of minor queries.
Schedule a time to answer the mentee's questions and see how they’re getting on. This can be in the form of a weekly/monthly phone call or going for a coffee. I meet my mentee once a month and we e-mail a couple of times in the month. You could take them to a Proz pow-wow or other translation association meetings. Show them samples of your translations. Ask them questions about it – would they have translated it differently? There is so much you can talk about in your mentorship meetings (provided you keep it on-topic), like career paths, useful websites, how other colleagues are doing, experiences with Clients From Hell, share anecdotes and so on. If the mentee has any particular questions, they can save them for that meeting. If you see an interesting article, pass it on to them. Maybe they can sit in with you for the day and observe how you work. Your mentee is bound to have a couple of questions and ideas that can be incorporated into the mentorship scheme.
It is important for the mentee to feel they are making progress and become more confident as translators by the end of the mentorship. It is up to you how you want to wind up the mentorship. You can treat the mentee as a peer and include them in your network of translation colleagues, allow your mentee to touch base with you occasionally or go your own seperate ways... whatever you decide between you.
Remember, mentoring is a 50-50 process; it must not be an "all-take and no-give" kind of relationship. It is very enriching to see someone progress and develop professionally. It’s not just a one-way process for you'll learn plenty along the way too.