Interview with ITIA member Annette Schiller
Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.
For over 20 years now my main work has been as a freelance translator (Ge-En). I’m an ITIA Certified Legal translator. I also translate in the subject areas construction/architecture, academic and finance. I teach part-time at DCU on undergrad and postgrad translation programmes. I am also involved in the professional association aspect – former chair of the ITIA and former chair of FIT Europe at European level, and I’m a member of the BDÜ.
When and why did you decide on a career in translating/interpreting?
Like many translators, I’ve always had a grá for different languages and cultures, starting of course with Irish at age 4. But, when I was an undergraduate long, long ago there were no courses in Ireland for translators, so a degree in modern languages was the next best thing. A week after graduating in French and Spanish, I set off to Germany to learn German, a language I had long wanted to learn. What was to be a 6-month stay in beautiful Bavaria turned into 15 years. Once my German reached a certain level, I took a two-year Trilingual Secretarial Course. I then worked for a major supplier to the automotive industry, as office manager in the R&D department, then for the Director of Finance, and ultimately as foreign subsidiary liaison for 16 subsidiaries stretching across the globe. As the only native English speaker at company headquarters at that time, I began doing a lot of translation which I really enjoyed. However, when I was asked (but I refused) to translate – overnight – a 30-page dense contract from English into German that already been translated (not very well) from Dutch, I also realised how serious a business translation is and how little it is understood and appreciated. So, when the decision was made to move back to Ireland with my young family, I applied to do the MA in Translation Studies at DCU, did the interview and test, and was accepted. I enjoyed the course immensely, and knew that the decision to move into translation was the right one.
Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.
One of the most important things was my work with the German automotive supplier. First of all, it gave me a very good understanding of how commerce and companies work, something that we often don’t or at least didn’t learn as pure language students. This is also very useful running a small freelance business. Also, my work there helped me to realise how vital it is to know your customer, their company, products/services and their clients. Finally, I came to realise where something like translation fits into the business cycle and how companies are reliant on high-quality translation for their reputation and good name in the customer-facing and legal and financial areas of their company.
The second most important thing was joining the ITIA. This was significant first of all because I was among a group of like-minded people and secondly because a professional association will always be at the pulse of things. It will follow and often shape developments, and provide networking and CPD opportunities. Most significantly, given the many different types of work, arenas and specialisations in our professions, the professional association gives a voice to freelancers. Together we’re strong!
How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.
I firmly believe that qualifications and training are vital in any profession. However, as a translator it is not only a qualification in translation that is important but training and qualifications, for example, in our areas of specialisation, in running a business etc. I don’t think I would be doing legal translation today if I hadn’t done the Diploma in Legal Studies 20 years ago. The ITIA has just introduced a mentoring programme – this is something I would love to have had when I started out. Having someone look over your shoulder, be it in relation to your actual translation work or to different aspects of your freelance business, when you’re taking those first few daunting steps would be so helpful.
How do you find clients?
Generally, by word of mouth – through recommendations from current clients and from colleagues.
Do you think it is necessary to specialise?
I think it’s vital as a freelancer to specialise. However, it is important not to over specialise, leaving ourselves competing in a very small part of the market. We also need to be open to new subject areas – which is one of the major bonuses in this profession.
What is your favourite type of text/assignment?
I have been translating reports on green roof projects for a company in Germany for many years now. Each text takes me to a different part of the world, from Hong Kong to New York to Paris to Athens – all with different types of building, construction style, roofscape, vegetation and climate. There is a good bit of room for creativity in addition to all the technical stuff. I’ve even been able to visit some of these projects in person.
I also really enjoy translating documents relating to succession/inheritance – a fascinating insight into families and life in general.
What is the best/worst thing about being a translator/ interpreter?
The best thing about being a translator is that you are constantly learning, getting to know new ideas, concepts, products. It never ends.
If I was working only as a freelance translator, then the isolation factor with only me and my PC would be a bit tiresome. But, my teaching work and my involvement in the professional association mean that I am constantly in contact with colleagues and others professionally and outside of work.
Is it possible to have a good standard of living?
I don’t think freelance translators are likely to get mega rich any time soon. But, yes, it is certainly possible to have a good standard of living. However, a good standard of living is not only a matter of having good rates. As freelancers we need to be savvy about our short and long-term financial health: we need to plan for those feast or famine periods, for periods during which we are ill and cannot work/earn, and for retirement. Surveys show that too many freelancers are not prepared. Most importantly, a good standard of living has to involve a good work/life balance, which will naturally vary from one individual to the next.
What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?
We are constantly listening to the hype that MT is going to take over the world and translators will be obsolete. The world of translation is certainly at a crossroads. One pathway is very much driven by MT/PE and related jobs. However, I firmly believe that the second pathway – the premium market – is strong and badly in need of very good, highly qualified translators. I think if your heart is set on being a freelance translator then go for it.
And, join a professional association – strength in numbers!