Interview with ITIA member Chris Hopley
Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.
I am first and foremost a hardcore translator. I did a postgraduate diploma in translation studies in 1995 and started my professional career as a translator in 1996. Since then, I’ve had a number of in-house translation positions, which were all thoroughly rewarding, although often in very different ways. Since 2011, I’ve been working full-time in my own busy practice and am consequently also an editor, terminologist, project manager, work planner, office manager and solopreneur.
During my time as an in-house translator, I developed my speciality in the areas of education policy and oil and gas production. Since opening my own practice, I have been able to combine this with my own personal and professional interests, so I now also do a lot of work for financial institutions and the real estate sector.
When and why did you decide on a career in translating/interpreting?
I studied German and Dutch language and literature at university, so a career in languages was a fairly obvious option. Although I did consider other career options as diverse as the dramatic arts and international relations, my personal life took me via Belgium to the Netherlands, and translating was a relatively painless way to find work related to my studies.
Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.
Although my background in languages and translation studies was a good start, I have always found working in-house to be immensely useful. Not only does it give you great experience in the world of work in general (particularly team working, often with a diverse group of colleagues), but in-house translation positions also give you the relative luxury of a job in which you can also contribute to knowledge development, such as glossary building and terminology research, rather than focusing solely on the translation production process.
How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.
I’m a great believer in continuing professional and personal development. In today’s busy world, it can be hard to find the time for training when you have a full workload and commitments to a growing family. But equally, it’s very easy today to follow short courses and modules to develop new skills, or just feed your personal interests, on Udemy, Coursera or any of the other big MOOC platforms.
Qualifications can be important to show others what you have done or contribute to your own sense of achievement, but once you’re established, it’s your abilities that matter more than the certificates hanging on your wall.
How do you find clients?
For the last 10 years, I have relied largely on my own network and word of mouth. I have found one or two good clients via ProZ.com. Online forums like ProZ.com and LinkedIn are great places to meet not only other translators but also potential clients. You might not find a new client or assignment straight away, but keeping relationships warm and regularly showing your face is always a good idea.
Do you think it is necessary to specialise?
Absolutely. No one can be fantastic at everything. That’s not to say there are no great generalist translators around. There are. But there’s always a specialisation to be had. Choose something you like to start with. Whether you’re into cryptocurrency or make-up artistry, study your chosen subject in your working languages. And make sure your clients or potential clients know about your specialist fields. An attentive PM will steer relevant work your way. And you’ll find the work more rewarding if you translate in a field you’re interested in and enjoy.
What is your favourite type of text/assignment?
I enjoy translating texts that I think I can excel at, whether in terms of style or subject matter knowledge. Recent assignments I have enjoyed have been in fields as wide-ranging as micro-credentials, studies into employee satisfaction throughout the Covid 19 pandemic and real estate investment reports.
What is the best/worst thing about being a translator/ interpreter?
The best thing about being a translator is that it is a cross between an intellectual and a practical pursuit. It challenges the mind, but has a clear economic purpose and value too. The worst thing about being a freelance translator is the long hours and all the usual pitfalls of being self-employed. Working in-house might seem to be the best of both worlds, but it has its own unique set of downsides too, as you’re often regarded as an extra cost in the process and have to constantly stand up for the value that you add.
Is it possible to have a good standard of living?
I’d say that it’s certainly possible, but you have to find a way to make sure you are constantly in demand by the highest-paying clients. This is the holy grail that all freelance translators seek. There are numerous ways to try and achieve a good standard of living for yourself, but there’s always the question of what sacrifices you want to make. You could become a digital nomad and work from a camper van in the Algarve or from a quiet retreat in Thailand. But if you live in suburbia anywhere in Europe and want to send your kids to the best sports clubs and go on holiday twice a year, it will probably be tough. Unfortunately, this applies to many other professions too.
What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?
Ask around, make contacts in the translator community, contact a professional body like ITIA and find out about student membership or mentoring schemes. Think of specialising first, for example, instead of studying just French see if you can study French in combination with Law, Engineering, Pharmaceuticals, etc. Combined studies like this will give you a great head start in the specialisation stakes. But above all, if it’s what you want to do, go for it and don’t give up! It can be a very rewarding career.