Interview with ITIA Member Irene Meneguzzi
Describe yourself professionally and what it means for you to be a professional.
I am a freelance translator working from English into Spanish for the Latin American market. Over the years, I have focused on the translation of web and marketing content (where I can allow myself to be more creative) and of mobile app user interfaces and help content (for which I resort to my technically-oriented alter ego).
To me, being a professional is an attitude we take towards ourselves, our work and the people we work with, whether it is our clients or our colleagues. It means being dedicated to our profession so that we can keep learning and improving; taking responsibility for our work, identifying and praising our good decisions and learning from the not so good ones; and being reliable, a source of solutions. It also means being respectful: first, to ourselves as professionals (when it comes to saying “no” to degrading rates, unfair contracts and impossible expectations, for instance); second, to our work (to feel proud and confident of what we are able to offer); and third, to our colleagues and clients (I have been shocked by the display of arrogance and borderline bullying going on in some translators groups in social media). And finally, I think it is always good to remind ourselves that being professional should not be confused with taking ourselves too seriously.
On being a professional freelancer, I know it differs greatly from the first thing that people (who are not freelancers) think when I pronounce the magic words, “I work from home”. Freelancing requires an entire set of extremely varied and crucial skills, from finding (and keeping!) your own clients to managing your own finances, choosing and funding your own professional development, finding motivation in your work, negotiating rates, juggling overlapping projects, keeping tight deadlines, managing your time and workload, and maintaining the quality standards that you set for yourself.
When and why did you decide on a career in translating?
I am originally from Rosario, Argentina, which means I grew up speaking Spanish. Being an avid reader since I can remember, my first encounter with some of my most beloved stories had been through translation – Alice, Heidi and The Little Prince had all spoken to me in my own language. However, early in life I discovered a passion for the English language, and as soon as I was able to decipher more complex texts I found myself borrowing countless books from the local English school library to devour them later at home. That is how my teenager self came to enjoy some not-so-age-appropriate works like The Godfather in its original language, and a whole new world opened up for me. When the time came to choose a career path, translation seemed like a no-brainer. I loved writing and reading, and I adored my native and my adopted languages in equal measure. And if it was not for translators, I would have never gotten the chance to meet my Alice and my Little Prince when I did, and my life would not have been the same. After I finished my translation degree in 2002, I decided it was time to get geographically closer to my second language so that I could experience it and use it on an everyday basis. So on a rainy afternoon of April 2005 I set foot in Ireland for the first time in my life and made it my home.
Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career as a freelance translator.
I think that my previous work experiences really helped. Before I decided to become a full-time freelance translator in Ireland, I worked in a translation agency, initially as linguistic coordinator and later as project coordinator. A few years and an M. Phil. in literary translation at TCD later, I joined the in-house translation team of a software company. Thanks to these experiences I was able to get insights into the different roles and steps involved in the localisation process, of which actual translation is only a fraction. I learned about the job from the point of view of the translation agency and the things project managers have to deal with on a daily basis, as well as the pressure. I am also more aware of the value that translation agencies bring to the table (let´s not dwell here on the unethical or bullying practices of a lot of translation agencies and just focus on the “middle-man” function agencies are meant to fulfil), namely the search for clients and their ability to offer them a wider range of services and end-to-end support, which an individual working alone cannot do (I am thinking of the more technical aspects of localisation, such as DTP, engineering, etc.). As for my role as an in-house translator, not only did I learn a great deal about software translation and localisation, but also I was able to see the process from the other end: the perspective of the client who is the consumer of this type of translations. I worked more closely with developers, architects and engineers, and I regularly took part in validation processes, where I could see the
As for my role as an in-house translator, not only did I learn a great deal about software translation and localisation, but also I was able to see the process from the other end: the perspective of the client who is the consumer of this type of translations.
All of this helped me launch my freelance career with good contacts, a good understanding of the localisation process as a whole, and an awareness of the needs of each player and the frustrations they encounter on a daily basis when those needs are not understood. It was only a matter of me knowing how to capitalize on this knowledge!
How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating.
Official training and qualifications are definitely important and cannot be underestimated, especially because they can help regulate the industry against people who pose as translators without having any sort of formal preparation or required skills. However, a person can become a wonderful translator without having any official qualifications, and a person with official qualifications is not guaranteed to be a good translator. Being a good translator requires a certain type of sensitivity to the languages you work with, which is not necessarily taught in degree courses. In my personal experience, going for a third level degree in translation gave me wonderful tools, put me in touch with amazing teachers, gave structure to my learning, and gave me access to information that I might not have arrived at on my own, among other things. I would say “Go for it!” to anybody with an interest in translation who is considering getting a degree, but I would also recommend doing proper research to make sure that it will serve their purpose and meet their expectations, especially considering the huge amount of options available nowadays and the costs involved.
Do you think it is necessary to specialise?
I believe that if you stay in this profession long enough, a certain degree of specialisation is inevitable. Most of us are generalists when we start up in our careers –exceptions may be people who get into translation at a later stage, having first acquired a degree and/or work experience in a different area. But if you go into translation fresh from college, chances are you will not be highly specialised in any specific area. Over time, however, you will probably find that you prefer certain topics over others, that you want to actively stay away from certain types of text (the way I avoid legal and financial ones like the plague), or that you ended up getting involved in certain types of projects a lot more regularly than others, and inevitably you will have acquired a certain level of specialisation in that area, after years of doing research and reading related content to produce your translations. Alternatively, you may consciously decide to specialise by going for a second (or third, or fourth!) degree course in a completely different area from translation. If you do your research right, you could
I believe that if you stay in this profession long enough, a certain degree of specialisation is inevitable.
What is your favourite type of text/assignment?
I enjoy translating texts that challenge me creatively and are well-written. It may sound odd, but these texts seem to be getting more and more difficult to find in the areas that I translate. For example, good marketing content can be extremely challenging and exciting to translate when it makes use of rhythm, emphasis, imagery, play on words, idiomatic expressions, and other resources in order to convey meaning and purpose. However, a lot of times this type of content displays an overabundance of empty corporate-speak, repetitions and poor grammar. On second thought, though, even these types of texts present challenges, because you can be faced with the task of making sense of the nonsensical!
What is the best/worst thing about being a freelance translator?
The best thing is being your own boss and the worst thing is… being your own boss! Being a freelance translator means you are (for the most part) in control of your business: the direction you want to give it, the specialisation you want to pursue, the clients you want to work with, the rates you want to charge, the number of hours per week you are willing to work, the time when you want to take holidays, and the list goes on and on. And this is all wonderful because it gives you a great sense of ownership. Being a freelancer, there is not blaming the boss or complaining about your colleagues. You are responsible for the product you deliver, and that can be very rewarding. (Note that “for the most part” refers to aspects of the business that are also dictated by other factors such as the market, as in the case of rates.) But of course, being a freelancer also has its downsides: you can be left in a vulnerable position when it comes to non-payers, you have to deal with a lot of admin work, do your own accounts, try to be available for your clients as much as possible, and make a conscious effort to draw a line between work hours and leisure hours (especially if you work from home). Of course, a lot
Being a freelance translator means you are (for the most part) in control of your business: the direction you want to give it, the specialisation you want to pursue, the clients you want to work with, the rates you want to charge, the number of hours per week you are willing to work, the time when you want to take holidays, and the list goes on and on
Is it possible for a freelance translator to have a good standard of living?
I think there cannot be a single answer to this question, as there are many influencing factors –namely, your working languages and your country of residence. For instance, I translate into Spanish for Latin America and am based in Ireland, a country with a high cost of living. What is considered a standard salary here can be regarded as a very good salary in other countries, even within Western Europe (take Italy, Spain or Portugal). My target language, however, is far from ranking among the best-paid languages: I compete with a gigantic market with weaker currencies and economies. This has certainly made things more challenging for me, but I have been able to gradually bring my rates up. In order to do so, I had to be prepared to do three of things. First, I had to be ready to lose the clients who would not accept my rate increase. This I convinced myself to do by understanding that a client who refuses to pay me a decent rate is not worth having, as I will not be able to make a living with them anyway. Secondly, I had to be prepared to negotiate –I did not want to appear inflexible or unreasonable. Thirdly, I had to be able to identify what it was that I could personally bring to the job and that no one else could, something unique that would differentiate me from my competitors and would justify the rate increase in the eyes of the client. For a very practical example: working in the European time zone gives me an advantage when it comes to urgent jobs from Europe- or Asia-based clients. I am in a position to deliver these jobs earlier than a competitor based in the Americas, and these type of jobs are a big part of my income. Another, less matter-of-fact advantage that I can offer to my clients is the quality of my work and my professional approach – reasonable clients who care about their product will be willing to pay more if they see the value in your service.
What I described above will not shock anyone for its novelty – I certainly didn´t invent the wheel here – but having a clear idea in my head in terms of what clients I was willing to lose, how much I was willing to negotiate, and what set me apart from my competitors gave me confidence to approach clients and made the whole process a lot easier and I was able to get results.
What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator?
Read, read and read! Read as much as you can and as widely as you can, in all your working languages in equal measure. Read anything you come across that has letters on it! Only by reading will you develop the skill that is truly crucial for all translators: a sensitivity to the nuances of the languages they work with and an excellent command of their different registers, tones, styles, and genres, their structure and flexibility, the things that make them unique, their levels of meaning, their figures of speech… Once I read that translators are readers equipped with a microscope[i]. The microscope, I believe, is precisely our knowledge of the internal mechanisms of language, and it becomes sharper and sharper the more we read.