Interview with ITIA Member Sarah-Jane Aberasturi
Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.
I’m a freelance translator working from German, Spanish and Catalan into English, with about 24 years of experience under my belt. I’m an ITIA Certified Translator for German-English and Spanish-English, and a conference interpreter (English A, Spanish B) working to achieve AIIC membership. I also provide language consultancy and mentoring services on request.
When and why did you decide on a career in translating/interpreting?
I knew from my teens that I wanted to work with languages. I had a flair for them and spent my summers in language immersion situations from about age 17, in au pairing, voluntary work, English teaching etc. This grew my language skills and raised my cultural awareness, confirming my decision to study translation at DCU.
Through the translation aspect of Leaving Cert Latin and subsequently my degree course, I discovered that I loved the various aspects of translating, from getting to grips with the source text to researching new subjects, tracking down elusive concepts, and crafting the target text in a way that accurately reflected the tone and intent of the original.
Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.
The single most important thing was studying in DCU’s School of Applied Languages, where my translations skills and strategies were formed and developed. After college, I jumped in at the deep end: I literally upped and went to Barcelona, having written to various translation agencies (but not heard back from any), and contacted them again with my “local” phone number. As it was summer and some of their regular translators were away, I was lucky enough to get a small trickle of jobs, which eventually grew. I think my ingenuity and confidence were key!
How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.
My honest answer is that they are very important, though not always essential. I have known some very good translators who “fell into” the industry by various different routes without specific training. Most of them had some other training or specialisation that was relevant to the subject fields they ended up working in, and all without exception had a very high sensitivity to the nuance of language, coupled (obviously) with a very high degree of fluency in two or more languages.
In my own case I had only basic training in interpreting, through an introduction to its various modalities in the final year of my degree. This was enough to confirm I had the basic skills to build on; but even so I only moved into conference interpreting after spending five years in Spain, when my fluency and cultural familiarity had grown enormously.
I would say that those who can build a successful career without first training and achieving relevant qualifications are the exception rather than the rule.
In both cases, I would say that those who can build a successful career without first training and achieving relevant qualifications are the exception rather than the rule. The sensitivity to language and to the important differences in structure, expression etc. that professionals deal with every day is something that few people can develop without expert guidance and in-depth study and practice.
How do you find clients?
Recommendations from colleagues and word of mouth from existing clients are great ways to get new business, of course, but these are largely outside our control. I think it’s important to think about the fields we enjoy working in, and go where potential clients are. So, in terms of face-to-face contact, think trade fairs, sector meetings, etc; and focus on these areas in your online and other materials.
Do you think it is necessary to specialise?
I think we all end up specialising in one way or another, but it’s also important to retain the investigative skills to quickly familiarise ourselves with new areas.
I think we all end up specialising in one way or another, but it’s also important to retain the investigative skills to quickly familiarise ourselves with new areas
What is your favourite type of text/assignment?
One of my favourite assignments is translating texts for scientific magazines, making research in a variety of areas accessible to the educated layperson and/or scientists from other disciplines. I also enjoy medical, cultural and literary texts.
In interpreting, one very enjoyable assignment is the Irish-Spanish-Latin-American Literary Festival (ISLA) held at the Cervantes Institute each year. In general terms, I enjoy interpreting for people who are enthusiastic about their subject.
What is the best/worst thing about being a translator/ interpreter?
I love the variety of freelance work; there is always new and interesting material to learn about and communicate.
The fact that I work in both translating and interpreting means that I get the best of both worlds. I get down into the detail of all sorts of interesting texts in science and the humanities as I parse and recraft written texts in my home office; and then I get to work closely with colleagues in the interpreting booth, keeping our brains sparking as we constantly challenge ourselves to transfer meaning faithfully in mere moments.
Is it possible to have a good standard of living?
Yes, and a good standard of living must obviously include a decent income, but work-life balance is a really important consideration too. In terms of work and income, many freelancers seem to go through periods of “feast or famine”; and one challenge for maintaining a good standard of living is to establish strategies for overcoming and/or coping with these ups and downs.
What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?
you need to be a good, confident writer in your own language, as well as achieving a very high degree of fluency and cultural familiarity with your second language(s)
If you are thinking of being a translator, you need to be a good, confident writer in your own language, as well as achieving a very high degree of fluency and cultural familiarity with your second language(s). It helps to specialize in a subject area that interests you, but you will regularly need to gain an overview of new areas as required by specific jobs, and an enjoyment of the “detective” aspect of tracking down elusive concepts is important. A disadvantage is that the work can be very solitary; just you and your PC.
Interpreting requires a different skill set, with the obvious overlap of very high fluency requirements in both languages. Whether working inside or outside the booth, you will need excellent concentration, memory and linguistic resourcefulness: interpreters learn to think in terms of concepts rather than words, and have only moments to come up with adequate solutions when confronted with difficult concepts. Thorough preparation and a quick mind are key.