Interview with ITIA member Trish Van Bolderen

Describe yourself professionally in a few lines.

Since 2022, I have been working as a full-time freelance translator (from French and Spanish into English) and English-language reviser, under the banner of my business, BolderWords translation & revision. My professional experience with these activities began in the mid-2000s and accompanied me throughout the completion of my Master’s and PhD in Translation Studies at the University of Ottawa, in my home country of Canada. My work in revision and translation also comes after my first degree and initial career in contemporary dance, when I was predominantly based in Toronto. These various experiences laid the groundwork for specialising in academic and arts-based texts, among others.

When and why did you decide on a career in translating/interpreting?

I decided to pursue translation/revision as a career rather recently, several months after completing my PhD in the autumn of 2021. This career path appealed to me because I had already had regular translation and revision contracts over the years, knew I enjoyed the work, and had developed a solid skillset in the area. What’s more, I knew this career would afford me the flexibility to continue pursuing scholarly interests while working directly on the craft at the centre of my research.

Name the most important thing you did that helped you launch your career.

One of the most important things I did to launch my career was to set up my company website. I found this process invaluable because it pushed me to make key decisions—about the company name, about branding, etc.—and to clarify for myself what my experiences, areas of expertise, and priorities as a language professional were. Creating the website also contributed greatly to enabling me to assert a professional identity that corresponded to my profile and values and was accessible to others, including colleagues and clients.

How important are training and qualifications for a career in translating/interpreting.

Qualifications and ongoing training are crucial to our literacy regarding professional tools and approaches, our understanding of the challenges facing our industry, and our ability to think critically about these tools, approaches and challenges. Training and qualifications are also key to ensuring high standards within the professional translation and interpreting community, which is how we uphold professional ethics and build and maintain trust with the broader society.

How do you find clients?

While I have a website, share my business cards, and periodically post on social media, the overwhelming majority of my client connections have been made through word of mouth.

Do you think it is necessary to specialise?

No, I think it is feasible to be more of a generalist, and I think translation and revision skills are transferable across numerous sectors and domains. However, I also think that most people do end up specialising, either as a result of a deliberate decision to do so or because their personal and professional experiences have encouraged them to sharpen their focus in one area or another.

What is your favourite type of text/assignment?

I wouldn’t be able to limit myself to just one. I especially enjoy translating/revising scholarly texts, literary works, and material from the worlds of activism and the arts.

What is the best/worst thing about being a translator/ interpreter?

The worst thing about being a translator/reviser is that the work is almost always a solitary activity. This doesn’t bother me on a day-to-day basis, but the effects of working solo eventually accumulate, and then I realise how much I have missed socialising during the workday.

For me, the best part about being a translator/reviser is having the opportunity to work at the intersection of languages and ideas, and to solve puzzles inherent in each project.

Is it possible to have a good standard of living?

This is an excellent question that I don’t yet know the answer to. Relative to my overall professional experience in translation and revision, it is only recently that I have begun to devote myself to this work full-time, and I see a number of challenges when it comes to tyring to ensure a good standard of living in this career while working for yourself. The most significant—and, unfortunately, very familiar—challenge seems to be that, while there is certainly a demand for translators and revisers, there is not necessarily an awareness among potential clients in terms of 1) the time and expertise required to complete the project at hand, and 2) the value of the product that is submitted.

What advice would you give someone thinking of embarking on a career as a translator/interpreter?

My advice to fellow translators and revisers would be:

  1. Read widely, especially in the language(s) you work into. This enhances your writerly agility and your overall efficiency while working.
  2. Find simple and enjoyable ways to incorporate physical movement into your workday. It is far too easy to spend the day occupying the same physical position, with the accumulated strain not only adversely affecting our bodies but also interfering with our mental alertness and general mindset. I am a big fan of the Pomodoro Technique, which means that every half hour of work has a 5-minute break built into it, and I find it surprisingly helpful to use many of those breaks for stretching.
  3. Do your best to communicate clearly with clients throughout the duration of the contract. This helps to ensure everyone is on the same page.
  4. Charge by the hour. In my experience, the more conventional approach of charging by the word (line, page, etc.) occasionally results in overcharging the client and typically leads to undercharging for the services you provide, which misrepresents and undermines the time, experience and skills involved in producing translations/revisions that respond to the project brief.

Trish Van Bolderen works as a translator (ES & FR > EN) and an English language reviser. She has a Master’s degree and PhD in Translation Studies and is a member of the ITIA Executive Committee.