The Path to Translation

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The path to being a translator isn’t always conventional.

While most translators begin by studying translation and obtaining a degree, then certification, I began by studying Journalism and communications. I’d planned on working for newspapers or in broadcasting. Online journalism in the 90s was not an option as it is today and the market for journalists in the mid- 90s was, to say the least, rather arid.

However, technology was moving fast and with it came the technology beat, where I covered IT, telecommunications business and e-commerce. I knew only a little more than the average person about these technologies, since everything was developing so rapidly; while covering highly technical (at the time) topics, I learned as I went along. Newspapers at the time barely acknowledged emerging technologies; trade magazines, on the other hand, needed writers with skills, rather than “techies” who wanted to write. One trade magazine editor said to me, “You can teach a good writer any topic; it’s a lot harder to teach someone who knows technology how to write well.”

After covering technology and business for several years, I wanted to move on from journalism. I’d written a few articles for the Montreal Gazette when baby-boomer aged editors knew very little about technology. I often had to explain my ideas to editors who were even more skeptical with me- technology writers at the time were about 90 percent men. There were actually more women covering sports. Being a pioneer is never easy or pleasant.

About ten years ago, I had a regular editing job I really enjoyed- proofing textbooks for ESL and K-12. When the contract was up, I talked to my supervisor about any future jobs, but there were none at the time. She was also a translator and I told her I’d considered doing translation on my own, along with editing and writing. I wasn’t certified and hadn’t a translation degree, but I was reassured when she told me she didn’t have a degree either and wasn’t certified. If I could learn about complicated technologies well enough to write about them, I could learn something else on my own.

I began to search and send out applications and gathered a number of clients, some of whom I still work for today. I had one who, like me, had studied journalism at Concordia around the same time I had. She’d started out as a journalist but decided to start her own communications business- writing, editing and translation.

We agreed that we preferred the flexibility and control over our workflow, as well as opportunities in various fields and areas of specialization, deciding which jobs are suitable, and constantly learning. Journalists and communication specialists bring our skills to our work. Not only language skills, but the ability to work under pressure, being both good AND fast, attention to detail.

It’s a constant process of self-improvement, learning new skills, honing our existing skills and finding new opportunities. One of my favourite clients once said, “Life is a classroom!”

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