As a legal translator, I typically receive legal or business documents sent to me from various clients around the world. My task is to translate the document from French into English while maintaining its format and function. As a freelancer, I also work as my own marketing agent, accountant, administrator, and I have to secure my own pension savings and so forth. I spend my days working for existing clients, looking for new clients, working on developing my subject matter specialisation, and finally relaxing and listening to music or spending time with my loved ones!
When I am not working, I am constantly studying translation techniques, reading about the translation industry, or reading about the law and business industries or studying how they work.
I grew up in a multi-cultural household. I was born in Southern California, my mother is from Paris, France, and my father from Cali, Colombia. A bit over fifteen years ago they both started translating and I found it inspiring to watch them use their linguistic skills and maintain a successful lifestyle that way. In my late adolescence I would often ask them to let me translate some things and have them help me learn the process – for pleasure. Finally, I decided to pursue it professionally myself.
I could not say just one thing that I find most rewarding about translating. For one, I feel lucky to be one of the few that is able to make money doing what I love. I love only working for myself, being able to travel while I work, set my own schedule, and manage my own life. As regards translation itself, I love receiving interesting projects; I love it when I find that exact translation for a tough job and to take a step back and be proud of what I have done. This job involves learning new things constantly. What could be better? There is nothing else I would rather do.
However, being a freelancer will always come with challenges. Starting up is hard. You have to be extremely motivated – I, like other beginner translators, spent the first eight months to a year working a second night job and spent my days trying to find clients and practice translating. When I did find clients at the beginning, there still was not enough work to sustain a livelihood. It took one year to establish myself in the professional translation industry; for some it may take less, for others more. The point is that you have to really want it as a profession, not just as a side source of extra money. It is not entirely secure, always accompanied by flourishing periods and starvation periods. Sometimes there is so much work I have to refuse many client requests, and sometimes there won't be any work for a week or more. Being a translator not only requires linguistic skills, but business and accounting skills as well. These things I had to learn. As a freelancer I also never have the luxury to call in sick for work, but that's not a huge issue for me as I usually enjoy my work.
There are a set of important skills in translation: excellent writing skills in your target language, extensive and specialised knowledge of your subject matter, meticulous attention to detail – the mistranslation of one word or even a punctuation mark can entirely change a meaning – finely-tuned research skills, professionalism, and in depth understanding of the target culture, not to mention excellent understanding of the source language and culture. All of these are important. This list is not comprehensive, as there remain many skills a good translator will have.
Many of these skills I simply acquired through experience, practice, and vigorous reading. Some through the MA programme and other educational means. I often read legal and business journals and have been taking online courses on law and business to keep up with said sectors. This development is ongoing and I will have to continue working on it for as long as I work in translation.
Not to mention the fact that I wanted to spend some time in London and develop my UK variant of English, I chose to study at Middlesex because of its good reputation. I always prefer to be in a multi-cultural environment, and Middlesex was able to offer that to me. I liked that I felt the university was looking out for its students.
I would tell the student to read a lot about the course before starting. Speak to the tutors (they are all extremely nice and helpful!), maybe even speak to the alumni. This is a network of people who want to help each other, and they can help you find out whether the course is right for you or not.
I don't believe it was simply the coursework that helped me as a practitioner, but being a part of the programme as a whole. I met academics, practitioners, and interested parties who shared their ideas and experiences with us. Maybe even if I didn't know it at the time, I was understanding the industry and my duty as a translator more and more during my time at Middlesex. There, I felt less like a student than a colleague sharing ideas with my peers, which really inspired me and made me feel good about my choices. We discussed translation concepts openly and deeply and it really opened my eyes to the academic world of translation.
Furthermore, I think it was an excellent idea to have students take a course in their specialisation. For example, I had to take a class in Globalisation and Trade, which in turn has greatly helped me in my legal translation work. It made me consider pursuing a law degree simply to grow my understanding of the subject matter.
My fondest memory is definitely the great discussions I had with my colleagues, all from different cultures and with different ideals. I learned so much about people, culture, and languages and I will forever be grateful.
Now that they understand the mechanics of translation, I would recommend – no, impel them to focus on their subject matter specialisation. If they haven't studied or chosen one already, that should be their next step. Subject matter specialisation is the number one most important thing for a successful translator. If they don't want to take another MA course or even a certification course, they must spend their time reading and updating themselves in their chosen sector.
Currently, my parents and I are forming a team of translators in order to reach out to a wider clientele. We are launching our website, www.cifuentestranslations.com in spring 2015, and we look forward to working as a family team of translators. Furthermore, I am saving to apply for law school within the next few years. For now, I am just doing what I can, reading, translating, learning, travelling, and trying to enjoy life as much as I can!