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Some translators are dedicated to translation, others offer a portfolio of language services. The latter may include interpreting, proofreading, editing, teaching, copywriting, assessment or anything else you can do with languages.

This is sometimes referred to as diversification, though that might imply financial necessity. The opposite may be true, as in order to diversify you may be prepared to accept less remuneration. Why? Not necessarily because you are so well off that you do not need to earn as much. For example, it could be for health reasons. If you have been a jobbing translator for several decades and have fallen prey to the occupational hazards of back, neck and shoulder problems commonly associated with sedentary professions, you may have no option but to follow medical advice and vary your working day. Another reason could be that you have a low boredom threshold and need new challenges. A third reason may be that you feel you are neglecting your other language skills and would like to start using them again. These are some of the services you could offer as a portfolio linguist:

1 Proofreading. Since this is already part of your own translation process, proofreading other people’s translations is only one step removed. You can learn a great deal from checking the work of your colleagues, not only in terms of solutions to translation problems but also mistakes. You can pick up specialist terminology, too, and study a particular field (eg medical or legal) before deciding to translate in it yourself. Becoming known for proofreading in a particular subject area and language combination can produce a regular income stream.

2 Teaching. If you like interacting with people and speak (rather than just read and write) a foreign language fluently, you could work as a part-time teacher, visiting lecturer or private tutor. Depending on your particular languages and qualifications, you could teach (or act as a language assistant) at a primary or secondary school, university, adult education college, language school, commercial company, or at your own home. Some practising translators teach translation modules as part of university courses. Whilst translation is about written communication, many translators also have interpersonal skills, which it seems a shame not to use. If your mother tongue is not your language of habitual use, teaching is a stimulating way to pass on knowledge about your own language and culture, and connect with your formative years, whilst at the same time maintaining your own language skills and keeping up with developments in your native country. The process of teaching or tutoring also involves a considerable amount of translation, both in written exercises and orally. Coaching a teenager or adult towards a GCSE or A Level can be most rewarding and give a shared sense of achievement. And if the geographical distance between student and tutor proves too great, technology now enables lessons to be conducted via Skype.

3 Writing. The translation process involves a degree of rewriting, so as a translator you are already one step ahead. To become a great writer, Stefan Zweig first set himself the task of translating for two years, which he regarded as ‘the best way for a young writer to gain a deeper, more creative understanding of the spirit of his own mother tongue’ (The World of Yesterday, p141). Any writing you do, eg blogs, will improve your skill, but if you want to earn from it, you need to try your hand at commercial copywriting, writing for paper or online magazines, or writing a book. Choose a subject you are knowledgeable about, eg translation or a particular interest. You could also write articles in your mother tongue for publication in your native country.

4 Assessment. Experienced translators can work as written markers, setters, moderators or oral examiners for translation or language examinations, although the remuneration is modest. Your marking skills will feed back into your teaching and vice versa, and it is a good way to give something back to the profession.

Finally, another advantage of working as a portfolio linguist is that you can be choosier about the clients you work for in each segment, which in turn can increase your income and job satisfaction. The different sections of your portfolio will feed into each other, enhancing all your skills simultaneously. This, together with getting out of the house, meeting other people and having greater variety in your life, makes for an enjoyable mix that is also good for you.

About the author

Aletta Stevens MITI MCIL is a portfolio linguist specialising in Dutch (her mother tongue) and English. She tweets about Dutch language and culture under #DutchStuff, or whenever she feels the need to respond to Dutch items in the news. Aletta is a founder member of ITI. Her article on its history was published in the Bulletin in ITI’s 25th anniversary year and can be downloaded from her website: www.alettastevens.co.uk

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