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ITI Profile: Judy Jenner

We talk to Judy Jenner, one of the tutors on ITI's Advancing Your Freelance Translation Career online training programme, in the latest in our ITI Profile series. 


When did you decide you wanted a career in languages?

My twin sister Dagmar and I knew early on that we wanted to work with languages as a career - although at age 12 you don't fully know what that means. We had the privilege of growing up in Mexico City of Austrian parents, and felt equally at home in German and Spanish from an early age although interestingly enough, German was decidedly uncool back then, so we switched to speaking Spanish to each other and have stuck to it. It is remarkable how quickly you acquire language as I child. I wish the same were true for adults!


What was the experience of setting up your business like for you?

We have two separate business entities because we live in different countries (Austria and the US), but we market it as one. Our accountants decided it would be easier this way so we don'tt have to get into international tax law, and they were right. The process in Austria was much more straightforward than it was in the US, which was a bit more involved than I thought. I am in the lucky position of being married to a lawyer, so he helped me a lot with the paperwork. I recommend talking to experts in law and incorporation to do things right, but some things are easy, such as getting business licenses, etc.


What do you enjoy most about your work?

Great question! I enjoy being constantly in motion and wearing a lot of different hats as translator, project manager, federally certified court interpreter, interpreter trainer and adjunct professor of translation and interpreting. More than anything, I love learning new things and as an interpreter, you are constantly exposed to new terminology and fields. I recently worked on a challenging assignment for lithium production and gained a great deal of insight into chemical engineering. This particular assignment meant me working in 100-degree heat in a protective gear and a hard hat - there's hardly ever a dull day!


What is it like working with your twin?

It's fantastic! We had always wanted to work together, so we are thrilled that we made it happen with Twin Translations. Not surprisingly, we have very similar goals and are both quite driven and detail-oriented. They say working with a family member can be very difficult, but that hasn't been the case for us. We are twins, after all. And no, we cannot read each other's minds, but we have so many shared experiences that we often anticipate what each other will say. It's quite spooky at times.


What are the biggest changes you have seen affecting the translation and interpreting sector in recent years?

There are many challenges and changes, but I think the biggest threats in general are declining rates and cut-throat global competition from pseudo-professionals. This is, I believe, largely the result of lack of barrier to entry into our industry, and this lack of barrier can have both positive (easy to get started, etc.) and negative outcomes, unfortunately. I strongly believe that we all need to work together and demand professional rates for our work so clients don't expect highly qualified linguists to work for peanuts. We must stop undercutting each other and position our industry as the highly qualified professional service that we provide. Fixing the issue of low rates won't be easy nor will it be quick, but we are stronger together is one of my core beliefs.

Also, technology has taken our industry to places we never thought we could go - who would have thought we could do so much in much less time with computers and computer-assisted translation tools? - but it's also a double-edged sword. Machine translation is here to stay, but so are highly qualified translators (and of course interpreters, in spite of popular online interpreting tools). As professionals, we must embrace technology and not stick our heads in the sand. Someone much smarter than me once said that interpreters in particular will not be replaced by technology, but that they will be replaced by interpreters who are better at technology. I wholeheartedly agree. Rejecting technology is not a safe way to go.


You're a course tutor for ITI's new online training programme Advancing your Freelance Translation Career -  what will you be covering?

As someone who went to business school to earn an MBA, I am a strong believer in approaching your business a bit more strategically than many colleagues traditionally have done, and that involves some basic, but powerful analysis: what are my strengths and weaknesses? How can I set myself apart from my competition/colleagues? How can I really convince the client that I am the right person for the job at hand? How do I differentiate myself? These are key points that must be dissected before going out to look for clients, and my online course covers these important issues. No MBA jargon, I promise!


What do you see as the critical stages in the development of a successful translation/interpreting business?

Building on my previous answer, I think the most critical stage comes early on, when you decide that you will go forward with working for yourself, but many do it without much of a plan, which can lead to disappointing results. You will need to have some sort of business plan - even if it's relatively informal - and ask yourself some hard questions. How much money do I have saved up? Is it realistic to expect to earn XYZ in the beginning? What if I don't? I strongly recommend making the transition from full-time employment to full-time entrepreneurship slowly and deliberately if you are in the position to do. Save up 6-12 months' living expenses and read everything you can about the industry. Start with Corinne McKay's bible for freelance translators (my words, not hers) called How to Succeed as a Freelance Translator and perhaps our book The Entrepreneurial Linguist: The Business-School Approach to Freelance Translation. Getting started in the industry now is infinitely easier than 30 years ago or even in the late 90s when we started, so you have a lot of easily accessible information - take advantage of it. And have a plan.


Do you do much travelling in your work?

I firmly believe that in-person client contact is very important, so I travel quite a bit to visit clients in other cities and even other countries. The internet is a wonderful thing, and it's changed the way we work and interact, but there's no substitute to sharing a meal with a client - it just takes things to another level. Maybe it's something about breaking bread and sharing a table that's truly special - and I really enjoy the art of the business lunch/dinner. In addition, I travel a lot as a federally certified Spanish court interpreter, so on average, I am on a plane about every 10 days or so, sometimes more frequently (it's a big country). I also have the privilege of speaking at conferences around the world, which is always enjoyable because meeting colleagues and building those relationships is truly invaluable. My most memorable conference so far this year has been the BP 2017 conference in Budapest, Hungary.


How do you keep up to date with your languages?

That's a challenge every linguist faces. I live in a country where my B language is spoken (English), so my task is to keep up with my A languages, which are German and Spanish. I spend at least a month a year in my native Austria and I am surrounded by Mexican Spanish every day at work and in my personal life, as the American Southwest has a high percentage of Mexican immigrants, which I love. It makes me feel at home. I also travel back to Mexico City, where we grew up, at least once a year, and spend time with our friends from middle school (!) there. It's paramount to witness the evolution of one's languages and to be surrounded by it. Going to Mexico City always reminds me that the Spanish spoken there is quite different than the Spanish spoken in the American Southwest, which is so influenced by English. I also really enjoyed immersing myself in Chilean and Argentine Spanish a few years ago, when we spent a month in South America. Spanish is a very large linguistic area, and its fascinating to learn new terms. In addition, I am a voracious reader of literature in my three languages, to the tune of approximately one book a week, and I read a lot of high-level journalism, both online and in print. I am particularly interested in Mexican politics, and Twitter is an amazing source of both news and language immersion from both Austria and Mexico, in my case.


What's your favourite book of all time?

That is a really tough one. I was afraid of this question - there are too many! Just like most translators, I love books, mainly fiction, but some non-fiction as well. But if I may choose two, it would have to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Love in the Times of Cholera. I am a major fan of Gabo's work and his gift for language and precise expression mixed with that fantastic touch of magical realism. Mexican novelist Guadalupe Loeza's Las Reinas de Polanco (never translated) feels very close to home, as her work truly reflects the moment in time, the materialistic obsessions, and the idiosyncrasies, absurdities, and humour in Mexican life from my adolescence. That book is one of the few that I have read more than 10 times - and it always seems new and fresh. Even though I am in the relatively privileged position to be able to read work in three languages, I also read a lot of translations - from French, Danish, Hebrew, Chinese, Farsi, Norwegian, Swedish, etc. I am so grateful to my literary translator colleagues who make these works accessible to readers.

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