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ITI Profile: Matthew Spofforth

We talk to French and German to English translator Matthew Spofforth in the latest in our ITI Profile series.

Member profile Matthew SpofforthWhen and why did you decide you wanted to work in languages?

I’ve always been pretty good with words, so when the chance came to pick up French/German in high school, it was a no-brainer, and I found I could progress quickly. From that point on, I knew I wanted to take things further, and managed to do so through A levels, University and Masters. Safe to say I knew very early on where I felt I wanted to go, it was just a matter of waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

How did you come to specialise in technical translation?

After my MSc, I took on various roles for the DWP, the energy sector and within Bosch Service Solutions in Liverpool. The latter enabled me to use technical German on a daily basis in a practical way to assist customers with their queries. We also had tools on-site that we could handle to visualise the issue more easily. Eventually, extremely technical vocabulary became second-nature, and being aware of Germany’s excellent reputation for high-quality innovation and machinery, it was the natural choice for a specialisation.

What did you find most challenging about setting up your translation business?

Whilst working full-time, I’d assisted a mentor of mine with her projects in my spare time in exchange for her advice on setting up as a freelancer, so I’d ironed out my plans quite well and established a base before I took the plunge. That said, I’d say self-positioning is the hardest part at the very start, as you don’t really know where your place in the market is; and gaining clients’ trust takes a lot of work. I’d say I’m quite established now, but not resting on my laurels by any means!

What do you see as the biggest achievement in your career so far?

Probably securing my first direct client, which was a large engineering firm in the US. In a more general sense, I’d say being able to have a really good flow of work after two years in business is also something to be proud of, as lots of SMEs fail in their 1st year! Hopefully things continue to be positive over the next few years.

Has anything surprised you about the experience of working as a translator – is it how you imagined it? 

Not really, as mentioned above, having a mentor helped prepare me for what was in store. The ability to co-work makes a huge difference as there are few distractions and it’s a great office atmosphere. The big surprise for me really was the lack of knowledge of the industry on the part of potential clients. Eventually I want to step away a bit from the production side and focus on one-to-one client consultation, so that they fully understand the added value we bring to the table.

How do you approach CPD?

I aim to do 1/2 in-person conferences a year (this year I was at the SDL Trados Roadshow in London in May, followed by an ITI Scotnet Microsoft Word conference in Edinburgh in September), but try to prioritise webinars that address any gaps in my knowledge. I have a ProZ Plus membership, which means I have hundreds of hours of webinars to get through...

What do you value about ITI membership?

Knowing that there is a professional body out there that serves to protect working linguists is a great boost to professional credibility and it tends to be a factor in being contacted for certain projects, as we have the code of conduct and strict eligibility criteria to adhere to. For instance, some of my clients said they found me solely via the ITI directory. I also enjoyed the last Scotnet conference, and plan to go to more in future!

Do you have a USP?

Service with a smile, and the deadline is king! I also see myself more as an ‘entrepreneurial linguist’ trying to build a lasting brand, where translation is just a part of consulting package I am aiming to provide.

Are there any books that have had a major impact on you?

Mastery by Robert Greene was an interesting concept, which taught me the value of patience.

It uses the life stories of history’s great figures to explain how they: 1. Gravitated towards the ‘life task’ that they excelled in and 2. Used their experiences and training over time to achieve a level of mastery in their chosen field and showed their lines of thinking when faced with challenges.

Who has inspired you?

Personally, my parents and family have been a huge inspiration to me, getting to where they have with a great work ethic after enduring some really tough times. Professionally, people like Stephen Hawking had worldwide success through his ideas despite motor neurone disease, and Elon Musk is a constant innovator who pushes the boundaries with Tesla and SpaceX. These two in particular showed me the importance of flexibility, resilience and a relentless drive to be successful.

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