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

When 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.

We speak to Fiona Gray MITI, who specialises in German to English translation, in the latest in our ITI Profile series.

When and why did you decide to work in languages?

If I’m completely honest, I don’t even remember deciding to work in languages – it was just a natural progression for me! I was obsessed with reading and learning from about the age of 5 and I remember borrowing a children’s book about learning German from the library whilst I was still at primary school. German and French were my favourite subjects at high school and I went on to study languages at university. I even added Spanish into the mix, picking it up from scratch during the first year of my studies and completing an intensive module that brought me up to A Level standard within the space of ten months.

What were your early work experiences as a translator?

During the year abroad component of my undergraduate degree, I worked at a small translation and interpreting company in the centre of Berlin for six months. This initial experience and insight into the translation industry was the confirmation I needed that a career in translation was the perfect future pathway for me. I started my first job as a proofreader at a large patent translation agency the month after I completed my MA dissertation and 18 months later I was hired as an in-house translator at another small agency. There I learnt from some incredibly talented translators and had the opportunity to work on a variety of text types across a range of subject areas as well as trying my hand at project management.

How has working in-house helped you in running your own business?

The experience I gained in-house has honestly been invaluable and I’m not sure I would have had the courage or skills needed to run a successful translation business of my own without it. I have been able to apply my thorough understanding of how a translation company works to my own business, particularly in terms of marketing and social media as well as the financial side of things. Best of all, being able to put myself in a project manager’s position has allowed me to build up strong relationships with clients.

Is there a recent project you are particularly proud of?

I’ve recently been translating some fashion blogs that are written in what seems to be the perfect style for me. I’ve loved getting creative and aiming the texts at a very specific English-speaking audience. After submitting one batch, I received some positive feedback from the project manager and reviewer who said that my translation had been a pleasure to proofread and clearly reflected how much I love translating the blog texts. It’s always nice to hear that you’re doing a good job and it’s even better when you had so much fun producing the translations in the first place.

The best advice I could give would be to get networking and put yourself out there! Join the ITI, attend industry events and meet as many people as you can. I would also recommend getting as much exposure to translation work produced by more experienced translators as possible. In my proofreading roles, I picked up some fantastic tips, tricks, strategies and styles from talented colleagues. When I went on to become a translator myself, I could apply everything I had been soaking up to my own translation work. It’s also really important to get as much feedback as you can at the early stages (and onwards from there as there’s always more to learn). I was lucky enough to have my work revised in-house and I would also have meetings to go through the feedback in the form of track change reports and more general pointers. Another option could be to find a fellow translator working in the same language combination to partner up with so you could provide each other with feedback and suggestions.

What technology have you found particularly useful in running your business?

I enjoy trying out different CAT tools but the one I can’t live without is Trados Studio! I also run Verifika – a quality assurance tool – on every single project I deliver as a final step to ensure that all my translations meet the highest of quality standards. I’m also an avid user of social media and I post frequent updates on my company’s Twitter page (@GrayscaleTR). It’s a great way of keeping up with all the latest developments in the industry, connecting with fellow translators and even finding new clients.

What do you value about ITI membership?

I can’t really express just how amazing it has been to be a member of the ITI so far. I’m an active member of the London Regional Group and East Anglia Group, which has given me the opportunity to meet some inspiring professionals and make some friends as well as attending plenty of CPD events that have helped me progress as a translator and develop on a personal level. The ITI Conference in Cardiff in May last year was a truly incredible experience too (and I already can’t wait for the next one). Not to mention that I was put in touch with a client I am working with on an extended project of historical significance through the ITI German Network.

Any ambitions?

My professional goal for a long while had been to gain MITI status but I am proud to say that I passed the assessment last year! But I am still always working extremely hard to continually develop as a translator and business owner. At this stage, I’m really excited about the future of Grayscale Translations and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for me and my company!

What would be your perfect holiday?

As much as I do enjoy an all-inclusive beach resort holiday, Berlin is my favourite place in the world! My husband and I spent six months in the city on our year abroad and we have been back many times since, usually returning at least once a year. We even got engaged under the Brandenburg Gate! We love going on long walks there, stopping off every so often for some traditional German food and drink to keep us going.

Do you have a favourite German author?

I’m a bit of a bookworm and you’ll usually find me with my head in a crime novel! So far, my favourite German authors writing in this genre are Nele Neuhaus and Sebastian Fitzek. There are so many German books I still want to read and I have been known to spend hours getting lost in one particular bookshop in Berlin!

We talk to Kim Eddy about translating, editing academic papers and beautiful and inspiring places, in the latest in our ITI Profile series.

What are your subject specialisms in your freelance translation work?

The humanities, mainly art, fisheries and oceanography, and increasingly psychology.

What are the particular challenges when working on a translation project?

I would say that terminology is always a challenge, whatever the subject area. Using a CAT tool (SDL Trados, in my case) and corpus mining tools (AntConc, Archivarius, Sketch Engine, etc.) aids cohesion and helps with identifying collocations and terms used in any given genre.

Is there a recent project you are particularly proud of?

The one that I am currently working on: a chapter on interpreting in situations of gender violence (to be published in late 2018). For a couple of years, I delivered speeches on the European Masters in Conference Interpreting at La Laguna University (Tenerife), which was where I found out about the European project Speak Out for Support (JUST/2011/JPEN/2912) whose objective is to improve training for professional interpreters in contexts of gender violence. I wrote an article for the ITI Bulletin (July–August 2015, Breaking the silence) on this very subject.

What are the biggest changes you have noticed in working as a translator since you started?

By far the most overwhelming and mind-boggling is technology. I started translating in the era of electric typewriters (a godsend at the time!). But in terms of improving efficiency, research and turnaround times, I'd say the Internet wins hands down.

What can you see out of your office window?

My neighbour's plant-filled attic terrace on the opposite side of the street, and the Anaga mountains in the background.

How do you keep abreast of knowledge and new developments in the translation sector?

By reading industry publications, e.g. the ITI Bulletin, In Other Words and The Linguist, listening in on the occasional webinar and by attending CPD events, mainly the Mediterranean Editors and Translators workshop seasons in Barcelona and the annual meeting or METM.

You also work as an editor/reviser of academic papers for publication. What sort of things do you find yourself working on?

Quite a broad range actually, but more recently I have been editing/revising papers on literature, medicine (mainly pathology), oceanography, psychology and sports science.

What do you like about living in Tenerife?

The diversity of the island in terms of microclimates means that I can indulge my passion for the outdoors—cycling, hiking, running and swimming, mainly—all year round.

What are your favourite places in the Canaries?

The islands are very different and each has its own idiosyncrasies. I have visited them all, with the exception of the tiny island of La Graciosa, just off the coast of Lanzarote. But the place that draws me back time and again is Las Cañadas del Teide National Park. At 3,718 metres, Pico Teide is Spain's highest peak. Walking on, near or in the shadow of the volcano is always inspiring.

If you were going to have a holiday in the UK, where would you go?

There is only one place in my heart and that is Cornwall, my home. But I could definitely wrench myself away to visit the Scottish Highlands, the Hebrides and Shetland.

My name is Katarzyna E Slobodzian-Taylor and I’m a Polish medical and pharmaceutical translator and the owner of Mastermind Translations Ltd, a specialist Polish translation provider for the life science industries. The worlds of medical and pharmaceutical translation are very exclusive and to become part of these inner circles, you need to be prepared to invest a substantial amount of time and effort. This relates to both acquiring the right set of skills (subject knowledge and translation competence) and finding the right clients who will appreciate it. 

Medical translation piqued my interest at the early stage of my professional career in 2006 when I was flooded with patient information publications for the newly arrived Polish migrants. With no scientific background, I started my specialisation journey by joining the ITI Medical and Pharmaceutical Network which gave me an invaluable insight into how medical and pharmaceutical translators work. Each year, the Network organises two translation workshops on a chosen medical topic, during which participants have the opportunity to listen to two live lectures delivered by a medical expert and then together translate an article into their respective languages.

I’ve taken part in every workshop since 2012 and benefited enormously from every single one. It’s worth noting that start-up translators can take advantage of the Network’s Bursary Scheme which can provide financial assistance towards the costs associated with attending the workshops (some of them take place overseas, e.g. in Germany, Italy, Sweden). The Network also runs a Mentoring Scheme for translators who would like more structured support in their chosen area of specialisation. The membership also offers other benefits, such as assistance with terminology and business-related queries on two lively e-groups. I’d also whole-heartedly recommend drug discovery courses run by Dr Ed Zanders of PharmaGuide in Cambridge. They are a must for any linguist wishing to delve into pharmaceutical texts, but who lacks the necessary scientific knowledge.

In addition I regularly attend MOOCs which are available free of charge and can easily fit into a busy work schedule. I especially like high-quality courses offered by non-profit providers FutureLearn and EdX. It’s also worth checking if there are any free or paid courses available in languages other than English, for example I’ve recently discovered that The Medical University of Łódź now offers free online medical courses in Polish. For those interested in specific aspects of medical and pharmaceutical translation, a commercial provider eCPD offers short webinars and courses which are designed specifically for language professionals.

To enhance my translation competence, I also like to read medical journals in Polish, especially in my specialist (and favourite) fields of oncology and urology. This is a perfect way of keeping up with the latest developments, which are often referred to in clinical trial documents. Oncology is also the topic I tackled during my MITI exam which I successfully passed two years ago. To complement my core skills, last year I participated in the government’s Growth Vouchers programme and benefited from strategic advice from an accredited business mentor who helped me attract more profitable clients and grow my translation business further. His expert assistance has resulted in over a 30% increase in my annual income.

I was brought up with languages having an Italian mother and an English father. I attended both an Italian school, Il Liceo Linguistico, right up to the Maturità Linguistica ('A' level equivalent) at the Sacred Heart College, Trinità dei Monti, Rome, which at the time followed both the Italian and French systems, and St George’ s School for the English system as an external student taking ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. I then read Modern Languages and Literature (French Major) at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” (a four year course) and graduated with a first class honours MA degree (marks 110 out of 110). I then enrolled for a second degree, this time in Law, at the University of London, which I did for a year.

In the meantime an interesting opportunity arose to return to Rome and work as an in-house translator and interpreter for the ENI Group, an Italian multinational oil and gas company. The organization offered in-house training to become familiar with their terminology. The job entailed translating technical and legal documents in a number of areas: contracting, petroleum, energy, environmental issues, chemicals, plastics, training personnel, legal and related areas, as well as interpreting at business meetings. I did this for about 6 years to gain experience. With a good terminology background and the right expertise, I decided it was time to go freelance.

Once on the open market, I was able to broaden my horizons further and work both as a translator and interpreter (consecutive and simultaneous interpreting), in particular in my specialist areas and in interdisciplinary areas.

New opportunities arose working as a replacement translator and newsreader for night shifts (from 8 pm to midnight or from midnight until 6 am) with RAI radio. This experience helped me in later years to deal with interpreting live for TV.

I have always found translating very useful in so much that it makes one more aware of the role and function of words, and their impact on a sentence. It also makes one far more careful about one's choice and structure when interpreting. Conversely, interpreting helps to speed up translation and make you more aware of time management.

I keep up to date with current affairs, new expressions and terminology, and the evolution of language through the following:

  • - involvement in the academic world as a University Visiting Lecturer (on site and distance learning) teaching translation and interpreting (consecutive and simultaneous). This forces me to keep up to date as an ongoing learning experience;
  • - spending periods of time during the year in the countries of my language combinations both for work and pleasure;
  • - reading newspapers and watching TV programmes in my different language combinations (English, French, Italian and Spanish) during the week;
  • - belonging to the ITI Italian e-Network which is proactive in involving members to exchange thoughts and ideas, as well as take part in theme groups;
  • - attending various CPD seminars: ITI, CIUTI, the Language Show at Olympia Exhibition Centre, University seminars (City University, London Metropolitan University and Leeds University), webinar telephone interpreting seminars as a telephone interpreter.

The above areas have enriched my professional background allowing me to have a 360 degree view of the use of language as a communication tool and on-going CPD. Translating and interpreting is a profession where “Gli esami non finiscono mai”, using the words of Eduardo De Filippo, the Italian playwright.

My career as an interpreter started early in life: like many others, often disparagingly described as ‘barefoot interpreters’, family life provided this opportunity. Growing up in Paris, in a very multicultural milieu, my home languages of French and English were joined by other tongues: elderly émigré ladies, including a scattering of alleged princesses, would drop by knowing that proper tea (black, with lemon) was available. At school, Jesús and Mohammed, came from Spanish and Arabic-speaking families, respectively. Until about 1961, when they were seen off their French airbases, many US personnel were callers, and had me – the little wonder-child – interpret. Capitalising on this experience with a degree in Modern Languages, followed in time by a masters and doctorate, I was privileged to be welcomed as a vacation-worker, then as a trainee, by an agency in leafy Sussex, often straddled between an incoming and an outgoing Telex machine, occasionally semi-strangled by ticker-tape. Occasional industrial visits, business meetings and trades-union work slowly evolved into charitable then paid booth work – AIDS conferences, Climate-Change Forums, high-tech NATO meetings – and even as the ITI sacrificial offering to a FIT conference, which is about as scary as it gets for an interpreter: performing for one’s peers. I was later able to work for Freud’s International Psychoanalytical Association, and develop a specialism in this field.

Making yourself into a ‘go-to’ specialist, whether as translator or interpreter, is an important recommendation. Useful learning mechanisms? Paramount were generous and more experienced colleagues. Increasingly, ITI and its sister organisations provide excellent (free!) online training materials, as well as paying webinars, workshops and publications. Much time and resource are needed to keep up with IT skills and more recent developments in interpreting – remote, ‘simultaneous-consecutive’, rehearse-record dubbing, (and some competence in trying to sort out dodgy Wi-Fi in no less dodgy hotels, far away from home). Nowadays I have ‘turned gamekeeper’ too, teaching translation and interpreting to UK university students – which is both giving and receiving CPD, and I’ve been able to work within ITI in helping to bring together criteria for Interpreter Assessment from numerous world-wide sources – EU, AIIC, ILR, and many others.

Sources I found extremely useful were the classic Nolan, J. 2005 Interpretation Techniques and Exercises, 2005, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, after which you are ready for Rozan, J-F, 1973 – (3rd edition) La prise de notes en interprétation consécutive, Geneva: Georg, and can work out this little French proverb*:

A very strong recommendation for all interpreters and not simply CI (Conference Interpreters) colleagues is to reflect on the ILR Skill Level Descriptions for Interpretation Performance on
http://www.govtilr.org/skills/interpretationSLDsapproved.htm to judge where you are now and where you want to go, especially in major world agencies such as UN, EU and similar, some of which organise concours: these descriptors will suggest your next CPD. Perhaps most useful is this EU site -
http://europa.eu/interpretation/accreditation_en.htm - click on Marking Criteria, in-text near the end, to download a .PDF. Don’t despair at these. The key to success? To borrow a phrase from a well-known sportswear manufacturer, just do it.

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