Career Profile Languages: Working as a Translator and Interpreter

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Name: Sarah Jane, Profession: Translator/Interpreter

I knew from my teens that I wanted to work with languages. I had a flair for them, so I took all the languages I could at secondary level. After that, I earned a place on the Applied Languages degree course at Dublin City University.

Even before college, I started to spend my summers in ‘language immersion’ situations. That was either an au pair, doing voluntary work or whatever. This was immensely useful and (mostly) enjoyable. It did more to improve my language skills and cultural awareness than years in the classroom could have done. A key feature of my degree course was also an ‘immersion year’ at a partner university abroad. Germany in my case, followed for good measure by a pre-final-year summer in Spain.

Freelance translator in Spain

The Applied Languages course formed and honed my translation skills and strategies. It also introduced me to various types of interpreting. So having achieved a good honours result and full of confidence, I headed off to Spain and ‘put myself out there’ as a freelance translator. Looking back, this was quite ingenuous. It can take a long time to make contacts and gain experience as a freelancer, but things eventually came together. I was able to support myself, mostly with translation work, but also with some bilateral (or ‘liaison’) interpreting. Once I had enough experience, I applied to the Irish Translators’ & Interpreters’ Association for professional membership. This was and is very beneficial in terms of networking with colleagues and getting new clients.

Working in Ireland

After five years in Spain, my (Spanish) husband and I moved back to Ireland. At first I combined freelancing with lecturing at DCU, and later with caring for our two children! Around this time, I also had my first opportunity to work as a conference (or simultaneous) interpreter. This was a very exacting, yet rewarding aspect of my career.

If you are thinking of being a translator, you need to be a good, confident writer in your own language, as well as achieving a very high degree of fluency and cultural familiarity with your second language(s). It helps to specialize in a subject area that interests you, but you will regularly need to gain an overview of new areas as required by specific jobs, and an enjoyment of the ‘detective’ aspect of tracking down elusive concepts is important.   A disadvantage is that the work can be very solitary; just you and your PC!

Interpreting requires a different skill set, with the obvious overlap of very high fluency requirements in both languages. Whether working inside or outside the booth, you will need excellent concentration, memory and linguistic resourcefulness: interpreters learn to think in terms of concepts rather than words, and have only moments to come up with adequate solutions when confronted with difficult concepts. Note that the interpreting market in Ireland is fairly small, so interpreters living here combine interpreting with some other type of (self-) employment to support themselves.


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