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Getting the Gig

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Getting the Gig


Where do I start? What do I do?

Many would-be presenters have asked the same questions. While everyone is coming at this a little differently, the steps below are a good way to begin.

Who do you know?

It's always easiest to go to a school where you have some kind of personal connection. The most obvious one would be the school(s) your children attend, but there are many other possibilities. Maybe the local high school's Spanish teacher is a member of your church, or your sister-in-law is a guidance counselor at a school across town. Perhaps your next-door neighbor or tennis partner is a college professor. If you look around at work or in your community, you probably know someone who can smooth the way for you to speak at a school in your area.

But I don't know anyone! Really!

Okay, don't panic. If you don't have a personal connection to a local school, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What local schools/universities are convenient for me?
  2. Of those, which school/age level strikes me as the most appealing or fun?
  3. Would I like to include materials from one of my working languages, and if so, which local schools offer classes in those languages?

When you are ready to contact the school, remember that websites aren't just for universities any more—many lower-level schools not have them, too. It's surprisingly easy to get the name, phone number, and/or email address of exactly the right person online.

Be sure to ask if the school has a career day, career week, or annual job fair, since many schools are delighted to get speakers for these events. And there's no need to limit yourself to classes that are learning your languages. Many school outreach presentations are entirely language independent, so it's strictly a matter of preference.

Okay, I picked a school and contacted them, but now they want more information. What do I do?

Hey, you've got this! First, find out how they would like to receive the information—by mail, fax, or email. Then, ask how you can follow up. Getting the name of a point of contact will make things easier and save time later on.

Next, put together a packet of information about yourself and the program, including:

  1. Your résumé or professional profile.
  2. Your website address, if you have one, or the link to your listing in ATA's Directory of Translators and Interpreters.
  3. The link to the ATA's School Outreach Program home page.
  4. The link to Understanding the Value of Educating the Public (The ATA Chronicle, April 2014.)
  5. A cover letter.
You're kidding, right? I don't have time to write a cover letter—and anyway, what would I say?

You probably have more to say than you think! Do keep it reasonably short and don't cover anything that is on your résumé. Put the focus on the purpose of ATA's School Outreach Program. Still don't know what to write? Try this:

While there has been a renewed interest in studying languages since 9/11, the emphasis is often on the value of a second language in the business world. Teaching is often a distant second option. Careers in translation and interpreting are not even considered. Why? Because an astonishing number of teachers in the United States are unfamiliar with these professions.

It's a fact that many Americans still believe "everyone speaks English." Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • As the international community has grown stronger, so too has diversity. With its minimal attention to language learning, the U.S. has fallen behind in its ability to communicate in foreign markets. Translators and interpreters have stepped into the gap.

  • Diversity has also grown within the U.S. Translators and interpreters have become increasingly important in healthcare, government services, law enforcement, and education. American businesses--from Best Buy to Macy's--have seen the benefits of reaching out to the limited-English-speaking market. Translators and interpreters are busy in all areas of the U.S. economy.

  • Past intelligence failures, going back to the untranslated 9/11 terrorist communications and including U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, have shown that language skills are desperately needed and in short supply.

I would be delighted to speak to your [description of school and class] about the vital, and exciting, career choices for translators and interpreters. My presentation will briefly introduce translation and interpreting, and describe the skills and educational background they require. I will include the following points: [Here you can insert your own bullet points or copy and paste text from the "What to Say" sections in the School Outreach Resource Materials].

I am enclosing [list whatever information you are sending from items 1-5 above]. I would be happy to answer any questions you have once you have had a chance to review this material.

Just add a complimentary greeting and closing, print it out on your business stationery, and voilà—instant cover letter.

What if the school still isn't satisfied?

Ask the school to contact ATA Executive Director Walter Bacak at Headquarters for additional information.