What to Do With All Those Languages You Speak
The following is a translation of the post “Traduction: Que faire de toutes ces langues que vous parlez?” (you can read the original via the hyperlink) by Matilda Gascon Delqueux from the blog Master TSM Lille, translated by our very own Kevin L. Hull. Without further ado, here is the translation.
Many of us know languages besides those we studied in our Masters of Translation programs. Let’s look at how to integrate them into our practice.
Launching into a translation career generally requires a master’s degree, in which you learn how to translate from two working languages into your mother tongue. Nevertheless, it isn’t uncommon to know more than two languages – therefore, how do you work with languages other than those on your diploma? Whether your level of knowledge is true mastery or basic notions, here are some tips based on exchanges with professionals and my own experience.
Add Your Working Languages to Your Quiver
In translation, a working language is a foreign language you master at an advanced level. Although it is difficult, if not impossible, to reach the level of a native speaker, we have an extensive and detailed understanding of our working languages, since we have to render the entire meaning into our mother tongue.
Many of us studied for a master’s degree with two working languages, one of which is often English. However, sometimes we speak other languages at an advanced level: maybe learned in a family setting, over the course of our studies, or after our master’s by going to live in another country…There are as many scenarios as there are translators. If this describes you, you probably don’t feel like letting these languages fall by the wayside – after all, you spent the time learning them and they make up a part of who you are. So what can you do about it?
First of all, I would like to answer the following question: do you need a diploma in the language you wish to add to your practice? If you want to work with agencies, the important thing is having a translation degree. It doesn’t matter if you offer services in languages besides those listed on your diploma; the translation test that they will probably give you will tell more about your level. Nevertheless, if you feel like it, you could take some courses in addition to your professional activity and prepare for certification. This will be useful for you in the rare cases where proof of your linguistic mastery is requested, and will above all serve to reassure you that it’s appropriate for you to offer translation services in languages other than those you studied for your master’s.
So if a diploma isn’t necessary, how can you get started?
The most recommended approach is to work as an intern in an agency offering the language combination that you would like to develop. You could start by asking to revise translations from the language that interests you, and later on offer to translate. This is a simpler way of making contact: it is less intimidating to make this request as an in-house team member; the feedback on your work is immediate – and will by no means prevent you from becoming a freelancer! If you eventually wish to start your own business, this agency is likely to be one of your main clients, including in this new language combination, because they already know the quality of your work. In addition, if you are able to, or have to, complete an internship as part of your master’s, I strongly advise you to look into an agency offering the language combination that you would like to integrate into your career.
You could also look for a reliable colleague: a colleague in the master’s program in one of the working languages that you wish to add to your CV, or even a translator who gives good advice whom you just so happen to encounter in your professional life…Ask them to entrust you with a small project corresponding to your language specializations at which to try your hand. They could review your work and give constructive feedback that will allow you to improve. In contrast to the image people may have of entering the world of translation, our community turns out to be very supportive and caring. Don’t be afraid to launch!
Mentorship is another solution full of possibilities: there are institutions that seek to bring mentors and mentees together so that the latter can develop skills and gain confidence as newcomers in the translation market. Among these mentorship programs, there are many translation associations and organizations, such as the Société Française des Traducteurs (SFT) with Programme Boussole (link in French). You could also look into those at Translation Commons, ProZ.com, and many more.
Finally, whichever approach you take, don’t forget to present yourself professionally as a translator working with the languages you wish to develop. If the world doesn’t know of your mastery, no one will offer you any projects in those combinations!
Taking Advantage of Your “Minor” Languages
We have gone over some ideas for adding your working languages to your practice as a translator. Nevertheless, professionals in this field do more than translation: quality control, updating terminology, and even software testing can be included in the services you offer. Over the course of my Master 1 stage, I came to realize that all linguistic knowledge could turn out to be very useful in technical work, even if you aren’t at an advanced level. Notably, I had an opportunity to carry out several cross-language quality assurance (QA) checks, compile a German glossary, and point out inconsistencies between a client’s glossary and translation memory (TM) from Japanese – all this while only understanding very little of the two above-mentioned languages. Here are four non-advanced levels of a language which, in my opinion, could be valuable to be a valuable addition to your resume and will allow you to diversify your daily projects.
At this level, you understand the language, can use it for the simplest conversations, and know its basic grammar. In short, you “get by” and your level corresponds to A2 or B1 of the Common European Framework of Languages (CEFR). This level is generally sufficient, and can even be valuable. For example, if you have to carry out tests in this language, you will be able to recognize agreement errors and bugs on the software interface. For my part, I had the opportunity to check the quality of texts written in Italian, a language I studied three years as an undergraduate, and was able to add missing words and fix other errors caused by inattention, something that wouldn’t have been possible in a language I had absolutely no knowledge of. Thus, if you took an LV3 course (an optional third language; French high school students are required to take two languages) in high school or as an undergraduate, or have practiced a language a little with those you hang out with, I have good news: you can use all this in your professional life.
“False Beginner” Level
At this level, if you were thrown into a country speaking this language, you would survive thanks to fragmentary vocabulary, uncertain conjugation…and a lot of nonverbal communication. Well, das ist how it is with me in German! Nevertheless, the simple fact that I was interested in the language of Goethe when I was younger helped me out throughout the technical QA and glossary compilation. During this compilation, I had to find German equivalents for translated English terms in long documents. The same with you: use the memories of Polish learned from family or your hundreds of hours of watching Arte to fill glossaries (guaranteed change of scenery)!
If you asked me the question “Do you understand Japanese?”, my answer is, “Sadly not”. Nevertheless, I have always been attracted to this language, and this attraction has led me to be able to recognize the different writing systems and some of their characters. Over the course of the last spring semester, those meager qualifications were sufficient for me to verify more than 3000 entries in an English-Japanese glossary and their correspondence to the segments saved in the client’s TM. This example is proof that, even if you think that your knowledge isn’t sufficient to be of any use, it can still be of great service to the teams with which you work. While you should, of course, be honest and remain realistic, don’t underestimate your abilities.
Finally, be aware that being able to fix display problems with punctuation in a Hebrew text or being aware that large numbers are not “laid out” in the same way in various Asian languages has allowed me to help my colleagues with certain projects. I neither read nor speak a word of either Hebrew or Mandarin. The moral of this story: Being curious about all the information that comes your way can always be helpful, even many years later!
Working in the translation industry guarantees you a rich professional life that is constantly evolving. The languages that you studied for your master’s degree may not be the ones you translate most in your daily work: the important thing is to do what you are gifted at and what you like.
Many thanks to David Braye and Justine Six, who took time to respond to my questions, which informed the writing of this post and have thus given me food for thought concerning my profession.
My thanks to the entire team of Nancy Matis SRL, who accepted me into the Master 1 program and made me aware of the usefulness of all my linguistic competencies.
DEMICHELIS, Veronika and SÁNCHEZ ZAMPAULO, Madalena, 2020. Smart Habits for Maintaining Your Language Skills With Eve Bodeux. Disponible à l’adresse : https://smarthabitsfortranslators.com/podcast-episodes/30
GASCON, Matilda, 2021. Rapport de stage, Master 1 Traduction Spécialisée Multilingue, Université de Lille.
If you have any feedback about this translation, please email Kevin Hull at email@example.com.