Deciphering the Excitement in a Career of Translation: An Interview with Translator Daina Jauntirans

17 04 2010

 By Monica Jackson

Interviewee Daina Jauntirans

Translation is a very important medium for connecting worlds that are separated by barriers of language, and of culture.  In the following interview, Daina Jauntirans helps us decipher what it takes to be a translator and run your own translation business  Jauntirans unravels the significance that translation has within a business and informs us of the impact it can have on the comprehension and appreciation of different cultures for businesses – especially those with international clientele. She explains how she originally came into the field, how she became a translation business owner, and how you can do it too!

What exactly does a translator do, and what are the job duties?

 A translator produces a written target text in one language (in my case, English) from a source text in another language (in my case, German). In the United States, translation is often confused with interpreting – an interpreter works with the spoken word, while a translator works with the written word. I have my own translation business, and my job entails receiving files for translation from customers, processing these files as necessary (changing file formats, etc.), translating them and then returning them to the customer. Since I am a business owner, I am also responsible for handling standard business tasks, such as marketing my services, accounting, etc.

What amount of education is necessary, and what did you do to prepare to become a translator?

 “Translator” is not a designated profession in the United States as it is in Europe and other parts of the world. Anyone in the United States can start a freelance translation business without any paper qualifications (licensing, certification) whatsoever. Certification is available from the American Translators Association, but it is not mandatory. Most translators either have a degree in languages/translation and excellent subject-area knowledge (for example, in law, medicine, software, etc.) or a degree in a specialized subject and excellent language/translation skills. I have a bachelor’s degree in German and a master’s degree in translation. I mostly translate business, accounting, and finance-related texts because my first job in Germany was for a company that translated these types of texts – that is where I got my specialized on-the-job training.

Are there any prerequisites to becoming a translator? If not, how does one getting started within this profession?

 Some people follow a traditional route, as I did, and pursue a degree in translation. Other translators start with subject-matter skills (these are the translators who were programmers, doctors, lawyers, etc. first) and build on that. However, all translators must have an excellent command of their source language(s) as well as top-notch writing skills in their native language(s). For those working freelance, business skills are required as well.

What is a typical day like in your profession as a translator?

 I have my own business [Mozaika Language Services, Inc.] and work from home. A typical day begins with checking my e-mail to see what jobs have come in or what correspondence I need to attend to. Most of my clients are in Germany, so this is the afternoon for them. If a job has come in, I set up folders on the computer for the files, process the files as necessary, work on researching terminology, correspond with others on the project about style, deadline, terminology and other issues (my projects are often group projects with several translators working together on a large file) and then get to translating. While translating, I do consult paper dictionaries, but a lot of the research I do is Internet-based. After dinner I may continue translating if I have a tight deadline, or I may call it a day. If I don’t have projects coming in, I take care of invoicing, order resources (dictionaries and other reference works), learn new software, catch up on what is happening in the profession through online forums, or research new clients and market my services.

What significance, in your opinion, does being a translator carry within a business?  What types of businesses require the talents of a translator?

 Any company doing business internationally requires translators, and translators help these companies effectively communicate and successfully do business in foreign markets. Much of the work I do involves translating quarterly and annual reports, press releases, PowerPoint presentations, Web content, internal company documentation and manuals, contracts, marketing materials, prospectuses [a document distributed to potential investors that describes a financial deal such as an IPO], brochures, and other business documents from German into English. It is vital that the German text be translated so as to convey the message in a way understood by and appealing to English-speaking readers; that is the value a translator provides to a business.

How does one go about starting one’s  own translation business?

 I began learning German in high school and continued in college, spending three years in Germany and Austria between high school and graduate school. After completing my master’s degree in translation, I worked at a translation company in Germany for a few more years. Upon my return to the United States, I began freelancing, first for my former employer and then growing and bringing my services to new clients. Clients generally find me through word-of-mouth, although I also have profiles on a few translator marketplaces on the Internet and answer ads looking for translators on those sometimes. Currently, I am the only employee of my company, but for larger projects for direct clients I sometimes use the services of sub-contractors (other translators whose work meets my quality standards).

How does one make money as a translator, either working for a business or having their own business? 

 Translators working in-house for businesses are regular employees and are paid as such. Translators, like me, who freelance or have their own businesses must actively market their services to clients and take care of the business side of things in addition to doing the actual translation work. We are paid in various ways – some clients pay by the word, by the line, by the page, by the project, or by the hour. I try to keep abreast of the latest translation software, online dictionaries, various reference works in my key fields, etc. so that I can translate as quickly as possible while maintaining a high standard of quality so as to maximize my profit.

What is the most rewarding part of your job, and what is the most challenging?

 The most rewarding part is being able to use my language skills to make a living and having the freedom of a freelance schedule. I also like running my own business – I can do things the way I choose, and my earning potential is theoretically unlimited. The biggest challenge is the time constraints imposed on me by customers. Financial translations are often time critical, so I frequently o,rk under time pressure. Also, the first quarter is the busiest time of the year by far. During Q1 [Quarter 1], I work days, nights and weekends, but in turn I can arrange my vacations as I choose (as long as I notify customers in advance), so I make up for it by trying to take 4-5 weeks of vacation per year. The rewards outweigh the challenges.

What advice do you have for people who are interested in this field of work?

 Start studying your foreign language of choice as early as you can. Make sure you will be able to travel to and spend time in a country where that language is spoken, an essential step in acquiring the requisite language skills. Then choose a subject area you are interested in and get as much experience, training and education in that as you can.

Why, in your opinion, do you think translation is an important profession? Why should people being interested in doing it?

 I love travel, learning about other cultures, and learning and speaking other languages. Those were the reasons I chose translation as a profession.

Translation is important as a bridge between cultures. It is very important for companies as well as entire nations to have people who can cross back and forth and translate and interpret between their languages and cultures – this is the linchpin [cornerstone] of international business and diplomacy. People should be interested in languages and translation because the United States is somewhat behind the rest of the world in this regard. These are skills we desperately need in order to maintain our country’s standing in the world, both in politics and business.

And there you have it, Daina’s advice on what to do so that you too may join the world of translation. A great thing about a career in translation is that you can make it work to fit your life and not the other way around. Daina runs her business from home so that she can also take part in her children’s lives and maintain all her responsibilities as a mother. So for anyone who is bilingual or multilingual who is interested in a career that does not keep them boxed up in a cubicle all day and who is interested in this unconventional yet exciting and challenging career, get ready to decode your future within the world of translation.

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3 responses

17 04 2010
28 04 2010
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17 07 2010
Kenny Ross

I greatly enjoyed this article. It was very informative and gave me a positive outlook on eventually breaking into this exciting profession. I’ve done extensive research about the profession for several years now and have no doubt this would be my niche. I also love travel, learning about other cultures and learning in general. Thank you for the advice.

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