I graduated from the University of Exeter with an MA in Translation in 2011. After submitting my dissertation, I remember feeling daunted at the prospect of starting my career as a freelance translator – how on Earth was I going to snap up my first client? It wasn’t until I started working at Amazon with colleagues who had completed MA Translation programmes at other universities that I realised how my degree gave me an advantage.
if you can’t invoice properly, you won’t get paid
My MA had a major focus on the act of translation and the practicalities of working as a translator, especially in a freelance capacity. We were given lessons on aspects that now seem utterly basic but are essential to running your own business. We were taught how to write and issue invoices, for instance. This may sound like a rather novice lesson, but invoicing can cause major headaches, especially when working for clients in different countries who need to abide by varying rules regarding VAT and tax. Being taught the basics was a great help. After all, if you can’t invoice properly, you won’t get paid.
seminars on worst-case scenarios
We also had seminars on worst-case scenarios: what happens if you don’t get paid? What do you do if a client (unjustly) complains about your work? What happens if your client goes bankrupt? Although these sessions felt pretty depressing at the time, it gave us an insight into some of the harsher realities of the working world and forced us to come up with strategies to handle these situations – some of which I’ve had to deal with in my career to date.
Our lecturers also invited contacts and recent graduates working in translation to give talks. This was helpful as an agency owner told us how to write a good application to an agency, and recent graduates gave us advice on what to charge and how we might go about finding our first clients. Without this, I wouldn’t have known where to start, and I probably would have made countless silly mistakes in the beginning.
the learning didn’t stop once I graduated
Yet despite these extras that my Amazon colleagues missed out on, it wasn’t until I started working that I began honing my translation skills through submitting my work and receiving feedback. With every proofreading job I do, I pick up neat ways to translate phrases and terms I might otherwise stumble over. And I’m constantly signing up for webinars, going to conferences and attending trade fairs to improve my writing skills and knowledge of my specialist areas. So even though my university degrees are invaluable, the learning didn’t stop once I graduated. I don’t think it ever will!
Hannah Keet is an experienced translator who rewrites German and French texts in English for companies in the tourism sector. She graduated from the University of Exeter in 2011 with an MA in Translation. She is an associate of the ITI and a member of the German-British Chamber of Industry and Commerce. For further details please see her website and LinkedIn profile.