Saturday started with the Translation and Interpreting Leaders’ Panel Discussion with four representatives of UK agencies: Clare Suttie of Atlas Translations, Lynn Everson of Lifeline Language Services, Miguel Martinez of Hogarth Worldwide and Tanya Behiels of APT Transtelex.

The panellists were first asked to explain where the demand lies and to tackle the precarious issue of rates. One of the core sources of business is of course the EU and its major languages (so-called FIGS, i.e. French, Italian, German and Spanish…and Dutch), although the demand from Chinese is continuously increasing, according to Clare. The key points regarding rates were that it is the translator who is in control, and freelancers should aim to increase rates appropriately each year in line with experience and professional development. It is natural for a translator to charge an additional fee for more challenging jobs and for urgent jobs, but a piece of advice here was to offer two quotes: one that meets the urgent deadline with an extra charges, and another at your normal rate for a normal deadline. Translators will find that agency pay various according to countries, with Scandinavia and France as particular examples of countries that typically pay higher than the UK.

The downward pressure of prices was of course discussed, one cause of which is the use of machine translation and post-editing, and the panel highlighted that translators have a responsibility not to accept low rates, as this will become expected by clients thereafter.

Great emphasis was of course placed on specialising, and the advice was not only to become an expert, but become the expert for a particular field.

The audience was naturally curious about the qualifications required to be a freelance translator/interpreter. Atlas Translations, for example, looks for a postgraduate qualification in the field and 2 years’ experience, or 5 years without a Master’s or equivalent, as these agencies want their suppliers to be qualified and want them to take charge of their professional development. In terms of in-house employment, many agencies do recruit language graduates with a BA who don’t possess a postgraduate qualification. These agencies actively enjoy taking on these graduates, and mentoring and training the next generation.

One point about experience was that aspiring translators should seek to develop their portfolio of volunteer (pro bono) translation, and it may not be necessary to highlight this on your CV as being unpaid, as it is as valuable as paid experience. Taking up a role as a project manager, however, may also be a good way to get a foot in the door, and to see how the translation industry works from ‘the other side’.