The Translator Diaries is a series that looks at how current freelance translators made it into the career. In this second set of interviews, we will learn what makes them so passionate about translation, how they established themselves, and what obstacles they have overcome to succeed as a translator.
Eva Hussain (@Eva_Polaron) is a translator and interpreter, and director of Polaron Language Services based in Melbourne, Australia. A native of Poland, she came to Australia in the mid-1980s and set up as a translator some years later. She has served as a state branch chair and deputy national president of the Australian Institute of Interpreting and Translating.
At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Eva?
As is often the case with many translators, I’ve always had interest in and aptitude for learning languages. I studied Russian and French in Poland, and picked up some Turkish and Hindi along the way. I also always loved reading and writing, hoping one day to write bestselling books. That dream is becoming less and less achievable, as being a translator seemed to have erased some of my creative flare. As a translator, you express yourself through other people’s words, linguistic preferences and favourite expressions, and I feel that this, to some extent at least, curbs your natural creativity.
Back to your question! I arrived in Melbourne in August 1986 without a word of English. No. Wait. I knew how to say hello and goodbye! It only took me about six months before I became a fairly confident English speaker. To master the languages took years, however. I am still learning and I hope to continue doing so for the rest of my life. Whilst I took steps to become a professional translator as early as in 1993, I don’t think I ever consciously planned to become one. It happened organically, with translation finding me, rather than the other way around. In 2000, I quit my full time job and set up a small, freelance practice.
What relevant qualifications and experience do you have?
I never studied translation formally but acquired various translation and interpreting accreditations over a period of 7 years. From 2000, I also became heavily engaged with the workings of the Australian Institute of Interpreting and Translating (AUSIT), which provided me with an opportunity to gain practical knowledge, reach out to other colleagues and find role models in the industry.
For about 3 years, I held a position of a state branch chair, as well as the professional development coordinator and deputy national president. In my translation business, all the work I did initially was in the Polish language but as early as 2002, I began getting work in other languages. The principles of running a business are pretty much the same regardless of the industry you are in, and I saw some real gaps in customer service and other areas that I comfortably filled in.
Why did you choose not to study for a Master’s or a similar qualification in translation?
Because that wouldn’t make me a better translator or interpreter. It’s an arrogant statement, I do realise that. But I do believe that you either have it or you don’t as a linguist. I have worked with people with various credentials who are poor translators, and those who are excellent professionals with minimal training. Personally, I learn a lot every day, just not in a formal setting. In fact, I regularly present at universities and Polaron offers internship and practicum programmes for Master’s students, so that prospective translators and interpreters can see first-hand what their future holds. Not that I haven’t thought about returning to study from time to time, but I believe that structured learning is for those that have the luxury of time.
How did you make the transition to freelance translation?
I jumped in the deep end, there was no real transition. I was very lucky that there was so much work out there. Then again, maybe luck had nothing to do with it. Everyone I asked before I set up as a freelancer said not to bother, that there was no work, it was poorly paid, and translators and interpreters weren’t well respected. I had a strong feeling that I would be able to sustain myself and I continued interpreting by day, translating by night, seven days a week for two or three years. The admin, organisational and interpersonal skills I gained through previous jobs have definitely helped but I flew by the seat of my pants on many occasions.
What major problems did you face and overcome when going freelance?
My family was rather unsupportive and somewhat suspicious of my new business idea. It took me some years to prove to them I could do it. I also found the financial management rather challenging, including how much to charge. I put a lot of effort – and still do – into how I present the business. I surrounded myself with kind, genuine people who helped me through some of the more difficult times. Now, I run a company with 9 staff and 300 vendors.
Some say that there are too many new translators entering and saturating the industry. How do you view this?
I strongly believe that the old guard must let the new blood in. I have been preaching this for years. It’s not enough to move aside, though. Those that are experienced and skilled have a professional duty in my opinion to pass their knowledge on and mentor the young generation. Without that, we are just a bunch of multilingual misfits. The graduates entering the market have fresh ideas and can contribute a lot to this industry of ours, they just have to be given a chance. The oldies must keep up, though, or they will be left behind by the technology and the world developments. We should work hand in hand at achieving a more cohesive and united professional front. There is room for everyone. But can I also add that copying people’s website and business ideas isn’t the way to do it?
Has it all been worth it?
Of course. Whilst there are weeks where everything is a drag, most days I have a bounce in my step on the way to work. You just never, never know what the day will bring. That’s what keeps it exciting and interesting.
Next week, Louise Péron (@LSPTranslation) talks about how prospective translators can benefit from a translation Master’s degree, choose their specialisms and deal with agencies.