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.
Louise Péron (@LSPTranslation) has been an English to French translator since February 2011. She works on marketing, touristic and technical texts. Based in Brest in Brittany, France, Louise strives to make the English-speaking world accessible to French audiences by combining her language skills and her lifelong passion for foreign cultures.
At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Louise?
I started to dream about becoming a translator while I was studying English at university. I did not have a specific plan when I enrolled – I wanted to perfect my English skills in order to work abroad. However, I very much enjoyed working on book excerpts during the translation classes and I knew this was the career I wanted.
What relevant qualifications and experience have you gathered to date?
I think my background is pretty “classic”: I studied languages and literature but as soon as I fell in love with translation, I tried to focus my academic path towards this discipline. During the final year of my BA, while I was studying at the University of Wales in the town of Swansea, I attended several translation workshops and a module on Translation Studies. After that, I took an MA in English (I wrote my dissertation on Audiovisual Translation), followed by a postgraduate degree in Technical Translation & Writing at the University of Western Brittany (Brest). I have been translating professionally for two years now.
Why did you decide to study for a Master’s in translation?
I was not mature enough to enter the labour market. Besides, I had no idea of how to get translation work. I had only studied theory thus far and a Master’s degree focused on translation as a profession was exactly what I needed.
I learned so much about the industry and was also able to hone my writing skills while proof-reading fellow students’ work. The intensive course was followed by a 3-month work placement in an agency, which allowed me to develop my business skills and gain confidence.
Do you think a postgraduate qualification is necessary or considerably advantageous?
It really depends – all translators have a unique background. I do not think that degrees are necessary for experienced professionals who are experts in a specific field and who have excellent source and target language skills (an engineer who worked for 10+ years in a field and lived in the source language country for a while, for example).
On the other hand, I do think that a postgraduate qualification is very important for linguists who are not (yet) specialised.
How did you make the transition to freelance translation?
I actually stumbled into freelancing by mistake. I originally wanted to work in-house, and imagined myself in the international marketing department of a multinational company.
While I was studying, I opened a few student accounts on professional websites such as ProZ and Translator’s Café and an agency approached me after consulting my profile. They needed a proof-reader for English to French translations, I was delighted but I had to set up a business in order to invoice my work. A few weeks later, a direct client contacted me to translate small marketing texts. After my student work placement, the agency where I had trained sent me my first large translation project, and my freelance career was launched.
Let’s talk about agency clients. Some translators find them quite demanding in terms of the experiences, qualifications and test pieces they require. Is this something you’ve experienced?
All agencies have different selection criteria. A strong academic background can make up for a lack of solid experience; great feedback from satisfied clients can counterbalance the lack of postgraduate studies; a translation sample can show off a translator’s skills. I understand that agencies need to assess translators, but I think test pieces should be kept to about an hour’s worth of work. And of course, the best agencies pay for test translations.
How did you become specialised in your fields?
My background is academic and focused on languages, so I strived to specialise in subjects that were of personal interest to me. Tourism – because I am an avid traveller and I have always been interested in foreign countries and their culture. Technical – because my father used to be an electro-mechanic and is now a forklift truck driving instructor. I would read the technical literature he would keep in his office to understand how machines worked. Lastly, I chose to specialise in Marketing because I was familiar with this domain after having studied Sales & Marketing back in college.
What major problems did you face and overcome in your endeavours?
The first few months after completing university were quite hard going because I was mainly prospecting and working on unpaid tests. I took advantage of this slow start to create a Twitter account, through which I discovered a lot of very helpful translation blogs.
I am now happy with the clients I work with on a regular basis, although this has triggered a new problem: overworking! My resolution for this year is to hone my organisational skills and try to make more free time for my other passions.
Has it all been worth it?
Yes! Being my own boss is so enjoyable, I am very proud of myself – even after only two years in business. Every small achievement is a milestone, and the best is yet to come!
Next week, Ana Naletilić (@an1606) goes into detail about postgraduate education in translation and honing one’s specialisms.