The Translator Diaries is a series that looks at how current freelance translators made it into the career. In this 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.
Ramón Olivares (@rolivares_net) is a freelance translator from English and French into Spanish and Galician. He has 7 years’ experience in the industry and specialises in international development, business and finance, sport and gaming. He is based in A Coruña in Galicia, Spain.
At what point did you know you wanted to become a translator, Ramón?
It was something I found out quite late, actually. I have always been very attracted to literature; I read a lot when I was a kid, so when I started thinking about my future job, I imagined myself typing exciting detective novels near the fireplace. However, I never got to write more than two pages, so when I grew up a bit, I started to consider becoming a journalist. That was before I learned there were people who actually earned a living translating novels, films, speeches, etc. I only became aware of this when I was about to end high school, but I felt immediately that was the path I wanted to take. I knew hardly anything of the profession, but I enjoyed English lessons, I adored Radiohead and Tarantino, I loved Ryan Giggs. It may sound a bit silly now, but back then I thought becoming a translator would allow me to be in contact with these things.
What relevant qualifications and experience do you have?
I have a BA in English Language and Literature and an MA in Translation. Moreover, I completed the first 2 years of a PhD in Irish Studies. After completing the second PhD year, I decided it was time to invest all my efforts in translation. I don’t think it is essential to have a Master’s, but indeed it is an advantage, especially if you can specialise in some way. If I were to enrol now on a postgraduate course, I would choose something very specific. You have to specialise in order to be competitive.
How did you make the transition from university to freelance translation?
It was quite smooth. When I got my BA, I moved to Ireland with my girlfriend and we spent a year in Cork city working in a call centre. A year later, I enrolled on an MA in Translation, as I had no specific translation training, and I also got a scholarship that allowed me to look for my first clients while completing my education. The institution where I worked as a research assistant also gave me the chance to translate my first book, which was a very valuable “medal” when I started sending applications to agencies.
How hard did you find it to build up a client base?
Finding clients is always hard at the beginning and it took me around two years to form a relatively solid client base. The most important thing to bear in mind is that the process never ends; you should always be looking for new and better clients.
What major problems did you face and overcome?
I didn’t know anything about the profession when I started. I had to learn everything as I went along: how to use CAT tools, how to negotiate rates with clients, tax issues, etc. In this regard, being in contact with some colleagues or joining a professional association can make a real difference for recent graduates. Actually, for all translators. Isolation is not a good policy.
Do you find that agency clients really do require 5 years’ experience, a postgrad and half a dozen test pieces?
Test translations are apparently almost inevitable, even if you have years of experience. Nevertheless, no one has experience in the beginning but all of us have got to find that first client, so a lack of professional experience might be balanced with good tests, good references, volunteering for NGOs, and so on. Obviously, the better the client, the harder the requirements.
Has it all been worth it?
Indeed it has been worth it. It is not easy but it is exciting, every day is a challenge and you are (or should be) always learning. I love the profession and I love being a freelancer. Finally, I’d encourage future translators to work hard and hang on to their dreams.
Next week, the series concludes with an in-depth account from Carolyn Yohn (@untngldtransl8n) on the value of pro bono experience and how signing up for a student exchange year through the local Rotary club shaped her career.