The new facilities of my alma mater, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba’s Facultad de Lenguas, sit as part of the jigsaw puzzle that the whole campus reflects nowadays: school buildings that look like bunkers, spread in all directions like so many pebbles on a dusty playground. The 3-story building of my former language school is always buzzing with activity. Although Portuguese, German, French and Italian are part of the curriculum, English is by far the most popular for translation students.
Many of these English majors will graduate with a shiny diploma in translation studies into a harsh global marketplace that cares very little for diplomas. Still, diplomas and degrees confer an authority and an aura of respectability to its holders, but this newfound status does not negate the fact that they have to go on teaching English en masse at different private institutes, demoralized by what they see as predatory practices of the local translation agencies. Thus, the most venturesome will go on a join forces in pairs or trios to form “estudios de traducción” (translation bureaus) to offer language services. Alas, the last thing they know is business practices. Many don’t know how to market their services. Egos inflated by their recently acquired diploma will think nothing of working for some of the despised agencies and will try to fly solo in a market that is ruthless and ever unforgiving of costly mistakes.
One of these mistakes is ignorance of the business language. Concepts like return on investment, value-added services, and building customer relations are like Greek to many of these students and graduates. One reason is that their professors hardly mention them. These are professors well versed in the intricacies of language, linguistics, text analysis and dictionaries, but a love of language does not a successful businessman make.
I was fortunate. I attended a business high school and graduated with a degree in bookkeeping. We studied business letter writing in English and Spanish, and had typing classes for at least 2 years. Next time you talk to a translator, ask her how many words per minute she can type, and whether she can touch type.
However, I had to learn to market my services, write a resume that was geared to the business customers I was going after and network effectively. It took me years and I am still learning from my hits and misses. I recently revised and updated my résumé to highlight what I did for my previous customers and employers that added value to their organizations. And that’s the key for translators today: Are you a well-educated French, Arabic or Spanish translator with two university degrees and a 50-dictionary library at home? How do you translate your linguistic knowledge into a value that will improve my bottom line? How does good grammar and syntax help me close a deal? What difference does your expertise make for my industry?
I have to compete with thousands of Spanish translators of all stripes. If I want to build on my past achievements, my rates cannot be the defining factor but the value I add to your business. Bring it on!