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What I’ve Learned Working in a Translation Agency

Article by Milka Nissinen

After graduating from the University of Helsinki and earning my master’s degree in English philology, I got a job at one of the biggest translation agencies in the Nordics. Through the eyes of a project coordinator, I’ve been able to see two sides of the translation process. For anyone even remotely interested in working in translation, here are a few things that I’ve learned.

1. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Whether you’re the project coordinator in charge of delegating customers’ texts to translators or the translator themself (freelance or in-house), it is crucial that you are able to prioritize. No matter what people say about the development of AI and machine translation, we are still a long way from not needing actual human translators. That in mind, the need for translations is constant and ever-growing, so the ability to prioritize your workload – which commission is the most urgent etc – is key. This applies both to the translators and the coordinators, but especially for a coordinator it is important to learn to understand how much time it actually takes to translate a certain amount of words from language X into language Y, or how fast a proofreader can read in an hour and still have enough time to make the necessary changes. So, whether you want to become a translator or project coordinator, you need to be able to manage multiple tasks at the same time and schedule them correctly.

2. Learn the tools

CAT-tools (Computer-Assisted Translation) are translators’ most important asset. They help to store and manage all the information that comes with translating, and the more tools you are able to use, the easier it is to get commissions. For some inexplicable reason, however, these tools are not sufficiently taught to translation students. Many of them have to learn about the tools themselves if they are to compete with the more experienced translators. With CAT-tools, there is also a possibility of working with machine translation – a curse word for some, a blessing to others. Even though the use of machine translation divides opinions, it is useful to at least try and understand it, as that is the way towards which the translation world is inevitably headed.

3. Have an open mind

As much as many people would want to, not everyone can translate books about puppies or the hottest new fiction all the time. But that is also the beauty of being a translator, as you get to learn about topics you never would have taken interest otherwise. This also applies to being a project coordinator, because you are the one going through the material and analyzing it before finding a suitable translator for it. For someone interested in translation but not too confident about their skills yet, starting off as a project coordinator in a translation agency is a good way to get into the industry. Seeing both sides of the translation process – the customer’s and the translator’s – gives insight into how the industry works better than anything.

 

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