Specialize as soon as you can - Interview with translator Catherine Pizani

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This is the eleventh in our series of interviews with translators from all over the globe. Translation is a very diverse industry - we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This episode is an interview with Catherine Pizani of lebureaudelatraductrice.com.

Tell a bit about yourself.

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I am an English and Spanish to French translator based in Guadalajara, Mexico. My specializations include gender issues, international development, the environment, and anthropology. I hold a certificate of translation issued by WLS in Dublin (Ireland), a Bachelor’s Degree in languages applied to international trade from Le Mans (France), a Master’s Degree in languages applied to international negotiation from La Sorbonne Nouvelle (Paris III) and a degree in journalism issued in Paris (Centre de formation pour les journalistes. CFPJ).

When I was a journalist, one of my first jobs in a magazine (Communication CB News) was to check out the information and to translate some articles for the magazine. I liked this aspect of the job because it was a way for me to understand what and how different cultures see a variety of issues.

I like using the Cloud to communicate with people on different topics. Social media makes people visible on the web as professionals and humanizes the process by eliminating any prejudice as we collaborate. Learning from others through communication is important for me, “Information is power” and you need to use it for your business! I usually use Twitter or my professional Facebook to share important information on my work. Besides LinkedIn, Viadeo and other social media I mostly use my website to promote myself, people read my blog because my posts include different issues within my own translator’s world.

How did you decide to be a translator? What makes you passionate about Languages?

I have been travelling by myself since I was 16. I like living abroad and discovering people’s behavior, it is amazing to see for instance the impact of religions on cultures and the millions of linguistic ways people express their worship. I like writing and I also like languages. I thought translation would be a good way to bridge these two passions.

I majored in languages because I was good at them, it was also the best way to discover authors in their genuine thought. Reading in French for instance “L’amant” of Duras is quite different than approaching the novel in English. Languages are bridges between cultures, they are living beings, but they do not always convey what you expect in terms of emotions and feelings.

What have you done to improve your translation skills in the last year?

I usually follow one or two webinars on translation per year, it can be on my translation software, on marketing, on psychology etc. and I read a lot of my peers or I listen to their interviews (here is a good podcast).

I also read quite a lot on my fields of work and in the three languages. For instance I read lately the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) Beyond 2015 concerning gender issues because I had to translate an article on the topic. I also try to return to French by reading everyday in my mother tongue.

How do you prepare for a translation project?

I never accept projects that are beyond my ability. This means that I accept new missions after reading the whole document. If it’s a large project I can get a sense of the project after reading a few pages but I always check-out the document as a whole.

After negotiating my rates I usually ask my client to send me a purchase order (a mail, a Word document etc.) to make sure that everything is clear between both parts. Then I start checking all my sources for information (glossaries, terminology, acronyms etc.) and I do not hesitate to tell my clients to feel free to send me all the information that may be useful for my job. I think it is important not to be shy during the first missions and to ask as many questions as possible.

What aspects of your job are the most challenging?

Remaining excellent in my native language.

What excites you the most about the languages you work with?

They are alive! They “mutate” and evolve like every species! I can see for instance that in France people in their 20s do not speak the same French as I do.

What is the funniest translation experience you can remember?

Oh, well… it was more a matter of vocabulary mistake during a talk that I had to give in a Mexican university. Sometimes your mind betrays you…I was giving a small conference in Spanish on the role of protocol in international negotiation and what was prohibited in the Mexican constitution like demonstrating one’s belief publicly.

I said in Spanish “Cuando el Papa vino a Mexico, el Presidente Vincente Fox le besó el ano papal” instead of saying “Cuando el Papa vino a México, el Presidente Vincente Fox le besó el anillo papal”; I guess the Spanish readers will understand the meaning of my mistake… I ended up laughing with my audience after apologizing.

What are good or bad things about freelancing?

You are your own boss and you manage your week as you like: this is the ultimate in freedom. You need to be extremely self-confident to manage everything on time. That is why it is important to build up a trustworthy team and to have sound finances. I would recommend to beginners to have two jobs when they start in this profession in order to avoid being part of the “feast and famine” tendency.

What are you wishes for 2014? What excites you, what are you skeptical about?

To find new direct clients with interesting projects and to work and live in a peaceful world. I am quite excited, for instance, when I find a new client after chatting on a particular topic on LinkedIn.

I am not skeptical, life is a spicy plate, enjoy it!

What would you pass on as personal advice to new translators?

Specialize as soon as you can. Be humble, talented and happy in what you do.

Thanks to Catherine for the answers!