Translation is a very diverse industry – we want to introduce some of the people behind making the world a more multilingual place. This time it is an interview with Sam Nairn from the UK. Enjoy reading!

Please tell us a bit about yourself


Firstly thanks for letting me be a part of this series! I’m Sam – I translate from French and Spanish into English. I’m fairly new to the industry; I graduated from my MA course just under two years ago! Since then I helped set up a company which I am unfortunately no longer a part of and now I am completely freelance and love the work I do. I trade under the very original and creative name SN Translations :)

I’m just starting to get all my professional social media up and running again, hence my lack of followers... You can find me on Twitter where I hope to post lots of interesting articles relevant to the industry, Facebook where I will no doubt ramble on about my life and antics as a translator, LinkedIn.

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

I don’t remember ever deciding to become a translator – I actually wanted to be an interpreter – it sort of just happened. During my studies, I realised that interpreting frustrates me as your first go was what your end-user heard and it was never what I would have said if I had more time to think about it (of course I got better in time, but I’m still never fully satisfied). However, having been trained in interpreting definitely helps in the translation industry. It has enabled me to be a lot quicker and I can produce a first draft translation pretty much instantly and still have the time spare to perfect it before the end-user sees it!

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

I have taken on as many translation and proofreading tasks as I could – both paid and unpaid. Apart from this I am always reading about translation, interpreting and languages on the many blogs out there. I try to set out what CPD I want to do over the coming months and stick to it – up to now this has often included webinars and courses relating to the business-side of being a freelancer.

How do you prepare for a translation project?

I think most translators prepare in a very similar way, really. First thing I do is read the entire source text and get a real feel for it. This is how I decide if I am a good fit for the text and vice versa – I would never agree to translate something I’m not absolutely comfortable with.

Essentially, I prepare by reading the source text a good few times before reading around the subject in both target and source languages.

What aspects of your job are the most challenging?

The most challenging part for me is client-acquisition. New clients = new horizons = self-development. I find it challenging writing to people knowing how busy everyone is. I guess getting my name

out there is the hardest thing that I have encountered about self-employment.

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

To be honest, being a Brit and being able to speak more than English is in itself exciting! It excites me that I can communicate with two whole other worlds and hardly anyone around me can do the same. In general, languages are like different hubs around the globe, central to different areas and cultures. Translators are the cogs making the world work more smoothly; we get to connect these hubs together so that everyone has access to everywhere. I just love that idea!

What is the most memorable translation anecdote you can remember?

One of the most memorable things to date was interpreting at the UN in Geneva. It was an amazing experience - I loved every second of it (after the initial terror had subsided). Being in a real-live, professional interpreting booth was the most daunting thing I think I have ever done (this was my first experience in a non-university setting!) and the first interpretation there was terrifying! Particularly when the first speaker was from Mexico... Walking around the UN with my “interpreter” ID was absolutely incredible and a real confidence boost.

What are good or bad things about freelancing?

The best thing for me is choosing when, how and for whom I work. I have been lucky enough to feel comfortable saying no to some outrageous requests (0.01 USD per word, etc.). The variety of projects, clients and colleagues is absolutely fascinating. The collaboration and support you get from other freelancers is also amazing.

Kind of contradictory to what I just said... The worst thing is the guilt you sometimes feel. For example, recently I had an hour-long, out-of-office lunch and catch-up with a friend – which is of course a pretty normal thing in any other employment. But when I got back I felt like I’d been gone forever! Considering my lunches normally consist of eating with one hand and typing away with another I ended up working extra late that evening to make up for it! Right now, my nephew has come to visit and I have to stay cooped up in my office working when I could be running around with him in the sunny garden! (Nephew is one, I should clarify!)

What are your experiences with CAT tools? How do you adapt your business to the challenges of the market with the tools at your disposal?

I have fairly limited experiences with CAT tools – I was taught to use Déjà Vu during my MA but wasn’t a fan. I currently use Wordfast when requested by clients who send me a TMX file. They’re good for repetitions and glossary matching. However, I personally don’t agree with discounts for anything less than 100% matches. Translators pay for the CAT Tool to save time and improve productivity so it is us that should ultimately benefit from using it, not the client? Wordfast is a pain sometimes as I have to convert TMX files and Excel glossaries into text files but other than that, I think once I am fully competent and know all its little tricks I will love using it!

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

Mainly be prepared for the first couple of months! Make sure you have enough money to keep you going. Once you find your first client and hand in your first project, you often have to wait 30-45 (sometimes 60!) days for payment!

Otherwise, a couple of things:

  • Believe in the value of the work we do – translation is so obvious when it is badly done and so invisible when it is done well. It is also very necessary and most people are willing to believe this, once they think about it.

  • Read! Read as much as you can every day in your source language(s) and even more in your target language. Read translation articles and blogs, look at current affairs and issues in the media of the country of your source language(s).

  • Translate, of course. The more you do, the better you get. We often find ourselves mentally finding the ‘best’ way to translate everything we read! Can become annoying sometimes, but it ultimately makes us better at what we do.

  • Keep an open mind and never be afraid to ask questions.

  • Have a sense of humour and don’t just hunch yourself over your laptop, get out and about and meet other translators too. Attend conferences, tweetups, lectures, nights out; just be sure to socialise with colleagues – their advice is often invaluable!

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