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Starting Out pt. 4

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: November 25, 2010

How Are You Improving?

I am not one for regrets but one of the things I wish I had known looking back over the early days of my translation career is the importance of intentionally improving myself. What do I mean?

Well, my first job was a translation of a commercial lease, I took two days longer than I would for the same length of job today but it went well. The client paid on time and I was happy. The next job was another legal document and I did it, got paid and went on with life. After I finished each job, I would dutifully send it off to the client, create my invoice and never think about it again.

Not once did it enter my mind that it might be useful to spend a few seconds on reflecting on what I learned. Even later on, when I had my first unhappy client, I tended to blame the client for being unreasonable rather than thinking about what I might have done to cause the problem. Worst of all, aside from learning the hard way that translating tired is not a good idea, it was some time before I really learned anything concrete that I could apply to future work.

Funnily enough, a great way of learning was under my nose all that time. Since I left uni, I had maintained a casual interest in translation and interpreting research, especially work in conference interpreting. However, in my efforts to get the best out of my time, I deliberately choose to severely limit how long I spent reading articles and found other things to do instead.

That was not a good idea. While I sooned gained the revelation that it was a good idea to nurture this interest rather than starving it, the big turning point was when I attended the Nida School this summer. Not every presentation was on the more practical aspects of interpreting and translation but they did all open me up to a greater appreciation of seeing the documents I worked on as complicated, intentional texts that someone was going to use once I was finished with them!

Suddenly, I became a lot more thoughtful and careful about how I translated. Rather than seeing each sentence as an independent unit, I began to think about what the author actually meant, how the text fitted together and how the eventual reader might understand it. Yes, I know that this sort of thing is covered by most good translation courses but the truth is that we can easily forget that someone is going to have to read what we type and listen to what we say.

For me, research and summer school gave me a vital opportunity to reflect on my own work and how I could improve it. Nowadays, much of my reflection ends up being done as part of my part-time PhD, in discussions with other professionals and service users or, you’ve guessed it, while writing blog articles. It actually doesn’t matter how I turn over these issues and reexamine what I do, what matters is that I make space and time to do it.

In our busy lives we can often forget that, as John Maxwell points out in Leadership Gold, experience isn’t the best teacher; evaluated experience is! Each of us will have a different way of evaluating our experience and learning from it. For some, it could come in the useful discipline of compiling, tagging and sorting terminology. For others, writing a diary entry on your work at the end of each week might be more useful. For still others, you might find that you learn best in discussion with others or in some form of writing.

For brand new translators and interpreters, the idea of intentionally learning might seem a bit strange. After all, how much can you learn before you start getting regular work? And what good was your degree if you still need to learn? Trust me, if you take the time, even a few minutes a month, to find a way of intentionally recording your experiences and what you have learned from them, it won’t be long until you see a difference.

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