In this series I’ll be interviewing language professionals who are at the top of their game to find out how they broke into the industry and achieved their goals.
This week I interviewed Roxy Dumble, who is currently working as a translator/terminologist for the European Commission.
What are you currently up to career-wise?
I am currently working as a Terminologist/Translator at the Directorate-General for Translation at the European Commission in Brussels on a 5-month training contract. Prior to coming here I was both freelancing and working in-house as a Translator and Interpreter specialising in the fields of medicine and aeromedical repatriation. I worked closely with Doctors and Nurses in the UK (on behalf of private individuals and travel insurance companies) translating medical reports and interpreting conversations between the medical teams in the UK and overseas. I work with French, Spanish and Italian, I am an Associate member of the ITI, and have been since April 2007, and I am an Affiliate of the ITI Medical & Pharmaceutical network. I am also currently working towards my DPSI (Diploma in Public Service Interpreting) examinations, which I plan to sit in June 2013, so that I can join the National Register of Public Service Interpreters (NRPSI).
How did you start out in the industry?
I always enjoyed languages at school, so went on to study French and Spanish for G.C.S.E, A-level and then at university. I graduated from Liverpool John Moores University in July 2006 with a First Class BA(Hons) in Applied Languages Europe: French & Spanish (with Distinction in spoken Spanish), having studied for a year at La Facultad de Traducción e Interpretación in Granada, Spain and then for another year at the Business and Law School at L’Université de Provence, Aix-Marseille I. My undergraduate degree led to the award of three internationally recognised degree qualifications (a BA(Hons), una licenciatura and une maîtrise) and we also studied compulsory modules in translation, interpreting, law, economics, business and IT throughout, which offered a unique insight into and understanding of the cultural, political and economic context of France, Spain and the UK.
My BA was a great starting point and I knew that I wanted to continue to postgraduate translation/interpreting studies, but I needed a rest, so I worked for two years (for Intel’s multilingual customer relations department, and then for a multilingual publishing company) in order to save up for my MA and also to gain some professional experience. I was determined to find a job where I could actively use my languages and although it was tough I held out and the right jobs came along in the end. Multi-lingual customer services roles are a great way to gain experience and build up your confidence when you first graduate, and there are a lot of them around.
I then went on to read a Masters degree in Interpreting and Translating at the University of Bath, completed work placements at the United Nations in Geneva and at the European Commission, Council and Parliament in Brussels and then began freelancing! I applied to lots of agencies and made use of translation forum websites such as Proz to find work, I talked to friends and colleagues about who to work for (and who not to work for) and still do! In-house Translation positions are few and far between and I was lucky that one came up in Bristol where I live, and so I began to do medical work. I worked in a small team with Doctors and Nurses on a daily basis with whom I could happily and easily discuss any questions about the work that I was doing and so my medical specialisation began.
I very much enjoyed medical work and so decided to study Human Biology with the Open University in order to consolidate the knowledge that I had thus far. After three years freelancing, I decided to come to Brussels to gain some experience working at the Commission and here I am!
What has been your biggest challenge to date…?
This should never be considered a bad thing, but if you work with languages, are well qualified and have varied professional experience you have a lot of choice! I have found it hard trying to choose whether to focus on translation or interpreting (conference interpreting or public service interpreting), whether I wanted to have the security of working somewhere in-house or whether, despite it’s difficulties, I wanted to freelance, which areas in which to specialise, where to work (and whether I would be willing to commute or relocate, in the UK or abroad), whether I would like to go on to further studies and so on.
It is also very hard trying to think of yourself as a business even when you’re working from home! That is to say, your work-life/home-life can blur into one as theoretically you could be working all the time as a freelancer, and it can feel like that sometimes. You also need to “sell yourself” and be pragmatic about the decisions that you take, which can be hard.
…and how did you overcome it?
In terms of choice, I have done a little bit of everything since graduating from Bath. I have finally realised that I don’t need to decide exactly what I want to do with the rest of my life at the tender age of 30! I have freelanced, I have worked in-house, I have worked with private individuals and with international organisations, I have done further studies and so on, and I am gradually finding my feet; I am discovering which areas of this fabulous job make me the happiest, as well as those that have the most purpose and meaning for me personally.
In terms of specialising in certain areas, I have made use of all of my past experience (e.g. my previous jobs have given me experience working with I.T./computers, working as a Proofreader, working with environmental policy and more, and I studied law and economics prior to doing medical work), which was all a good starting point. And the medical specialisation came along naturally with hard work and a little bit of luck thrown in too.
With regard to “selling yourself”, I am still learning about how to be more business-minded, but I am getting there slowly, but surely. I always try to keep office hours even when working from home, so that I don’t feel like I’m working all the time and I think that the rest will come in time. As I said, there is no need to do everything at once!
Do you have any advice for newcomers who are interested in following a similar path to yours?
I would say that a postgraduate qualification in translation/interpreting studies is a must, whether it’s an MA, a DipTrans or another qualification, and joining bodies such as the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) and the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL) is a valuable mark of professionalism and shows a keen interest in your work, as well as allowing you to meet more experienced colleagues. Look into doing placements with translation agencies and other companies, so that you can build up your experience gradually.
And it’s a terrible cliché, but network, network, network! Keep in touch with friends and colleagues who have similar goals and interests career-wise and be nice to people! Think of other Translators and Interpreters as colleagues rather than rivals. My work very often comes from friends, or friends of friends. I think that as the Translation and Interpreting industry is not fully understood in the UK (us Brits are not really language-lovers and people are not aware what a complex job it can be), people feel more confident employing someone who has a “connection” with them, even if it’s an indirect and fairly remote one. And make sure you always do a good job; take particular care when working for agencies i.e. tell them if there is some tricky vocabulary or if you can’t make a deadline because of x, y or z, so that they can help you and/or make other arrangements.
Think about what makes you different and what makes you stand out; use all of your past experience in a positive way, whether it was working as a secretary, doing a ski-season or translating at the European Commission.
Certain factors will affect how much you can charge clients for your work (language combination, deadline, type of document, subject area etc.) but don’t do yourself down! You have to believe that the work you’re doing is worth being paid well for, so that other people have faith in your skills, qualifications, professionalism and abilities. If someone wants to pay you a pittance for your work then don’t accept the job! There will always be someone less-qualified and who is a poorer translator willing to do the job for less, so let the client go to them and learn their lesson the hard way.
And finally, never be afraid to ask questions! If you’re the type of person who loves languages and translation, then you’re the type of person who loves learning, so ask questions if you don’t understand something. You cannot be expected to know everything when you’re just starting out, or even when you’ve been doing the job for ten years. Ask about subjects that you don’t understand and make the effort to learn about them, ask friends and colleagues for advice and help with regard to freelancing and difficult texts and tell people about what a fabulous job you have too!