What I Gained From Volunteering for the Colorado Translators Association

I usually try not to recycle blog posts I write for the Colorado Translators Association, but I am going to make an exception this time. My latest entry in the CTA blog is somewhat of a personal account of my experience as social media director for the association, so I figured it has a place on my own blog. Feel free to visit the CTA Blog and check out all of the articles I have written for the Colorado Translators Association – they tend to be less personal, but maybe a bit more informative in a general sense.

Benefits of Volunteering for Your Association

By Marion Rhodes
CTA Social Media Director

It has been almost a year since I took up my position as social media director for the Colorado Translators Association. This has been my first experience with an ongoing volunteer job, and I can tell you that it has been rewarding in so many ways.

I had been a member of CTA for a few years before I became its social media director, but I hadn’t really experienced the full benefits of my membership. Sure, I had enjoyed the professional exchanges on our email list, but I had felt no particular connection to the other translators in our association. When I became social media director, I was anxious about attending my first CTA social get-together (our annual holiday party at the beginning of the year). I had only attended one or two CTA events in the past – workshops that were subject-focused and during which I barely engaged with my fellow CTA members, arriving just in time and leaving as soon as the workshop was over. So yes, I was nervous.

Socializing as a job

I’m an introverted extrovert, so I don’t enjoy networking, small-talk or events that drop me into a room full of strangers or near-strangers. However, if socializing is part of a role I have to play, I’m on it. That’s why I had no problems in my previous job as a newspaper reporter approaching a CEO in a room full of executives. In my private life, I’d hang out at the perimeter and wait to be spoken to.

I credit our Vice President Thais Lips with helping me through my first official CTA function. She assigned me a very specific task: hand out bead necklaces to arriving members and tell them about a social game we were playing that evening. This forced me to approach each and every one of our guests, gave me a starting line for a conversation, and therefore put me at ease. I had a job to do. I had a right to be there.

After that, I felt much more connected to our association. I now knew many of the faces behind the names on our email list and had actually talked to most of them. If I hadn’t become social media director, I likely wouldn’t even have attended this dinner (I live too far away! I can’t leave my kids for that long! The roads are too icy to drive!), let alone talked to as many of my colleagues as I did that night. It was a turning point in my CTA membership.

The moral of the story is this: If you are not comfortable among people you don’t know, becoming a volunteer will give you a sense of purpose that can help you overcome that anxiety.

Building colleague-like connections

There are other benefits to volunteering, especially if you are a board member. We all know working as a freelance translator can be rather lonely. We don’t have in-house colleagues, and we don’t develop in-depth connections with many of our fellow translators. Serving as social media director has filled much of that void. The CTA Board doesn’t meet all that often (once every few months), but we do have very frequent interactions via email or Skype, which makes it feel like having colleagues on the job.

Being informed and having a say

Maybe it’s the journalist in me, but I like being informed about things that are happening in our association before everyone else. I get to participate in the planning and decision-making processes, which means I have a say in the development of CTA. I am also always informed about everything that’s going on in our association, even many things that I might have missed in the past because I didn’t read every email that was sent out on our mailing list. By knowing everything CTA does and offers, I have learned the true value of our association, both for our members and for our profession.

Establishing professional credibility

This year, I went from being Marion Rhodes, freelance GermanEnglish translator, to Marion Rhodes, freelance GermanEnglish translator and Social Media Director for the Colorado Translators Association. I’ve added this title to my resume, my LinkedIn profile, my email signature and various other professional documents and profiles. Having this title adds to my credibility. My clients and prospective clients can see that I am professionally involved and that I take translation seriously. It is not just a hobby for me, it is a calling. A title from a volunteer position helps build your resume and adds to your marketability.

Expanding your horizon

Even though I was fairly familiar with social media and had studied Integrated Marketing Communication in college, I still had a lot to learn when I started as social media director. My new role made me get serious about Twitter and LinkedIn, for example, both channels where I had established profiles years ago, but which I had never really used. I also learned about Hootsuite as a way to combine social media accounts and make posting updates easier. And finally, it gave me the push I needed to start blogging regularly. I had started my own blogs a few times in the past but never got past the first one or two posts. As CTA social media director, writing regular blog posts is part of my job, and once I got into the routine, I finally had the discipline to keep up my own blog as well.

The dirty details

I won’t lie to you: taking on a regular volunteer position also comes with some drawbacks. You do have to make time for board meetings, which for me means driving from Colorado Springs all the way to Denver. But these meetings only happen once every few months, and can usually be combined with a trip to IKEA.

Depending on which position you hold, there’s also a time commitment that impacts your own schedule. In my job, I usually spend about 30 minutes a day on researching translation-related news and articles, updating social media channels and responding to inquiries. Writing blog posts takes quite a bit longer, but it’s something I enjoy doing so I don’t mind. If you are interested in any volunteer position, your best bet is to talk to someone who has held the position in the past or is currently serving in that capacity and ask about the work involved.

If you’re a CTA translator who isn’t ready for a long-term commitment, there are other ways to volunteer for CTA, such as helping with our annual conference or filling a time slot at the CTA desk during this year’s ATA Conference (you can sign up here). You’ll still reap many of the networking benefits, so this is another great way for more introverted members to get involved.

Personally, I find that the benefits of volunteering for CTA have been worth the effort I’ve put in. Over the past year, I have become a better translator, a better colleague, a better networker and a better social media user. If that’s not enough, consider this: Research suggests that people who volunteer are healthier and happier than those who don’t. So if you don’t do it for your association, then do it for yourself.

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Thoughts About NYU’s Certificate in Translation Program

Last week, I got an email from New York University containing a badge to promote the fact that I completed the NYU School of Continuing Professional Studies’ certificate program in German to English translation. It’s been several years since I completed this online program and I haven’t thought about it for a long time, but this was a nice reminder about how I got started as a translator.

NYU badge

I discovered the NYU SCPS certificate program while I lived in Germany on my husband’s USAF orders, making the most of my journalism degree by working as a freelance reporter for German and American publications. At the time, I began thinking that as much as I loved journalism, it simply wasn’t a good fit for someone with the transient lifestyle of a military spouse. Languages had always been my passion and I had a natural talent for translating and writing, so shifting my freelance work from reporting to translating was not just a smart but also a natural choice.

I enrolled in NYU’s certificate program shortly thereafter. It was a simple process. The only requirement was that I take an entrance qualification test: a translation of a short paragraph of about 300 words if I remember correctly. I received the test via email, translated it at home and sent it back. I believe there was a time limit from the time I received it until I had to send it back, but it’s been so long, I’m not 100% sure about this detail. The entire program is completely online – you participate in a discussion forum on a weekly basis and complete your translation assignments at home and then email them to your instructor. I took one course per semester, which left me enough free time to focus on my freelance journalism work as well as the fun that comes with living in Europe (sidewalk cafes! leisurely strolls through pedestrian zones in inner cities! travel!).

To earn the certificate, I had to complete 6 courses, some of which were required and some of which I could pick from a small selection. I ended up taking Intro to Translation, Translation of Products and Services, Legal Translation, Medical Translation, Patent Translation and Commercial Translation. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about specializing in a certain area yet, and I wanted a well-rounded foundation.

Overall, I found the program rather easy. The translation assignments, for the most part, were a piece of cake. I wouldn’t say I didn’t learn anything, though. For one thing, the exposure to a variety of fields helped me find the area that I really wanted to concentrate on. I also learned special terminology for fields such as legal and patent translation. Most of all, however, I got confirmation that I deserve to call myself a translator, and I feel validated in my profession of choice. If you are starting out as a translator coming from another field, I would highly recommend this NYU program as a stepping stone on your way to becoming a professional, high-end translator. At a fraction of the cost of a master’s degree in translation, it offers a solid basis for getting started in this profession.

Of Kids and Conferences

Planning a trip to a professional conference always has its logistic challenges, but if you’re a mom, there are even more factors to consider. Sometimes things work out, sometimes they don’t. In my case, this year, they didn’t.

I had planned to attend the 54th Annual Conference of the American Translators Association in San Antonio in November. Since my husband works overseas for much of the year, the first consideration was whether or not he would be able to come home to watch our kids during that time. Once he received the go-ahead, I registered for the conference, booked a hotel room with a roommate and bought a plane ticket. Everything was in place. Then things changed.

Just a few weeks out from the conference, my husband now was told he couldn’t fly home in November. With no family members within a 1300-mile radius who could take over babysitting responsibilities, I racked my brain for an alternative solution. I came up with a few possibilities:

Hire a nanny from home and take everyone with me. Unfortunately, there were a few problems with this plan. First of all, I had already purchased my plane ticket, so I would have to change my own flight plus add three more tickets at a much higher price than the low rate I paid when I first booked. I could drive, but it’s a 13-hour trip, which is never fun with little kids. Second, I had a roommate in San Antonio, who probably wouldn’t be thrilled about adding three more people, two of them under 7, to our room. So I would have to book another hotel room as well. This conference just got a whole lot more expensive.

Hire a babysitter in San Antonio to watch the kids while I am attending sessions. There are several babysitting services in San Antonio, such as Nanny Poppinz and Mom’s Best Friend. I still would have to pay extra for the new flights or take the long drive, though, and would need another hotel room.

Cut your losses and sit this one out. This is what I ultimately decided upon. It was a tough choice, but in the end, I decided that it’s just not worth the hassle, let alone an extra two grand or so, to attend this year’s conference. Even if I did have a babysitter in San Antonio, my networking opportunities would be limited. After leaving the kids with a sitter all day long during sessions, I wouldn’t want to leave them again at night to attend any after-hour events, which is where the real networking happens. Luckily, I was able to cancel my registration without any penalties (the deadline is Oct. 14) and my roommate was able to find another person to take my spot. Southwest Airlines let me cancel my flight, although instead of a refund I am getting a credit to use for another flight. Still, compared to most airlines’ cancellation policies, this is pretty good.

I was hoping this year’s ATA Conference would be the culmination of a year of business expansion, but as they say… the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

My first time: Working with MemoQ

I recently had a chance to do a large translation (23,000 words) in MemoQ for the first time. I’ve been using Trados Studio for several years now and am still learning its ins and outs, so I was hesitant when the translation agency requested I use MemoQ for this project. Considering how long it has taken me to get the hang of Studio, I wasn’t sure I was up for the challenge of learning a new CAT tool while working on a time-sensitive translation. However, I’ve heard good things about MemoQ and the agency provided me with some basic instructions, so I figured I would give it a try.

Since I only did one project using very limited capabilities of MemoQ, I can’t provide an in-depth comparison of the two programs. But having worked with both of them in learning-by-doing mode, I can tell you what my first impression has been.

I should start out by saying that I chose Trados Studio not because I thought it was superior to other CAT tools but because it was my first love. I was at the ATA Conference in New York City and watched a presentation on working with Trados, and I remember thinking “Wow! This would make translating so much easier!” Since I at least had some idea about the work process in Studio after that and knew that it was the big one in our industry, I decided to purchase Studio 2011 without even considering other CAT tools. We’ve been in a happy relationship ever since, and I actually just purchased the upgrade to Studio 2014 (which I haven’t taken for a ride yet).

Back to MemoQ. The translation agency I was working with sent me instructions how to access the project on their server online, which was a very simple process. In less than five minutes, the 10 files I needed to translate from German into English showed up on my MemoQ screen, and all I had to do was click on one and start translating.

MemoQ offered me the main features that got me excited about Studio when I first saw it in use – source text and translation side by side, terminology matches highlighted and listed in a separate window, automatically filled in segments for matches up to a certain degree. A concordance search function above the editing pane made it easy to find all occurrences of a term or phrase to make changes and ensure consistency. The translation process went smoothly, and I really didn’t notice much of a difference to translating in Trados Studio on this very basic level. The one thing I did miss was a status bar showing me how far I’d come in my translation, i.e. how many words I had already translated and how many more I had left. There’s probably a way to show that in MemoQ, but out of the box as I was using it, it wasn’t there. I also had to search online for a tutorial on how to get a working spell check for my target text, but it was easy to find and just as easy to install.

All in all, I found MemoQ very easy to work with, and if I was back at the beginning of my CAT tool search and had to decide between Studio and MemoQ, I would certainly give MemoQ another look.