The aim of this serie of interviews is to present colleagues who are working in the translation-interpreting sector. This month our interviewed translator is Catharine Cellier-Smart a French to English sworn translator living in Reunion Island, a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean.
Tell us about your professional history
I was born and brought up in London, and went to university in the Midlands. In 1990 as a student I was chosen to be sent to Reunion for a year. After graduating in 1992 I came back here for “a year or two” and spent about two years trying to earn my living teaching, translating and interpreting. But internet didn’t exist yet, and there wasn’t a great demand for language services on the island at the time. I then started working in business, and did so for 15 years, also completing an MBA in the mid-2000s.
People I knew would ask me to do translations, and for many years I translated during evenings and weekends. When my husband got a three-year job contract in Seoul we moved there, and on returning to the island in 2011 things had changed. I saw it as an opportunity for me to switch careers and start my own professional translation business – something that I had often thought about doing over the years.
How long have you been a translator? Have you noticed any major developments since you started your business?
Although I’ve only been translating full-time professionally since 2011, because I first started translating on an ad hoc basis in the early 90s I remember the period before internet when research was a lot more difficult and involved wielding encyclopaedias, reference books and dictionaries!
As the world becomes ever more interconnected there’s a far greater need for translation. The arrival and development of CAT tools has obviously led to major changes in translators’ working practices and productivity, and automatic translation has done likewise as regards clients’ behaviour. So while more translations are needed than ever before (hurrah!), you might also come across a client who will machine translate their text then try to pass it off as their own and ask you to proofread it!
In your opinion which are the three main qualities for a translator?
- Excellent writing skills in your target language, as well as – it goes without saying – mastery of your source language and understanding of the subject matter you translate. Your translation should read as if it was written in the target language, and not like ‘translationese’.
- Curiosity: this will make you enjoy your work and want to continue the lifelong learning process that is essential to our profession.
- Professionalism i.e. a professional attitude in all circumstances. Be helpful, remain reasonable when others are not, and pay attention to detail. This will build and enhance your reputation as a professional.
Could to give advice to newbies or those who are retraining to become a translator?
- If possible work with a reviewer, and learn from their comments, corrections and feedback.
- Don’t be frugal, invest in the best of everything you can afford!
- Learn or recognise when to say no. If you’re like me, you want to please everyone, but even though I work mainly with direct clients I’ve learnt that sometimes I have to say no, for example refusing a deadline that would mean rushing and producing sub-par work. That doesn’t necessarily mean turning down a project, it might simply be a case of renegotiating the deadline.
- If necessary, take enough time to identify your niche(s) as this will often be your competitive advantage and unique selling point. Don’t claim to be proficient in too many specialist areas or – like translating into your source language – it can be seen as amateurish or too wide-ranging.
- Join at least one translation-specific organisation or association plus another related to your specialisation(s), as that’s where you’ll find and get to know potential clients.
- Don’t be afraid to phone your clients or contacts if you need to clear something up, it can save a lot of time and borther!
- One final piece of advice to help you have the right mindset: see your role as offering a solution (= professional translation) to a client’s “problem” (= their need for translation).
 I met Catharine in 2015 at the IAPTI conférence in Bordeaux (France).
To read our interviews CORTEXTUEL translation-minded