Karen Stokes has been providing French to English translation services through KES_Translate since 2002. In 2008 she was awarded Chartered Linguist (Translator) status, one of the first five translators in the UK to be awarded this distinction. Read on for more about Karen’s background, her approach to marketing and the Chartered Linguist application process.
Sarah Dillon: You came to translation after many years in the business world. What unique benefits do you think this experience brought to bear on your translation career, particularly in terms of perspective, approach, etc.?
Karen Stokes: I started my career as a buyer in the food industry: as a result I find I look at my business from the buyer’s perspective – what does my client need, how can I meet that need and what added value do I offer? One of the mantras during my time in the industry was that a product justified its development by being ‘better, cheaper or different’ – arguably translators don’t want to position their services as cheaper but better or different is still worth aiming for! The other main lesson I learned was that everything’s a negotiation. It’s not magic but you do need to prepare thoroughly, know what you’re prepared to accept and stick to it – even if it means agreeing to disagree and turning down a job. Time spent getting cross about terrible clients who pay lousy rates is time wasted – if you can’t come to an agreement you’re both happy with then you simply move on.
SD: I’m very interested in how translators learn (and maintain) our second languages. Once you decided to go into translation, how did get your French to a level where you were comfortable enough to count it as a working language? What is your preferred way of keeping it in good working order?
KS: I didn’t use my languages for quite a while after I left Oxford, but picked them up again at a later stage in my career, doing some teaching in further education and a lot of language training for business clients, which definitely brought my French up to date: more business jargon and less 19th century literature! Once I decided I wanted to translate I sat the IoL Diploma in Translation, which gave me the confidence to get started. As far as keeping it up is concerned, obviously there’s the day-to-day business of translating, but I’m also in the midst of an MA in legal translation, so I’m focusing a lot on terminology in that area at the moment.
SD: You were one of first translators to be awarded Chartered Linguist (Translator) status. Do you have any advice or tips on the application process, particularly on gathering evidence or preparing for the interview?
KS: Good record-keeping is essential: if you’re applying as a translator you need to provide evidence of both your volume of work and your continuing professional development (CPD) activities. Keeping records of your assignments seems to me good business practice too – it certainly makes it easier to see which parts of your business are most profitable. Preparing thoroughly for the interview is important – perhaps by doing a run-through with someone else – particularly if you’re likely to feel a bit nervous. The rules for Chartered Linguist applications give a detailed breakdown of the structure of the interview so applicants have a very good idea of the sort of questions they’ll be asked. It’s definitely worth making notes and taking them in with you so you don’t forget anything important you wanted to say, and reminding yourself of what you said in your supporting statement too. In the end I actually enjoyed my interview – the interviewers were really supportive and we got into a great discussion about ethics!
SD: How do you approach finding clients? Do you tend to focus on word of mouth or direct marketing?
KS: I don’t do a great deal of active marketing – clients tend to find me on the web or I get referrals from colleagues, which is always nice. Most of my work comes from established clients, to be honest, many of whom I’ve been working with for years.
SD: Finally, what has been the best advice that anyone has ever given you about translation? (Or that you wish someone had given you?)
KS: Without doubt the best thing I ever did was to join the CIoL and ITI, partly because they’re both a great way of learning about the industry and meeting colleagues, and partly because I’ve got a lot out of being involved in them myself. I’m also hugely grateful to the friend I once asked for advice on how often to run a back-up. His answer was “How much work do you want to redo?” – which definitely focuses the mind!
Thanks for sharing your insights, Karen!
You can see a video of Karen’s great talk on Career Development for Translators and Interpreters here – well worth a look if you’re wondering how best to approach your professional development.