Amy Williams is a freelance translator working from French and Italian into English, and a director of Eggplant Translations. She specialises in marketing and advertising, and the arts, media and music in particular. In the early stages of my freelance career, Amy was kind enough to give me some great advice on setting up a website. Here I ask her for more tips about marketing, her areas of specialisation and why she has chosen to pursue further studies in psychology.
Sarah Dillon: You have some very interesting areas of specialisation, for example marketing and advertising, the arts and music. Can you tell us a little about how you developed these?
Amy Williams: When I became a translator my love of music and the arts – both as a practising musician and a keen bystander – naturally spilled over into my work. If there were one area of my work in which I could say I feel truly comfortable it would be music, although every project is a reminder that there is still an enormous amount out there to be discovered. I came to music from the classical side but I listen mostly to jazz and rock, and support local bands and small independent setups. On my iPod at the moment I have tracks by Blur, Buena Vista Social Club, Bob Dylan, jazz great Charlie Parker, Mason Jennings, Ravi Shankar, and a recently re-formed Welsh band called Hurricane Joe.
Marketing was a similar story because it was a field that interested me and I was keen to channel my enthusiasm into my work. We market products and services so differently in different languages and cultures and I relish the creative challenge of producing copy that maintains the essence of the original but is written entirely for the target audience. It never fails to amaze me how a piece of marketing that would have buyers drooling over a product in one language would mean almost certain death for the product in another.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing, though. I’ve run up against a few staunch supporters of a more literal approach to translating marketing material, in which case a few examples of failed and successful marketing campaigns are usually enough to justify a fresher, less literal approach. Failing that, the client will doubtless be back when the literal approach fails to make sales – a great shame and a waste of time and money.
SD: What advice would you have for aspiring translators hoping to develop specialisms in these areas?
AW: You have to be enthusiastic about your work. Knowing your specialist areas like the back of your hand is fantastic but getting fired up about your fields will give you the edge. Also, the arts – and music in particular – is a broad field and an easy and frequent target for translators with little specialist knowledge, so make sure you know your stuff before you leap in.
SD: I understand you’re reading for an MSc in Psychology from the Open University. What inspired your return to study?
AW: My life has always been very arts-focused and I think it was time to feed the dormant scientist within me. My last encounter with science was a combined science GCSE at high school, so I found the initial learning curve in the MSc incredibly steep and put in a lot of extra hours churning out felt-tip sketches of neurons, neurotransmitters and goodness knows what else to get to the same level as my coursemates. The course has been fascinating. In our last module I worked on the benefits of the Mediterranean diet in combating oxidative damage in the brain in Alzheimer’s disease, which was incredibly interesting. I chose psychology in part because I’ve always been interested in the workings of the mind, in part because I’ve always wanted to do further study, and also to broaden my knowledge for my work.
SD: Any tips on marketing yourself to clients?
AW: I receive a lot of emails from translators offering their services. Most are poorly laid out and packed with spelling and formatting nasties. My top tips would be to be as professional about how you present yourself as you can, not to undersell yourself (an immediate turn-off), and to create a polished CV that gives a quick snapshot of your translation career. They’re old tips, but they work.
SD: What has been the single most useful tool or resource in your career as a translator to date?
AW: Networking. It’s better than Google, better than any dictionary, and beats any software program hands down. Networking has been crucial in my career, not just for assigning projects and marketing myself but for discussions over terminology with natives of the source and target languages, and for advice and support.
Thanks for the tips, advice and ideas Amy, and best of luck with the rest of your studies.