Most would-be translators find online translation communities such as Proz or Translators Café pretty early on in their career. They fill out the necessary forms, create the relevant profiles and spend hours lurking on the discussion boards.
But I’m always surprised at how few students and career starters join a proper association for professional translators, such as the American Translators Association, or the UK’s Institute of Translation and Interpreting. (See here for a lengthy list of options worldwide.)
I appreciate that the application process is decidedly offline compared to the online communities, and I know it’s not easy to contact colleagues for references. But really, nothing worth having is easy.
These associations are in a league of their own when it comes to honing your craft and engaging with the profession. They usually do a pretty good job of outlining the key benefits of membership for themselves (see examples here, here and here), but there are other benefits which are not quite as obvious. For example:
- Being accepted for membership gives you a sense of validation. This is because professional bodies often (and quite rightly) have demanding membership requirements. When you meet them, it can give your confidence a well-deserved and very welcome boost. Also, while the extra letters after your name won’t necessarily impress your clients (see proviso below), they may give you a little extra kudos among family and friends who don’t really believe that working from home is real work at all.
- Membership is valued by exactly the kind of clients you want – that is, those who are aware of what it means to be a translator, and are therefore more likely to be prepared to pay a fair rate for your services.
- It’s a great way to build relationships with other translators. There’s a lot more value in this than you might think. After word of mouth, my second most important source of work has been other translators. It’s a welcome surprise to see how willing others are to pass work your way and give you a chance to prove yourself. Even more satisfying is the feeling you get when you are in a position to pay it back and do the same for other translators.
- You have instant access to a vast body of experts. No matter what translation, business or freelance-related problem you are facing, chances are you have access to someone who has already been through it and is more than happy to offer advice. Even better, it is often country and/ or language specific – invaluable when it comes to sorting out your tax or banking issues, for example. And as membership is restricted, information shared is likely to be a lot more reliable and transparent than you might find in a public forum.
- Professional bodies can be good for your social life. Freelance translation is a pretty solitary pursuit. If meeting people is a top priority for you, then joining a translation association probably isn’t the only thing you should do to help with this. You may have to travel long distances to attend events, some associations are more active than others, and each group is will be as different as the people in it. Saying that, I often see recently established translators quickly absorbed into the social scene of their local networks. Over time, these connections can be invaluable.
If you’re serious about being a translator, joining a proper professional association is a must.