A while ago, Gretchen VanDusartz, from Sajan, a Language Service Provider, contacted me about an interview she wanted to do for the company’s blog.
I was very excited about the idea and she actively helped me by recording our interview over the phone and then editing the copy for the blog.
Interview with a translator – part 1: Transcreation expert Berenice Font talks with us
How much exposure have you had with the stars behind the scenes? We don’t mean the Hollywood type, but those fellow language-lovers who work tirelessly to transform content for new markets. Whether translating instruction manuals, performing voice over work or lending their transcreation expertise, these individuals are fellow all-stars in the localization biz.
We interviewed Berenice Font, transcreation expert, in an effort to give you a better glimpse into what it takes to be a translator – and not just any translator, a transcreation translator.
In the first part of our interview we dive into Berenice’s background and what brought her into the business of creative translation. Be sure to stay tuned for part two in the coming weeks!
How were you introduced to the world of translation?
My father, a Mexican ambassador, dictated a life of travel from an early age. I was born in Egypt and have lived in seven different countries – including Brazil, India, France, Spain, Italy, Colombia, and Mexico – throughout my childhood and learned multiple languages as a result. I attended college in Spain to study Psychology as I had an interest in people and behavior. When I finally settled in Mexico, my first job was at a Brazilian software company as an executive assistant to the CEO. This is truly where my introduction to the world of translating began.
This CEO became a mentor and was the reason I began translating. He would see I was getting bored and ask me to translate various materials and eventually I became an in-house translator. I would translate different types of content such as software, presentations and e-learning content.
While not a true formal educational background in language, I did have a lot of contact with many different languages growing up. My father’s connections as a reader, writer and painter exposed me to numerous people from the cultural world. In this way, writing and languages has always been in my life.
What is your professional background both in translation and as a transcreation expert?
I worked in-house as a translator at that same software company for two years and left as I stared my family. While it wasn’t actually my intention to continue translating, I was contacted by a company to see if I would do some work as a freelancer. I discovered I could actually do it – be a language translator as a freelancer – but at this time I didn’t have any contact with the language translation industry or colleagues that could help me get to know the industry.
I ended up using the internet to set up my profile online as a freelance translator and started working with other agencies and clients, mostly abroad. In the beginning, I would do a little bit of everything – I didn’t know at the time what specialty I wanted to focus on. The more I did translation work I realized I preferred the more creative or artistic projects over the technical or legal ones. So, when I started working more and more with marketing content I knew I wanted to expand my expertise and began studying this specialty specifically. I took specialty courses – creative translation and transcreation – along with many, many courses to further develop my Spanish translation skills. This led to my current position in the translation industry: maintaining a specialty as a creative translator (i.e. transcreation expert) working primarily with marketing and advertising content.
I also perform a lot of quality assurance (QA) work as a reviewer and approver and came into this work by default due to the nature of creative translation. I really enjoy QA work and believe myself to be very good at it because of my background both in psychology and my multilingual, culturally-rich upbringing. This, plus the various studies I’ve completed, gave me a strong grasp on style and language correction work.
What made you want to be a translator?
When I left the Brazilian software company – my first introduction to the world of translation – I didn’t immediately go back to translation work. Yes, I was doing a little freelance translation work but I was also a teacher, giving English and other language lessons, as well as teaching psychology classes and working a bit as a counselor – utilizing my psychology degree. There came a point where I was getting more and more translation work on top of more clients to counsel and I finally had to decide which route I wanted to take. Do I invest deeply into psychology and quit translation work or do I dive deeply into translation and quit psychology?
I had to be realistic, and frankly, this isn’t the most romantic answer for why I chose the path I did. But psychology just didn’t pay as much as translation. It was really hard to give up psychology because I truly do enjoy helping people. And even though in the beginning I wasn’t making much with my small pool of translation clients, I knew there was this huge potential to grow professionally as a translator in the language industry.
It wasn’t easy, and for two months after making the decision to forge ahead as a translator I didn’t get a single job. Everyone was telling me I made the wrong choice and that I should go back to teaching but I stuck to my intuition and knew the growth potential was real and going to happen. And (thankfully) it did happen and ended up being a really good decision and path for me.
Moving from there as a professional translator my background in teaching and psychology helped me to acquire translation work in those fields and grow my portfolio as a translator.
What trends are you seeing with the translation and localization industry?
Right now I see a lot of very big [translation] agencies getting the bigger clients but jumping from agency to agency due to lack of customized experience or quality issues. It’s unfortunate as there are some of us in the field who want to be able to provide a personalized experience and quality translations but aren’t able to compete with pricing or perhaps the clients just feel more comfortable with bigger vendors.
However, translation volume is still “there” and it’s continuously growing. There’s definitely no lack of translation work to go around – which is reassuring for our industry. While it may be constantly changing with technology, it’s still a much needed service.
Are there any myths about translation and localization (or transcreation) you’d like to dispel?
Only the one that we all know, that individuals who are bilingual are not (and should not be) translators just because they know two or more languages. It’s not something that just anyone can do.
Translation, localization and transcreation require experience. One must have language skills, yes, but most importantly they need to know and fully understand the target language and target market.
And, while all localization is subject to creativity, transcreation expertise requires a creative mind. One that can think beyond the words and language and understand the meaning, tone of voice and emotion behind the message.
We talk about what transcreation is, tips for successful translation projects, tips for companies to enter new markets, and much more!
I want to thank her for the amazing work she did and I also want to share the interview here with all of you.
Interview with a translator – part 2: Transcreation expert Berenice Font talks with us
Last week we introduced you to transcreation expert Berenice Font – getting a little bit of background on her journey to translation and transcreation.
This week we go more in-depth about the likes and dislikes of being a translator plus get a few tips about translation and transcreation right from the source!
To start us off, fill us in on which languages you translate
I primarily translate English and Portuguese due to the high demand of these pairs. I also translate French to Spanish but of course this is lower in demand because usually French is translated into Spanish for Spain whereas I translate Spanish for Latin America or Mexico. There’s not as much demand for those pairs on this side of the world – though there is a little of this work that does come from Canada.
Those are my three main languages but I can also complete translations for Italian and Catalan, but again, there’s very little demand for that here (in Mexico).
What do you love about being a translator?
This is probably a common answer and how many of my colleagues would also respond, but I love that I get learn so many different things on a daily basis. For instance, today my team and I are working on a big translation project for a relationship or “love” (mobile) app and later I’ll be working on innovative technology content about robots and tomorrow is a beauty blog article – it’s different and exciting. Marketing content is especially fun – as is expected being a transcreation expert. I love working on different campaigns and then, when the campaigns launch, seeing the various ads I’ve translated, sometimes even in the movie theater!
I’ve also translated some literature – from Brazil – which was an amazing experience unlike any other translation work I’ve done before. It’s very different as you get to know the writer on such a personal, almost intimate level because you’re literally messing around with their creation. It’s such an honor to be chosen to do this kind of work specifically, but also just in general it’s an honor to be a translator.
I also love that it’s a career where I never stop growing. I never stop getting better at what I do. I’m an unfinished product, never done developing. Plus, as I mentioned before, it’s a job one can make a really good living.
What’s frustrating about being a translator or transcreation expert?
Sometimes the work is very challenging and tiring. At the end of an eight hour day translating (some days) I can’t even think anymore. It’s actually very exhausting. But what’s even harder, in my opinion, is the pace of the ever-changing market where you essentially have two choices:
- Be an in-house translator which pays significantly less, or
- Be a freelance translator which comes with a huge level of uncertainty. On top of all your translation work you must manage all your own marketing, current client management and the securing of new clients to work with and so on.
Another frustration is that oftentimes translation is not seen as a real profession. I’ll get a call asking if I can stamp approval of a translated birth certificate that clients have already translated themselves, for instance. It’s not taken seriously. Everyone thinks they can do it just because they happen to be bilingual.
Do you have a favorite type of project to work on? (Transcreation perhaps!?)
Yes, being a transcreation expert, transcreation projects are by far my favorite. Transcreating slogans or taglines for ads is like a game of words where perhaps the English isn’t translatable into Spanish and you have to essentially recreate the whole thing while trying to maintain the original message, tone, style and brand. While challenging, the creativity required makes it so fun and game-like.
What is the most challenging project you’ve done and why was it so?
Translation projects are always challenging but when you get a project on a subject you don’t know very much about or one you don’t particularly like it’s even more difficult. The most challenging one that I did and honestly didn’t know if I had the skills to do going into it, was the translation of the book I mentioned previously by Brazilian author, Rubem Fonseca. He’s one of the greatest authors of Brazil, actually having won the biggest literary prize for the Portuguese language. When I was asked to perform a test prior to winning the job it actually took me two weeks to sit down and complete the test. Upon being awarded the project after that, it was one of the hardest months of translation work I’ve ever had, but I loved it. It was also the most humbling experience and I remember thinking regularly, “what right did I have to mess with someone else’s authentic literary creation?” It was in my hands to reproduce it in Spanish and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was certainly the most challenging project I’ve ever done.
What are your tips to ensure translation is a smooth process for all parties involved?
I think it’s very important for the client to communicate with the translator. Also, to know and understand that the translator will have questions and that getting the answers to those questions is vital to our ability to do our jobs well. Clear and open communication with the end client is very important. It’s also essential to get feedback once the translation is done so we can apply that feedback to future projects – the client’s preferences and suggestions can be taken into account from the outset.
Language is a bit like cooking, some people like their dishes with more salt, some with less. But they have to state their preferences so we can “create it” to their liking. All translation is a creative process with nuances. The better the client understands and engages in this the easier our jobs are as translators – plus, the better the end product. Any translator (transcreation expert or not) will say that this is the most important tip for improved client satisfaction.
Takeaway: Translation is a two-way process. Communication is essential to the process.
What are your top tips for companies entering new markets and developing a localization strategy?
Study the market. But not just from afar. It’s best to have a team that really knows the market – even better if they actually live there – so they have an understanding of the audience and can produce what that market truly wants and needs. An individual from Argentina who now lives in Spain cannot – and should not – translate for Spanish Mexico or Latin America.
Takeaway: A local team of highly trained professionals with a lot of experience will make a difference in the company’s global success.
Any final thoughts or musings you’d care to share with us?
Just a word of encouragement for those who are starting out on the language translation career path – this is an industry that has a lot of potential and is a profession that is very rewarding. While it can be hard I urge you to keep at it, you won’t regret it.
I hope you enjoyed it!